Sharpening a gouge is an essential skill that every woodworker should possess. Without a sharp gouge, you may struggle to achieve the precision and detail needed for your woodworking projects.
However, learning how to sharpen a gouge may seem daunting because of the different methods and equipment available. So, this step-by-step guide simplifies the sharpening process and gives you the skills to sharpen your gouge.
How Can You Make Your Gouge Sharper?
Step #1: Remove the Rust
To achieve a sharp blade in most gouges, the initial step is to remove any rust present. If this is done after sharpening, it could potentially dull the blade.
And remember to wear protective glasses as small rust fragments may enter the eyes if not taken precautionary measures during wood turning.
In my experience, the best tool for this job is a drill equipped with a copper-plated steel brush bit. It’s done wonders for me, effortlessly getting rid of all that unwanted rust.
The blade should be securely fastened in a vise and protected with soft wood against the metal brackets. The level of pressure and duration of application will determine the shine of the blade’s surface.
Step #2: Ready Your Sharpening Tool
Sharpening the outer edge of a blade presents no major difficulties, but the real challenge lies in maintaining the concave part, especially when using costly oval sharpening stones that are difficult to realign. So, here’s my workaround.
Get a piece of softwood, like pine, that’s close to the blade’s width. Cut four 5 centimeters or 2 inches long pieces and carve the top to fit the shape of the gouge. I usually secure the first piece in a vice and then do the others.
Add double-sided tape to three pieces or use adhesive spray. Put 400-grit sandpaper on one piece and 3000 and 1000-grit on the others. Once the top and bottom are carved, two pieces are enough to use. You can also use abrasive paper or diamond plates.
Step #3: Correct the Angle
To fix the irregular bevel angles on a gouge, you can use the best belt sander to adjust the blade angle. A 35° angle is typically suitable for general use, but this may vary based on individual needs. A file can also be used, but it may take longer when working with hardened steel.
During the process, you should allow the belt to pull away from you to avoid injury from the tool flipping back, and tilt the blade left and right for even grinding.
And don’t let that steel get too hot; take breaks if you need to. I like to mark the tip of the gouge with a pencil to track my progress. And to check the blade’s straightness, you can use a reliable combination square.
Step #4: Be Careful With the Inner Side
You’ll be using now the prepared wood blocks. First, sand the inside edge with 400 grit, then 1000 to 3000 grit sandpaper.
Move the tool back and forth, keeping the block steady. You may need to adjust the gouges to cover the entire blade. Focus on the tip, as that’s the cutting part. I won’t sugarcoat it—this part can take a while, but consider it a labor of love.
Step #5: Sharpen the Blade
Alright, let’s dive into the real meat of the process: sharpening the blade. I start off with a 240-grit diamond stone, and a little soap and water for lubrication. To achieve the correct angle, you can tilt the gouges up and down.
Stop when you feel a burr on the back, then move to 400-grit. Control the angle as often as you like, and use the 400-grit stone to remove the burr.
Then, progress to a 1000-grit water stone which requires soaking in water for about ten minutes before use and should be leveled regularly. The same motion should be used for the coarser stones, and when a burr is felt, switch to a 3000-grit stone and repeat the process.
Step #6: Modify the Handle
You can revamp the handle by using a scraper and knife to remove the wood’s clear coat. I usually go through a sequence of 80, 120, and 240-grit sandpapers, always working along the grain to keep everything nice and smooth.
Wipe the dust with a wet cloth and let it dry for an hour. Sand with 400-grit sandpaper to remove loose fiber ends. You can coat the handle with kettle-boiled linseed oil, wipe off excess, and put the used cloth in water.
After letting the oil dry overnight, sand the surface with 600-grit sandpaper for smoothness and apply a second and final coat. You can also treat the blade with Ballistol oil to prevent rust.
See Also: How to Sharpen Auger Bits
3 Simple Techniques to Sharpen Your Gouge
1. Figure of 8 Method
- Get the gouges and three flat stones (250 grit, 600 grit, and 1200 grit).
- Apply glass cleaner fluid to the flat stones for lubrication.
- Position the gouges on a flat stone with a coarse 250 grit, keeping it at a 30-degree angle with respect to the surface.
- Use the figure-of-eight method to sharpen the gouges by rolling the corner across the flat stone in a figure-of-eight pattern. If you don’t know how to use a high-speed grinder, this technique is a good option because it is an entirely manual method.
- Repeat the process with 600-fine grit and 1200 superfine grit stones.
- Adjust the angle and repeat the procedure for the entire outer gouge bevel edge.
- In sharpening a gouge inner part, apply honing compound on a piece of leather wrapped around a broom handle or a hollow tool.
- Hold the hollow covered in leather tightly and stretch the leather to cover the entire sharpening surface. Ensure that the abrasive is spread evenly over the entire surface.
- Put the inside of the gouge onto the rounded surface and apply pressure at a 30-degree angle.
