An "Almost" Free Wood Turning Tool – Under $10 for $75 Results

Wood turning tools are becoming more expensive all the time and wood turners are “tool junkies.” It seems that more and more tools are wanted all the time, even though most turners use only a handful. There is a proliferation of tools that all promise to make you a better turner or to transform you into Joe Fantastic Turner if only you use that tool. No one seems to mention the practice needed for any new tool.

Back in the 1970’s Knud Oland, a Scandinavian who had emigrated to the United States, would have only dreamed of the quality and diversity of today’s tools. What was available to him was either of poor quality, poor design or hideous expense. Being an innovator he designed a tool that any one could make cheaply in the home shop and one that worked well.

All wood turning tools have three parts, a handle, a shaft, and a cutting or scraping tip. Generally the cutting tip is also part of the shaft but this is not necessary. One of the problems that this gives is simply that over time, as the tool is sharpened, it shortens to where the tool is no longer usable and becomes scrap. What if the tip and the shaft were two different pieces? This is the point that Knud Oland made the difference in turning tools.

The handle was easy to take care of. Woodturners after all, turn wood. Making a handle is easy. Just turn wood round to a comfortable fit in your hand and drill a hole in the end to take the shaft.

Shafts are not hard either. Cut a steel rod to the right length and put it in the handle. The ip made the difference.

Until this time, most turning tools were made by first the local smith and later the tool companies, by forging the shaft and tip as one out of carbon steel. Carbon steel is far easier to forge than is high speed steel but does hold an edge as long and loses temper easier. That is, the shop user can ruin a carbon steel tool much easier than high speed steel, especially sharpening on the grinder. Since turners use a grinder for sharpening, this was a real problem.

Meanwhile, in the metal machining industry, metal lathes were using high speed steel cutting bits to cut brass, copper, and steel as well as other metals. The cutting bits were square rods of high speed steel. Oland took a shaft, drilled a hole in the end, inserted a cutting bit held with a set screw, and a new tool was born.

The grind had to be different from that of the metal turners but was only a few minutes at the grinder. He took the edge to forty-five degrees and rounded it. Then he turned a bowl and knew he had a winner in his hands. To encourage the wood turning world, he both sold the tool and let others know how to make it. It was his intention that anyone could make the tool at home and that every turner had the chance.

The tool now known as the Oland tool does quick work of making the shavings fly. It handles both the outside and inside cuts of a bowl with ease. Not only is it effective for green wood in roughing down a bowl but it also does a fine job of leaving a clean surface for sanding when finish turning. Some turners claim it is almost impossible to get a catch with an Oland tool, but dreams come in every pursuit.

A good bowl gouge can set you back easily $75 and some of the cream of the crop will go for more than $150. A handle for the Oland starts out as scrap wood. The shaft will likely cost a couple of dollars while a 1/4″ cutting bit tends to go for $1.50. The set screw might be as high as fifty cents and if you need to buy a tap add in about $3. So for under $10 you have a tool that works as well as a $75 or $150 gouge. To me that is almost free.

Knud liked to work with the 1/4″ tool and seldom went any larger. His widow still turns bowls thirty inches and more in diameter using only the 1/4″ tool. I have made mine from 1/8″ all the way to ½ ” as well as variations on the theme. For the low cost, they are great to experiment with and try some new cuts.

To see some of Knud’s work as well as that of his widow and to see some pictures of her at work visit . Information on making the tool can be found at It is a pleasure to pick up the tool and know that a generous turner’s legacy continues.