Tips and Tricks
Tips and Tricks Overview: Woodturners are among the most
creative and resourceful people I've ever known. Though all of us come
from different backgrounds with skill levels, one common goal binds us –
the desire to become a better woodturner. We constantly strive to
perfect our techniques and skills, as we explore the multitude of
creative facets in this wonderful passion we call woodturning.
Through the years, each of us learns, develops, or picks up
various tips and tricks that make woodturning easier and more enjoyable.
These little shortcuts help us to keep our tools razor sharp, reduce
the cost of our abrasives, maintain the accuracy of our pen mandrels and
produce inlays that are visually provocative. From simple tips to
highly innovative solutions, here are seventy-five tips and tricks that
have helped me to save time and money everyday I’m in the studio.
- To reduce “orange peel” and subsequent wet sanding on cured
lacquers, spray light coats of lacquer thinner onto the surface, whilst
you slowly rotate the project on the lathe. Small disposable sprayers
like the Preval unit are ideal for this application. (Respirators with
organic vapor cartridges must be worn when spraying thinners).
- To prevent scoring wood fibers when hollowing bowls, smooth the
sharp edge transition on the bottom of your bowl gouge bevel with
abrasive paper, or on your grinder.
- Before starting to turn each day, always clean your lathe bedways,
headstock spindle threads and the tailstock ram to insure smooth
movement and trouble free operation. Old toothbrushes make a great
cleaning aid for stubborn grit and grime and will not damage your metal
- To reduce subsequent wood movement on finish turned boxes, rough
turn the top and bottom sections and let them rest for two days before
you complete the final turning and fitting of the lid.
- Unless you are turning a significant amount of projects every year,
don't purchase large containers of finish. Most finishes have a short
shelf life and may become unusable before you can empty the container.
Remember, the clock starts ticking on the date the finish is
manufactured, not the date you purchase the product.
- Use a flat bastard file to remove any nicks and smooth
the top of your tool rests before turning every day. A light stroke or
two of paraffin wax across the top of the tool rest will also help your
tools to slide along the rest smoothly.
- When using accelerators or kickers to speed the curing of
cyanoacrylate (CA or Super Glue) adhesives, always use pressurized
aerosols instead of pump sprays. Aerosols produce a vastly superior
atomized spray pattern versus a pump spray unit and will not leak out of
the can during storage.
- When using finishes from compressed spray cans (lacquer, shellac,
plastic finishes etc.), always thoroughly shake the can for 2 minutes
before using the finish. The quality of your sprayed finishes will be
greatly improved if the finish is properly mixed prior to application.
- To increase the accuracy of tool sharpening systems, build a simple
wooden protrusion (depth) jig, to insure the tool extends from the front
of the jig the same distance each time before sharpening.
- Use Bloxygen (an inert blend of gases that prevents premature curing
of oil finishes during storage), or collapsible accordion style finish
containers to eliminate oxygen in oil finish storage containers to
extend the shelf life and prevent premature curing.
- If you have fluorescent lighting in your studio
anywhere near your lathe, you should purchase plastic tube shields for
each fixture. These shields are available at home centres and slip over
the outside of each fluorescent tube. Should a piece of debris fly off
the lathe and hit the tube, most if not all of the shattered glass will
remain inside the plastic shield instead of spraying all over you and
your lathe. Money well spent!
- Smooth the sharp bevel edge transition on skew chisels (long point
end) with abrasive paper, or use a grinding wheel to prevent scoring
wood fibers when turning spindle projects.
- If your studio floor is a hard surface like concrete, purchase an
anti-fatigue floor mat for the floor in front of your lathe.
Anti-fatigue mats make standing at the lathe all day much easier on your
legs, feet and back. For safety, anti-fatigue mats should be taped to
the floor with double sided tape to prevent slipping on dusty floors.
- Use tapered (angled) edge, hook and loop sanding mandrels instead of
straight sided mandrels to prevent marking decorative details with the
side of the mandrel when power sanding faceplate projects.
- To make sanding smaller projects easier on the lathe, use and old
pair of scissors, or a disposable razor blade to cut strips of varying
widths from folded sheets of abrasive paper. Thin strips of abrasive
paper are much easier to use in tight quarters than folded sheets of
- To extend the life of micro turning tools when
sharpening on a dry grinder, use the turn-on - turn-off sharpening
technique. Turn the grinder on and then quickly off, as the grinder
starts spinning down, sharpen your tools. You will be amazed how much
longer your micro tools will last using this procedure.
- If you enjoy colouring your projects with dyes and stains, but
you’re tired of using expensive disposable containers for your mixing
cups, use ramekins instead. Ramekins are sold in cooking supply stores
(ceramic material with a white smooth finish glaze) in varying sizes.
