How to Choose a Bowl Gouge

The quick overview

The quick overview

I'll be honest. I have a drawer full of woodturning bowl gouges in my shop. But really, there are only a few key gouges you need to start turning bowls.

While much of the tool choosing process is based on personal taste and your unique projects, these tips are meant to provide guidance and give you a firm starting point as you choose your tools and develop your own preferences.

5/8" bowl gouge

Parabolic bowl gouge

Bottom feeder

I'l be honest. I have a drawer full of bowl gouges in my shop. But really, there are only a few key tools you need to start woodturning bowls.

While much of the tool choosing process is based on personal taste and your unique projects, these tips are meant to provide guidance and give you a firm starting point as you choose your tools and develop your own preferences!

5/8" bowl gouge

Parabolic bowl gouge

Bottom feeder

5/8" bowl gouge

Parabolic bowl gouge

Bottom feeder

Step 1: choosing the gouge size

While choosing the right bowl gouge size for your work isn't an exact science, here is a general guideline. Note that our measurements are based on the outside diameter of the gouge.

For small bowls with a diameter of 12" or less, we suggest a 1/2" or 3/8" bowl gouge.

For medium to large bowls with diameters of about 12" to 14", a 5/8" bowl gouge will be more efficient.

For sizable work with a diameter of 14" or larger, a powerful 3/4" bowl gouge will really get the job done.

Keep in mind, that while larger tools can be more efficient, bigger doesn't always translate to better! Try different gouges and pay attention to which you are most comfortable with and which best fit your work.

Step 2: traditional vs parabolic flute

When choosing between a traditional or parabolic flute shape, there really isn't a "wrong answer." While there are a few key differences between the two shapes, an equally important determining factor is personal preference and the shape you are most comfortable with.

Our parabolic gouges are designed in partnership with production woodturner Mike Mahoney, who finds that a parabolic flute, which is slightly wider and appears more 'open' than the traditional flute, provides enhanced chip flow. On the other hand, our traditional gouges have significantly longer flutes, for a long-lasting tool.

We suggest experimenting with both gouges if you have the opportunity, and choosing the tool you're most comfortable with.

Step 3: bottom feeder?

A u-shaped bowl gouge, also known as a 'bottom-feeder', has a 'u' shaped flute (and ours have a 60º grind), while traditional bowl gouges have a 'v' shaped flute (ours have a 50º grind). A u-shaped bowl gouge is specifically designed for removing stock from the bottom of the bowl.

Especially for deeper bowls, a u-shape bowl gouge ensures that the bottom of your bowl is finished with smooth, clean cuts. On the other hand, a traditional 'v' shaped bowl gouge is a versatile tool and can be used to turn your bowl from start to finish.

We suggest a bottom feeder gouge for deeper pieces. For shallow bowls, your traditional gouge will finish up the bottom without a problem.

Step 4: which grind?

There are many, many, answers to this questions. It seems that every woodturner has a different opinion about tool grinds, and that's largely because the grind of your tool is personal to you. Whichever grind you're most comfortable with, that gives you the best results, that's the grind you should use.

But where do you start!? We use a 50º grind on our traditional bowl gouges. We suggest using the Wolverine sharpening system to resharpen your tools for easy repeatability. Our parabolic bowl gouges are ground at a 40º angle, as this is the grind Mike Mahoney prefers. You won't achieve a perfect 40/40 grind using the Wolverine jig, but you can get close. For detailed sharpening tips and information, please visit our sharpening guide, right here.

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