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What is a Radius Cutter?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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A radius cutter is a specialty woodworking tool used to cut circular shapes or inlays into wood objects. The tool features one or more carbide-tipped blades that are capable of cutting even the hardest wood. Some are designed for use with a wood lathe, while others are used to cut wood by hand. Both of these tools require some basic woodworking skills and knowledge in order to maximize results.

A wood lathe is a type of equipment that holds a wooden object and rotates it along a spindles. As the object rotates, workers use special tools and attachments to cut, shape and polish the wood. Those who wish to make rounded cuts on the end of the wooden object require a lathe radius cutter.

While most lathe tools attach to the area above the spindles, the lathe radius tool fastens to the spindles themselves. A sharp tip, or bit, swivels up and down to cut curves into the end of the object as it rotates. The height and length of the bit can be adjusted to create the desired radius. Typically, the radius cutter comes with a built-in protractor or other measuring device to ensure precise positioning and alignment.

The lathe radius cutter can be used to cut a ball-shaped design into the base of a table or chair leg. It can also be used to cut concave shapes, based on its positioning. Some woodworkers may create a fully-round ball out of wood using a simple radius cutter. This wooden ball can then be fastened to other wood objects when making furniture or artwork.

A different type of radius cutter can be used for inlay work. Rather than using a lathe, woodworkers use this tool to cut wood by hand. The inlay radius cutter resembles a traditional pencil compass, but features two cutting blades instead of a pencil. A very sharp point along one edge of the tool can be used to anchor it into the wood. When the tool is rotated, the blades trace a circle around the center anchor point. The length of each blade can be adjusted to change the width and depth of the cut.

Inlay radius cutters are designed for creating patterns and designs in wood furnishings or art. For example, a decorative circular accent in the face of a headboard can be made using this technique. Depending on the desired cutting depth, some woodworkers may supplement the radius cutting tool with a chisel, especially when completing large patterns.

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Discussion Comments
By seag47 — On Nov 30, 2011

My husband used a radius lathe to make wooden Christmas ornaments. It was our first Christmas as husband and wife, and we wanted to create some ornaments that were special and that we could pass onto our children.

He cut balls out of wood, and they looked perfectly round. He hollowed them out, and I sanded them down and painted them.

We have treasured them ever since. We hope to keep them in the family for generations to come.

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