What is the best bowl gouge sharpening angle? The “right” bowl gouge angle depends on your personal preference. The gouge bevel angle will determine how you stand, maneuver the tool, and how you create each cut on the lathe. Multiple gouges each with different bevel grind angles can be utilized in different turning situations.
Like so many things in woodturning, there are numerous answers.
Why are there so many answers?
Let me stress, the following angles are good average starting points, but we need to dig into this a little deeper. Keep reading, and I’ll help you discover YOUR personal bowl gouge sharpening angles.
Here are the approximate bowl gouge sharpening angles for various bowl gouge styles.
- 40-40 Grind – 40º (smaller cone-like tip)
- Traditional Grind – 45° (wings slightly pulled back)
- Fingernail Grind – 50° (wings width of flute)
- Modified Fingernail – 50° (wings width of shaft diameter)
- Irish Grind – 55° (wings two times tool diameter)
- Micro Bevel Grind – 60-70°
Measuring Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles
The best way to accurately measure the bevel angle of a bowl gouge is by using a protractor. After experimenting with several protractors, I decided I really like this simple steel protractor with a locking thumb screw.
Place the flat portion of the protractor base flush against the center of the bowl gouge flute. Adjust the swinging arm until it is snug up against the bevel angle. Lock the thumb screw and read the angle under the little tick mark indicator.
I Messed Up My Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles
I remember when I first got started turning wood bowls and sharpening the bowl gouge seemed straightforward. My mentor, Danny, took the time to show me how to use the Wolverine Varigrind Jig to return a nice sharp edge to my bowl gouge.
As the months went by and I turned and sharpened more and more I started getting comments from other turners during our Wednesday night turning group. “Your gouge is really swept back,” was a comment I heard often. I shrugged it off and didn’t think about it much.
My bowl turning improved and I apparently kept dropping the handle of my bowl gouge lower as I sharpened it. This action swept back the side wings dramatically. “Oh you’re using an Ellsworth grind,” someone said. “Sure, I guess. Whoever or whatever that is?” LOL! Sorry, David, I was very green then. I feel I need to make some bowing gesture to show my unworthiness.
What I did know was that this gouge worked very well. I could hog out waste material aggressively and then turn around and make a beautiful bevel riding clean push cut down the supported grain wall of any bowl.
Later I learned to flip the tool over and use the wings to perform shear scraping finishes on the outside of bowls. I loved my bowl gouge. People called it “swept-back,” “Irish grind,” “Ellsworth grind.” I called it “my bowl gouge.”
Then one day I read an article somewhere, and there was an example of my swept back bowl gouge. “Cool,” I thought until I read closer.
The bevel angle for my gouge, with the sept back wings, needs to be 65° the article said. I got the protractor and measured my bowl gouge bevel. It was 55°! Oh no, what was I doing? Apparently, I had ruined my gouge with all my careless work on the grinder!
Quietly, I returned to the grinder hoping nobody would see me stripping away valuable metal from my bowl gouge, desperately trying to get my bevel back to the “correct” angle.
After some time at the grinder, and with a shorter tool I returned to the lathe. The gouge felt about the same, but something was different. What was it?
It took awhile to realize all my body motions and positions were off just a little bit. The tool cut pretty much the same way just from a slightly different angle, because of the shifted new angle I just ground.
Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles Are Personal
Stop! Don’t grind away your bowl gouge just because you read a different angle number somewhere. Instead of taking some printed number as gospel, think about how you use your tools.
First, do you use bowl gouges with all the different grind styles? I mainly use two styles.
My bowl gouges are a large 3/4” and a smaller 1/2” swept-back grind bowl gouge each with about a 55° bevel angle and a micro-bevel bowl gouge which has about a 65-70° cutting tip. These are the only bowl gouges I use and need on a regular basis. I do have others, but those don’t get used as much.
The point I’m trying to make is using what works for you. If you like using a variety of different bowl gouge styles, sizes, and bevel angles, use them. Just consider how and when you use each gouge and why.
I use my swept back gouges for all of the exterior and interior roughing and finishing bowl cuts. If a bowl has a deep or angled interior, I will use my secret weapon, as I like to call it, the micro-bevel gouge.
If you turn with a group of other turners, ask around and see if anyone has a bowl gouge with a bevel angle dramatically different from yours. Ask to borrow their bowl gouge. You will need to turn for a while because initially, the odd feeling may make you want to stop. Turn an entire bowl with the other gouge and see what you think.
Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles – Surprise Answer
Your bowl gouge sharpening angles are vital because they dictate the way YOU stand, position yourself, move, and conform to the create bowls. Did you notice the emphasizes on “you?”
Almost any angle, within reason, on the gouge bevel will cut wood. However, if you have two bowl gouges with bevels twenty degrees different from one another and you turned with both, you’d feel the difference.
The answer to “which bowl gouge sharpening angles should I use?” is simple. Use what works for YOU! Try other angles if you’d like but the right answer is whichever angle works best for YOU!
