What is the difference between a bowl gouge vs spindle gouge?
The bowl gouge flute is curved with wings and designed for turning wood bowls. A spindle gouge has a more open flat flute and is best used for details and spindle turnings.
I remember when I first started turning there were so many terms and tools to understand. When first looking at a bowl gouge vs spindle gouge they look very similar.
While they do look very similar, they have some very different qualities. Using a bowl gouge and a spindle gouge for their intended purposes is not only efficient but also safe.
In this article, I will share with you the advantages and disadvantages of the bowl gouge vs spindle gouge.
Bowl Gouge Defined
A bowl gouge has a round metal exterior shaft with a curved interior flute. The curved flute might be U-shaped, V-shaped, or parabolic in shape.
That interior flute design allows the bowl gouge to have exterior ground beveled wings that create a larger cutting surface all the way around the tip of the bowl gouge.
The size and shape of these side cutting wings are based on the particular use of the bowl gouge and the woodturner’s preference.
Bowl gouges can be used to remove large amounts of material quickly or finesse the last smooth cuts of a bowl interior.
The bowl gouge is a very diverse tool and can be used exclusively if needed to create an entire wood bowl.
Learn more about bowl gouge basics by reading this article next.
Different Types of Bowl Gouges
A single bowl gouge can be modified for many different uses. It’s common to have, for example, two or three of the same 5/8” bowl gouges each with a different bevel angle and each service a different use.
If you are interested in understanding the different bowl gouge bevel angles and their uses, be sure to read my article Bowl Gouge Sharpening Angles – Surprise Answer.
The micro bevel bowl gouge is an excellent example of a specific use bowl gouge. Micro-bevel bowl gouges, also known as “bottom-feeders” are detailed thoroughly in this article.
Spindle Gouge Defined
The spindle gouge, like the bowl gouge, has a round metal shaft. However, the flute of the spindle gouge is a wide-open, shallow U-shape which divides the metal shaft in half.
Because less material surrounds the tip of the spindle gouge, this tool is less fortified at the tip compared to the bowl gouge.
Relatively flat, the tip of the spindle gouge can be sharpened to a fine, thin tip and is ideal for making precise detail cuts on spindle and bowl exteriors.
Unlike the bowl gouge, the spindle does not have side wings that can cut. The sides of the spindle gouge can be turned to a 90° angle to scrape, but this is not a true cutting technique.
Different Types of Spindle Gouges
Similar to the bowl gouge, the spindle gouge can be sharpened to a variety of different bevel angles.
The angle of the spindle gouge dictates how much control and detail can be created with the spindle cutting tip.
It is common to have multiple spindle gouges each with different style beveled tips.
I use a more standard ground spindle gouge and a steeply ground detail spindle gouge. The detail spindle gouge allows access to tight spaces, like the inside angle of a properly created bowl tenon.
Bowl Gouge Vs Spindle Gouge Disadvantages
Bowl Gouge Disadvantages
The bowl gouge is a bit bulky at the cutting tip when it comes to tight spaces. Unlike the spindle gouge, the bowl gouge cannot get into sharp cove valleys easily.
If any tight detail work is needed, the bowl gouge is not the ideal tool for this task.
Because the bowl gouge is used so frequently, it accumulates miles of cutting distance quickly. With all this action, the bowl gouge needs to be sharpened often.
Spindle Gouge Disadvantages
Due to the reduction of metal at the tip of the spindle gouge, turning bowl interiors with a spindle gouge is not only not advised, but dangerous.
Because of the more delicate cutting tip of the spindle gouge, the gouge should not be over-extended beyond the support of the tool rest.
If the spindle gouge is extended over the tool rest at any significant distance and a catch were to occur, the spindle gouge tip can be snapped off.
The delicate, precise nature of the spindle gouge does not make it the ideal tool to remove material away quickly from a turning.
Do not use a spindle gouge to make large removing cuts, or turn the interior of a wood bowl. This is the spindle gouge’s real weakness, and it can be dangerous.
Bowl Gouge Vs Spindle Gouge Advantages
Bowl Gouge Advantages
The bowl gouge is a workhorse and can be modified to rough out material quickly, shape intricate curves and finish the surface of a wood bowl.
Because of the mass of metal material at the cutting tip and the overall substantial nature of the bowl gouge, it can be extended, within reason, far beyond the tool rest edge.
This extra reaching attribute is critical when turning down deep into a bowl. It’s not always possible to configure the tool rest at the ideal position against a particular turning surface.
Side cutting wings on the bowl gouge act like multi-tools. Rolling the tool over, it is easy to use the side wings to scrape and shear-scrape. Learn more about shear scraping cuts in this article.
The various bowl gouge cutting techniques are a valuable bonus to using a swept-back bevel angle on a bowl gouge.
If you’d like to discover the details about these techniques, read my article Bowl Gouge Technique – 4 Turning Cuts To Master.
A bowl gouge can also be used to remove material quickly from a spindle turning.
Spindle Gouge Advantages
Working in tight spaces and making sharp points are the task that makes the spindle gouge shine.
