The micro bevel gouge may be a new term for you. Some people call this a bottom feeder as well. If this is true and you’re a wood bowl turner, this article is going to be a special treat for you. Let me explain the benefits and advantages of turning wood bowls while incorporating a micro bevel gouge.
There is a treacherous spot on the inside of wooden bowls. Some call this spot “deadman’s curve.” It’s the location where the side wall curves into the bottom of the bowl.
Here is where experience and patience are needed more than anywhere else. When all else fails, remember it doesn’t cost anything but a little time to stop the lathe and check the wall thickness one more time.
Excited over-enthusiasm combined with deadman’s curve has led to the creation of more than one unintentional, hugely oversized bangle in my experience. If you’re laughing at this point, you’ve probably made one or two as well, or gotten close to making one.
In this article, I want to share a valuable secret weapon, a specialized bowl gouge, that combined with patience will make that curve smooth and flawless each time–the micro bevel gouge.
Micro Vs. Standard Grind
When I first learned of the micro bevel gouge I thought it was one of those bowl turning tools that might not be that necessary.
For the standard wide rim bowl design, a traditionally ground bevel bowl gouge will do just fine. It wasn’t until I found the gentle inward-curving rim design I like so well, on spalted pecan, that I realized the beauty of the bottom feeder.
For most traditional bowl turning, with a wide open rim, a micro bevel bowl gouge isn’t needed. And with all the bowls I turn, I probably use this secret weapon less than 10 percent of the time—but when I do, it’s worth its weight in gold.
Micro Bevel Up Close
The first thing you notice when seeing a micro bevel bowl gouge is the crazy steep bevel angle. It appears like a bowl gouge had its cutting tip hacked off. But with a further examination, the micro bevel bowl gouge has an incredibly narrow bevel edge.
Let’s take a closer look at the micro bevel gouge.
The bevel edge is not swept back on the sides, and the central bevel angle of the middle bevel is usually somewhere between 40 to 50 degrees, preferably 45 degrees.
One way to check this is to use a protractor. I use a simple metal locking protractor to determine the angle of my bowl gouge bevels.
The angle only needs to be in the ballpark; don’t make yourself crazy trying to get an exact angle. What is important is how it cuts, so experiment with the cut and feel of the tool and determine what works best for you.
The bottom feeder obviously gets its name from the steep and minimal bevel cutting surface.
The micro bevel gouge bevel is comprised of three bevels. Two of the bevels, under the top cutting bevel, are used to reduce the gouge heel, making it easy to turn tight corners.
Why Do I Need One?
That’s a great question. The micro bevel bowl gouge is a magical specialty turning tool, a secret weapon, because it allows access to hard-to-reach places—especially the bottom and side of undercut rim bowls.
As I mentioned, I really came to understand the importance of this tool while making inward-leaning rimmed bowls.
In most situations, traditional bowl gouges work excellently in both the inside and outside of turned bowls.
However, when the bowl is deep or has a rim that gets in the way, traditional bowls gouges don’t work so great.
The reason is simple. Traditional bowl gouges are contacting bevel at a wider angle.
The deep bottom of a bowl or curved rim forces the tool shaft and handle up at an angle that takes the tool off bevel.
So the sloping curve of the bowl side wall and the bottom are not cut on bevel, but rather on the tip of the traditional bowl gouge blade.
A bowl gouge off bevel, even in a supported wood grain direction cut, always leads to nasty tool marks on the bottom of the bowl.
Because the micro bevel bowl gouge bevel edge is so steep, the tool is cutting when it’s almost 90 degrees with the side or bottom of the bowl.
This means, when the micro bevel is inserted straight into the bottom of a deep bowl, it makes a bevel cut contact without getting near the side walls, even if the bowl design has curving inward walls towards the center of the bowl.
Using A Micro Bevel Bowl Gouge
Work the interior of the bowl as you usually do, with standard bowl gouges along the top inside edges of the bowl.
As you get towards the bottom or side of a tricky bowl, use the same traditional bowl gouge as long as possible to rough out the bulk of the material.
It’s when you need those last final cuts nice and smooth you can bring in the bottom feeder bowl gouge to smooth out and finish the last few passes.
Another term I’ve heard for this tool is “bottom feeder.” I had to crack up when I first heard “bottom feeder,” because that is precisely what it does.
It moves, tip first, across the bottom and shaves off nice clean shavings, leaving a perfect finish.
Micro Bevel Gouge Shavings
In the past, I’ve cleaned up the bottom of bowls with a heavy round nose scraper, and it does an okay job.
However, if there are any imperfections in the wood such as knots, rough end grain, etc., the scraper will usually tear those and leave them rough and ugly.
