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Master this basic turning tool.
When I introduce someone to woodturning, I choose the chuck gouge. When I work with children, it is the first tool I put in their hands. Why? Because when used correctly, the chuck gouge is the safest and easiest to use turning tool of all. And don’t be fooled by its name. The mandrel gouge can leave a very clean surface. Master this tool and you will learn basic techniques that apply to using virtually all cutting-type turning tools. However, the spindle gouger must be shaped and sharpened correctly and used in the appropriate applications, otherwise its simplicity can quickly disappear.
Designed for spindle work
A chuck gouge is designed to quickly shape square wood blanks that are mounted on the lathe so that the grain runs parallel to the bed. It is a great tool for removing stock corners, creating straight cylinders and cones. It can also model convex and concave tapers, if the curves are gradual.
Borrowed and produced mainly in England, this instrument is deeply fluted (curved) and its cutting edge is straight (Photo 1). In the United States, most turning sets come with a completely different roughing tool, a large, shallow gouge with a dome or nail shape.
This tool looks a bit like a spindle detail gouge on steroids. Users of “American style” roughing gouges are usually asked not to attempt to remove the square corners of a blank on the lathe; instead, they are directed to sawing corners before mounting the blank.
Spindle roughing gouges are available in different sizes. My advice is to buy the larger size (Photos 2 and 3). The chuck gouge is not the best choice for detail work or for making quick turns. And don’t even think about using it to rough up an empty bowl or bowl (Photo 4). Its large surface makes it awkward to maneuver in a confined space, its straight grind leaves exposed corners that fit easily, and its shank is not strong enough to engage the cutting edge well beyond the rest of the tool. Using a spindle gouge to turn the tub is dangerous; use a bowl gouge instead.
The chuck gouge is a great choice for making cylinders the best tool for removing corners on any square stock measuring up to 5 “by 5”. It’s much faster than tilting the table saw blade and sliding the butt numerous times, and it’s safer too. The chuck gouge is also a great choice for creating cylinders (such as on ink pens, rolling pins, columns, etc.) and straight cones (Photo 4). If the cuts are gradually concave or convex (such as on a table leg or tool handle) the spindle gouge performs well (Photos 5 and 6). Don’t ask the tool to spin quickly or in detail, it just doesn’t do it with a lot of control.
Using the chuck gouge
The spindle gouge is a cutting tool (some turning tools are designed to scrape), so the edge requires bevel support during use (Photo 5). Start with the flute on the tool holder and the handle held low. Point the flute in the direction of travel. Move the tool forward so that its bevel touches the wood (no wood chips or dust should fly away when the bevel touches). Raise the handle slightly to engage the wood. Make sure the cut is on the bottom half of the flute. Then move the tool in the intended direction. When you change direction, the opposite half of the flute makes the cut.
If you raise the handle too much, the tool will stop cutting and start scraping. Scraping dulls the tool, rips the surface of the wood and requires more energy to perform the cut – this usually results in a loss of control.
As a general rule, keep the front (bottom) corner of the tool away from the wood. But if you happen to throw it into wood, it won’t get caught; when you use the correct technique, this tool is very safe.
To rough out (remove corners from) a white square, start in the middle (Photo 6). When working with difficult woods that are quite hard or “chipped”, it is better to nibble the corners in several light passes rather than with a few heavy cuts.
To make an even cut when creating a cylinder or straight cone, place your index finger lightly against the tool holder and keep constant pressure as you go. For concave and convex shapes, work from larger to smaller diameters (Photos 7 and 8). To make smooth finishing cuts, tilt the tool approximately 45 degrees to the axis of the lathe and make light cuts (Photo 9).
Shaping and sharpening
Preparing any turning tool for use includes these three steps: shaping the profile, placing an edge on that shape by grinding, and finishing the edge by sanding. From above, the edge of the spindle gouge must slide straight (Photo 10).
From the side, the edge should appear vertical or slanted at the top, no more than 5 degrees (Photo 11). The tilt angle should be approximately 45˚. If your gouge doesn’t have this profile, sharpen it so it does. Set the tool holder of the grinder to be perpendicular to the face of the grinding wheel.
Once the edge profile is modeled, set the grinder tool holder to create the 45˚ bevel angle that sharpens the edge of the profile. Hold the tool level on the rest, with the edge of the tool parallel to the wheel. Start at one corner and slowly turn the tool to the other corner (Photo 12). Grind with control, slowly and deliberately. Make sure the first contacts of the wheel are at the bottom edge of the bevel, never just below the cutting edge. Stop grinding when the sparks gently land on the top of the tool and appear evenly along the edge. Here is a bench test for sharpness: if the edge appears black under a light, the tool is sharp. If you see white along the edge, it’s not. (The edge of a sharp instrument is sharpened to a point. Flat, dull areas appear white because they reflect light.)
To get (and maintain) a fine edge, you need to sharpen the tool. For best results with today’s wood turning tool steels, plan to use diamond honing materials. Sharpen the outside of the edge first (Photo 13). As you sharpen, be sure to keep two contact points on the chamfer. The sander can fill in the bevel because the bevel is slightly concave, thanks to the radius of the wheel. If you lift the back of the bevel while sharpening, you’ll get a doubled or rolled edge – this will actually have a matting effect.
To refine the interior you will need a freestone or a tapered cone. Hold the slip or flat cone in the groove of the tool and follow the shape of the edge (Photo 14). If you flip the outside of the edge, you will smooth it out.
While using the tool, sharpen it at the first signs of opacity (more pressure needed to cut, torn fibers, short splinters or dust, a flat or dull sound when cutting). Return to the grinder if sanding requires removing too much steel (because the concave area of the bevel has disappeared), if you let the tool become too dull for simple sanding, or if the edge has been damaged in some way.
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