Micro Turning Tools Overview: I opened my studio, Eurowood Werks, twelve years ago. Among the first few specialty tools I purchased was a five-piece set of micro tools. These are essentially very small versions of regular sized woodturning tools. They are very useful for many tasks on the lathe and through the years, they have become some of my most favorite tools, earning my coveted rank of "Essential Woodturning Tool". Only eleven tools have ever achieved this coveted ranking, each one more than deserving of the award.
My micro turning tool set is made by Henry Taylor Tools and is comprised of the following tools: ¼" micro spindle gouge, 3/16" micro spindle gouge, ¼" micro skew chisel, 5/32" micro parting tool and a ¼" micro round nose scraper.
This set retails for around $93.00 USD. Through the years, these tools have become my favorite detail tools on small and intermediate sized projects and also large projects up to two feet or so in diameter.
Benefits Of Using Micro Turning Tools
Micro tools by their very nature are small in size, with very small bevels and short handles. This allows you to get into some really tight areas with ease and execute certain tasks that would be difficult, if not impossible with other (larger) tools. The micro bevels take a very light cut, allowing you to achieve near glass-smooth surfaces right off the gouge. As we all know, if you have to do a lot of sanding on fine detail you will probably destroy it, or radically change the exterior profile. Having the ability to get such a smooth surface off the gouge is invaluable, because your crisp detail stays intact and only requires the lightest of sanding protocols to prepare it for finishing.
But the versatility of micro tools does not end there, they are true multi-purpose tools that can be used for numerous tasks on the lathe. I also use my micro turning tools for creating dovetails on the bottom of faceplate projects, turning pens and bottle stoppers, beads and coves on larger projects, gullet definition on beads, back-cuts on floating beads, finesse cuts near adjacent design elements, detail and finishing cuts on boxes and lots more.
Ergonomics Of A Micro Turning Tool
The short handle on a micro tool makes it possible to turn with the tool directly in front of you, instead of to the side, as you would have to do with a larger spindle or faceplate tool. This creates an ergonomically comfortable turning position that makes it easier to execute difficult, or intricate details. The ultra lightweight of the tools is also nice, as it is much easier to execute very fine detail with a small lightweight tool, than a larger, heavier tool. The heavier tool also features a larger bevel and cutting edge, limiting its usefulness in many delicate cutting operations.
Most turners think that micro tools can only be used on small projects, and tend to dismiss their use on larger projects. However, with proper tool support, micro tools can be used on larger projects very easily. I've used micro turning tools on projects up to 30" in diameter and they performed very well indeed. The key is keeping your tool rest support as close to the cutting edge as possible and taking light cuts. Of course, you cannot expect a micro turning tool to waste wood away like a larger spindle gouge or bowl gouge, but you can expect it to deliver smooth and crisply detailed surfaces when used with proper support and turning practices.
I should mention that I typically modify my micro tools when I purchase a new set. The ¼" and 3/32" micro spindle gouges are reground with a long Irish wing, just like you would see on a bowl gouge. The 5/32" micro parting tool and the ¼" micro round nose scraper are both reground with skew chisel profiles. I use a lot of skew chisels in my studio and these modifications give me three micro skews out of the five-piece set, plus the two Irish ground spindle gouges. As many of you know, I'm a big fan of the Irish grind and use it frequently on spindle gouges and bowl gouges.
Through the years, I've perfected several innovative techniques for using micro tools in lieu of a larger tool in some cutting operations. In my first DVD video "Turning Elegant Writing Pens", I demonstrated a pen turning technique using a ¼" micro spindle gouge, ground with a long Irish wing on the sides to turn the project pen for the video. I have also demonstrated my unique technique for turning pens all across the United States, when I demonstrated woodturning techniques for several years with The Woodworking Shows.
You can view a short one-minute video preview of my pen turning video here. The preview shows a segment with an Irish ground micro spindle gouge in action, turning the barrel of the project pen using my innovative technique. If you do not have a set of micro tools, I would encourage you to add it to your wish list of tools you need to purchase. You will find these tools will quickly become indispensable in your studio and will make your woodturning efforts easier and more enjoyable.
Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.
Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.
Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.
Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.