On-line sensing of tool wear has been a long-standing goal of the manufacturing engineering community. In the absence of any reliable on-line tool wear sensors, a new model-based approach for tool wear estimation has been proposed. This approach is an adaptive observer, based on force measurement, which uses both parameter and state estimation techniques. The design of the adaptive observer is based upon a dynamic state model of tool wear in turning. This paper (Part I) presents the model, and explains its use as the basis for the adaptive observer design. This model uses flank wear and crater wear as state variables, feed as the input, and the cutting force as the output. The suitability of the model as the basis for adaptive observation is also verified. The implementation of the adaptive observer requires the design of a state observer and a parameter estimator. To obtain the model parameters for tuning the adaptive observer procedures for linearisation of the non-linear model are specified. The implementation of the adaptive observer in turning and experimental results are presented in a companion paper (Part II).