A perfect introduction to woodturning tools is a box set of six tools like those illustrated in this article. This box contains Spindle Roughing Gouge, Bowl Gouge, Spindle Gouge, Skew Chisel, Round Nose Scraper and a Parting Tool.

Turning tools come in all shapes and sizes from plenty of different manufacturers from around the world – some ‘branded’, some not. Here is an introduction to a standard set of tools in a box of 6 available from UK manufacturer Robert Sorby.

For transparency, neither M. Saban-Smith Woodturning nor Woodturning360 are sponsored by the Robert Sorby company,

The Spindle Roughing Gouge is often referred to as an ‘SRG’, but most commonly as a ‘Roughing Gouge‘. It is important for turners to remember that the first step of turning a blank round is known as ‘Roughing Down’ and that this term refers to the process, not the tool!

  1. This tool is not recommended for turning bowls. It is potentially very dangerous.
  2. It is made from a flat piece of steel that is folded to make the flute and has a thin, weak tang where the tool enters the handle.
  3. The perfect tool for roughing spindle blanks down to round. See the post (coming soon) about different grain orientation.
  4. It’s wide flute easily ejects shavings.
  5. This is the most common (and traditional) shape for an SRG. There are variations, and for the most part, they all look mostly the same.

Important Note: The ‘Tang’ of a tool is where a flat bar enters the handle. It’s narrower than the rest of the tool and it is at this point that the tool is at its weakest.


Probably the most versatile tool in the box, the bowl gouge is a strong tool capable of doing most turning jobs.

  • Available in various diameters, the bowl gouge is made from a solid round steel bar which makes for a very strong tool
  • The flute is milled out of the bar almost two thirds of the way down the tool and is more than half the depth of the bar. The helps with efficient ejection of shavings.
  • Commonly, the cutting surface is ground into a ‘fingernail’ grind of various styles.
  • The bowl gouge can remove a lot of wood in a single cut if used correctly., but it can be equally good a elegant, fine cuts.

Spindle gouges are generally shorter than a bowl gouge and made from thinner round steel bar. A fairly versatile tool, the spindle gouge is used primary for cutting on spindle oriented work – as the name suggests.

  • Various sizes of spindle gouge are available
  • The flute ground to roughly half way along the tool to retain as much strength as possible in the tool. Relatively wider than the flute on a bowl gouge, the spindle gouge flute is ground half way through the diameter of the bar
  • An ideal tool for coves, beads and other detail work on spindles
  • It can also be used for ‘back hollowing’ small end-grain items such as goblets and boxes.

A round nose scraper is a handy tool to have around to help get into places difficult to reach with a gouge.

  • Like all the other tools, they are available in many different sizes. Some have a specific purpose like Box and Bowl Scrapers
  • Made from a flat bar, like the SRG, they tend to have a small weak tang
  • As a scraping tool, they lack the finesse of a cutting tool and leave a torn surface requiring more sanding.
  • The one in the picture here is thin and best suited to spindle work rather than bowls as it lacks the strength for working on the inside of a bowl.

A Parting Tool like this one is often referred to as a Diamond parting tool for no other reason than the end of the tool looks like a diamond.

  • Made from flat stock steel, this tool is used vertically as shown in the top left of the picture.
  • It’s primary purpose is to separate a finished work piece from it’s waste block in a process call ‘Parting Off’.
  • It can also be used for adding detail to spindles and bowls, as well as efficient cutting of recesses and tenons in bowl turning.


Many a turners nemesis, the skew is the ultimate spindle turning tool! Temperamental in use requiring more precision than the other tools in the box, the surface finish from a correctly used Skew requires virtually no sanding.

  • Mostly made from a flat bar, skews are also made from oval shaped stock, but this is less popular
  • Narrow, weak tang the same as the other flat bar tools. Used correctly, the weakness in the tang is virtually eliminated.
  • Efficient stock removal is possible with this tool and lightning fast production of beads. A highly skilled turner can also use this tool to cut coves.
  • It may also be carefully used a scraper on convex surfaces.
  • Should not be used to turn the inside of bowls.

Further Notes

It is fair to say that tool quality varies, particularly with generic tool sets imported from overseas. It’s not just one particular generic brand manufacturer either, the quality of the steel seems to vary from box to box, or even tool to tool.

The tools shown here a common shapes and sizes. No matter which manufacturer you buy from, the tool shapes and designs will largely be the same. Flute shapes for example, can vary and one turner may prefer a different flute shape to another – but they all have the one thing in common – they cut wood!

So it’s not worth stressing about the small differences if you are a beginner – so long as you are turning, it really doesn’t matter. You will develop preferences with experience and change your tools to suit your style.

As a set of tools for any level of experience, the standard box of 6 tools (or 8 in a larger set) is a great place to start. A set will save you some money on buying them individually and give you a set of tools capable of doing 90% of woodturning jobs.


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7 responses to “6 Set Tool Box”

  1. Alison Oram avatar
    Alison Oram

    Very helpful description of each tool for beginners with a clear emphasis on what each tool should ( and should not!) be used for. Thanks.

  2. Ligia Rodrigues avatar
    Ligia Rodrigues

    Thank you for these articles Martin. This is very clear and I wish that there had been articles such as these available when I was learning to turn. The pictures and the bullet points as well as the descriptions and advice given is very clear, useful and concise. This is a great resource, thank you for putting it together.

  3. Alan Smith avatar
    Alan Smith

    I can only echo Ligia’s comments and I too wish something like this had been available when I started turning. Would have saved me a fortune buying tools that some manufacturers stressed that I ‘needed ‘ to improve my turning!

  4. Brian Ousby avatar
    Brian Ousby

    Clear concise to the point information. Thank you

  5. Jason Addis avatar
    Jason Addis

    Some great tips and advice ref the 6 “starter tool kit”. Some good info on do’s & don’t’s but more importantly why. Needed this 5 years ago ?

  6. Cyril Allen avatar
    Cyril Allen

    Thank you Martin very imformative, however, could you give some advice on the bowl gouge indent 4 -Commonly, the cutting surface is ground into a ‘fingernail’ grind of various styles- and we acheive this.

  7. Deby Young avatar
    Deby Young

    That was really helpful. Thank you Martin.


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