193 – Power Carving with the Arbortech TURBOPlane

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david-marcFor me, power carving is one of the most challenging aspects of woodworking. It all started back in 2003 when I got hooked on David Marks’ show, Woodworks. On several occasions he would pull out a grinder and get all medieval on a beautiful piece of wood. The end result would be a beautifully sculpted creation that could only be called art. Not being a naturally artistic person myself, I was intimidated and intrigued by this process. Thankfully, my wife Nicole was thoughtful enough to arrange for me to spend a long weekend in Santa Rosa, CA to learn the power carving technique directly from David himself. The piece we made was really just for practice, but it has adorned a wall in my shop ever since. Thanks to the knowledge I received from David, I have been able to incorporate this technique into several of my projects throughout the years.

The Arbortech TURBOPlane

arbortech-comparisonThe key to this process is the Arbortech blade. It’s a carving blade that fits into a standard grinder and turns it into a wood-hogging machine! The blade I have been using all this time is the Arbortech Industrial Woodcarver. It was just recently brought to my attention that they have another carving blade called the TURBOPlane. The TURBOPlane differs from the Industrial Woodcarver in that it’s capable of a much finer cut. Not only that, because of the shape of the blade, you can get more or less aggressive depending on how you approach the wood. The other intriguing thing about the design is the fact that the blades don’t extend to the outer rim. That means you can butt this thing right up against a template, which is incredibly helpful for things like chair seats. Since I plan on building a Maloof-inspired chair some day, I decided it would be good practice for not only rough-carving a chair seat but to also get to know this new tool.

The Power Carving Process

power-carving-templateWhenever you’re doing a project that involves power carving, the first order of business is to make some reference marks with a template. These marks will serve as guides or border lines. While your eye has to fill in a lot of blanks and you do need to be careful, the reference lines are there to remind you not to go too far. For me, the lines turn a relatively “artistic” process into one that is more systematic. My science nerd brain understands systematic!

power-carvingThe next step is to hog away the bulk of the material. It took a few minutes to get the hang of using the TURBOPlane. For those of you who turn, it’s kind of like using a super flute bowl gouge where one subtle change in the angle of approach can make a huge difference in the aggressiveness and quality of cut. But once I got to know the tool, it was smooth sailing.

turboplane-oopsI put the TURBOPlane’s template-cutting ability to the test as well and it passed with flying colors. Unfortunately, my technique did no fare so well. I mistakingly gouged my template thanks to one wayward stroke. Two things would have prevented this: using a thicker template material and changing the angle of the tool as I round the corner. Fortunately, that was the only mistake during the entire carving process but it’s one that I am thankful for. Sometimes you need to make mistakes to truly understand what a tool can and can’t do!

The Verdict

After this little practice exercise, I feel much more comfortable with the TURBOPlane and I actually prefer it to the older Industrial Woodcarver. It gives me a finer degree of control and more options in terms of cut aggressiveness and template use. When the time comes for me to make my first Maloof-inspired chair, I’ll feel quite confident going into the seat carving exercise.


If you aren’t familiar with Arbortech, you can visit their website at Arbortech.com.au or check them out at the Woodworking Shows coming to a town near you!

And if you just can’t get enough wood-carving goodness, here’s a quick video from Arbortech showing how to use the TURBOPlane with a template.

Categories: Reviews, Techniques, Tools


  1. Tyler W February 4, 2013

    Great video!
    If you haven’t seen Charles Neil’s video on scooping chair seats I highly recommend it:
    His method uses a table saw to remove a lot of the waste and give you an even, known depth for the scoop in the seat. Might make things a little easier!


      That’s a cool way to go. When I actually make a real chair seat, I might try a method from another Charles: Charles Brock. I don’t have a video to reference since this is from his DVD, but he actually pre-cuts some of his seat parts at the bandsaw giving them almost a perfect profile prior to glueing them together. Once the seat is together all you need to do is trim down the high spots with something like the Arbortech and you’re good to go.

    • Mick G February 5, 2013

      I like the idea of using a dado blade to remove a bulk of material but those chainsaw blades are about as dangerous as they get. I can’t speak for the Arbortech but something like the Kutzall is safer (than those chain blades)- less chance of kickback.

