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Bowl Gauge Sharpening La Plata MD

How do you make a velvety smooth bowl with evenly thick walls and crisp details? Well, it’s not done by sanding the heck out of it. The secret is to use a bowl gouge that is properly shaped and very sharp.

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Bowl Gauge Sharpening

Bowl Gauge Sharpening

Do it by hand, just like you turn.

by Alan Lacer

How do you make a velvety smooth bowl with evenly thick walls and crisp details? Well, it’s not done by sanding the heck out of it. The secret is to use a bowl gouge that is properly shaped and very sharp.

Most bowl gouges aren’t ready to do this kind of fine work right out of the package. They must be shaped, sharpened and honed. Shaping a bowl gouge means altering its profile, also called its grind. Sharpening maintains the profile and renews a dull edge. Honing further sharpens the edge. I’ll cover how to do all three operations freehand style.

I prefer sharpening freehand, as opposed to using a jig, because it’s similar to turning a bowl. When you sharpen, the tool sits on a rest and meets a round object—in this case, the grinding wheel. You rub the bevel on the round object and manipulate the edge. That’s what turning is all about, too. Once you’ve learned to sharpen freehand, you’re all set to make a fantastic bowl.

How to Sharpen 3 Profiles

Woodturners shape their bowl gouges into three basic groups of profiles: traditional, fingernail and swept-back. Any gouge can be modified on the grinder to match these profiles. Your choice of profile depends on your skill level and preference. 

I use a coarse wheel for shaping a bowl gouge and a finer one for sharpening (see “Equipment,” below). The basic procedures for shaping and sharpening are the same. After you shape the profile, you grind a bevel to follow the shape.

Most bowl gouges are made from high-speed steel (HSS). If your HSS gouge turns blue as you grind, don’t worry. This change won’t soften the steel. If the tool becomes too hot to hold, don’t quench it in water. Let it cool in the air or lay it on a metal surface to dissipate the heat.

When you’re sharpening a gouge, it’s important to grind the entire bevel, rather than just the edge. To find the correct position, contact the heel of the bevel first, and then raise the tool’s handle until the entire bevel contacts the grinding wheel.

Traditional Profile

The traditional profile is the easiest to sharpen. It’s created by rotating the tool. To begin, set the tool rest to create a 45- to 60-degree bevel. Lay the tool on the rest, positioned to start at one side (Step 1). Slowly push the gouge toward the wheel. When you contact the wheel, rotate the gouge until you reach the other side, and then reverse direction. As you grind, hold the gouge firmly on the rest and keep its end square to the wheel. 

The traditional profile works well in general but has some limitations. It’s good for shaping the outside of a bowl that’s mounted with its opening facing the headstock. But if the bowl is mounted the other way, facing the tailstock, this profile doesn’t work as well. The traditional profile is good for open...

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