The difference is monumental between turning with sharp tools and ones with blunt edges. The thing about dull tools is you might not even know that you have them. As a sharp tool begins to dull through use, it is very gradual - They creep up on you. If you’re just starting out it’s not obvious what the tool should feel like or sound like when it’s sharp. If you are not cognizant of the state of your edge you will start applying more pressure and be more likely to slip, get a catch, break your piece, or otherwise get into trouble. Not to mention additional tear out and the sanding that requires.
If you don’t yet know how to sharpen your tools, take some time to learn. If you don’t have them, buy or build a sharpening jig and pair it with a 8” slow speed grinder. This setup will get you going with a consistent and repeatable grind on your gouges. You’ll need a platform for sharpening scrapers and skew chisels.
Once you get your settings dialed in, sharpening is just a quick touch up.
One of my mentors is a huge proponent of repetition to really build up a skill like woodturning. I find this to be especially true with quick work such as spindles work or duplicate pieces such as tops, snowmen, magic wands, furniture parts, and chess pieces.
You learn a to control your cuts and depths when you are trying to repeat yourself. Generally after the fifth or sixth time you have completed an item you develop some skill at making it. You begin to develop a muscle memory in regards to each step of the piece. Since so much of woodturning is rolling beads or scooping out coves, you will find this translates to your other work.
One of the great things about woodturning is the tremendous amount of support available. There are woodturning groups, gatherings, symposiums, classes, mentors, and a ton of enthusiasts available. There is an amazing knowledge base just waiting to be tapped into. Demos and hands on training can show you the adjustments to your work that can lead to monumental improvements.
Hands on guidance gives you an opportunity to see the subtleties in placement and sound that are not obvious in an article or an online video.
Specifically - make mistakes and keep going. You have so many 'funnel bowls', broken pens, loose fitting boxes, ugly goblets, torn out hollowforms, and a myriad of disastrous projects to get through. I don't know what that number is for you, but there are plenty of ways a project can go wrong. From there you have the opportunity to make the next one avoid that mistake. Each failed woodturning project is a free lesson.
This section is basically a no brainer but is worth repeating. Be sure things are securely fastened. The lathe should be at the slowest speed when turning on. Stand out of the 'line of fire' which is directly in front of a piece when turning the machine on.
Learn about your tools and their limitations. Don't use a skew chisel or a roughing gouge on side grain.
Always wear eye protection - safety goggles or a faceshield. When sanding use lung protection and dust collection. Consider hearing protection as well.