Woodturning could be considered as one of those
arts that you either love or hate. It can be a very addictive 'hobby' and
many of those that caught the woodturning bug have gone on to make a
living out of it!
Any good woodturner will tell you that you need to get
your hands on some good tools to get the most out of the hobby/profession.
Personally, I started with a fairly mediocre lathe, and a very budget set
of carbon steel chisels, simply because I wasn't sure whether woodturning
would suit my tastes. Now of course, the bug has bitten and I am somewhat
enthused about this form of art. There is something about turning an
ordinary piece of branch wood into a nice looking goblet, or a slice of
tree trunk into a useable fruit bowl that has some magic about it. And of
course, your friends will be marvelled at the wonderful items you have, or
will create simply by spinning a piece of wood and attacking it with a
shaped steel. Ok, attacking is not quite the right word. 'Roughly
caressing' the wood with the turning tool is probably a more appropriate
Whether you are a beginner, or an advanced woodturner,
you will need to have a decent set of turning tools to expect a decent
result. Often the budget sets you might find at the local hardware store
are poorly shaped straight out of the factory and require some fairly
intensive grinding and re-shaping to get them up to working standard, and
all of this requires some fine-tuned sharpening skills as well! No matter
what your level, you will be doing yourself a favor by purchasing a
quality set of High Speed Steel turning tools, and today, we are going to
take a closer look at one such set from the factory of Robert Sorby in
Sheffield, England - The 67HS 6-Piece Turning Tool Set
Packaging and Presentation
Our Robert Sorby 67HS woodturning set arrived safely from the UK and
was packaged up well with plenty of protective foam surrounding the turning
set. The box the set is contained within is quite appealing to the eye.
The maroon colored box embossed with gold titleing and text certainly
looked impressive - the style of box you might find holding a quality
stainless steel European cutlery set in. Inside, the six turning tools sit
neatly into a formed cardboard base, and look quite the part on first
Now, I will admit, I am slightly partial to darker
woods, so the light colored wooden handles in the set were not something I
go crazy about, but hey, let's not start pulling out red flags based
simply on my preferred tastes!
The set ships with a nice card congratulating us on the
purchase of the set. A little bit of buttering up going on here by the
manufacturer I think, but we will do the judging at the end of the day :-)
Now, let's identify what tools are included in the set.
Tools in the Set
Quite simply, the following six turning tools are
included in the 67HS Sorby set:
- 3/4" Roughing Gouge
- 3/8" Spindle Gouge
- 3/8" Bowl Gouge
- 3/4" Oval Skew
- 1/8" Standard Parting Tool
- 1/2" Round Scraper
Tool Handles & Steel
Each of the six tools in the set features a solid ash wood, turned
handle with gold metal caps/butts. The
handles are finished quite well, very smooth and all feature the Robert Sorby signature. The 3/4" Roughing Gouge and the 3/8" Bowl Gouge feature
longer handles than the other 4 tools in the set, but we will mention the
lengths when we look at each tool individually. Each turning tool features
genuine Sheffield High Speed Steel (HSS) working material. This is
generally considered stronger than carbon steel and is able to hold its
cutting edge much longer before requiring sharpening or re-grinding. You
can often tell if a turning tool is made of high quality, high speed steel
as it will have this printed on the steel portion itself.
Manufacturing & Warranty
According to the Robert Sorby website, all of their turning tools are
manufactured 'in-house' and are not imported products which are then re-badged
and re-sold under a different label. All Robert Sorby turning tools have a
'no-quibble' guarantee. This is basically a 'no-questions asked' kind of
guarantee, so if you are unhappy with the product quality or you have a
damaged item on arrival, I am sure you the folks at Robert Sorby would address
your concerns promptly.
Individual Item Appraisals
3/4" Roughing Gouge
We will start with the roughing gouge, simply because it is the
"biggest" tool in the set. The ash handle measures exactly 12" in length
with the steel component of the tool measuring an additional 6 1/2" in
visible length. All Sorby turning tools have their steel components
embedded well into the handles, and so the total material length of steel
would be somewhat more than this. The total length of the tool from base
to tip is around 18 1/2 inches.
The 3/4" Roughing Out Gouge is the type of tool you
would use very often to 'rough out' (remove large amounts of material
quickly) small to medium sized blanks. If you're turning a large diameter
slice of a tree trunk, for example, a 3/4" roughing out gouge will do the
job of removing material to round, and then some, but it will likely take
a lot longer than a larger gouge. For most woodturning projects however,
the 3/4" roughing gouge is the one you want to have. It is still small
enough to get into the tighter areas of small projects before switching to
another tool. It can go where larger gouges cannot, but of course, even
the 3/4" tool has its limitations.