Delicate spindle work such as intricate textures and patterns can be easily created on bowl exteriors using the spindle gouge.
Areas where the bowl gouge can’t quite reach are easily addressed with a detail spindle gouge, on the bowl exterior only.
To create an ideal tenon, I will remove material and shape the cylinder of the tenon with a bowl gouge, then switch to my detail spindle gouge.
The detail spindle gouge can easily cut an inward dovetail angle to match my four-jaw chuck jaw angle.
At the base of the tenon dovetail angle, I roll the detail spindle gouge on its side to create a crisp corner and flat tenon shoulder area.
Another advantage of the spindle gouge is that it doesn’t need to be sharpened as frequently as the bowl gouge.
Bowl Gouge Vs Spindle Gouge Harmony
If you are new to the wood bowl turning scene, you might be trying to decide which one to get. Well, I think the answer is both.
People ask me, “what are the basic tools I need to turn a bowl?” And usually, the person means, how little can I spend and be able to turn a bowl? It’s a fair question.
My first reaction is I want to steer people to two bowl gouges. I recommend a 5/8” standard and a 1/2” finishing bowl gouge.
However, I really feel to have a well-rounded, yet minimal wood bowl turning toolset, you need to add a spindle gouge. And I recommend adding a 1/2” spindle gouge with a detail grind.
The spindle gouge directly picks up where the bowl gouge can’t go. The spindle gouge is ideal for shaping tenons, making a center tick on the tenon, and adding detailed textures to a bowl exterior.
We’re focused here on turning wood bowls, but the bowl gouge also pairs well in the spindle turning world.
Because of the bowl gouge’s ease of removing material quickly, it is common to use a bowl gouge to remove the bulk of a spindle turning before completing the detail work with a spindle gouge.
It really shouldn’t be one or the other. Two bowl gouges and a spindle gouge are the ideal, complete, yet minimal wood bowl turning toolkit.
Bowl Gouge Vs Spindle Gouge Conclusion
I hope this article clears up your questions about the differences of a bowl gouge vs spindle gouge.
Each tool has advantages and disadvantages. Using the strengths of each tool, great things can be accomplished at the lathe.
Please leave a comment below and let me know if this article helped answer your questions about the mystery between the bowl gouge vs spindle gouge.
You may like to see these other articles too:
• HOW TO SHAPE A NEW BOWL GOUGE PROFILE
• 40-40 BOWL GOUGE GRIND (SHAPE, SHARPEN, USE)
• BOWL GOUGE BASICS – GUIDE (PARTS, USE, SIZES, GRINDS)
Thank you and Happy Turning!
Have you thought making articals like this one available to be printed out, I tried pringing this out and with all the ads the formating off. Just a thought.
I’m inrolled in you classes and I’m learning a lot.
Thank you for writing and sharing! I’ll see what I can do.
I have been binge watching your YouTube videos for a few months now. I am starting to feel like a Kent Weakley groupie. I used this comment area not because I had any comments about it, because I have a question that I know many of your followers are interested in. Are you planning on doing any live Workshops? I learned to turn in high school. That was more years ago then I can believe. As I turn now things are coming back to me slowly. Occasionally, I have found getting into a predicament and wishing my shop teacher was available to bail me out. Just a thought Kent I think you are an excellent teacher.
Thank you for writing and sharing your kind words!
For the time being, I don’t have the space to teach live, but that might be changing in the future. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, I will be demonstrating at the Florida Symposium. Check it out, it’s going to be fun http://floridawoodturningsymposium.com/
All the best to you and Happy Turning!
Kent. I follow a couple of Woodturner groups and was wondering, have you ever encountered those that claim to have 40+ years of experience and say that if you didn’t start out as a Spindle Turner, then you aren’t really a wood turner at all. I feel sometimes that they are looking down their very long “Flute” with disdain as a lot of the newer bowl turners that started with bowls and not spindles. Thanks.
Well, I look at it this way. Other people’s opinions are none of my business. And besides, there’s nothing we can do to change other’s minds. So I’ll just turn another bowl. 😉 Happy Turning!
Not arguing or being snarky. Have you ever seen or experienced a spindle gouge catching and breaking while the bowl interior is being shaped? Do you know anyone who has experienced this?
If so, was it due to the relative fragility of the spindle gouge or due to mishandling it?
I ask because, although it (using a spindle gouge to shape a bowl interior is dangerous) seems to be a logical opinion, it doesn’t appear to be supported by any verifiable experience/fact. Perhaps this is just another urban myth repeated so often it believed by a large portion of the community?
I’ve been turning for 40 years and have never had this experience or met anyone who has. Any lathe tool can be dangerous if mishandled, but I don’t see the connection of spindle gouge to hog out a bowl interior being any more dangerous than using any other tool to do the job. Yes, a bowl gouge makes the job easier and more efficient, but I doubt if it makes the job safer.
Prior to the modern bowl gouge, yes turners used spindle gouges to shape bowls and there were issues at times, especially with larger bowl blanks. But now that we have bowl gouges, why go back.
