Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles Best

Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles – Surprise Answer

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°

Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angle Illustration Infographic

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.

Tool Sharpening for Wood Bowl Turning eCourse

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.

Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles Protractor Measurement

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.

101 WoodBowl Turning Tips Display

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.

Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles On My Gouges
Micro Bevel Gouge Detail Photo
Micro Bevel Gouge Detail Photo

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.

Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles Tool Presentation Difference

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

Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles Quote

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

Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles Understanding Why

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.

Tool Sharpening for Wood Bowl Turning online learning eCourse

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.

Conclusion

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


Happy Turning,
Kent

Comments

  1. I just want to second the comments in the article, there is no “right” angle.

    I’ve only been turning for 2 years, off and on. All of it self taught with YouTube and sites like this one. I took a small break from my lathe, then came back this fall and wanted to “up my game”. So I got caught on thinking I needed a better bowl gouge grind. I read lots of articles and watched videos. I measured my bowl gouge and found it to be 75°, with some serious swept back wings. NOWHERE says this is a bowl gouge angle. So I set out to change it. Over time I got the angle to 55°. I thought this was good.

    This weekend I finished my second bowl with the new grind. Both bowls were HORRIBLE in the making. My catches and tear-out have become un-manageable. So I started really thinking about why. The obvious answer is “it’s the new grind”. But why?

    For my set up, it’s my lathe. I have the Rikon 70-220 midi. With a grind less than 65°-70° I cannot get the end of the tool handle low enough to ride the bevel while working over the lathe bed. So now I will spend the next few weeks making my gouge shorter to get back to the grind I had that accidently worked.

    1. Author

      Perfect. Thanks for sharing. See, we all have to do what works best for us. All the best to you!

  2. I just wanted to thank you for all the work you have put into helping others enjoy this great hobby. I just started about a year ago, and through alot of trial and error, finally managed to get a bowl turned. Through your site and you tube videos, I have finally figured out how to set up my varigrind properly. I have no idea as to how much vaulable metal ended up of the shop floor. More than I want to admit to. I do have a question for you, do you have a preference between a standard bowl gouge or a fingernail gouge? I have a couple of fingernail grinds and was considering buying a traditional grind, but as you know chesels don’t come cheap. Is there an advantage of one over the other?

    1. Author

      Hello Scott,

      I’m so glad you’ve found my site and are benefitting. I, too, was searching for answers and I know how frustrating it can be guessing for solutions at times. You are the reason I made this website!

      I prefer a swept-back bowl gouge for most of my work. You can purchase any bowl gouge and shape and sharpen it to meet your needs. My Tool Sharpening for Wood Bowl Turning Course covers 5 different gouge profiles, how to shape and sharpen them.

      Also, check out this video for more info about bowl gouge profiles and angles. https://youtu.be/o2dS0FWfLT4

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

    2. Just read your article. Thank you for the information. I really appreciate your expertise.

  3. Question: should there be a different sharpening angle on turning tools for softwoods compared with hardwoods? as there is for sharpening a hand chisel, or hand plane blade.

    1. Author

      Hello Adrian,

      That’s a good question.

      Some people like to use a steep or more blunt angle (like 65-70º) on a bowl gouge for soft punky woods.

      I recommend experimenting. Try a bowl gouge with an angle around 40-45 degrees and another around 60-70 degrees. See what works best for you.

      Let us know what you find.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  4. I don’t want to be picky on an otherwise excellent article (along with your others) and the comment may have already been made. But the angle shown in your graphic comparing various grinds does not align with the way you measure in the picture of the protractor. If you use the protractor in that waythen you need to use the complementary angle (ie deduct the reading from 90 deg) to make it equate to the graphic.

    I have actually printed out the graphic to pin up in my workshop as I have been a bit careless with my bench grinder and not worried too much about the angles. But I have started to use my wet Record wheel (like a Tormek but cheaper) and noting to settings so that I get consistent angled grinds. I am trying out the traditional and the basic fingernail at the moment.

  5. Hi, I live in a country that I don’t have access to any of the bowl gouges you mentioned in your article or even a wolverine varigrind jig and all the chisels I find here that bowl turners use are very inefficient and pretty expensive(I can provide pics if necessary), So I am trying to make my own gouges and sharpening jigs that I need to start turning bowls.
    I would really appreciate any tips and advice on how to make them. thanks. Rock

    1. Author

      Hello Ramiz,

      I’m sorry traditional bowl gouges are not easily available for you.

      If you have the ability or know any metal workers, HSS high-speed steel is what you would need to shape and form a traditional bowl gouge.

