(Potential) beginner all at sea about gouge profiles.


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14 Nov 2012
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Sorry if these are naive questions, but I have to start somewhere...
I'm primarily a metal worker, but recently had to make some wooden plinths to wall-mount a project:


I turned these from square blanks on a metal-turning lathe using the 'knife tool' shown. It went surprisingly well.
Obviously doing this sort of thing with a tool mounted on the carriage of an engineering lathe is limited to making straight cuts unless one grinds custom profile tools, so I began to wonder about using 'proper' wood turning techniques. I would like to make more ornate plinths - perhaps like the bases of table lamps to give an idea of what I'm after.
I had a look round on youtube and came across a 'using the skew chisel' video by Allan Batty. Well, that looks easy enough I thought (!), so I made a 19mm skew from a length of tool steel I had handy. Disaster! Ruined a couple of blanks and my nervous system with dig-ins. Trying to run before I could walk I suppose.
So, to get to the point, I'm thinking maybe a spindle gouge would be more forgiving, and that's what I want? But so many types out there - roughing, fingernail, detail &c &c. Or do I need more than one tool as I'm aiming to cut both face, edge and end grain?
Apologies if this is a bit rambling, but I'm confused!
Any guidance would be most welcome.
Your plinths are cross grain ie the grain is at 90 degrees to the bed. There are two tools that are never used on cross grain (until you know when you can) & that is the skew chisel & the spindle roughing gouge. Note the word spindle in the name.

The two times you can use a skew on cross grain is to incise a Vee, so the tool is upright with the point down, & with the tool flat on the rest as a scraper. This is how negative rake scrapers were developed.

To tell the difference between a (edit : round shaft) bowl & spindle gouge look down the flute. Deep flute for a bowl, shallow for spindle.

For your plinths you need a bowl gouge because it's cross grain work.

Mark out your circle. With the rest parallel to the face, cut from the front in solid wood towards the edge in an arc taking little cuts, stopping to move the rest round if necessary. This is much gentler than trying to cut the corners off with the rest square to the edge.

New gouges often come with a conventional grind ie straight across like a spindle roughing gouge. It makes using them easier if the wings can be ground back, at least a little, so that the points (bull's horns) don't come into contact with the work.
Thanks Robbo - I'll look around for a reasonably priced bowl gouge then. I'm thinking £20-30 would be the sort of price to pay for a half decent gouge? So much stuff out there!

I have grinding equipment, so no problem re-profiling as you suggest - thanks for the tip.
When you look there will be lots of sizes available. I’d suggest a 3/8” gouge would be ideal.

if you think you’ll do a bit of turning the future but not loads, you could do far worse than the axminster craft set of tools that give you all you need for most projects you’ll want to do as a set of 6 for £100. These are also slightly shorter than many tools which may be handy if you’re using them on a metal lathe where the clearance over the bed may be less than some wood lathes and thus, full length tool can foul the bed when presented correctly for some cuts.

Simon - you have anticipated my next question. I'll go for a 3/8" then if I buy a single tool.
You are right that I don't want to do loads of wood turning - it's really in support of my metalworking activities. Of course the bug may bite then I'll have to find space and money for another lathe...

The Axminster set looks good. Thanks for the pointer.

My metal lathe has 170 mm clearance (ie 340mm 'swing')- the parts I want to turn are about 100mm diameter. I'm struggling to think how I might foul the bed with a gouge wielded from near centre height? It's quite a big lathe by home workshop standards I suppose.

Gregmcateer - I have been looking on eBay. Thank you for the list of reliable makes and for the map. The nearest Assoc of Wood Turners seems to a bit away from me, and probably wouldn't be deemed 'essential travel'. I'd anyway be embarrassed to turn up looking for a cheap tool and not making any further contribution.
I've got a 3/8" Axminster premium bowl gouge, which I can recommend. Think it was about £40, not sure if that's out of your budget. Another thing to consider is sharpening. If you plan on free hand sharpening (and can do it), no worries. If not, you'll need a jig. I used to a use home made one, which was a copy of the one way sliding arm and pocket and a fingernail jig similar to this
Thanks Scooby - I haven't yet bought a gouge (still waiting for something on eBay/Gumtree to come up), so I was interested in your recommendation of the Axminster. £40 is at the top end of my budget for a single tool, but if that's what a decent tool costs, that's what it costs. When trying to get to grips with a new thing I think it can be a mistake to go for 'beginner's' equipment - sometimes it is the tool, not the bad workman. But they're out of stock anyway.
Re sharpening, I hadn't given that much thought, thinking I'd cross the bridge when I come to it. I have a Sorby Proedge - I used that to grind my DIY skew offhand:


Razor sharp, but (surely the workman here):



The video of the fingernail jig was interesting. I'm not sure if anything that complicated is needed for a simple bowl gouge though? Sorby sell a jig which is basically a V-block:


I could make that myself if needs be.
I should probably buy a book before nagging you guys!
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Hi Rob, you don't have to spend £40 to get something good. There are hidden gems on eBay from time to time, I just choose to get the Axminster premium as it was my first bowl, it was the cheapest 'higher priced' 3/8" gouge and I already owned a few of the premium range.