    • jHop February 5, 2013

      I was going to link to the same video… I saw it a few years ago when I first learned about compound curves (keep in mind I was catching up on videos at the time, so I don’t remember which particular one it was in).

      I’m wondering 2 things (well, maybe more) at this point.

      1) CN put the deeper part of the seat scoop at the back of the seat, while Marc has it closer to the front… does this cause comfort issues?
      2) the peak on the Arbortech crafted seat is much higher… again, will this create comfort issues?
      3) (I knew there were more) – I wonder what the combination of the two processes will yield… using the dado to scoop out then switching to the PowerPlane to smooth and level… May be something I need to save up for to test out…


        You really want to ignore the exact shape I created in this video. It was only meant as practice and the proportions are not accurate. Things like the peak and the final details would all be worked down further from this point since this is only the roughing stage. My only goal was to practice by creating something that was CLOSE to a real seat. I also mentioned in the video that I would want to go quite a bit deeper in the back but didn’t feel it would add anything to the lesson. So I wouldn’t really evaluate my result on that high of a level as it wasn’t meant to be an actual chair seat. It was more or less only a proof of concept for using the template method and the TURBOPlane. That’s also why I strategically called the video “Power Carving with the Arbortech TURBOPlane and not “Using the TurboPlane to Make a Chair Seat.” I didn’t want people to get the impression that this was a full lesson on how to carve a chair seat.

        I like CN’s method using the dado but I think I prefer the method I saw Charles Brock use. He actually cuts part of the curve before the chair seat pieces are glued up. This gives you a nice contour for the seat bottom as opposed to a flat dado groove. But obviously in the hands of a skilled craftsman, either method will work.

        • jHop February 5, 2013

          How level did the seat end up? I realize this is a “concept piece,” so final level is not required (or the whole point). I’m just curious how close you came.

          Yes, a level surface on an actual component instead of prototype piece would be important. I’m also aware that skill / learning curves come into play. But for someone who hasn’t attempted this before, how much “final levelling” would (or should) need to be done to get this passable?


          Well the surface at this stage still needs a lot of work. I would want to dig in deeper for the butt area and aim for it to slant back a bit. Once I was pretty confident in the overall depth, I’d move to a less aggressive tool such as the rasp or even a range of sanders. Possibly even other types of cutting tools for the grinder. I would just work within my border lines trying to make the surface as even and consistent as possible. Having some sort of guide in place, either using the dado method, the pre-cut bandsawn method, or the drilling method, would save a lot of guess work. The good thing about sculpted surfaces is that they are very forgiving. So if things aren’t truly 100% perfect, most eyeballs will never notice it. As far as the example in the video goes, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before you end up with anything like you’d see on something you can legitimately call “Maloof-inspired.”

  2. Jake Enns February 4, 2013

    I think I would love that turboplane, but its so gosh dern expensive for the little guy. I just bought a whole used cabinet table saw in great condition for the price of one of those. I know that R&D needs to make their money back, but I am convinced that they would sell way more than twice as many of those if they sold them even at half their price.
    It’s a good product, but unrealistic for many, maybe most, of your readers and viewers.


      I disagree Jake. It just depends on your priorities. I bought my first Arbortech when I was eating Ramen noodles on an entry-level lab tech’s salary simply because it was a tool I needed to accomplish a particular goal. I saved up and made the purchase. I don’t know their costs so I can’t really speculate as to whether or not it’s over-priced. But I certainly don’t think it’s unrealistic for my readers and viewers.

      I do admit the subject matter itself may not be of interest to many of our viewers but the same could be said about a turning video.

      • Kevin February 4, 2013

        It’s kind of hard to see why this ought to cost more than a top of the line table saw blade but like everything else there are cheaper options out there. There’s diminishing returns once you get past a certain point. If you don’t want to pay a premium for the premium tool then don’t.

        I was thinking that newish Festool mini ROS might actually be useful for cleaning up after one of these. I could never think of any use for it before.

      • Jake Enns February 5, 2013

        I guess the average Joe is a LOT wealthier than I am.
        My priorities include 4 children and a spouse – I don’t have the luxury of being single and able to prioritize my hobby over those things.
        The cutter is $160 + shipping and taxes -if any.

