Lathe Turning Tools: Scrapers vs Cutters

While some lathe turning tools can be used interchangeably depending on the project, it is important to recognize the differences in the abilities and techniques of each tool before using them.

Cutting Tools

Gouges are one common type of cutting tool used for a variety of purposes. Roughing gouges are most often used for cutting out general shapes in wood. Spindle gouges are applied to more specific jobs, such as cutting out coves and beads and making fine cuts in the wood. A bowl gouge is a large cutting tool that is most often used when the turner needs to hold the end of a gouge steady for a cut. These consist of a handle and a U shaped flute.

Chisels are flat pieces of metal with a sharp beveled end and often a wooden handle for easy gripping. One of the most popular types of wood turning chisels is the skew chisel. Skew chisels traditionally come in rectangular slabs, but there are also other kinds of skew chisels, including cross sectioned and oval. The most common skew chisel is a rectangular shape with a 20 degree angle at the sharp end.

Parting tools are another type of cutter, also referred to as V-tools. They have a narrow blade and a V shaped gouge on the end, and they are most commonly used for cutting a piece in two by making deep grooves in the wood.

Scraping Tools

The two most widely used kinds of scraping tools are the round nose and straight edge scrapers. These are flattened pieces of metal with flat edges, similar to chisels but much blunter and often thicker in width. Scrapers are frequently used for smoothing marks left over by a gouge. However, they can also be used in place of some gouges and chisels for certain shaping jobs.

Sharp scrapers are more likely to be used for cutting. Only dull scrapers are used for the purpose of scraping, or smoothing leftover marks.

Cutters vs Scrapers

The technique for holding each type of tool is one of the biggest differences between them. When using cutting tools, you will want to hold the edge of the tool above the tool rest with the handle angled down below. This way the wood will turn inwards towards the cutting edge of the tool. Scrapers, on the other hand, should be held in the opposite position, with the cutting edge dipping down beneath the tool rest and the handle raised above it.

When using a scraper in place of a cutting tool, you may run into some difficulties. The general size and thickness of your typical scraper can make it hard to get precise details in a cut such as a bead. Scrapers cut with a burr, unlike cutters, which cut with a knife-like edge, so you will have to hold the scraper at a particular angle (generally around 85 degrees) in order to make a cut. In making cuts such as coves, one problem you will often run into is that the scraper can actually tear up the wood around the sides of the cove if you fail to hold your scraper at the exact angle needed for the wood to come against the burr.