One thing we did notice on the gouge out-of-the-box is
that the profile was ground very neatly and pretty much symmetrically when
viewed front-on. The inside edge (back of the bevel) was not honed
entirely flat. Slight burrs of metal from the grinding process were
raised, but were easily removed with abrasives. On a roughing out gouge,
you do not want to have the fine cutting edge you need on other turning
tools, like the skew chisel for example. Grinding a razor sharp tip can
reduce the width and density of the material right on the tip of the
cutting edge. As a result, the edge will loose a fair amount of strength
and will be prone to chipping/breaking when you are hitting the picker and
harder pieces of wood on the lathe.
Consider a square hardwood blank on the lathe,
travelling at a fair speed and those edges literally 'banging' up against
your gouge cutting surface constantly until you shape it down to a
cylinder. Without some strength on that cutting surface, you are likely to
cause some damage to the tool. This is why many experienced woodturners
will often be happy with using their turning tools straight off the
grinder without additional, finer sharpening needed, or wanted. This all
depends on the tool you are dealing with of course. Fine scraping tools
will give a much cleaner end result if sharpened well.
In use, the roughing out gouge performed very well, was
well balanced in use across the tool rest and performed as we would have
expected from a quality brand tool. Very little 'chatter' was experienced
due to the well formed and polished flute. It is a versatile tool allowing you to
remove large amounts of material relatively quickly, and also allows some
round shaping of objects up to a point. Roughing out gouges usually do not
give an adequate finish on material and finer finishing with a smaller
spindle gouge for rounded shapes, or a skew chisel for straight or
slightly tapered surfaces is needed.
1/8" Standard Parting Tool
The Robert Sorby standard parting tool measures roughly 15" in total
length with a 10" handle. The cutting point of the tool measures 1/8"
across and the cutting faces join at the cutting tip to form a 40 degree
angle.. It is also the lightest tool in the set as you might expect,
because it has the least amount of steel.
The parting tool really only performs one major
function, and that is to create a rebate or a groove in your material. It
is often used to carve out the start of a flange or recess on bowls to
attach to an expanding, or contracting jaw chuck assembly later. As the
name suggests, it can also be used to part material at the stage of a
project that may require such a task, as well as to separate sections of a
turned piece for finishing, or for layout requirements.
Out of the box, the parting tool cut very well with no
additional sharpening needed. Because of the 40 degree angle on the
cutting tip, you can safely grind and hone this one to a sharp tip, as the
angle allows sufficient material at the cutting tip to prevent damage.
Plus of course, you are not attacking square blanks with this type of
In use, the parting tool performed as expected. The 1/8"
wide cutting surface allows you to cut deep rebates with little problem of
binding on the edges as you cut further into the wood. The tool is so
light, you hardly know you are holding it, so hand/arm/muscle fatique is
never a problem over long periods of use.
3/8" Spindle Gouge
Along with the roughing out gouge, the 3/8" spindle gouge will handle
almost all of your round-shaping needs to a satisfactory finish.
Obviously, items such as large bowls are better served with a bowl gouge,
but for general shaping on smaller spindles, cabinet 'feet', pens,
goblets, eggs, balls etc, the spindle gouge is the tool you need.
It features the same 10" length handle as the parting
tool, but has a longer total length of 16 1/2 inches. Unlike the roughing
out gouge and the parting tool, you can balance the spindle gouge on two
fingers, indicating an even distribution of weight across the tool.
The profile on the spindle gouge out of the factory is
quite shallow. Some may prefer to regrind the tool to produce more of an
elongated 'fingernail' profile on the tool. This is really a combination
of personal preference and intended application of the tool as to what
grind you may like or need on the tool. For the purpose of the review, we
left it at factory default.
In use, we were able to finish off a number of projects
very well with the spindle gouge, and satisfactorily cut grooves, beads
and v-cuts among others. The balance and shape of the tool allows easy
rotation of the handle for following the curve on the workpiece. The
shallow grind out of the factory allows you to get into tighter curves to
produce a smooth, "finished" result. Re-sharpening or grinding tools with
rounded profiles such as the spindle and roughing gouge often requires
jigs for the bench grinder if you are not a seasoned veteran in sharpening
these types of tools. There are plenty of jigs available for this purpose
and I would recommend looking at one if you are a beginning turner. It may
just save you a costly mistake when sharpening your quality set of tools!
3/4" Oval Skew
The Sorby oval skew again features a 10" handle with a 16" overall
length. The skew angle is ground at 20 degrees and the tool overall is
slightly 'tip heavy'.
