Gouge Shapes

What's in a name ?

Gouge Shapes

Identify woodturning gouges by their shape


Let's face it, simply knowing the name of a particular tool isn't enough to give you the technique of Richard Raffan.  It's not enough to give you the artistic eye of David Elsworth. It's certainly not enough to create the works of Ron Fleming.  But it can help you and your fellow woodturners be able to know what each other is talking about!  So often we get confused about what a turner is calling this tool or that tool.  We might assume we know what they are talking about but we really aren't all that sure.  There's just so much confusion about it all.  And the manufacturers are absolutely no help at all!  Marketing, it seems, trumps tradition and convenience.

* Unfinished

Yeah, it would be great if everyone in the world could just call them what I call them.  But I think that might be pushing my own influence just a tad bit, wouldn't it?  I do a lot of demonstrations, classes, workshops and just traveling around talking with woodturners.  I've gathered what I consider to be the best consensus of what most turners consider to be the characteristics of each tool.  This list will continue to be expanded.... 

The Detail Gouge is probably the most misunderstood, misrepresented, and mis-described tool of them all!  Here's a few of it's defining characteristics...

- Round stock

- A very shallow flute. This is the basis behind all actual detail gouges.  Just how shallow is up to the manufacturer but it's easily half as deep as a regular spindle gouge.

- The flute design gives a lot of mass of steel under it. This stiffens the tool a lot causing less chatter and more control when having to overhang the toolrest a lot.

- The flute is short. Meaning that it's not very far away from the cutting tip. Having it short adds to the stiffness. A Detail Gouge is usually used sparingly so you're not going to use it up too fast anyway.

- Again, the flute design contributes to having a very long bevel. Sometimes, these bevels go to extremes.  The purpose of the very long bevel is to allow the tool to get into tight spaces that any other tool, except perhaps a skew, would not be able to reach.

- A swept-back or "fingernail" grind is always found on a detail gouge. Depending on just how far back the bevel is swept, there may not be much of a sweep to create. But in order to get into those tight spaces, the grind must be really swept back.


Turners are always confusing this tool with a spindle gouge. Usually, a spindle gouge that has the fingernail profile and a fairly long bevel and sweep-back grind.  Some even consider a spindle gouge and a detail tool the same thing with the only thing, maybe, to differentiate them is just by how they are used.  The detail gouge really is a completely different tool and it comes down to that flute being the big difference.

Where is this tool used?  Anywhere where you can't fit a regular spindle gouge such as a detail bead at the bottom of a deep and close cove.  Anywhere where you aren't confident enough to use a skew. Anywhere where you have to hang over the toolrest a lot and can't use another tool such as working the bottom of the foot of a bowl but the form won't allow the toolrest to be close.



Your standard, everyday, basic Spindle Gouge should be pretty familiar to most turners.  Myself, I call these tools "Shallow Fluted Gouges" and teach that terminology too.  This tool is just as useful making a bowl or hollowform as it is in turning spindles!

As you can see from the above picture, I've included two side views showing the shape of the tool as it usually comes from the factory (at the bottom) and as many of us turners modify them (the middle picture).  Why do we modify them in this way?  More of that in a bit.

First, why do these things come from the factory like they do?  Because it's a SPINDLE gouge!  The tool with this kind of profile is, truly, about only good for turning large spindles. Large, shallow coves and long flowing curves as in many chair or table legs is where this tool works very very well.

With just a little modification, this tool becomes much much more versatile. Simply (yeah, right! ... see a short video clip here on doing this yourself) grind back the wings and lengthen the bevel on this tool a bit and you'll have a tool that can create nice, crisp beads or hollow out a small form like a box or vase.



The Roughing Gouge is the workhorse of spindle turning. It's designed to be strong and take off a whole lot of wood at once. It doesn't have a lot of use in bowl or hollowforms but is one of the most versatile tools with multiple functions in spindle turning.

- Forged stock not ground round stock

- Uniform steel thickness

- Very deep and wide flute allows rapid wood removal and long sides. More on this later...

- Short bevel.  This design feature is important.  Being mainly used to rough out spindles, the short bevel helps support the cutting edge with mass, thereby dampening vibration.  It allows the turner to hold the tool in a comfortable position, nearly horizontally rather than mostly verticle.

