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Doc Green’s Woodturning Site

Gouges, Part 7

Small Spindle and Detail Gouges

This article briefly describes several applications of small, fingernail-grind spindle gouges.  A detail gouge is likely to have a rather shallow flute.  They are used for cutting fine detail as opposed to removing a lot of wood.  Because of their small diameter, they must not be extended far over the rest.  The maximum extension is about 3” for a 3/8” gouge, and about 1” for a 1/4” gouge.  

In order to reach deeper into narrow coves and grooves, I ground away part of the bevel near the heel on my 3/8”, long-bevel spindle gouge.  This has no effect on the cutting action because the important part of the bevel is that near the cutting edge.

V Grooves.  As long as the V is not too narrow, a detail gouge is a good choice for cutting a V groove.  The method is to make cuts on alternate sides until the desired depth of the V is achieved.  

Visualize where you want the center of the V to be.  Move slightly to the left of that point and initiate the first cut. With the flute pointing to 3 o’clock, position the tool so the cutting edge of the bottom wing is in line with the approaching wood.  Then raise the handle to arc the cutting edge into the wood in the direction of the left side of the V. The cutting action will occur primarily on the bottom wing as opposed to right at the tip.   

What this will do is raise wood fibers on the left side.  Don’t make this cut too deep or you will risk splintering that may go beyond the boundry of the V on the right side.  Then switch sides and make a similar cut.  This will remove the fibers that were raised initially, and the V will start to take shape.  

Switch back to the left side and take another cut, going a bit deeper this time.  Then make the opposing cut on the right, and so forth, until you get the V you want.  

Coves.  One way to make a cove is to begin with a shallow V to get rid of a bit of waste wood, then make the sides of the V concave to form the cove.  Here’s the procedure.  Mark the width of the cove on the blank.  Form the shallow V, but stay well within the marks. Use alternating cuts with the gouge to shape the sides and bottom, using a rolling motion to form the concave surface.

Making the V is easy, but you immediately encounter a tricky situation when you start shaping the sides.  The issue is, how do you start a cut without getting a runback where the tool skates away from the cove and digs a trench across the surface?  It’s easy, after a bit of practice.  Begin the cut with the bottom wing of the gouge, but be sure the cutting edge is aligned with the approaching wood when you make the initial contact.  

Once contact is made, arc the tool into the wood. As the cut begins to advance, swing the handle to the right and rotate the tool to the right  as necessary to keep the cutting edge from slipping out of the cut.  (This is for a cut on the left side of the cove.)  If you get only a small chamfer before dropping the cut, you aren’t swinging the handle enough.

As the cut begins to advance down the side of the cove, rotate the tool and swing the handle toward the left to shape the concave surface. Rotate and swing with one fluid motion.  Don’t let the tool move back toward you; it’s better to actually push it forward just a little to be sure it stays on the bevel. Cut only to the bottom of the cove.

The following photos show the position of the gouge at various stages of the cut.  For the sake of getting the picture, I cut the left side of a cove on the end of a spindle.  

The devil is in the details.  How much you will have to swing and rotate your gouge depends on its bevel angle and the details of the grind.  Experimenting on a practice spindle should bring any problems (and solutions, hopefully) to light. The following photos summarize the procedure.

Beads.  The method is to begin with two V’s that establish the width and depth of the bead, then round each side of the pedestal between the V’s to form the bead.  It’s not easy to do. The hard part is getting smooth curves that are symmetrical and which meet at the top to form an arc of a circle.  

Here’s a method that works better for me than any other I’ve found.  It’s not prone to catches, but it does require some precise tool handling.  For practice, a 3/8” gouge with a fingernail grind and a spindle about 2.5” in diameter are good.   

First, cut a V groove on each side of the bead.  Then set the tool rest at center height.  This will cause the cut to occur somewhat above center, which seems to work best.  

Step 1.  With the tool handle at right angles to the piece, position the cutting edge as shown in the drawing in anticipation of making the cut on the left side of the bead. At this point, make sure the heel of the bevel is rubbing so the cutting edge is well clear of the surface.

Step 2.  With a slow and deliberate movement, raise the handle until the cutting edge begins to take hold and raise a bit of dust, but no shavings.  

Step 3. Pivot the tool about a point on the tool rest so that the tip of the fingernail moves to the left.  Roll the tool toward the cut ever so slightly as you do this so that cutting begins.

