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Woodturning is a kind of woodworking that allows you to make round objects out of a single block of wood. Typical turned objects are bowls, pots, vases, candleholders, plates, lamps, and spindles used for things like banisters and furniture.

You need a machine called a lathe in order to do woodturning. A lathe turns, or rotates, a piece of wood at a high speed. When you place a chisel or another tool against the spinning wood, the wood is shaped. In this way, the lathe allows you to work the wood in the same way as a pottery wheel allows you to work clay.

You can make all kinds of groovy things out of wood. You'll see plenty of interesting objects at displays and shows. This is where some woodturners really let their imaginations run wild!

Mary Lacer was reading a magazine one day and trying to decide what to make for an upcoming show. She saw a photo of a stone birdbath and figured she could make one out of wood.

"I chose white oak because it can hold water. It was so neat to see it out in my yard after the show. The very first day, I saw a robin jump in and take a bath!"

This beautiful bowl was made by Bob Clancy of New Mexico. This bowl is made of pine.
Courtesy of: American Association of Woodturners

A wide variety of different woods are used in this craft. It's a great way to make use of wood that might otherwise wind up in the fireplace.

"Beautiful wood can be found from felled trees, firewood piles and scrap or leftover wood from woodworking shops -- pieces that would not otherwise be used for furniture," says Dave Pozar, a turner from Massachusetts.

Experts say turning wood brings out a beauty which otherwise might never have been seen. "Every piece of wood is unique in color and grain, which you don't see until the outer layers are removed in turning," says Pozar.

Experts say getting started in this hobby is easier than doing any other type of woodworking because you need fewer basic tools. You will need:

  • A lathe, which can be had for about $200. Without this tool, there is no woodturning.
  • Turning tools, which come in a variety of shapes for different purposes. "They're made of steel and usually have wooden handles and are used to cut or scrape the turning wood," says Jay Keller, a turner in Sunnyvale, California. A basic set of turning tools can be bought for about $150.
  • Safety goggles are an absolute must. "There is some danger of flying chips of wood or flying tools, so a safety mask, or at least safety goggles, are a must. You might also want a dust mask if you're sanding so you're not breathing in sawdust," says Pozar.

Experts say woodturning is a relatively safe hobby, much safer than using a table saw. In fact, they say many people start as kids. Yet you still have to be careful.

"While turning is one of the least dangerous woodworking activities, a lathe should always be treated with respect. You have to be careful with wood spinning at 1,000 rpm. or more," says Thomas Dalzel, a turner in Pickering, Ontario.

Turners suggest this hobby is catching on because it's fairly inexpensive and beautiful objects can be created in a day.

"Using a lathe is the fastest way to make something in woodworking," says Dalzel. "Judging by the equipment that's being made for woodturning, I think it's growing; otherwise the market couldn't support it."

While still relatively unknown, the recreation of woodturning is definitely growing. The American Association of Woodturners has experienced a 20 percent growth in membership every year since 1990.

Most turners say they do this as a hobby, but there are a few who see the lathe as an artist's tool, allowing them to create one-of-a-kind bowls, vases and other pieces. Some of these items sell for as much as $1,000 a piece.

Those who really like this activity might find themselves teaching others how to use the lathe as a part-time instructor.

Getting Started

If you like working with your hands and you have an eye for detail, woodturning could be your kind of hobby.

Experts say learning from an experienced hobbyist is the best way to get started in woodturning. Check with your local community college or recreation center for beginner's classes.

Get in touch with other hobbyists for advice and tips. You can try a local association, a woodworking magazine, or an Internet newsgroup.

See if you can find someone in your community who enjoys woodturning and ask if they'll let you try it out with their equipment before investing in the tools you'll need to do this. It would be terrible to spend $500 on equipment, only to find the hobby isn't for you.


The American Association of Woodturners
103-3499 Lexington Ave. N.
Shoreview , MN   55126

Arizona Woodturners Association

The Michigan Association of Woodturners
4023 Dauncy
Flat Rock , MI   48134


American Woodworker

More Woodturning


Woodturning Online
A directory to woodturning links and artists

Creations Fine Woodworking Gallery
Lots of photos of beautiful woodturned pieces

Find online forums and supplies here

Amateur Woodworker
Web-based woodworking magazine for non-professionals

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