The fired glaze on ramekins will not stain or discolour when using
colouring products and can be reused indefinitely. Any residual colour
on the ramekin is easily cleaned with the appropriate thinner and a
- To clean Micromesh cushioned abrasives, place them inside of a small
garment bag and wash them in your washing machine with your casual
clothing, or by hand in a small bowl of soapy water to clean any sanding
residues that may be left on the surface.
- To quickly clean abrasive disks when power sanding, mount a crepe
abrasive cleaner near your headstock. When your abrasive disk begins to
clog, sand the crepe cleaner block for a second or two and resume
sanding. Crepe abrasive blocks can be purchased at any home centre.
- When applying or using finishes, or products that create hazardous
fumes always wear a half mask, or full face respirator outfitted with
the proper vapor cartridge to protect against any dangerous fumes.
Ordinary dust masks do nothing to protect you against fumes.
- Are you tired of having your glasses and face masks
fog up on you when turning? Use automotive wipe-on, wipe-off anti-fog
treatments to prevent fogging on the inside of your face shield masks,
passive respirators and safety goggles. Automotive anti-fog treatments
are available at any auto parts store.
- To keep the water in the reservoir of your wet grinder as clean as
possible, use two rare earth magnets (one inside – one on the same spot
on the outside) to remove residual metal shavings from the water when
sharpening your tools. When the metal builds up on the surface of the
magnet, rinse the magnet under running water and you’re back in
- Here’s an inexpensive way to use paper backed abrasives for power
sanding on the lathe using 3M Super 77 spray adhesive… Cut circles out
of each abrasive sheet with an old pair of scissors to make sanding
disks in various sizes. Use an old worn out Velcro sanding mandrel that
has lost its grip and sand the face of the Velcro smooth. When you want
to use the paper backed abrasives for power sanding, simply spray a bit
of the adhesive onto the surface of the pad.
Quickly place the abrasive paper disk onto the glue and pull
it on and off three or four times, as you evenly spread the adhesive
across the mandrel face. Then, sand your project. When you finish
sanding, IMMEDIATELY remove the paper disk from the mandrel. If you
wait, it will tear off in strips. If you happen to forget, simply sand
the abrasive against a piece of scrap wood until it heats up a little
and it will be easy to remove. I used this system for more than 10 years
in my studio when turning production bowls and it works very well
indeed. It also saves you quite a bit of money compared to using only
Velcro based abrasives. Try it and see what you think!
- To save money on abrasives, cut your own 2" and 3" sanding disks
from sheets/rolls of abrasives with a hole-saw mounted in your drill
press. Grind the teeth off and create a smooth sharpened bevel edge on
the inside edge. Then mount a scrap of plywood on your drill press table
and stack four or five sheets of abrasive on the table. Use you drill
press to cut out the abrasive disks from the sheet. A small hole drilled
in the top of the hole-saw will allow you to use a small nail to push
out any stuck disks if necessary (drill press is always off when
- Use a small vibrating tool like an old electric toothbrush, or a
small reciprocating tool to vibrate and settle crushed stone inlays
prior to applying cyanoacrylate adhesives. This will pack the crushed
stones tightly together before applying the binding adhesive, resulting
in a better looking inlay.
- To easily sand the interior of your hollow vessels,
use “The Sanding Solution” passive sander head. This head can be mounted
in the boring bar of your hollowing system, allowing you to easily sand
the interiors of hollow forms using the security and ease of your
captured hollowing system. More information can be found at The Sanding Glove
- When buffing the interiors of finished bowls use a round head
(mushroom style) buffing wheel, instead of a flat buffing wheel for
easier and faster buffing of the interior curved surfaces.
- Fill any Allen head screw holes on the tops of hollowing tools with
hot candle wax, or hot melt glue to prevent wet shavings and extractives
from becoming impacted during hollowing. The wax/hot-glue is easily
removed when necessary.
- Use 4" paint rollers to apply end grain sealers to rough-cut
surfaces on logs and turning blanks. Rollers are significantly more
efficient than brushes and provide better coverage on rough-cut/chain
- When gluing dissimilar materials for inlays like polished stone
cabochons and wood, always use a flexible when cured adhesive like
E-6000, or another silicone based adhesive for flexible, strong bonds.
- To revive green wood wax emulsions (like Anchorseal)
that have become lumpy or separated during storage, use a high speed
mixing paddle (like the kind sold for mixing sheetrock mud), to
thoroughly re-mix the emulsion. Simply attach the mixer to your drill
and mix for a few minutes and voila, you’re back in business!
- To speed the drying of lacquer between coats, apply short bursts of
"Dust Off" (a compressed gas sold to remove dust from surfaces) to the
lacquer surface for a few seconds as you slowly rotate it on the lathe.
