Canadian Woodworking


Author: Paul Ross
Published: December January 2006

Many of us are not that fascinated with the art of spindle turning. There doesn’t seem to be as much fame and glory in it as there might be in bowl work, hollow forms, or as some people call it, “wood art.”


In most of the courses I teach, half the time is dedicated to spindle turning. This is because gaining proficiency in spindle turning will help you with all other types of turning. The tools and techniques of spindle turning can be, and often are, incorporated into other types of woodturning. I believe that if you are an accomplished spindle turner, all other forms of turning come more naturally, and you are an all-round better wood turner for it.

In this article I take you through the different techniques of spindle turning a table leg with a piece of kiln dried oak 3″ x 3″ x 24″.

Cut pummel

Round stock with gouge

Turn bead with spindle gouge

Cutting a bead with a skew

Turn beads with parting tool

Set diameters with parting tool

Turn coves with spindle gouge

Use skew for end cuts

Cut the Pummel With a Skew

On a project like this, I begin by cutting a pummel first. The pummel is the shoulder at the transition from square to round. If this is executed properly there will be no chipping of the corners and no sanding will be required.

In most cases of spindle turning, when the cuts are done properly, very little (if any) sanding is required. A pummel can be done with a few different tools, however the best and most effective is a skew.

The toe, or long point of the skew, is the part that does the cut and it is simply lifted into the wood. To do this, the handle of the skew must be down below the rest. Tip the skew slightly to the left and lift the handle so that the toe falls into the wood. Then drop the handle, tip the skew slightly to the right, and lift the handle so that the toe falls into the wood.

Don’t take heavy cuts; it is always better to take lighter, cleaner cuts. Also, you have to feel the wood, as at this stage there is nothing to see. Don’t tip the tool too far to the left or the right or the tool will dig in.

Round the Stock With a Roughing Gouge

Now that the pummel is in place, the rest of the turning process can be dealt with. First, I make the remaining section round with a roughing out gouge.

A roughing out gouge can be used in many ways, and you can utilize the cutting edge in most positions. When the piece is square, and there is a lot of resistance from the wood, I present very little metal from the gouge. That means I introduce the middle of the gouge, first rubbing the bevel to feel the wood, and then lifting the cutting edge into the cut. As soon as it starts to cut, I stop lifting and travel from side-to-side. Once the corners, or resistance, are gone, I can present more metal by rolling the gouge on either side and moving in the direction away from the flute. I can also produce a shearing cut by slightly angling the gouge to the left or right.

Turn the Beads With Spindle Gouge, Skew or Parting Tool

One way to roll a bead is with a spindle gouge. Start to one side of the intended bead with the handle down. Rub the bevel, lift the tool until it starts to cut, and as soon as it cuts, roll the tool as you lift the handle.
Repeat the same process on the opposite side. Keep repeating this left and right until a perfectly shaped bead appears. Like anything worth doing, it takes practice. I used a 3/8″ spindle gouge to turn some of the beads on this leg. You can also roll a bead with a skew.

Done correctly there will be no need for sanding. You could also use a 3/8″ wide parting tool to roll a bead. All I do with that tool is change from using it as a parting tool by angling it on to make it into a skew.

Set Diameters With the Parting Tool

Another valuable tool in the spindle kit is the parting tool. I use it with calipers to set a diameter. As I’ve said, most of the tools can do most cuts, but the difference is that some of them do certain cuts better than others. The parting tool creates cuts with superb results, including V-cuts, planing cuts, pummels, and beads.

Cut Coves With the Spindle Gouge

The other major shape is the cove. Although other tools will cut a cove, the best tool for this is a spindle gouge. This is the exact reverse process of cutting a bead.

Start in the middle of the cove with the handle up and the flute on its side. At this point, when the tool is engaged to the wood, the bevel is not rubbing. What happens? It could skate, and if it does it will always skate opposite the flute. It is here where the cut has to be established. In other words, take your time introducing the tool to the wood. Once the cut is established the tool can be rolled and the handle dropped in unison, stopping at the bottom or middle of the cove. The cut is then repeated on the other side. Just keep repeating this process until the desired cove is cut. It is somewhat like scooping out the wood. I used a 1/2″ spindle gouge to turn the coves on this leg.

Use a Skew for End and V-Cuts

To turn an end cut, which is just half a pummel, use a skew chisel. Make a smooth planing cut using the heel or short end of the skew.

The tool rest is positioned a little below center, almost where the skew is on top of the wood. This cut gives an extremely smooth cut and should be practiced. To make it simple, a v-cut is the same process as the pummel, but it’s done in round stock. Here again, use the skew chisel. As you practice your spindle turning you’ll learn a variety of new ways to use the spindle turning chisels.

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