  3. TennesseeYankee February 4, 2013

    That looks like a scary and fun tool to use.

  4. Tim Walsh February 4, 2013

    Thanks Marc, Great Video
    I wish the turbo plane was around years back when I did my dining room table chair set
    I ended up using a router with a home made jig, It took for ever to make 4 seats. It took me longer to do the seats then the rest of the project.

  5. Interesting product. On the flipside of what Jake said, I was expecting a higher price that is lists for . Have you ever used a King Arthur’s tools Lancelot power carver? If so how does this compare in terms of control-ability and removal rates?


      Never tried it. The only other tools I have used in this category are the standard rasp-like discs and Festools heavy duty sander/grinder thingie. In all likelihood, I would use the TURBOPLane for the primary removal and then move to these other options for finer sculpting. But no experience with the Lancelot.

  6. Everett February 4, 2013

    Hey Marc,

    Good video. This type of chair is on my bucket list as well

    One method I see a lot of guys use is to drill certain depth holes at certain points in the chair. It should make it easy to know once you are ballpark at the proper depth.

    I want to make one this year; i will love you so much if you make some videos for it this year!


  7. Hey Marc … awesome product. There were designs I did not want to approach because I did not have a lathe and the arbortech grinder attachment (does it work with a makita grinder?) opens new possibilities.

  8. Eric February 5, 2013

    Hey Marc,

    I bought the industrial blade a while back but haven’t had a chance to use it yet. It came with a big ‘ol plastic guard that assembles on the grinder. I noticed you didn’t have that guard on while using either the industrial blade at David Marks’ shop or with the Turboplane during your video. I assume you wouldn’t be doing that if you didn’t feel it was safe. The guard seems awefully cumbersome to me and I was hoping it could be used without. Thoughts? Thanks!


      Honestly, I know nothing about that guard. That actually didn’t exist, as far as I’m aware, back when I was first introduced to the Abortech blade. I’m not sure how it works with the TURBOPlane but that’s something Arbortech can surely tell you. Of course, “safe” is a relative term. Would I put this tool in the hands of a complete novice? Heck no. But guards are always a good idea if you can use them without impeding the work. With a tool like this, if the guard gets in the way and you can’t use it without the guard, you simply have to find a different way to do it. I have quite a bit of experience with tools like this so I have no hesitation using it with the built-in grinder guard. Incidentally, the packaging never mentioned the guard you see with the Industrial Woodcarver so I’m guessing it isn’t intended for the TURBOPlane.

      • Eric February 5, 2013

        Ah, I see.

        I don’t think you’d be able to use the guard with the Turboplane, because with it on, you can’t engage the blade with the material unless you approach it at more than about a 45* angle, which means the Turboplane’s teeth would never contact wood…only the outer rim that was riding against your template.

        I’ll play with it on for a while just to get a feel for it, then try it removed. Thanks for the video…now I’ll go make Rockstar Dust.

  9. Doug February 6, 2013

    Very nice, Marc. I think you should hang both the wall for memories sake. That could also serve as a reminder to the rest of us to go back and watch this again when the first chair project comes off the bucket list.
    “Maloof-inspired” – I have to Google that one. Keep-em coming.

  10. Joe (http://www.jmadson.com) February 6, 2013

    I’ve been thinking about something like this for a while. So, I’ve got one coming in the mail. I’ll post a pick when I make something. (might look a little like your crib bench Marc)

  11. Dave February 6, 2013

    Definitely looks like the new version adds a lot of versatility over the previous version Marc used. Given the cost, though, I’d probably have to find a different way to hog out the bulk before hitting it with the rasps.

  12. Frank February 7, 2013

    On the subject of shaping seats, I saw an article in a woodworking magazine years ago where a guy who makes various stools and seats for a living uses a router setup with the router mounted on a long metal pole which is itself mounted to a ball and socket type setup, the blank gets clamped in and is then raised to the appropriate height and the operator swings the apparatus around to make the shape he wants to make. Of course, that’s a production method for a business. Now that I got the irrelevant thing out of the way I had a couple of questions. Marc, I know you said that with more practice and better technique you could get a “smoother” surface but you only described it being scalloped. How “finished” would you consider the surface that the tool itself leaves behind, regardless of how good or bad your technique may have been? Also, how hard (or soft) is Alder? I’ve never worked with it as it is not commonly found on the east coast, but I know you work with white oak quite a bit and so do I so could you give me a quick comparison?