Step 4.  As the cut advances, roll the tool and raise the handle so the tip of the fingernail moves down the side of the bead.  

Step 5.  Swing the tool handle to the left to cause the tip to curve toward a line at right angles to the surface.  This will produce a steep side on the bead.  

And that’s it, except for doing the other side.  In steps 1 and 2, the flute will be pointing to 10:30 or 11 o’clock.  By the time you reach step 5, you will have rolled it all the way over to 9 o’clock. However, if you are making a shallow bead,  the rotation will not be as pronounced.  

The steepness of the sides is controlled primarily by the swing.  To produce a bead whose sides are perpendicular to the surface, the handle must be swung an amount equal to the bevel angle of your gouge, maybe as much as 35 or 40º.

In steps 3, 4, and 5, you will be rolling the tool plus raising and swinging the handle, all at the same time.  However, the predominant movement will be the one in boldface type.

Pulling a cut onto the end of a spindle.  A bevel-rubbing pull cut can be initiated on the very end of a spindle or on the side of a feature on a spindle.  That is, you can start in thin air and cut onto the piece.  This is not possible, or it’s at least tricky, with a gouge in a basic cut or with a skew.  The inherrent problem, of course, is that there is nothing beyond the end for the bevel to rub against.  

What makes this possible is that a point on the bevel, about midway between the tip and the heel, makes contact with the corner of the workpiece before the cutting edge engages. This will happen as long as the tool is at right angles to the workpiece or swung in the direction of the cut.

Cutting a tenon with a spindle gouge.  Tenons on large pieces deserve larger, heftier tools because it is often necessary to remove a lot of wood.  However, for smaller items a spindle gouge works just fine, and you may already have it in your hand when you get to that point.  

First, cut a diagonal across the corner of the piece.  Then make a series of cuts by pivoting the wing of the gouge into the diagonal surface to remove waste wood.  Make a final cut to flatten the tenon, and finish with a pull cut to square the shoulder.  And that’s it.  Takes about 15 seconds if you don’t hurry; a bit longer if you do.  

Extreme shear cutting.  A shearing cut is one in which the wood approaches the cutting edge at an acute angle.  If the angle is very small, I call it extreme shear cutting. Such a cut is less likely to tear the grain, and in the case of degraded wood, it is often the only cut that will leave anything like a smooth surface.  

With a spindle gouge, it is made by lowering the handle and presenting the tool so that the wood slides down one of the wings. It is a bevel-rubbing cut that is not the same as shear scraping, which is done with the cutting edge in trail.  Shear cutting is likely to leave a better surface than shear scraping.  

Position the tool with the handle low and swung slightly to the left, flute pointing to 1 or 2 o’clock, bevel rubbing.  To initate the cut, raise the handle and roll the tool to the right with a pivoting motion. Adjust the swing of the handle to keep the cutting action centered on the wing.  

Plunging into the center.   During the course of hollowing a bowl, platter, or goblet, for example, you may determine that the hollow needs to be deepened a specific amount, say, 1/4”.  Once you make another cut to the center, however, you lose your point of reference. It is more convenient to first creat a narrow cavity, or recess, 1/4” deep at the center and then turn away the surrounding wood. When you get to the bottom of the cavity, you will have deepened the hollow by 1/4”.  

The cavity can be made quickly with a spindle gouge by plunging the tip of the gouge straight into the center of the spinning work.  The technique I use is to position the tip of the gouge about 1/16” to the lower right of the center, and then simultaneously push forward and pull to the left.  It will bring out a shaving, and the cavity will develop quickly.

An example: detail work on an “icicle.”  Spindles take many forms, ranging from chair parts and balusters for stairs down to the small finials used to adorn lidded vessels.  The “icicle” part of a globe-type tree ornament is another example of a spindle.  

Naturally, spindle gouges are used in turning the small finials and icicles.  But contrary to what you might at first think, you do not necessarily need “tiny” tools to make these items.  Unless you are working on something really small, a 1/4 or 3/8” spindle gouge and a 3/4” wide skew is all you need.

The following photographs show an icicle for an ornament at two different stages.  The only tool used was a 3/8” spindle gouge.  The tenon on the right, next to the cone center, is 1/2” in diameter.  The overall length is 3”.  

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