Keep the tip at least 3” – 4” away from the surface and only apply light
pressure to the trigger. You want a soft spray of gas, not a hard
- Two-part wood bleaches (also called A - B bleaches) are the best
product to use when you want to create the whitest timber surface
possible. Ordinary laundry bleach is not strong enough to remove a
significant amount of colour. Two-part bleaches can be found online, or
at any local paint supply store.
- To extend the life of hook and loop faced sanding mandrels when
power sanding on the lathe, use interface pads on the mandrel face to
protect the tiny hooks on the surface against heat and wear. Interface
pads are available at any woodturning supplier.
- Use a once used anti-static fabric dryer sheet, or an anti-static
clothing spray to prevent dust from sticking to the outside of face
shields and safety goggles when turning or sanding. Anti-static sprays
can be found at the grocery store in the laundry aisle, next to the
dryer sheets. If using the spray, apply the spray to a clean rag and
then wipe the surface of your face shield. Buff lightly and you’re good
- If you looking for free software to manipulate photos
of your turning projects for the web or for other uses, take a look at
Irfanview. It’s a very good program that is available for several
operating systems. More information can be found here.
- When working with oily exotic timbers (Dalbergia's and similar),
always wipe any mating surfaces with Acetone, or Methylated Spirits
prior to applying adhesives for a stronger glue bond. Allow the surface
to dry before applying the adhesive.
- To easily make uniformly sized wood shavings or dust for filling
voids in woodturnings, use an old coffee grinder to process the
shavings. Sift the powder into the desired size with small kitchen type
- When applying multiple coloured spirit stains or dyes to a project,
start with the lightest colour first and work your way up to the darkest
colour in your range. Colours can be applied with a small rubber
(cotton cloth wrapped around a small wad of cotton), a brush, or with an
- To save money on crushed stone inlay materials, build your own rock
crusher from scrap steel and use it to crush bulk rocks, chips and
scraps from local rock shops and jewelry suppliers. If you use a lot of
crushed stone, you can save a significant amount of money every year by
crushing your own stone.
- Through the years, I’ve tried many different ways to
store turning tools and the hundreds of accessories we use like drive
spurs, faceplates and other small tools so they do not take up too much
space. For me, the best solution has been to use the rolling tool chests
made for storing automotive tools. You can sometimes find used tool
chests at yard/boot sales during the summer for a few bucks.
- A small amount of paste wax works wonders to help eliminate torn
grain areas when turning difficult timbers, or high-figured grain. Apply
some wax and then resume cutting with your gouge. You may have to apply
the wax several times to completely remove any damage.
- To keep your cloth buffing wheels from scratching finished surfaces,
always keep them in separate plastic bags when not in use to prevent
dust and debris from contaminating the wheel surfaces.
- When applying end grain sealers, feel free to leave the brush in the
container instead of cleaning it after each use. It will quickly return
to its previous state when you begin using it again.
- Do not store opened bottles of cyanoacrylate adhesive (CA, or Super
Glue) in the same area as your kickers/accelerators, to help prevent
premature curing in the bottle. Always use separate storage cabinets, or
keep them several feet away when stored in the open.
- To reduce the darkening of light coloured timbers when
using an oil finish, pre-seal the bare wood surface with a lacquer, or
dewaxed clear shellac sealer. When dry, lightly scuff if necessary and
apply your oil finish.
- Used automobile shock absorber rods make great turning shafts for
small turning tools like skews, scrapers and parting tools. Use an
abrasive cut-off wheel, or muffler cut-off tool to cut the rod where it
enters the body of the shock absorber. Insert the threaded end into the
hole in the tool handle and grind your favorite grind profile on the cut
end. The metal is very good quality and holds an edge quite well, best
of all it’s free!
- To prevent fingerprints from showing on high lustre finished
surfaces, apply a museum grade microcrystalline wax (like Renaissance
Wax) as the final finishing step. (Note: Microcrystalline waxes dry
crystal clear, with no white residue - even on dark timbers).
- To maintain the accuracy of pen turning mandrels during storage,
store them in short scrap sections of PVC water pipe. The open ends can
be taped, or plugged with scrap wood.
- A good X-Y drill press vice is one of the best investments you can
make to increase the accuracy of your drilled holes. X-Y vices allow
movement up and back as well as side to side, which makes it a snap to
center your blanks under the drill bit quickly and easily.
- When purchasing polished cabochon stones for inlaying,
only choose stones with uniformly shaped domed surfaces and rounded
edges at the bottom. Avoid stones that are ground to a knife-edge, as
they're prone to chip in storage and they are much harder to inlay.
- When using cloth buffing wheels on the lathe spindle, use a Morse
Taper extension to gain additional clearance around the
headstock/spindle for buffing any large or excessively deep projects.
- To prevent cross-contamination of buffing wheels used for finishing,
keep a separate wheel on hand for each compound you use. Do not use
multiple compounds on the same wheel. Store each wheel in a separate bag
when not in use.