Because the micro bevel is a true bevel-edged cutting bowl gouge tool, it cuts away the material and can leave the toughest areas smooth and finished. Shavings will be fluid and curly.
Although, there is a way to make a round noise scraper cut and leave a nice smooth finish – read this article next.
Micro Bevel Gouge Sharpening
When sharpening the micro bevel gouge, I will use a combination of techniques that incorporate the angled tool rest and the OneWay Extension Guide Bar. Here is my Recommended Sharpening Equipment guide.
First, we need to create what I think of as the central micro bevel gouge anchoring bevel angle. This angle is not the cutting angle, but the middle bevel that trims the gouge back and makes it easier to turn within a tight radius.
I don’t usually like to use the extending arm of the One Way system solely to support the full length of a bowl gouge. It feels like too much potential downward torque and not enough support.
Typically I will use the Wolverine Grinding Jig for supporting bowl gouges while sharpening.
But in this case, we only need a simple rotated grind with little sideways motion and a precise 45-degree angle, which puts the tip up near the top of the grinding wheel.
With the grinder off, adjust the Oneway Grinding Jig Arm to hold the butt of the gouge handle with the gouge tip resting on the grinding wheel at a 45-degree angle.
Turn the grinder on and gently rotate the gouge back and forth left and right to apply this 45° angle to the micro bevel gouge. Don’t let the flute pass the three and nine o’clock positions while rotating, as this will create swept back wings.
Wings will reduce the effectiveness of the micro bevel edge. Keep the gouge tip centered on the grinding wheel.
Let the grinder do the work, don’t press hard. Again, do not roll over the sides and sweep the grind down the wings of the gouge.
Next, with the grinder off, position the tool rest at a steep angle as support for your guide hand. Turn the grinder on and position the bottom feeder bowl gouge with the handle at a downward angle.
The second grind will be made freehand with a gentle left to right and back rotating motion, again. Use your guide hand, my left hand, to keep the tip positioned and stable. With your other hand, lightly hold the end of the handle and twist as if the gouge handle tip was a round radio knob.
Grind a second heel cut below the first middle bevel. This additional heel cut further reduces the heel area of the micro bevel gouge and makes tight turns that much easier.
Now its time to grind the third and final cutting bevel. This is best created on the smoother grinding wheel resulting in a sharper, longer lasting cutting edge.
Place the grinder tool rest on center and horizontal with the grinding wheel. Without touching the micro bevel gouge to the grinder, place the micro bevel gouge flat on the toolset surface only as a horizontal reference.
Drop the handle slightly and look at the tip of the gouge. Here, we will freehand a cutting bevel edge approximately halfway between the first 45° bevel and the horizontal toolset reference.
Again, use the same techniques of rotating the gouge gently as we just did with the previous cut. The gouge should be touching the toolrest but not horizontal. You’re grinding the angle that should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 70°. This is halfway between the first 45° grind and the 90-degree grind when the micro bevel gouge was resting on the toolset as a reference.
The final sharpening grind will require you to rotate a bit pass 3 and 9 o’clock and up on the grinding wheel in order to maintain the tool contact on the grinding wheel. Make slow smooth rotations to ensure a clean final cutting edge.
The final cutting bevel edge is conforming to the “u” shaped flute and not the round diameter of the gouge shaft. Because we need to match the flute shape is why an “up, down, around the center bottom, and up and down” motion is required on this last grind.
What you’re looking for is a smooth, even shiny surface all around the bevel face of the tool. And, most importantly, the cutting edge should not have any visible marks.
What does that mean?
The bevel being smoothed should make the cutting edge invisible. There should simply be a smooth bevel and the inside of the bowl gouge flute with a clean, crisp perfect line joining them. That line or corner is the cutting edge. If any marks or flat spots appear along that edge, the tool needs to be sharpened more until they are removed.
Where To Get A Micro Bevel Gouge
So where do you find a micro bevel bowl gouge? I know that was something I was asking myself when I first heard of this magical tool.
There are some companies selling micro bevel bowl gouges, but you don’t need to pay specialty tool prices for this secret weapon; you can make your own.
Making a Micro Bevel Bowl Gouge
Yes, you can make your own micro bevel gouge.
Because this tool gets used deep inside bowls at times and extra reach is needed away from the lathe tool rest, I recommend a larger diameter gouge such as this 5/8″ Bowl Gouge (check Amazon for availability) for stability and control.
When you receive your new bowl gouge, it will have a simple bevel edge. Using the coarser grinding wheel on your grinder, you can begin shaping this gouge into a micro bevel.
Use the same sharpening techniques described above. Make small passes to remove the existing material until you get to the micro bevel shaped edge.
This process needs to be slow. It’s important not to overheat the metal as you grind, as this will weaken the metal. If the tip starts to turn blue, or any other color, step back and give it time to cool a bit before continuing.