- And for the last step on how you can sharpen a gouge for this specific technique is to polish the inside curve of the gouge and remove any burrs until it is completely sharpened.
2. Rotational & Stropping Method
- To perform rotational sharpening, you will need a sharpening jig to hold the tool in place securely. Begin using a coarse sharpening plate and holding the tool at a 30° angle.
- Move the sharp tools back and forth over the plate while rolling the bevel from one corner to the other until all the rough marks are eliminated.
- Next, switch to a fine sharpening plate and repeat the procedure until all the coarse marks have been removed. Then, use a super or extra fine sharpening plate, and abrade to refine the edge further.
- To achieve a cambered edge, continue a rolling motion on the bevel from corner to corner while sharpening the edge. This will result in a curved edge that is suitable for carving the gouge.
- Once you have sharpened your tool, take a purpose-built strop to give the edge a polished finish. Spread some buffing compound over the surface of the strop and then draw the tool over it for 30 strokes, ensuring that the edge is at a 30° angle.
3. Grinder Method
- Apply adhesive spray on a thick flat glass surface and affix 80 grit sandpaper on top of it by sticking them together.
- Cut the edges of the 80-grit sandpaper, press it firmly onto the glass surface, and repeat the same procedure with 150 and 220-grit sandpaper.
- When grinding, dip the blade in water for a few seconds every so often to avoid overheating. This is crucial if you’re learning how to sharpen a gouge; if the gouge blade turns bluish or straw-colored, it means it’s overheated. Double-check to make sure to keep the gouge cool.
- Use 220-grit sandpaper to rub the gouge hard diagonally. If there are few scratches, use a coarser 150-grit sandpaper, then 80-grit sandpaper.
- Adjust the honing angle to 30 degrees and then move the gouge back and forth on the 80 grit sandpaper until it becomes sharp without any burr or rough edges.
- Use 220-grit sandpaper to smooth the cutting edge and eliminate the wire edge. After a few strokes, the wire edge should disappear.
- Adjust the honing angle to 30 degrees, and use 150-grit sandpaper to roll hone the gouge until a new wire edge is formed.
- Remove the new wire edge using 220-grit sandpaper by following step number six.
- Use 220-grit sandpaper to rub the gouge 6-7 times until it is very sharp.
- To achieve an extremely sharp cutting edge, use sandpaper or buffer compound  to hone the gouge.
- To prevent overheating issues, I recommend starting with the coarsest wheel on the grinder and set it to a 90-degree angle before using the grinding wheels.
- Adjust the grinding bevel to a 25-degree angle and hone it to 30 degrees, then grind the gouge until you achieve an extremely fine and sharp bevel edge.
Steps to Sharpen Your Bowl Gouge
The necessary tools you will require are:
When sharpening a bowl gouge, these are the steps to follow:
- Insert the bowl gouge into the grinding jig and secure it slightly.
- Use a wooden block to set the distance between the gouge tip and the base of the jig, typically around one and three-quarters inches deep.
- Place the block against the tip of the gouge and secure it against the base of the jig to achieve the desired projection.
- Insert the grinding jig with the gouge against the sharpening wheel, ensuring the whole bevel is flush by marking it with a marker.
- Turn the wheel by hand to ensure the bevel rests flush against the wheel.
- Start the grinding wheel and allow it to reach full speed, then gently place the gouge against the wheel.
- Grind one side of the gouge, lift it from the wheel, and repeat on the other side.
- Lightly touch the nose and move it side to side for improved control of the profile.
- Repeat the process until the gouge has a sharp edge and a good fingernail grind.
Sharpening Your Spindle Gouge
To sharpen a spindle gouge, you will need the following tools:
Here are the steps to sharpen a spindle gouge:
- Same process with sharpening a bow gouge, insert the spindle gouge into the grinding jig and secure it.
- You can also use a wood block to set one and three-quarters inches distance between the gouge tip and the jig’s base.
- Use the block to set the desired projection by securing it against the base of the jig after placing it against the gouge tip, just like with sharpening a bowl gouge.
- Draw a solid line on the bevel of the spindle gouge using a marker.
- Insert the grinding jig with the gouge against the grinding wheel, adjusting the base to line up the bevel.
- Turn on the grinding wheel and start sharpening the gouge by touching one side of the wheel, rotating the tool, and lifting it off before reaching the tip. Repeat on the other side.
- Position the spindle gouge so that the flute faces up, touch the tip gently to the wheel, and control the shape of the tip by rolling back and forth.
- Repeat the process until the spindle gouge has a sharp cutting edge and the desired sharpening angle.
Indeed, sharpening a gouge is an essential skill for woodworkers and woodturners alike. By following this step-by-step guide on how to sharpen a gouge, you can ensure that your tools are kept in excellent condition.
The key is to take your time, use the right equipment, and practice consistently to achieve the best results.