Bowl Gouges Galax VA
M-SA 7 am - 9 pm
SU 9 am - 7 pm
Stuarts Draft, VA
Glade Valley, NC
All you need to turn a gorgeous bowl is one fine tool.
by Alan Lacer
Bowl turning is a blast! Thanks to advances in lathes and tooling, lots of woodworkers have now discovered how fun it is to turn a hunk of green wood into a beautiful bowl. Start to finish, it only takes a few hours, and the wood is usually free.
Whatever the bowl’s shape, you need one basic tool: a bowl gouge. I’ve been asked countless questions about how to buy a bowl gouge during my 25 years as a professional instructor. There’s a lot of confusion about what a bowl gouge really is, how it’s sized and ground, and which type is best. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
What is a bowl gouge?
A modern bowl gouge has three parts: a rod, flute and handle. A solid round rod makes the tool very strong. The rod’s flute is generally a deeply cut oval, which improves the tool’s chip-cutting action. A bowl gouge usually has a large handle, about 16 in. long, for increased leverage.
A bowl gouge is often confused with a roughing gouge. A roughing gouge is used in spindle work, such as turning a table leg, to remove a blank’s square corners or to cut a cylinder or taper. It should not be used for faceplate work, such as turning a bowl. A roughing gouge has a tang, which isn’t designed to take as much downward pressure as a rod. The tang could bend or break under the larger force involved in turning a bowl.
Bowl gouges are also often confused with detail gouges, which are also called spindle, fingernail or shallow gouges. A detail gouge has a shallower flute than a bowl gouge. A detail gouge is designed for shaping small elements, particularly in spindle work, although it is used in bowl turning for shaping rims, bases and feet.
The flute is the inner, milled portion of a bowl gouge’s rod. The flute’s shape varies among manufacturers. Its deep oval may have round or straight sides. Both types are easy to learn how to handle, so it doesn’t really matter which one you get. Individual turners have their favorites, but no single design is a runaway winner.
Bowl Gouge Sizing Systems
Manufacturers use two different, competing systems to size bowl gouges, which can be confusing. In the commonly used English system, a gouge’s size is approximately the width of its flute. In the less commonly used North American system, the gouge’s size is exactly the diameter of the rod (which I think makes a lot more sense). As a result, the same gouge is usually labeled 1/8 in. smaller in the English system than in the North American system. For example, a 1/2-in. gouge in the English system is the same size tool as a 5/8-in. gouge in the North American system. Note which system a dealer uses before you order.
Bowl Gouge Sizes
Bowl gouges are available in a wide range of sizes. You don’t need a whole se...