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Woodturning Myths & Fallacies


by John Wood



Using worn out abrasive cloth.

    If you think that a piece of well worn abrasive will do as the next grade down, think again. The grit is still the same size but there is less of it. If your abrasive doesn't produce a fine dust (if you are dry sanding) it isn't cutting. Don't waste time on one grade by over-sanding. All that will happen is that your work piece gets hot.

 Using Sanding Sealer.

    This is for sealing the grain and also has some hardening effect. You do not need it on a close grained wood, but on an open grained wood you may need two or more coats to seal the fibres. If you have some torn end grain, sanding sealer will help before you start sanding with your coarsest grit. Do not be afraid of using 80 grit to take out turning marks. You do not get any prizes for getting a beautiful finish straight from the tools.

    Sanding sealer is best put on with the work stationary and then you can dry it off with a handful of shavings. This produces a nice surface for your chosen finish.


    There is much faulty conception about health and safety regulations. In the domestic situation the health and safety regulations do not apply. Thus you are quite free to breathe in your toxic dust, fall off your ladder, not wear protective clothing or use rags wrapped round your fingers for polishing.

   However, if you are paid to do a job or are paying someone then the regulations apply. Thus a professional turner giving instruction must abide by the regulations. Sanding at home you can do as you like and it is your own responsibility how you work.

Use of Finishing Polishes and Oils etc.

    Friction polish is best reserved for small pieces, but if you apply it in small doses and keep your polisher moving you will not get streaks. It can be applied with the work turning or with it stationary, but must be buffed up to a polish before it dries. Usually you can see the sheen developing as you buff it up.

    Some of the finishing oils are to some extent oxidising agents and there have been reports of polishing rags catching fire, but I have always found that someone knows of a fellow to whom this has happened and I have yet to find even a third hand example. 

Dust Extraction.

    An awful lot has been said about this but to be safe treat ALL wood dust as harmful. If you smoke you are already damaging your lungs, but dust protection is still advisable. The only true safeguard is to wear a good respirator mask or helmet. These cost a fair bit but are probably worth the expense.

Sharp tools.

    Many professional turners use their tools straight from the grindstone. The sharper the tool the better it is to control, so if you have the time, hone them. Carbon steel takes a better edge than HSS but doesn't keep it as long. By all means use a jig, if you have the money, but again it is not essential. The best grinding wheels are the aluminium oxide ones which come in white and coloured, depending on the grit and manufacturer. The ordinary grey wheel will generate more heat and not give such a good edge. Carbon steel will lose its temper if it gets too hot but, contrary to belief HSS does not.

    Lastly, as woodturning is an individual sport, don't believe there is a right way and a wrong way. In my experience the professionals contradict each other all the time but still produce some fine work. A good turner is not necessarily a good presenter or demonstrator.