Here are some of the questions frequently asked about Wood Turning answered by Phil Roybal and Dave Vannier.


Is wood turning expensive?

Like all hobbies, the range is quite large. It is possible to get started for a few hundred dollars, but also possible to spend several $10k’s. Many turners are tool “junkies” collecting tools that don’t get used a lot. Larger turnings require larger pieces of equipment. Starting can be done with a used mini lathe, a used grinder, and a few tools.

- Dave


What is the best wood for turning?

Best is very subjective, and depends upon what you are interested in making. Useable bowls are made from woods that are not too hard or too soft. The more artistic bowls come from woods with a lot of figure and color, or from very plain woods with the turning being embellished.  Starting with wet woods are the easiest to learn with.

- Dave


How long does wood need to dry before turning?

It doesn’t. You can cut down a tree and turn it right then. But you may not want to. 

As wood dries it shrinks - more across the grain than along it. That can do interesting things to turnings, and it can destroy them. It  will make round bowls oval. It will cause cracks by the pith of the tree.  It will split pens built around unyielding brass barrels. And it can make lovingly crafted boxes and lids no longer fit. 

Wood takes about a year per inch of thickness to air dry. Some people rough-turn bowls from green wood (which is a joy to turn and usually free), and leave them with wall thickness around 10% of their diameters. They store them in bags in cool places and weight them regularly until they stop losing weight. At that point the bowls are stable and can be finish turned.

- Phil

Some turners only turn wet wood, taking advantage of the wood movement that happens during the drying process.  Some prefer the stability of dry wood, using the “twice turned technique”. In this case, the wet wood is rough turned, then dried slowly, taking anywhere from 3 to 18 months to dry, depending upon the type of wood and size.  The rough turning is then turned again either to final dimensions, or yet once more to relieve the stress, then dried another 3 to 6 months, before final turning.

- Dave


How long does it take to turn a wooden bowl?

The time to turn a bowl depends upon many factors: your skill, the size of your tools and lathe, the type of wood, and whether it is green or dry. I saw professional bowl turner Mike Mahoney turn a section of tree stump into an 18” salad bowl in 20 minutes. He told me he’s done 50,000 of them. On the other hand, I’ve taught hundreds of beginners and it typically takes them 8 or more hours to complete a 6” bowl in green wood. That’s because they’re learning the theory and skills while doing the work. The second bowl takes them much less time.

Unless you’re turning professionally, the journey is the reward. It’s better to go slowly, enjoy the process, and experiment to grow in your craft.

- Phil

The answer varies a lot, but in general nothing like building furniture. It is possible to turn a green bowl in a day. It is also possible to spend a month or more on a piece.

- Dave


Is wood turning dangerous?

Working with power tools is inherently dangerous. So is driving a car. You have to learn how to protect yourself against the dangers so you can safely enjoy their benefits. Turning dangers are related to the motion of the tools, potential flaws in wood (and in technique), and to the dust you make.

Tool Related

The lathe is spinning a headstock, maybe a chuck, and usually a piece of wood. If you spin the wood too fast ( especially if it isn’t yet round) it can come apart, damage your lathe, and make your lathe damage you. So don’t turn a big piece on a lathe that’s too small. Reduce the speed when you’re done so you don’t later start on a bowl with speed more appropriate to turning pens. Keep tools sharp so they cut easily. And keep your tool rest close to the workpiece to maximize your leverage. Never put fingers between turning tools and the tool rest - contact with spinning wood will slam the tool down violently!

Make sure anything you hold in a chuck is held securely. All the jaws should grip the work. When in doubt, bring up the tailstock for support. 

Anything that dangles near the lathe (or any rotating tool) is a danger. Don’t turn with dangly necklaces, bracelets, hair, or clothing. A lathe can grab them in less than a heartbeat. A little lathe might stall when it does. A big lathe can maim you. 

Wood Related

Wood, stressed enough, will come apart. If you turn split or punky wood, or wood with bark attached, pieces can fly off. If you get a catch you can pop a bowl right out of a chuck and send it spinning through the air. Wear safety glasses and a face shield when you turn.

Dust and Chips Related

Some woods are strong sensitizers that cause allergic reactions when you breathe or come in contact with their dust. You can find tables of wood toxicity. Also dust in general is a carcinogen, and the less you breathe of it the better off you are. Invest in a good mask at the least. A good dust collector can make turning much more enjoyable.

Wood chips pile up at amazing rates when you turn. Some species can be slippery, and piles of chips can be trip and fire hazards. Clean up  as you work. 

- Phil

Done wrong, turning can be very dangerous. Done properly, turning is relatively safe. But like any hobby using equipment accidents can happen. See the AAW safety guidelines are a start.

- Dave


What is the easiest wood to turn?

Wet wood.

- Dave


What do you need to turn a bowl?

Turning a bowl can be done with a) lathe,  b) grinder for sharpening tools,  c) a bowl gouge,  d) drive center, and   e) a chuck.

- Dave


How do you price a wooden bowl?

Beginners should not consider learning to turn because they are going to sell their work and make money.  Pricing is dependent upon the type/cost of the wood, amount of embellishment, size, quality of turning and finish, name of turner, and demographics of the market being sold into.

- Dave

parent v.png