- Small Tang. This is the one disappointment with this tool. The tang is, basically, just a part of the forged stock that has been cut and ground to a size that is easily slid into a hole in the handle of the tool.  This creates rather small area where the tang meets the rest of the tool.  Lots of stress is created at this juncture if the tool is used improperly ... ie.  way over the toolrest or in situations where extreme shearing forces are created as in attempting to hollow out a bowl.  Manufacturers should, and could, change this poor design.  For normal spindle turning chores, the tang isn't a problem though.

- The face of the cutting edge is flat or nearly flat.  This means that there is no or almost no swept back grind and certainly not a grind that makes the "wings" forward of the rest of the cutting edge.  This is very important to keep from digging-in the wing tips (getting "catches") but yet making this tool very versatile.

- Long, steep sides. This feature is what makes this tool such a versatile one.  Here's a few of the major uses ...

- Normal roughing is performed on either the left or right "wing" with the flute pointing directly to either side.

- Skew-like planing cuts is made with the flute turned over even more than in the roughing cuts.  This is a tricky cut but you can get very very smooth surfaces this way.

- Sharp corners, such as tenons for chucks to grasp or lidded box shoulders, can be created with the tip of either wing because of the "flat" or straight across cutting edge profile (ie. not ground back much if any).

- Coves, albeit rather shallow and/or long, sweeping ones, are easily made by using more of the middle curved portion of the tool. Careful about using the very middle of tool though.  If you go too deep, you'll get catches as both sides of the curved middle try to cut simultaneously.





The Bowl Gouge is the workhorse of bowl turning as the Spindle Gouge is to spindle turning.  Dedicated bowl turners could go entire lives using just bowl gouges and nothing else.  While it's main purpose for being, including it being the namesake of this particular tool, is for bowl turning, it can do many things for spindle work as well.  Over the past decade, no other tool has gone through as many changes in design as this tool.  So, you'll find a variety of, often incredibly minor and inconsequential other than for marketing purposes, changes in grinds, angles, off-sets and flutes that might suit particular styles of turning better.

- Ground round stock

- Variable steel thickness with the thickest part at the bottom below the flute and the thinnest at the top nearest the 'wings' of the tool.

- Very deep and narrow flute allows good wood removal from the tip but yet narrow 'wings' let you get into tight spaces without touching the wings to the wood.

- Variable bevel lengths.  Depending on the steepness of the bowl design, the bevel length should be longer or shorter.  For example, a low, wide bowl design, such as in doing the inside bottom of a wide bowl will require a shorter bevel.  A steep side of a bowl that is somewhat tall with a narrow opening will be better served with a 'steep' or longer bevel so that you can ride the bevel down the side.

- The flute design can make a difference.  Two major types are the "V" and "U" shapes named because, well, when looking down the flutes (picture above) you can see those shapes.  Each has it's advantages in various situations but unless you are very experienced, you'll likely not notice a difference.





The Parting Tool suffers from having a bad agent, I suppose.  It is one of those basic tools that often gets ignored except when something goes wrong.  We reach for it to do so many tasks.  The common name for it in many parts of the world, the Beading & Parting Tool, suggests that it's usefulness lies beyond just at the end of a the real work.

Being used, mainly, as a cutting tool, it can obviously be used in a peeling cut to part off the workpiece from the lathe but also to do sizing or depth cuts along with creating tennons to fit into chucks or other appliances.  Small "V" cuts and decorative details can be made with this tool.  It also excels at forming beads with a little bit of practice.  That comes from the cutting edge being a little taller off the toolrest than many tools used for this purpose.  The parting tool can also be used as a tiny skew ... which is what I talk about and teach it being ... just a tiny skew.

As a scraper, it has several uses as well.  Used to form the inside walls or shoulders of small boxes, lids, recesses  and bottoms of bowls it works quite well.  Some decorative work with very thin and long (but tall) parting tools have been developed to give the parting tool added usage in woodturning.

- Flat stock that has either been ground to a diamond shape or not

- Normally 1/4" diameter thickness but can be as small as 1/16".

- The sides are normally either flat (Left picture above) or diamond shaped (Middle picture above).  The diamond shape was developed to aid in reducing binding when in deep cuts.  Only the widest part of the diamond should contact the wood.

- Very narrow parting tools often have their cutting tip below centerline (Right picture above) to help in keeping the thin blade stable and aid in strength.  They may also be diamond shaped or not.

- One of the hardest parts of sharpening the Parting Tool is keeping the cutting edge ground straight across from the left side middle to the right side middle.  It is all too easy to not align the cutting edge so that it is flat, straight and level with the rest of the tool and the height of the tool.  As in this:  -    rather than  / or   \