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What is a bowl gouge?

Bowl gouges are distinguished by a deeper flute, a longer blade and a longer handle. They are used for shaping and hollowing the bowl.

The long and strong blade design and the leverage given by the longer handle enables full control of the cut when hollowing deep when the blade projects far over the tool rest.

They remove waste with surprising speed but they can, with skill, do fine delicate finishing cuts leaving a superb finish without torn grain.

What kind of bowl gouge do I need to start with?

You need to buy a 3/8" bowl gouge or, if you can afford it, the classic 5/8" Superflute.

How big is a 1/2" gouge?

For no good reason, gouge sizes are confusing. Usually the gouge size is very approximately the width of the flute at the top.
  • A 1/4" bowl gouge is milled from 3/8" diameter steel.
  • A 3/8" bowl gouge is milled from 1/2"
  • A 1/2" bowl gouge is milled from 5/8"
  • A 5/8" Superflute is milled from 5/8"
Spindle gouges are different. For example a 1/2" spindle gouge is milled from 1/2" steel bar. Because the flute is shallow it is almost the full width of the bar.

What style of grind do I need?

Slightly pointed seems to suit most beginners. I like to have two gouges - one dead straight across and the other ground right back.

Why do bowl gouges usually come ground "straight across" not fingernail grind?

You can blame us for this. English woodturners such as Frank Pain and Peter Child always used the straight across grind and the Superflute was first produced to this pattern. Other manufacturers have blindly copied the basic idea - it is just that they never (until fairly recently) got around to doing the other grinds.

What's special about the Superflute?


So what's good about the superflute shape shown here on the left? The idea is that the large radius at the side of the flute cuts like a large gouge (say a 1/2" gouge) but if you twist it a little and cut with the small radius at the the bottom of the flute you get the same cut as you would with a small gouge (say a 1/4" gouge). As the large radius blends gradually into the small radius you can, at will, vary the radius of that bit of the edge which is in contact with the wood. You have more control over the cutting than you would have with a traditional gouge and you can achieve a higher standard of finish. The small radius at the bottom of the flute stabilises a full cut too. This makes the gouge easier to control when hollowing a bowl and easier to control at the difficult entry point at the edge of the bowl where the bevel is initially rubbing on fresh air.

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