The skew chisel by far, will give you the best and
smoothest finishing cut. It is regularly used to finish flat sections, as
well as slightly tapered or rounded sections. An oval skew chisel is an
improvement on a standard skew chisel that has squared edges. With the
oval skew, these edges are rounded down the side of the tool to allow an
easier sliding action across the tool rest. It helps in eliminating the
tool 'grabbing' at the edge as you slide the tool along during a cut.
Often the skew chisel will require you to raise your tool rest to the work
to perform the cutting action more efficiently, and more safely as well.
The skew chisel can also perform many other functions as
well. Because of its fine tips, you can use the 'long' tip to cut very
fine rebates for decorative purposes, to efficiently and cleanly shape a
separation between the square and round sections of a table leg, or to
separate a workpiece from the lathe, or remaining material, such as
separating an egg or a small utensil handle. You can also perform small
rounding operations with this tool. The skew chisel must certainly command
a position in a basic turning set such as the Sorby 67HS set. It is an
essential tool for almost every turning project you may undertake.
In use, we found the oval skew very easy to move across
the tool rest because of its simple design. The factory ground edge was a
little 'rough' and did need some fine honing to get it flat across the
cutting edge. After this action was carried out, the oval skew performed
exceptionally well and produced a fine finish in all the applications we
tested it on. In most instances, only a light snading through 2 grits of
sandpaper was needed before applying the finish to the piece.
It would be handy to have a smaller skew chisel in the
set to handle tighter areas, but I guess a set has to stop somewhere :)
You can readily purchase any additional turning tools to complement your
set at a later date.
3/8" Bowl Gouge
The 3/8" Bowl Gouge is milled from round bar. This gives the tool a
slightly 'weighty' feel to it, which also gives it the added, and much
needed benefit of stability in use. The Bowl Gouge is a very versatile
tool, which by virtue of its name, is used primarily for shaping both the
inside and outside walls of woodturned bowls. Due to its shape and profile,
It can take a larger cut of material if needed but can also
be used for fine detail work and finishing cuts. The longer handle on this
tool, as compared to most of the others in the set, allows good control,
even when finishing cuts in deep bowls. Like the roughing gouge, the
profile on the bowl gouge was ground well at the factory and only a little
diamond lapping and honing was needed to give it a workable cutting edge.
1/2" Round Scraper
The Robert Sorby 1/2" Round Scraper is probably the tool I used the
least in the set, or the tool I had a use least for. It is primarily used
for 'finishing' the inside of bowls to give a smoother surface. This model
features a 10" handle with a total length of just over 16". It is slightly
tip heavy, but like the rest of the tools in the set, it is quite
comfortable in the hand.
Performance of the Round Scraper was very much on par
with the other tools in the set. It is certainly one item that will save
you a lot of time if bowl turning is your preferred art form on the lathe.
Bowl gouges often leave a rough inside surface, particularly when you have
used it to cut 'deep' walls for the sides. Without a Round Scraper, or
similar tool, you have to be content with persisting with abrasives to
smooth out the inside of the bowl before applying your finish. The Round
Scraper makes this task much simpler and the Sorby model of this tool we
tested, performed well on the 2 small bowls we turned on the lathe. I will
likely find more use with this tool as my bowl turning skills increase.
You can of course also use this tool for some spindle work or where fine
curve finishing may be needed, such as turning an egg cup for example.
Overall, I was rather impressed with the Sorby 67HS set. It met all my
expectations for a quality set of turning chisels. It also features 6 of
the basic profiles any turner will need to tackle a large variety
of tasks. I would be confident in my decision to purchase more Robert
Sorby turning chisels in the near future as my needs arise for other
profiled tools to tackle specialist tasks.
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Sorby 8 Piece Woodturning Set
Turning Set Photos
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written permission prohibited
Nice turned ash handles marked with the Robert Sorby
The six profiles in the 67HS set
A gentle sloping contour on the handle ends
helps eliminate slip and should give a comfortable grip
no matter what size hands you have.
The sign of a quality set. Name and composite details on
Closeup of the profile ground
on the Roughing Gouge
straight out of the box.
Using the roughing gouge to turn a blank down to a
Using the parting tool to begin a groove cut.
Using the spindle gouge to make a 'cove' detail.
The skew chisel will always give a good finish on
straight sections or slightly curved sections of
Creating a chuck recess using the parting tool for what will
become a woodturned bowl.
Turning a bowl using the Sorby bowl gouge and the
Robert Sorby Modular Toolrest system
(click for review)