What is a Parting Tool?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann

A parting tool is used in woodworking to cut a finished wood turning off of a wood lathe. Shaped much like a pointed spear, the "V" form of the parting tool is able to cut very close to the chuck and remove only a narrow portion of wood. While intended to cut the work loose, a parting tool is also useful in cutting small grooves into a work piece as well as creating small decorative lines. In the hands of a skilled wood worker, a parting tool can be used for several tasks.

When creating work on a wood lathe, one of the most critical operations is in the removal of the piece. Unskilled wood workers often choose to remove the finished piece from the end stock using a band saw. While this is an allowable practice, a skilled wood worker would not choose to use a saw to cut his work free. By using a parting tool to remove the piece, the wood worker has control of the cut and is also able to shape the very bottom of the turning to his liking.

The key in most wood working projects is to use the proper tools, and wood turning is no exception. Wood lathe tools are manufactured of very high-grade steel and are able to be sharpened to a razor's edge. Sharp tools make smooth and precise cuts on a lathe much easier. Dull tooling creates rough and ragged surfaces that require extensive sanding in order to repair them. When a dull tool is being used, the wood often is ripped off of a project instead of being cut off.

While wood turning tools are typically sharpened many times over their lifetimes, a parting tool is never sharpened down to a stubby length. This is mainly due to the parting tool's need to cut through a work piece that may be of some size. A short tool would not be able to reach into the turning and cut all the way through. While sharpened down, parting tools may be used to add decorative touches to a turning; a full size parting tool is used to remove a turning from the lathe.

One method used by experienced wood turners to maintain a sharp parting tool is alternating sides when cutting a turning loose. By using both sides of the V-shaped cutting tool to remove a turning, one side does not suffer all of the abuse and heat. Maintaining a cool tool temperature is one secret to having a properly sharpened turning tool.

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