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What Is a Lathe Chisel?

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  • Written By: Christian Petersen
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2016
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A lathe chisel is a type of hand tool made for use with a lathe. It is designed to be held against the work piece as it is turned by the lathe, to cut material from the work piece. The operator manipulates the chisel, using it to remove material and produce the desired shape on the work piece. Most lathe chisels are intended for use on wood, and a large variety of shapes and sizes exist.

Most lathe chisels employ a relatively simple design — a straight handle affixed to a metal chisel head. The handle is most commonly wood but may be metal, resin, urethane, nylon, or another man-made material. The chisel head is usually hard steel with a very sharp cutting edge. The edge must be very sharp so as to prevent splintering and to provide a clean cut on the work piece as it turns on the lathe.

Of all the accessories used by a lathe operator working with wood, the lathe chisel is, by far, the most important. It allows the operator to shape the work piece in any number of ways, producing complex designs and shapes. An experienced lathe operator will be able to choose just the right chisel with the proper cutting head.

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The cutting head of a lathe chisel has one of a number of possible cutting shapes. The beveled blade edge of the cutting head may be straight, curved, or even angled. Curves may be slight or extreme, up to a U-shape. Angles can vary from a few degrees all the way to sharply acute. In addition to the variety of shapes available, lathe chisels also vary in size, and a comprehensive set of lathe chisels will include several different sizes of chisel, all with a similar shape to their cutting profile.

There are lathe chisels designed for specific tasks. Bead chisels are used to create semi-circular beads around the work piece while bowl chisels are used to carve bowls on a lathe. Roughing-out chisels are intended for removing large amounts of material and for making irregular shapes even. Spindle gouges are often used for creating fine designs on spindles such as those used for table legs and stair banisters. Other types of lathe chisel are skew chisels, round-nose chisels, and parting chisels.

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