Sorby Decorative Turning Tools

Sorby Decorative Turning Tools

Robert Sorby, based in Sheffield, England, has recently introduced a Texturing and Spiraling Tool System to the marketplace. These tools allow the turner to create visual and textured effects that previously were a great deal more time consuming or required mastery of certain techniques and skills.

The complete system comes with a handled tool shank, tool rest, four interchangeable cutters and instructions. One cutter has been included for texturing, and three cutters of 2mm, 4mm, and 6mm for beads and spirals. All cutters mount on a center bearing allowing them to run smoothly and quietly. If you desire individual components of the system, you can purchase them separately. This will allow you to build your own custom system containing only those components that you need. More on this later.

With the texturing cutter installed in the handled tool shank, you can create various stippled and orange peel textures on the surface of bowls and spindles. The texturing can be done on both hard and soft woods. You can achieve many different effects by varying the pressure, changing the presentation angle of the tool to the workpiece, or moving the tool at varying speeds in either direction.

The tool rest plate allows the cutter to approach the workpiece at a variety of angles. Beads are cut, for example, with the cutter approach angle at zero (cutter horizontal to the workpiece). Furthermore, tilting the presentation of the cutter to the work will cause these beads to be cut in a spiral. Varying the angle cuts spirals with different leads. Graduations on the tool rest plate indicate this approach angle and make it possible to reset the proper angle in the event a certain spiral needs to be duplicated. You can cut both right and left hand spirals.

Using the System

To texture a vessel, bowl, or spindle, install the texturing cutter to the shaft of the handled tool holder. Adjust the lathe tool rest so that when the shank of the tool holder has been positioned on the rest, the cutter will be at the center height of the workpiece. Make sure also that the lathe tool rest has been set and locked in place a sufficient distance from the workpiece to allow the texturing cutter to spin freely. With the lathe set at slow speed apply the cutter vertically to the workpiece. As you gradually apply pressure to the tool, the teeth of the texturing tool will stipple the surface. Now, simply move the tool side to side to texture the entire desired area. You can control the texture pattern and results by the amount of pressure you apply to the tool.

Having textured several types of woods, I have found that patterns will vary greatly with the hardness of the wood. I have also found that the bead and spiral cutters can be used to texture the surface. You can also create other texture patterns with these cutters presented vertically to the revolving piece. These patterns vary with the size of the beading tool, hardness of the wood, and pressure applied to the tool. When texturing any piece, I achieved best results when the piece was completely sanded first. Even though the tool adds texture by putting a series of marks or stipple to the surface, it does not cover poor workmanship or a poorly prepared surface. The textured effect, as well as the turning itself, can be further enhanced if the area to be textured has been separated from the rest of the turning by a V-groove, small bead, or a shoulder cut.

When you cut beads, the tool rest plate should be fastened to the shank of the tool holder with the approach angle set at zero. With the rest plate flat on the lathe’s tool rest, the cutter should be presented to the revolving workpiece at about 350 RPM. Gently raising or lowering the handle of the tool while applying pressure to the cutter will create a bead. The cutter will not revolve while cutting a single bead, but by traversing the tool in either direction the cutter will rotate to the next bead profile, enabling a series of parallel beads to be cut.

You can cut spiral beads using any of the bead cutters. The angle of the spiral must be off-set from horizontal. An etched line in the shank of the tool holder and a similar set of etched lines on the tool rest plate enable the spiral angle to be set at given intervals. You can cut both right and left hand spirals, depending on the direction of the offset.

When cutting spiral beads, take your time and let the cutter do the work. Attempting too aggressive a cut in soft or brittle woods will tend to chip the crests of the spirals. As with texturing process, the piece should be completely sanded before applying the beads or spirals.


I was quite pleased with the results of the texturing tool. Previously, texturing a surface for me was a labor intensive and time consuming procedure. With the texturing tool, I was able to quickly texture bowl and vessel surfaces in a fraction of the time. If you are looking to add interest to your turnings or enhance a particular design you might want to consider texturing the surface. For this, I highly recommend Sorby’s texturing tool.

When using the spiraling tool, the choice of woods has much to do with the quality of the spirals. The spiraling tool gave spectacular results in relatively hard tight grained woods such as box wood, bubinga, cocobola, kingwood, and the like. On these woods it was consistently possible to cut full depth beaded spirals using any size cutter. On softer woods or coarse-grained woods, getting acceptable results was a little more difficult. It took more time and lighter cuts to get the results I wanted.

I recommend the spiraling tool for a quick and easy way to cut decorative spirals. Obviously, there will be some woods that will prove completely unsuitable for use with this tool. With experience and a few test cuts in various woods, you will quickly determine which woods to avoid. With the right choice of wood and a little practice, I am confident you’ll soon be cutting spectacular spirals.

For you turners wishing to build your own custom set, all of the cutters and accessories are offered individually. Two additional sizes of spiral cutters, not included with the complete system, have also become available. These are the 5mm pitch and the 11mm.

Although the tools are by no means cheap, they both perform well. I judge them to be an excellent value.

– Bob Colpetzer

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