Sharpening Gouges


First, there are many legitimate methods. You don't need a particular machine or tool, you don't need a special jig. What you need is some practice in a few basic techniques which can be built upon as you learn and gain experience.

Lathe gouges can be sharpened with many different variations on the basic profile. It is

probably safe to say that if you have been using the gouge "right out of the box", then you have the one shape that isn't right. Gouges need significant reshaping to realize their full potential. Once you get the hang of using it, you will end up grinding it to your own preferences.

The ideal shape for a gouge is what is called the fingernail grind. This means that the corners, or "ears" have been ground back producing a shape that looks like a long fingernail. The length of the grind is determined by personal preference, but getting those corners off is essential. They are a source of catches, and once they are gone, there are many different angles of presentation to the wood available, giving you different cuts for different situations.

Now, if you are wondering why they just didn't take them off at the factory, it is because there are so many different variations on the theme. Besides, good toolmakers are not necessarily good turners (no offense to Carlo et.al.)

Anyway, as I am getting quite verbose, let me cut to the chase. If you have a 3450 rpm grinder, you are all set. You should have a white or pink wheel. The grey wheels that come on grinders are too hard for good steel and shouild be saved for lawn mower blades. Good HSS tools will do just fine on this wheel and grinder. My personal grinder is a monster Jet 8".

Grind the corners off the gouge and get your rough shape. Then start to fine tune it, smoothing out the facets. If you are grinding by hand, you won't ever get them all unless you have some sort of pact with the devil, but the tool will cut just fine with facets as long as they are not too big. Try it out on some scrap wood. Grind some more, try it some more.

The best way of course, is to get hooked up with some local turners that can give you some hands on experience, but it can be done on your own. Books and videos will help with some technique and shape, but practice is the best thing you can do. My mentor had a favorite comment - Just do it! The worst that will happen is that you will end up with a shorter tool. My first 1/2" gouge has about 3/4" of an inch left before the solid part of the stock begins :-).

As you progress in your skills and preferences, there are lots of jigs out on the market to make your experience more enjoyable, but they cannot substitute for basic skills.

Bill Grumbine - 1-29-98


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© 2003 by Ellis Walentine by special arrangement with Wayne Miller of Badger Pond. All rights reserved.
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