Pro-Edge, nice and I'm slightly jealous. One of those has been on mine to buy list for a long time. The v-block will give you a straight grind, which would be totally fine. When I got my bowl gouge, I chose to put a fingernail/swept back grind on to move the catchy edges.
Check the facebook marketplace also mate, i've picked up two unused sets of Henry Taylor chisels and a 1/2 HT bowl gouge for the grand total of £60 within 20 miles distance over the last year. Not super common but worth a look!
"Its where things go when people don't know"
I'm no expert (Ive only owned a lathe since last Feb) but did you use the skew on the disc (in the 2nd pic)? If so, I'd use a gouge (spindle or bowl). The only time I use my skew on facework is in scraper mode for doing the dovetail on a chuck recess
Hi Scooby. I did indeed use the skew on the face in my ignorance! I got the bevel running smoothly on the face then I twisted the tool until the heel started cutting and sort of planed from outside in. It seemed to work well - the trouble started when I tried to cut the chamfer. I think that should be doable with a skew, but in craftier hands than mine! I shall continue to look on eBay etc for a gouge.

The Pro-Edge is a lovely machine. I bought mine partly for sharpening woodworking tools (yeah, I know, a bit of spit and an old brick is all you need ) and partly as a general purpose linisher for metalworking.

KingAether - thanks for the Facebook marketplace recommendation. I didn't know about that, not doing social media myself.


One beginner to another.

I am a recent beginer to wood turning, I became involved when I wanted a few bits and bobs for other hobbies and like you struggled with choice of tools despite lots of advice. I wanted a quick, easy, beginners method whilst bearing in mind that I do not have space, money, equipment or skills to sharpen tools.

I ended up using tools with disposable carbide tips. I am sure that experienced turners will tell you to persevere with "proper" tools.

I bought the tips and made some handles from beech rolling pins from the One Pound Shop.

The tips are available from ebay at about £4 each and I am sure with the resources you have you could make the rest. There are many videos on YouTube demonstrating how to make the handles and how usethe tools.

There was not much learning curve and I was playing quite quickly, a couple of pens followed by a load of snowmen and onto inside-out turning.

Inside Out.jpg

I am pleased with my purchases and I cannot see me changing.

It worked for me - I wish you well.





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Thanks Fester. I often use carbide tipped tools for metal mangling, but they're nowhere sharp enough for wood and I didn't think that would be transferable technology. But having looked around it seems that it can work with the right tips! As they're so cheap, and I can make my own holders I shall certainly give that a go. I suspect that I shan't sleep easy until I've delved further into traditional tools though - the urge will keep on nagging me....
Hi Scooby. I did indeed use the skew on the face in my ignorance! I got the bevel running smoothly on the face then I twisted the tool until the heel started cutting and sort of planed from outside in. It seemed to work well - the trouble started when I tried to cut the chamfer. I think that should be doable with a skew, but in craftier hands than mine! I shall continue to look on eBay etc for a gouge.

As rule do not use tools with tangs on anything other than spindle work. Get yourself a copy of this -

Thanks Phil. I've ordered Keith Rowley's book from your link. Weirdly they say that that it will be dispatched within 24 hours and arrive somewhere between 11th-22nd Feb. Maybe it's coming from foreign!
I don't understand your comment about tangs - surely all hand-held cutting tools need a tang to fix the blade to the handle? Can you elaborate?
Some tools (bowl and some spindle gouges) consist of a round bar with the flute milled out so the bar stays the same diameter when it goes in the handle. They are strong.
Most of the larger/flatter tools (Roughing gouge, skew, some scrapers, etc) will have a flat, relatively thin tang (similar in construction to bench woodworking chisels) These can bend (or snap) if used incorrectly.
Ah, thank you scooby, I see.
I'm going to hang fire on this until the Rowley book arrives, but my thanks to all who have given advice. I'll be back I expect!