      Another alternative would be to use carbide tools. These tools are easier to custom-make and do no require special sharpening. Here’s a link to see what these tools look like.

      I’m guessing you also can’t get these too easily, but similar tools can be made using carbide steel. Keep in mind that these carbide tools create more of a scraping action compared to the cutting action of the traditional bowl gouge.

      Perhaps, you or someone you know will be traveling to a country that does have access to bowl gouges and could bring some back for you. I wish you all the best and I hope you’re able to get what you need soon.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

    2. There are lots of people making tools from old files, although they need heat treatment but there is lots of advice on the internet. Also people are sharpening tools on belt sanders, angle grinders etc for example. Good luck with your turning.

  6. A general question: I’m using a .9 in V shaped gouge as a roughing gouge, but have been told
    it’s not a real roughing gouge. What is this gouge used for?
    p.s. I can send photos. Thanks, Bob

    1. Author

      Hi Bob,

      I would need to see it. There are older V-shaped bowl gouges but a roughing gouge is a gentle U-shape.

      Email a pic to me at kw (at) turnawoodbowl.com

      Thanks,
      Kent

    1. Author

      Bob,

      A fingernail profile is fine if that works for you. I don’t recommend any particular style or angle of gouge bevel. I can tell you what I use, but everyone is different and that’s just fine.

      I suggest applying a fingernail profile since you mentioned it and see how you like it. If you want to make changes later, that’s always possible.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  7. Kent: if I have the Wolverine jig for sharpening bowl gouges, etc, do I also have to the Vari-grind attachment?
    Can a gouge with a fingernail sweep be sharpened without the Vari-grind?

    1. Author

      Bob,

      Sure you can sharpen without the Vari-grind jig. I recommend using the platform for support. The 40/40 grind bowl gouge is a great hand sharpened gouge technique. Here’s a link to an article all about the 40/40 grind gouge.

      Remember, the advantage of the Vari-grind jig is consistency. Pay close attention when sharpening by hand. It can be very easy to have a gouge profile shape start to wander away after just a few sharpenings.

      Good luck with it,
      Kent

  8. Great article! Comprehensive, well written and good neutral discussion. I have recently been converted (from the mish mash school of grinding only when I really had to) to freehand grinding my bowl gouges to Stuart Batty’s 40/40 grind. I keep the heel ground away so that the cutting bevel is short (1/4″ to 1/2″). And I sharpen often – several time during the turning of each gouge. So often that I just never turn the grinder off while I am turning. Partly because I have 2 8″ CBN wheels on the grinder and it grunts some and takes forever to come up to speed. The 40/40 seems to work for me but I will try some other angles to see if I like another better. THANK YOU!

    1. Author

      Tom,

      Thanks for writing and you fine compliments.

      Sharpening often is good. 😉 I’m glad you found a gouge angle that works for you. That’s all that matters!

      The 40/40 grind has some good advantages too. Stay tuned, I have an article coming out soon on the 40/40 grind.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  9. Thank you for every other magnificent article. Where else could anyone get that type
    of info in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I
    am on the search for such info.

  10. I have been doing wood turning for over 30 years. I have attended classes and seminars offered by many different PROFESSIONALS all of whom have their recommended angles. From their opinions I have found angles that work best for me. When I do classes or seminars I do make suggestions like you that the final angle that is chosen is PERSONAL for the same reasons you shared. I found your article to be encouraging in that there is MORE THAN ONE RIGHT ANGLE. I find wood turning to be personally rewarding and relaxing. I enjoy experimenting! It is amazing how much beauty is hidden inside wooden blanks.

    1. Author

      Ken,

      Thanks for the comment and sharing your thoughts on gouge angles.

      I’m glad to hear we share the same common admiration for finding the “hidden” gems in each bowl blank!

  11. Thank you for this article, I am constantly worried about how I’m going to get an “acceptable” angle! I am new to lathe work, I have been sharpening by hand but getting a bench grinder very soon. I do buff my chisels using some autosol on a piece of leather to take the fine burr off but wonder if I would get a better cut leaving them unbuffed. Would you have an article on tool rest height and positioning of tools while cutting by any chance?

    1. Author

      Hello Samantha,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      In general, a burr left on your tools is what does the actual cutting. Usually, that burr is very small and can only be detected by running your finger again the edge. For tools like negative rake scrapers, I apply a burr with a burring tool. There’s an article coming out on this topic soon.

      Regarding tool rest height and positioning tools, I have an article all about Avoiding Catches, check it out.

