Wood Carving Gouge

Larger tools Tormek SVD-186 Gouge Jig (or SVD-185) is recommended.
Smaller tools Tormek SVS-38 Short Tool Jig or SVS-32 may be appropriate. It is used in a similar manner.
Shorter tools You may need to use a standard, off-the-shelf collar to guide the sharpening process. Most hardware stores carry these, or you can order one such as part number 9414T9 (7/16 inch) or 57485K68 (10 mm) from McMaster-Carr. Note : You will probably need to replace the set screw with a longer one.

Use the Projection Calculator to set the projection and USB distance from the grindstone.

Remember to hone / strop the edge -- this is very important for carving tools!

General Guidelines
Material Notes
Hand Work Mallet Work
Softer woods 15° 18° - 20°
e.g., bass or tupelo
Medium woods 17.5°
20° - 22.5°
e.g., maple
Harder woods 20°
23° - 25°
e.g., ash or oak

Notes & Comments
  • When sharpening, be very careful about the edge's shape. But be cautious about taking a decision to round the corners off too fast. It is easy to do, but often requires quite a bit of grinding and metal removal to re-establish a flat edge profile.

    The diagrams below show the edge when viewed from above.

  • A flat edge with crisp corners (i.e., a straight line when viewed from above) is needed for operations like lettering.
    A slightly rounded edge works well for work such as sideways slicing.
    Hollowing and leaving no tool marks are best achieved using a tool which has its corners a bit "softened".

  • The inside surfaces of bent and spoon gouges (shown in red below) need particular care. The surface should have a smooth, flowing shape to allow the removed wood a smooth transition away from the surface. If not, it can cause tears in the surface.
  • Rounded cutting bevel
    Smooth inside surface

  • The bevel on the gouge needs to be convex when cutting into curved wood surfaces, and this bevel's radius needs to be smaller than the hole. Doing so reduces the bruising to the wood as the carver rotates the tool through the cut.

    This is shown in the area marked red in the picture to the right..

  • Microbevel on inside surface

  • One school of thought is to put a secondary / micro-bevel on the inside of the gouge's curve. The thinking is that this allows the shape to be longer, more tapered, but not have too acute an edge angle as to be less usable on harder woods.

    This approach also allows the tool to be held at a shallower angle (to the wood) which makes carving easier.

    As shown to the right, this can increase the effective cutting angle by 2° - 5° quite easily, without having to regrind the larger surface.

    Additional notes are also available on a different web page for Micro / Secondary Bevels.

  • Carving edges are typically not reground; only to reshape them, or repair a problem with the edge. More commonly, the edge is simply honed on the leather wheel.

  • R.M. Mottola has published a good set of instructions on Sharpening, Honing and Polishing Gouges and Other Carving Tools.

  • Fine Woodworking posted a great article by chair maker Russ Filbeck on Sharpening gouges and drawknives with a lapidary wheel.

  • Some information presented is from the Tormek handbook, Water Cooled Sharpening of Edge Tools, © Tormek AB.

Tormek Live Sharpening Class - Part 4 - Carving Knife & Carving Tools

Wolfgang and Sèbastian from Tormek go through the sharpening of carving knives and various carving tools such as v-tools, carving gouges and short wood chisels.

  • At about 45:00, there is a good discussion about sharpening bent gouges, and setup of the SVD-186 jig.

  • At about 50:00, there is a good discussion about sharpening back bent and spoon gouges, and setup of the SVD-186 jig.
Alan Holtham - Tormek SVD-186 Gouge Jig
David Peters - Tormek SVD-186 Gouge Jig Review and Comparison to the 18
Sharpen gouges with the Tormek Gouge Jig SVD-185
Jeff Farris - Sharpening with the Tormek SVD-185 Gouge Jig
Sharpen short edge tools with the Tormek Short Tool Jig SVS-32
Tormek AngleMaster WM-200

Tormek is a copyrighted logo of Tormek AB. Its presentation on this site is used to help the user quickly understand when specific Tormek tools, jigs, or setting are being used. For specific information regarding Tormek AB, or its products, please refer to the www.Tormek.com.

About this site
Remember : The goal of sharpening is to produce sharp tools, and these tools can injure you if mishandled. Safety measures should be followed to protect yourself and those in your shop. Be sure to read and follow all instructions from the manufacturer, and and utilize proper safety equipment. Never consume alcohol or anything that could impair your judgement before sharpening tools, or using sharp tools. Comments can be sent via eMail to me at SharpeningHandbook@Gmail.com.