Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Roughing Gouge: getting started


I am beginning a section on the web site about Wood Turning Basics. Here is an article I wrote about the roughing gouge which will be updated with pictures and video for the site. Any comments are appreciated.

Wood Turning Tools - Roughing Gouge

The wood turning tool first reached for by most beginning wood turners is a roughing gouge. While it is obvious that most things produced on a wood lathe are round, wood tends to arrive in a more of less square fashion. Even it comes to the shop in the form of a log, it is generally cut more or less square before mounting on the lathe so it must be roughed round. Hence the use of a roughing gouge for the first wood turning tool.

It should be pointed out that the roughing gouge is a spindle turning tool, not for bowls and other face plate work. As most lathes come with a spur center and a tail center for spindle turning and most beginner sets of wood turning tools do not contain bowl gouges, most people begin their wood turning obsession with spindle turning.

A roughing gouge will look semi circular when viewing it from the tip. It should have a deep flute and even thickness walls. For normal turning needs seventeen or eighteen inches from handle end to cutting tip is good and a 3/4" or 1" width should made a good general purpose tool with the 1" more versatile for most turners.

The tool should be sharpened straight across with a 45° angle. Every part of the edge can be used by rotating the tool. In past years the wood turners would continually roll the tool and found that there was more time between sharpening sessions because the work was distributed over so much of the tool tip. With the advent of modern high speed steels this is not as great a need because they stay sharp so much longer than the old carbon steels, but it still gives a greater length of time between sharpening the tool.

For your first cuts with the roughing gouge


  1. a wood block about 10" long and 2" to 3" square is mounted securely on the lathe

  2. you are wearing a face shield

  3. the lathe is set to a low speed, between 400 to 600 rpm

  4. with the lathe OFF, place the shaft of the tool against the tool rest with the tool nearly vertical and the tip of the tool well above the top of the wood

  5. rotate the wood toward you with your left hand while holding the tool with the right

  6. notice the tool does not cut the wood

  7. continue to turn the wood as you slowly raise your right hand pivoting the tool on the tool rest. When the tip of the tool is about 45° to the floor, the tip will begin to contact the wood and cutting will start.

  8. repeat the motion with the lathe turned on. The tool should be approaching the wood about 1/2" from the right side of the wood.

  9. as the wood begins to cut, roll the tool to the right while slightly raising the handle and the wood will cut

  10. continue with another cut beginning a bit farther left and a bit farther left and so on until you are about 1" from the left end of the wood

  11. repeat the motion but rolling a bit to the left starting from the left end of the wood


At this point you will likely find that the wood is not yet round but is a bit far from the tool rest for comfort. With the lathe off, move the tool rest closer to the wood and repeat the above exercise until the wood is round. Very likely the surface of the wood will be fairly rough from the roughing gouge. While experienced turners can get a fairly smooth surface from the tool, it is better at first to use the roughing gouge as its name implies and quickly get a round albeit rough surface.


Feel free to use this article as long as acknowledgment is given.

&copy;Darrell Feltmate,<a href="http://aroundthewoods.com">Around the Woods (aroundthewoods.com)</a>; used by permission

will work well in the html code or just

©Darrell Feltmate, http://aroundthewoods.com, Around the Woods, used by permission

in straight text.

1 comment:

Rasmus said...

Very nice i am looking forward to reading the series of articles. I have just started turning myself. I have been wating to get startet for a good part og a year. I have used the Roughing gouge, my teacher told us to tilt the tool libe with a gouge, and i found that this gives a better cut.

Rasmus