Different Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles Different Effects
By using remarkably different ground bevels, you would be feeling your body making equally extreme adjustments. The way you need to extend your arms for an interior push cut, for instance, will differ significantly.
Bowl gouges with different angles are great for specific situations. I like to make inward turned rimmed bowls occasionally. My 55° beveled bowl gouge cannot get up under that rim very well.
However, my micro bevel gouge at about 65-70° can reach in there. And when I switch to my micro bevel, I also need to rearrange my body to accommodate the different cutting angle for that gouge. Many times because of the extremely different gouge angle, I need to stand on the opposite side of the lathe to use my micro bevel.
There is NO Standard Angle
If you look at what turning experts and publications suggest as the “proper” bowl gouge bevel angle, the bowl gouge bevel can range from 45 to 70 degrees.
Who is right and who is not? They all are!
There exists no organizing body that confirms and verifies correct bowl gouge bevel angles, and one is not needed. You only need to consider what works best for YOU.
If anything, this vast range of bowl gouge sharpening angles should indicate to you that the bowl gouge is an incredibly flexible and customizable tool.
Make your bowl gouge do what you need it to do.
Use What You Have First
Hopefully, you can benefit from my experience. If your bowl gouge is working well for you, don’t change your angle. Even if your angle isn’t something that conforms to popular information.
Don’t listen to some fixed pat answer to “the correct bevel angle.” There is no such thing. And all the experts are using what works best for them. That may or may not work well for you. With all due respect, David Ellsworth (bowing motion).
I don’t think experts or authors are negligent in any way. They are simply sharing what works for them or what might be an average angle that will be a good starting point for someone getting started.
Regardless of how much time you’ve turned, you probably have bowl gouge sharpening angles that work for you. Now question them. Why do you like them? Do they work well for the type of bowls you turn? If so, great!
If you have a gouge that doesn’t work so well, ask why? Is it because it doesn’t reach a specific area of the bowls you turn? Does it feel uncomfortable while turning? Perhaps a different bevel angle would change that.
Drifting Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angle
When you go to the grinder use precision. Carefully check the angle, your angle, you are putting on your bevel.
When our family visited the Grand Canyon, our kids were young. During a ranger presentation, someone asked if they could take home some rocks. The ranger explained that if everyone brought home just one rock, there would be no more rocks left at the Grand Canyon. The logical side of me wanted to challenge the ranger’s story, but the general idea of preserving the park was sound.
Each time you return to the sharpening grinder, dramatic changes can occur over time from minor infractions. It’s important to make sure the gouge bevel is flush with the sharpening wheel. A hair raised on the tip or heel will add up much quicker than rocks leaving that hole in Arizona.
If you don’t take the time to confirm that the gouge bevel is flush with grinding wheel, your gouge might drift to a very different bevel angle soon.
Change and Maintain Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angle
The best way to change your bowl gouge sharpening angle is gradual. If you’ve questioned your current gouge angle and want to make it perhaps ten degrees different, make that change slowly.
Each time you return to the sharpening grinder adjust the angle a degree or so and sharpen the gouge until, after several sharpenings, you reach the desired final angle.
Keep in mind not to overheat the tool when grinding away material. Do NOT put HSS (high-speed steel) in water if its too hot to handle or has changed color. Set it down and take a break as it cools. Dramatic heat changes in HSS can cause stress fractures.
You may use water to cool the high-speed steel if the metal is not excessively hot or discolored. Cooling the gouge tip frequently in water is acceptable and recommended. However, cooling an overheated gouge in water will damage the metal.
While shaping or sharpening the tip of the bowl gouge should not change color. Blue or brown appearing on the end of the gouge indicate that metal has overheated. The colored area needs to be removed.
If you have a more course wheel, use it to remove material and then return to the finer course wheel to restore the sharp edge.
Hopefully, I convinced you there is really no one correct answer for the bowl gouge sharpening angle. There are plenty of good suggestions and starting points, but the only correct answer is what works for you.
If you’re ready to sharpen your bowl gouge consistently to one particular bevel angle, here are three articles you will need to set up your sharpening station like this Oneway Wolverine Vari-Grid Sharpening System, understand and adjust the Wolverine Vari-Grind Sharpening Jig, and then execute the sharpening process consistently for an easy predictable sharp bowl gouge bevel angle every time.
Please let me know if you found this post helpful. And, out of curiosity, what angle do you sharpen your bowl gouge bevels?
Want to understand the bowl gouge basics, read this next.
– Besides bowl gouges, I have many other suggestions in my Recommended Equipment Guide. Check them out.
Explore more about the bowl gouge here:
• 40-40 BOWL GOUGE GRIND (SHAPE, SHARPEN, USE)
• BOWL GOUGE BASICS – BEGINNER GUIDE (PARTS, USE, SIZES, GRINDS)
• BOWL GOUGE SHARPENING TECHNIQUES STEP BY STEP