Once the bottom feeder bowl gouge has the first two heels removed, move the grinder tool rest to your smoother grinding wheel.
Finish up by making a smooth, sharp final surface on your micro bevel gouge as described above.
To establish a consistent micro bevel cutting edge, you can sharpen the tool by hand, as described above or use the Oneway Wolverine Vari-Grind Sharpening System to take much of the guesswork out of the process.
Here is a link to an article where I explain exactly how I form the micro bevel sharpening using specific settings on my Wolverine Vari-Grid Jig sharpening system, check it out.
The micro bevel gouge is not a tool that gets used every day. But when it’s needed, it is “The Tool” to get the pesky bottom of a bowl perfect quickly. Let me know if you cherish your secret bowl gouge the way I do. Leave me a comment below.
– For details of the equipment mentioned in this article see my Recommended Equipment Guide.
You may like to see these articles as well:
• 40-40 BOWL GOUGE GRIND (SHAPE, SHARPEN, USE)
• BOWL GOUGE BASICS – BEGINNER GUIDE (PARTS, USE, SIZES, GRINDS)
• BOWL GOUGE VS SPINDLE GOUGE DIFFERENCE EXPLAINED
Thanks and Happy Turning,
Can I make a bottom feeder on a Robert Sorby sharpening system? Also can I make a spindle gouge with a long pointed detail grind on the Scorby?
My wife signed me up for the class that is why I also put her info on below.
Yes and yes. You can make each of these profiles with the Sorby system. All the best to you and your wife! Happy Turning!
I have a 12mm PN tradtional V shape gouge that I would like to make into a 70 degree micro bevel gouge. Do you forsee any issues?
I would not recommend using a V-shaped gouge. Typically, a V-shaped gouge creates an inconsistent front point that can dig into the wood and catch. I recommend using a parabolic-shaped bowl gouge. All of the bowl gouges in the Recommended Tools section are parabolic.
What is the advantage of this tool compared to a regular cutting hook?
A cutting hook is traditionally used for end grain turning. To make a supported cut (see this article) with an end grain bowl you need to start the cut at the bottom center of the bowl and come up to the rim. The hook is designed to start at the bottom and pull up to the top.
With a side grain bowl the opposite is true and you want to cut from the rim to the bowl bottom center for the smoothest cut. The micro-bevel bowl gouge will stay on the cutting bevel all the way to the very bottom. Let me know if that helps.
I am wondering what grit those diamond wheels are on your grinder?
Thanks that’s a great question. I use an 80 grit CBN wheel for shaping and roughing work and a 180 grit CBN wheel for all my sharpening. Check out my Sharpening Resource Guide and here’s a link to the CBN wheels.
Got it….. being a newbie I was miss reading the tip. I was taking that grind of 70-80 degrees as a blunt end… now I see why you ground the heel back..
Great information ……….. Thanks
I’m glad to help. Yes, this is a totally different kind of bowl gouge because of the steep angle. Let me know if you try it and how it works.
I will … Thanks again for great information.
So the gouge now has a blunt end… with a under cut on the bottom to get into the contour under the edge. Is there a concern of the wings of the gouge now catching if not held correctly ?
No. Perhaps I confused the issue. The Micro-Bevel Bowl Gouge has a bevel and a cutting edge. It cuts just like a regular bowl gouge. The angle at which you present the gouge and ride the bevel to make a cut is almost straight into the bottom of the bowl at about 70-80°. That is the main benefit of the micro-bevel gouge. The last bevel ground at 70-80° is the cutting bevel. The other two bevels (45° and 20-30°) are simply to remove gouge heel material behind the cutting bevel to allow the gouge to make tighter turns in the bottom corner of bowl interiors.
The wings should not be engaged. All cutting occurs in the tight area around the center tip of the flute. It’s important to not make wing contact, but that shouldn’t be an issue.
This is not a scraper, it is a bevel supported bowl gouge.
In a past life I did machine shop work , I some what understand the angles.. Just a suggestion.. use colored felt tip markers and color in those angles with different colors. And reference that color as degree angle XX
Very interesting… Thanks for the information
Great idea! Thank you and will do!
I updated the grind illustration steps to now include the angles of each grind.
So the 70 – 80-degree angle makes it a ” scraper ” please correct me if this is incorrect.
Not exactly. With the sharpened edge and a burr, the micro-bevel gouge is cutting. The evidence is in the shavings. Shavings equal a cleaner cut, while dust and chips equal a scrape. That being said, a dull gouge can be scraping and a scraper with a burr edge can cut and make shavings. I hope that didn’t just make things more confusing. LOL Essentially we want to be making clean cuts and creating curly shavings in order to produce the smoothest final wood surface.