      If the tool catches the grain properly, the surface is pretty smooth. But because of the scalloped nature, it really doesn’t matter much. Just to get the surface consistent and smooth you’ll be hitting it with some aggressive tools and sandpaper. By the time the ridges and scallops are gone, you’ll be at whatever grit your last tool was at.

      As for hardness, Alder is soft. In fact it’s not even close to white oak. White oak is much harder.

  13. George B February 8, 2013

    Interesting tool Marc, something I would like to try. Have you ever used the Kutzall carving wheels and, if so, how do they compare.


      Yes I have. The Kutzall wheels are really just round rasps. So depending on the coarseness, you can get a smoother or more aggressive cut. Even the most aggressive will likely be less aggressive than the Turbo Plane. So a Kitzall wheel is probably something I’d go to as I’m working my way up toward sandpaper in the final shaping/smoothing process.

      • George B February 10, 2013

        Thanks for your reply…that helps a lot.

  14. Terrific video, as always, Marc.

    If you weren’t filming when doing this, how long would you guess it would take you to get from the initial seat blank to where you finished up?

  15. Wow! Love that turbo plane. I’ve got a labour of love in the garage (a 22 foot sea sled) that I’ve been working on for the last ten years or so and one of those little planes would be perfect for carving a figuirine on the bow. Must have a look for some UK suppliers. Cheers Marc

  16. Dan Kerkman February 12, 2013

    Love the mini-Mohawk that your respirator/face shield created by the end of the video. Could be a new look for you. ;-)

  17. David Doria February 13, 2013

    I really like that zebrawood bench! How did you attach those curved legs to the bench seat?


      Thanks David. All of the joinery was done before the carving, which makes things much easier. As long as the carving doesn’t touch the joinery, assembly is pretty easy. The joint itself is essentially a big open mortise and tenon joint. Maybe I should build the piece on the show someday.

  18. Andy February 16, 2013

    Marc, this is an absolute tease! I was researching Maloof rockers and came to your site to see if you had any updates on future guild builds as it’s my ultimate goal to build one. When your page opened I saw your were sculpting a rocker seat and I couldn’t believe my luck…. but then I read it’s only an exercise…
    So Marc, what do you think are the chances of you building one this year on the show? I know Shannon and Matt also want to build one, could this be the year?

    Keep up the great work,


      Honestly, I have no idea, lol. This is going to be a wacky year for the Spagnuolos and TWW so I really can’t predict what I’m going to be able to do. But….you can bet I’ll be making a Maloof chair….at some point. :)

  19. Jennifer February 19, 2013

    The first piece of furniture that ever made me stop and appreciate woodworking was a Maloof rocker. I’m pretty new to woodworking and I was wondering how to get those curves. Thanks for the great intro! This site has been very helpful to me on a whole. Great work!

  20. Cooley August 6, 2013

    Hi All,

    Just a note here that might be helpful for someone new to the Turboplane by Arbortech. I went out and bought a 10amp DeWalt angle grinder and actually found it too aggressive for what I was doing which was hogging wood out for a seat. The 7amp is enough power and less aggressive etc. My Arbortech grinder with the mini-grinder attachment is 7amp so I figured it would be fine. Indeed, much nicer to control!


  21. Steve K October 31, 2013

    I know you haven’t had the TURBOPlane very long, but do the blades stay sharp for a long time and can they be sharpened?


      Honestly can’t answer that, but I’m sure they do, judging from past experience with past Arbortech products.

      • Mason Cooley October 31, 2013

        Actually, I have both the Turboplane and the Mini-Turboplane. I think the Turboplane’s blades are robust and should last a good while. However, the mini has blades which can be swapped out (you get two sides to each) and just yesterday I tried loosening them with the supplied hex key which I gave up on for the time being due to them being too tight from all the carving and I imagine heat generated etc.

        So far I am a little disappointed in that aspect of the mini. But it does cut fairly well just not nearly as aggressive as the original but that’s expected.

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