Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

Woodturning for Beginners

5 day beginning wood-turning class with Tim Lawson


Woodturning for Beginners



Taught by Tim Lawson, Woodturning for Beginners is perfect for complete beginners or folks whose skills have gotten rusty and need refreshing. This class is taught on mini lathes but the techniques scale up to much larger lathes and we’ll cover that transition on the final day.

Turning wood can be a relatively low cost hobby (in woodworking all things are relative). A mini-lathe, a set of turning tools, a grinder for sharpening, a work light and some protective gear can be purchased for between $750 and $1000. A mini-lathe can easily be stored under a bench. Setting it all up takes a relatively small amount of space.

This class is designed to give you an understanding of the tools used by turners and the skills to safely and effectively use them. You’ll practice so that you start to develop a "feel" for turning. The class begins with the fundamental rules for turning spindles safely and confidently and progresses to expanding your newly learned skills to turning of bowls from green (freshly cut) wood.

Class Description

How to balance cutting safety, creating a finish that needs minimal (if any) sanding and the effective use of your body to create smooth curves and flat surfaces are at the core of this class.

For the first couple of days, we focus on introducing the basic skills through spindle turning. We’ll introduce cutting theory by looking at the impact of grain direction on how a gouge cuts. We’ll explore cutting theory more and introduce sharpening by making a simple spindle gouge from a hex key. We move on to sharpening effectively; using jigs or freehand on the grinder.

Like many aspects of working with wood, the most effective cuts are made by holding your body correctly and using your legs to move smoothly while directing the tool (in case you’re wondering - planing and paring with a chisel are two examples). You’ll discover that part of turning is dancing with the tool!

That may all sound pretty daunting but we explore and develop your skills through simple and fun projects. We’ll explore how to make and combine beads and coves as we make a simple (if short) rolling pin, a spinning top, tool handles, a miniature baseball bat (weird for a Brit to teach that!) plus examples of furniture legs (again small).

Your creativity in the shapes you create will expand with a brief introduction to off-center turning as you make a small six sided vase and a (again small) cabriole leg.

For the final part of the week, we switch over to bowl turning. We’ll be using freshly-cut green wood to explore how grain and growth rings impact the appearance of the bowl. Green wood cuts beautifully, sending off long shavings and minimizes sanding dust. Wooden bowls are wonderfully utilitarian. You hold the essence of the tree in your hand.

You’ll learn about the different chucking methods, how to really dance with the gouge as you create the transitions between the curves inside and out, plus how to reverse chuck to finish the bottoms. Bowl gouge shapes and sharpening are the same but different. There will be plenty of opportunities to make several small bowls about 6” diameter and examine various finishes including those that are food safe.

When you finish this class, you will have a good understanding of how the tools are used to remove wood and feel confident about putting a tool into spinning wood.


The school is equipped with the turning tools you'll need for the class. However, if you want to bring along your own turning tools and work with them, we encourage you to do so.

Here is our recommendation for the turning tools that will get you started:

● 3/4" roughing gouge
● 3/8" spindle (shallow fluted) gouge
● 3/8" bowl gouge
● 1/8" parting tool
● 1/16" parting tool
● ½” round nose scraper
● ½" square scraper
● Skew (3/4” or 1”)
● Sandpaper (80,120,220,400,600)
● Glues (Yellow and Cyanoacrylate), finishes and rags
● Shop lamp or gooseneck lamp for extra light

Please bring:

● Paper, pencil
● Small ruler

We do require that you bring your own safety gear:

  • Face, hearing, and respiratory protection
    We suggest that you bring a face shield, hearing protection and a comfortable dust mask. You can buy a face shield from Woodcraft for around $23. You can also buy face shields at Edensaw (our wonderful local lumberyard) or Admiral Ship Supply, both in Port Townsend. Check our FAQ for more details.


The only prerequisite for this class is enthusiasm. This class is designed for complete novices up through  experienced turners who would like to tune up their skills.

Class Information and Registration

Class runs from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday in Building #304.
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the school.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 8
Cost: $775
Materials Charge: $85

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.