      Thanks again and Happy Turning,
      Kent

  12. I have heard a lot about buffing after sharpening and have tried same, my first attempts caused rounding over of the edge so I gave up on that. However, after sharpening there is sometimes a wire edge left ( may be due to my inability to do it proper) I do use a proper jig. Some people swears by buffing, What are your thoughts on it and some advise on proper method to do. Incidentally, your advice on sharpening is superb. Thanks.

    1. Author

      Donald,
      The only buffing I’ve heard of comes from the tool companies themselves. Typically tools are buffed to look good for purchasing. Buffing would theoretically make an edge last a bit longer, but I’m not sure the time spent buffing balances with the amount of sharpening needed. If you are turning a great deal you will need to be sharpening often and adding buffing can be time-consuming.

      The wire edge you mention can be formed a number of different ways. I’ve found if I very lightly rub the gouge edge to the sharpening wheel, usually, that rough edge will disappear. Thanks for the comment and Happy Turning!

  13. I am a new woodturner and at 86 hope I haven’t waited too long. Having spent many hours on the computer learning about tools, wood, and techniques, I am familiar with many sites that relate to my needs, however, no site I have seen even comes close to the technical expertise, suburb illustrations, and clear , well-written instructions, that your’s does.
    Thank you so much,

    Farrell Eaves
    Signal Mtn., TN

    1. Author

      Farrell,

      It’s never too late to do what you love. Thank you for your kind words! My goal is to make it easy for anyone to understand the details behind making and turning wood bowls. To me turning bowls is such a thrill and I want to share that thrill with everyone who’s willing to learn! Thanks again and Happy Turning!!!

    1. Author

      That’s definitely another option. Stay tuned for an article about the 40/40 bowl gouge grind.

  14. Pingback: Vari-Grind Jig Setup Oneway Wolverine Grinding Sharpening System Bowl

  15. Thank goodness, someone who tells it like it is! I am so tired of people saying “THIS is the correct angle for your gouge” and “You need to modify your grind”. Why can’t more turners accept that each person has his/her own individual way of standing at the lathe and that the angles on their tools will vary accordingly.
    I accept that the complete ‘newbie’ may need some guidance as a starting point but after that – let them go!
    Nice article well written and to the point.
    Congratulations!

    1. Author

      Thanks for writing Chris and Happy Turning, whatever grind you may be using!

  16. Namaskar sir warm thanks for sharing your valuable information.sir can I get video as showing same tool application for bowel making &is it possible to use in Hand Router machine (Bouch co.). Regards Anand P Deo.Nagpur city INDIA.

  17. Thank you for a fascinating and hugely interesting article, it’s answered many questions. I’ve just restarted wood turning having learnt it many many years ago. I’ve done plenty of metal turning in my life but turning wood (which I’ve always loved working with) is a whole new ball game.
    Miss Tee Luton England UK

    1. Author

      Thank you for the comment! I’m thrilled to be of assistance. Please let me know what else you’d like to see covered.

  18. Super article; last year At the Utah Wood turning symposium I took in
    several sessions on turning bowls and platters given by Stuart Batty.
    They were great sessions and he advocated a 40 degree grind on all
    his gouges wth the exception of a much higher angle grind for what he
    called a “bottom feeder”gouge. He also advocated a micro bevel on his
    gouges. He also advocates freehand grinding if you feel up t it.
    Once I returned home I started grinding and using 40 degrees as the
    angle for all of my gouges with the exception of one gouge which is
    ground at a much higher degree (65) for getting down in those deep and steep
    areas of the bowl walls. Your article has prompted me to do a bit of
    experimenting with different angles.
    One major advantage I have found over the past year since free hand
    grinding, is that I sharpen more frequently especially before the final
    cuts and it has greatly improved my final product befor the sanding process
    begins. I attribute this to going over to the wheel more frequently and
    touching up the tool as before I was reactant to take the time to set up
    the grinding gig and set the angles correctly which took up more time.
    I thank Stuart for that and now your article to get me on a better track
    to have sharper and more consistent bowl gouge tools. Thanks. Bob

    1. Author

      Thanks for the great comment Bob! I’m impressed that you hand sharpen your gouges, well done. I’m also glad this article has given you the motivation to experiment. It’s too easy to see or hear one way of doing something and think that is the only or best way. There are many solutions and probably some that haven’t been discovered yet. Experiment and have fun. Happy Turning!

    1. Author

      Enter the address https://turnawoodbowl.com/feed into your web browser and you will see a listing of the most recent posts from this site. If you have a newsreader or a news page you can add this RSS and you will see all new posts when they arrive. I will be adding email subscription in the near future for updates. Stay tuned. FYI – New article coming tomorrow.

  19. Just a suggestion… I see a new addition to your site.. Update notice to the listed email of this new information.

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