The Roughing Gouge is one of the most common tools we associate with a wood lathe. Although it can be used for multiple functions, it accomplishes one of them extremely well. That task is getting down the wood to the desired shape fast. Utilising this tool requires knowledge and experience. Our goal is to cover the roughing gouge in great depth, go over the tool itself, cover the proper technique required to operate it and to finalize we will review some of the most used roughing gouges.
Description & Basic Use of the Roughing Gouge
As mentioned above, the most critical task the roughing gouge will accomplish is turning rough pieces of lumber into round wood. The “C” or “U” shape of the tool allows it to quickly and efficiently dig into the grain of the wood and remove the excess as desired. The spindle roughing gouge features a 45-degree bevel which is generally used to shield the tool from carving while coming in contact with the wood.
The roughing gouge should be one of the first tools one needs to master in woodturning. It has many crucial applications in spindle work. Furthermore, it will establish a base of understanding and tool mastery applicable to other tools. That being said, the roughing gouge should only be used on a wood lathe when turning spindles. To clarify, this only takes place while the wood is mounted between the two spindle centers of the grain of the wood is placed in parallel with the bed of the lathe. Do not attempt to use the tool for other kinds of work such as faceplate or bowl turning.
The roughing gouge is sharp at the end. This requires good handling and proper force application. If you apply too much force or at a fast rate than expected, you will end up damaging your tool by either dulling it or breaking it completely. Although the process may seem unnecessary to an entry-level wood turner, we highly recommend taking it slow and establish a feel for the tool. As we mentioned before, the roughing gouge will set the pace for many other wood lathe tools in your arsenal. Therefore, the experience and skill set you develop using it will pay dividends down the road.
How to Properly Hold the Roughing Gouge
It is important to hold your tools correctly in order to work for prolonged periods of time. An incorrect grip will fatigue your wrist due to the forces the process will generate. Working with a lathe, you should always be using a tool rest. It is the critical element which allows your tool to comfortably rest and absorbs the downward force generated by the machine and wood resistance to the cutting. Holding the tool should be almost effortless. The wrist should be relaxed and allow you to move with full control.
The two distinct ways to hold your tool are overhand and underhand. If you master both of them, you will easily maneuver around most of the cuts of woodworking and complete a lot of diverse projects. Your second hand should be placed near the end of the blade and provide guidance to the blade. This technique is called the short grip.
Wood Lathe Roughing Gouge Presentation Technique
Before we get into the presentation of the tool itself, it is important to cover proper position and posture at the lathe. Although it may seem obvious, few people position themselves adequately in front of their wood lathe. This leads to improper tool positioning, bad posture, and work of lower quality.
The user should be positioned with their feet shoulder-width apart. Just like with many sports, this allows you to maintain balance while being subjected to an external force. In case of woodworking, that force will be the resistance of the wood to being cut. Furthermore, the objective of this stance is to reduce the effort required to fight the force mentioned above. Wood Turning should be nearly effortless if you are doing everything correctly. If you are struggling with this, focus on the movement of your tool and the fluidity of the transitions.
Tool Presentation Guide
Position the tool rest as close as possible to the wood.
Equip yourself with all the required PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and position yourself at a slight angle from the lathe bed.
Position the tool on the tool rest and allow the handle to sit against your body.
Move the tool closer to the wood and allow the bevel to ride the wood (no cutting should occur at this point).
Slowly lift the handle and allow the tool to dig into the wood.
Slightly angle the tool in the desired travel location while it is cutting. This motion will force the tool to travel along the tool rest.
Continue working from the center of the wood outwards until the desired shape for the blank is achieved.
Leveraging the Bevel of the Roughing Gouge
New woodworkers generally struggle to grasp the importance of the bevel; a critical feature of the roughing gouge. This part provides a safe way to present the tool to the wood and allows the user to keep their hand in safe position for maximum control.
As you work on your wood lathe, it is important to take your time before each cut and position the bevel accordingly. Keep the bevel behind the sharp edge of the tool and allow it to naturally rest on the wood you’re working with.
Following the above guidelines is crucial in order to keep the tool from digging into the wood, damaging your piece in the process. Furthermore, this will prevent accidental slippage of the tool when an unexpected sudden force is subjected to the tool.
The Bevel Presentation Technique
The bevel will only come in contact with the wood when the handle is lowered. Therefore, begin by lowering the tool as you bring it into the area you want to cut. Lay the tool on the tool rest and slowly move it into contact with the wood. As the bevel makes contact, you will notice a knocking sound (if your wood is irregular) which is the sign that you have come far enough. At this point, the wood is riding the bevel without the tool actually cutting into the grain.
How to Sharpen the Roughing Gouge
You will need a few items in order to sharpen your tool. These are extremely useful for other projects, so we recommend picking them up as soon as you can. It is rather difficult to sharpen your gouge by hand, so we highly recommend going for the electrical grinder here. That being said, some prefer to use a simple grinding stone.
- Bench Grinder – We recommend the DW756 from Dewalt. It is a very reliable tool which will last for the years to come.
- Bench Grinder Stone – Once again, you can go ahead and get the Dewalt Stone of 60 Grit.
- Wolverine Jig – A wolverine jig is essentially a tool which allows you to angle the Roughing Gouge at a certain degree based on the distance. It is a very useful, but optional contraption.
The Sharpening Process
Begin by securing the Wolverine Jig or a board clamp at a distance where the roughing gouge edge is sitting right on the wheel. The easiest way to think about this is that the wheel should be flush with the bevel of the gouge.
The next step, which will allow you to precisely verify the angle above is to cover the entire bevel area with a black marker. The goal here is to see the area which is ground by the wheel with the market being the indicator. After you have finished applying the market coat, start the grinder and allow it to gently touch the bevel. Stop the grinder and verify that the market coat was removed evenly. If it was not, you will need to go back to the first step and re-adjust the angle at which you have positioned the roughing gouge.
If you are happy with the angle, you will simply need to rotate the gouge left and right in order to sharpen the entire area. Keep in mind that you don’t need to grind off a lot. When finished, verify that the entire marked area is now clean, shiny and ready to go.
You may choose to free-hand sharpen your tool. In that case, the easiest way is to remember that the angle of the bevel is about 45 degrees. As long as you keep that consistency across the perimeter of the blade, you should be just fine. Do your best to sharpen the blade in one fluid movement, otherwise, you risk leaving marks which will affect your cuts and risk getting the tool getting into the wood.
Recommended Spindle Roughing Gouges
There are many options out there when it comes to spindle roughing gouges. However, it is important to differentiate the good from the bad. We thus compiled two reviews of tools we believe are the best in terms of quality and will last you for a long time. Make sure to check them out and if you have any other suggestions, feel free to comment in the section below.
Practice Makes Perfect
Mastering the Spindle Roughing Gouge will take patience and perseverance just like anything else in life. Come back to this guide in case you have forgotten the right techniques and make sure to practice on some real wood!