A few days ago I had a BOWL gouge break off about an inch from the tip after a rather nasty catch! I had face shield on and was startled, but it just dropped into the bowl and nothing hit me. It was a PSI “Benjamin’s Best” 1/2″ M2 HSS bowl gouge. High Strength Steel? I doubt it, or maybe just a flaw in this one? What do you think Kent? I have turned maybe 30 bowls, and still a few catches. Plan to improve my technique.
Yikes! That sounds scary.
I don’t have personal experience with that brand, but I’ve heard folks mention them in not so favorable light.
It could have been a number of issues. I would get a refund and try a different gouge.
Have you visited my Recommended Equipment Guide? TurnAWoodBowl.com/gear
All the best to you and Happy Turning!
Was reading about M2 HSS and it mentioned that on some makers that advertise there tool are made with M2 HSS it comes from China and that may come in question . USA makers may seem more expensive but how many years do you expect to use them. It doesn’t need to be atop name to have a good Reputation.
There is a noticeable difference in the length of use time with M2 HSS. See the ones I use here http://www.TurnAWoodBowl.com/gear
Hey, nice to read that! I’ve never ever realized that there are a lot of gouge’s kinds. Thanks a lot, Kent!
Glad to help. All the best to you and Happy Turning!
First off, thank you for all the excellent videos. I’m trying to get into turning more seriously and have recently invested in some equipment to help me with the sharpening which has always been a struggle. I inherited my lathe and tools from my Dad many years ago. Nothing special but they were his and I enjoy the connection. I have a set of 4 Sorby gouges that I don’t think have ever been sharpened. I’m not sure if they are bowl gouges or spindle. They have deep flutes but the tangs taper to a square rather than staying round. They are not a flat rectangle like my other spindle gouges. I’d appreciate it if you help me figure out what I have. Thanks
I’d be glad to help. Here you go https://turnawoodbowl.com/bowl-gouge-vs-spindle-gouge
I love your graphic on bowl gouge sharpening angles (from another article you did). I printed it, laminated it and it hangs by my grinder! Do you have a similar graphic for spindle gouges?
Thank you. Currently, I do not, but I’m putting together a “cheatsheet” for use at the sharpening station. Stay tuned and check out my shop. https://turnawoodbowl.com/shop/
Just getting started on turning. Need your advise. I need a bowl gouge reasonabley priced. I have been watching you turn bowls on you tube. You make it look so easy. do I need the “sweept back” style? Please advise.
Check out my Recommended Equipment Guide section for everything you might need.
I prefer the swept-back gouge, but there are other options. It’s a personal decision.
All the best to you!
After watching Raffan’s bowl turning video several times I purchased a 5/8″ bar diameter spindle gouge, sharpened at 40 degrees with wings about 5/8″ long. and use the left wing to make pull cuts to remove wood quickly and easily on the outside of green bowls for rough shaping. Thus I’m confused by the statement that the wings of a spindle gouge cannot be used to cut wood.
The wings of a spindle gouge can be used to some degree. However, the spindle gouge is not to be used on a side-grain mounted bowl blank, that is the job of the bowl gouge.
This article is helpful. I’m new at bowl turning and will now look for a bowl chisel
Thank you, I’m glad you liked this! Be sure to check out this new course too https://turnawoodbowl.com/wood-bowl-turning-start-to-finish-online-ecourse/ It will greatly accelerate and ease your learning process. Enjoy and Happy Turning!
I’ve been using scrapers for all my bowl work. What advantages would the bowl gouge provide?
Good question. Read this article to learn more about the difference between scrapers and bowl gouges.
Hi Kent, thanks for this really great advice. I am new to turning and was just figuring it out as I went along. My quick question … Would there be any advantage to grinding a 40 degree spindle gouge? Not to be used on bowl interiors but rather exteriors and spindle work.
Thanks again for your guidance!
Thanks for writing. A spindle gouge with a 40° bevel would be fine. Regarding a spindle gouge, the bevel angle will also dictate how you stand in relation to the turning and it will determine how fine the details can be cut. Let me know if that helps.
I’ve been looking at your web site and it looks good. One thing I differ with is tear out. The way I turn, I have found that the angle and feed rate while turning will eliminate most of the tear out with just turning without all of the sanding/gluing/wetting/Scraping? and what not.
If you turn the cutting edge parallel with the rotation of the wood, so it is slicing through the SIDE of the grain, use a freshly sharpened tool fed slowly it works great.
I don’t use scrapers. I use a negative rake scraper as an abrader. I use the bur on the edge ONLY to abrade tool marks like Stuart Batty. Scrapers just tear out grain when they scrape the wood away.
Thank you for your comment and your technique sounds like a winner. I agree, I only like to use a scraper occasionally when nothing else is working. Have you read my round nose scraper article yet? It sound like you have the cutting burr trick down as well.
Like we all know, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Although, I don’t know who skins cats and why? LOL
Thanks for contributing!