- To prevent faceplates from seizing on the headstock spindle, apply a
few drops of air tool oil (or equivalent) to the spindle before
mounting the faceplate on the lathe. When you dismount the faceplate,
clean the spindle threads with a paper towel to remove any residual oil,
so it will not attract dust.
- Use a small artist's airbrush when applying spirit stains and
colouring products if you want to control the blending and/or fade-in,
fade-out characteristics of the specific colours.
- To reduce sanding up to 50%, learn shear scraping. By
using dedicated shear scrapers, or Irish ground bowl/spindle gouges the
bare wood surface can be scraped to the equivalent of a 240 grit -
320-grit surface before sanding.
- You can use a spray lacquer, or spray shellac to stiffen wood fibers
on torn or bruised grain areas, when power sanding on the lathe. Simply
spray the damaged grain area, let it dry for a few minutes and then
resume sanding. This works better on some timbers than using paste wax.
- If you work with a lot of finishes or embellishment products, it’s
good to keep some compatible solvents on hand for thinning, or cleaning.
Check the MSDS sheets for each product to find out what solvent is
needed. Quart sizes are available for most solvents are home centres and
hardware stores. More difficult to find solvents can be found online,
or at a local paint or specialty chemicals company.
- Pump up plastic, or metal garden sprayers filled with end sealer
(cold wax emulsions for green wood logs) make fast work of sealing large
amounts of logs and turning blanks.
- Instead of turning bowl centres away as waste with your gouge, use a
bowl center saver. Centre savers can easily save one or more bowls for
every inch of thickness in the blank (4" thick blanks can yield four or
more bowls instead of one).
- Copper water pipe unions are a good alternative for
brass tool handle ferrules. Look for unions that do not feature an
interior “stop ring” or dimple, so the ferrule will easily slide onto
the top of your tool handle.
- Small 4" diamond cut-off wheels can be used freehand on the tool
rest to make an inexpensive diamond-dressing tool for dry grinding
wheels on grinders.
- To transfer photocopied or laser printed outline images (not
ink-jet) onto timber surfaces for carving, use a wood burner with a flat
iron tip. Lightly "iron" the back of the image (non-printed side) until
the image transfers onto the surface of the wood.
- Store unopened bottles of cyanoacrylate (Super Glue, or CA) in the
freezer to obtain the longest storage life. When stored this way,
unopened CA will last for several years.
- When using recycled brass shavings from key cutters for inlay
material, always run a strong magnet through the brass to remove any
steel shavings that are present. This will prevent steel transfer and
discolouration on the surface of your project when sanding.
- When purchasing new adhesives, always date the bottle
with your purchase date. This will help you to determine when to discard
any adhesives that are nearing their expiration dates.
- To prevent the wicking of cyanoacrylates into adjacent grain areas
when inlaying voids, pre-seal the void and the surrounding areas with
spray lacquer or spray shellac. Let the area dry and then add your inlay
- For a simpler way to light woodturnings for taking pictures, use
daylight fluorescents. These professional quality lights run cool, do
not flicker, mount in standard light fixtures and are much easier to use
- To easily clean the recessed rim area on metal finish cans before
storing them away, wrap a bit of paper towel around a small screwdriver
and run the “swab” around the area several times until the rim is clean.
This insures the lid will seat properly and will be easier to remove
the next time you need to use the finish.
- To simplify drilling curved antler blanks with a drill press, mount a
pencil laser in the Jacob's chuck. Use the laser to adjust and align
the antler in the drilling vice. Remove the laser, mount the drill bit
and drill the antler.
- Always date any new wood that you bring into your
studio with a black marker, or pencil. For darker timbers, wrap a bit of
masking tape around the blank and mark on the tape. If you know the
species, add that as well. When your wood collection begins to grow,
it’s difficult to remember how long you’ve had stored each piece of
- To reduce checking in green wood rough outs, immediately bag or seal
rough outs after turning. Even a few minutes in the open air can cause
some species to begin developing end checks.
- To reduce the interior moisture content in sealed containers like
trash cans that you’re using for short term storage of bowl blanks or
rough outs, place a moisture absorbing product like “Damp Rid” inside
the can. This will help to prevent any mold formation on the surface
until you can complete your processing.
- When storing green wood rough outs in paper bags for drying, never
nest bagged bowls, or mold will develop. Instead, cut stacking stickers
from scrap wood and place inside each bowl, or use wire racks for drying
to insure good airflow around each bag when drying.
- If you use an air compressor to run any of the tools or equipment in
your studio, remember to periodically purge the water from the storage
tank. Most air compressors feature a petcock that will allow you to
easily evacuate any moisture that has accumulated inside the tank.
Consult your owner’s manual for details on how to properly empty the
moisture from the inside of your air compressors tank.
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.
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.
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.