Using a bowl gouge with confidence is critically important and an initial hurdle to jump when first turning wood bowls. The fear of getting catches can be paralyzing.
Knowledge and practice are required to tame that fear and create beautiful bowls while using a bowl gouge.
Let’s face it; no one wants to get a catch while turning a wood bowl.
But, when first starting out it’s difficult not to think, or instead worry about much other than those dreaded catches.
In this article we will go beyond the bowl gouge basics and I will share with you information about what catches are and when they will most likely occur, as well as how to avoid catches. I will give you important underlying knowledge about catches, and you will be able to look out for and stop them before they crop up.
Think of a bowl gouge catch like a car running off the road and striking a tree. Continuing with this comparison, the knowledge I’m sharing here will help you realize and correct for the car when its only slightly off the asphalt first, allowing you plenty of time to make corrections long before any ditch or tree appear.
I know from first-hand experience, catches can seem as if someone instantaneously placed a tree directly in your path. However, bowl gouge catches are usually a build up of multiple elements converging in a quick progression.
Like learning how to drive, we need to know and recognize the sound of our tires on the gravel shoulder and make minor subtle adjustments to correct our course and prevent the situation from escalating.
To avoid bowl gouge catches (and car crashes) we need to take a moment and explore the root causes. Knowledge will put us on the path of using the bowl gouge with confidence and diminish or hopefully wholly extinguish those paralyzing fears of a catch.
Understanding Bowl Gouge Catches
What Is A Catch
What is a catch? This is where we could start talking about the techniques of using a bowl gouge, but we need to back up a bit first. Let’s look at the basics.
A bowl gouge catch is usually a combination of things that occur and grow until the bowl gouge grabs, binds, or rips wood fibers instead of cutting them smoothly.
OK, that’s a decent description of a bowl gouge catch, but let’s break this down even further.
The dreaded bowl gouge catch is really nothing more than the bowl gouge not being able to cut wood material at a given moment.
When this happens, the momentum of the rotating bowl slows or stops. The catch creates an immediate force applied to the turner and the bowl gouge in hand, that can range from a simple jerk to a somewhat more dramatic impact.
At the moment of a catch, more wood is in contact with the bowl gouge than it can cut. That, in a nutshell, is what happens at the conclusion of a bowl gouge catch.
Ideal-Cut Using A Bowl Gouge
When we make a smooth bevel riding bowl gouge cut in line with supported wood grain fibers, clean shavings fly and the gouge cuts effortlessly. If you take a moment and watch the tip of the bowl gouge during this ideal cut, a very small area of the gouge cutting edge is actually performing the cut.
On the wood bowl turning spectrum, this beautiful cut is at the opposite end of the ugly and dramatic bowl gouge catch.
Also, another key component of this clean bevel supported cut is the even consistent amount of material being removed. In our car analogy, this is the car sprinting down the highway perfectly between the lines.
Overloading the Bowl Gouge
Catches occur when we overload the amount of wood being introduced to the bowl gouge in one way or another.
What do I mean by overloading the amount of wood? Here is a list of examples when the bowl gouge can become overloaded, which in turn can lead to a catch;
- Starting without proper tool rest support
- The unsupported off-bevel tip cutting
- Diving into the wood instead of making an even cut
- Angling flute to engage too much of the cutting edge
- Moving into a corner location with too much wood at once
I feel these are important enough to know; we need to explore them in detail. Let me break down each of these ways of improperly using a bowl gouge that could lead to a catch.
Tool Rest Support
This will most likely only happen once or twice because it can be very scary, abrupt, and memorable.
Approaching the wood bowl blank rotating on the lathe with the bowl gouge not support on the tool rest will result in a literal smackdown. The bowl gouge tip only needs to touch wood briefly to grab, and all control is gone.
At the time it can be a huge surprise. But in hindsight, it’s pretty obvious the gouge tip catches a portion of the spinning timber, and the rotating force brings the bowl gouge along for the ride.
Not Riding the Bevel
Of course, the most used bowl gouge phrase is the term, ‘riding the bevel.’ When the bevel is not being ridden, and instead the tip is the first and only contact, a smooth cut is not going to occur.
In extreme cases, this unsupported bevel cut can cause the tip to vibrate and bounce on the wood surface. Depending on the conditions a bounce and dip can cause the tip to dig into the wood and make a catch.
If riding the bevel has eluded you, I encourage you to read my article – Riding The Bevel – Bowl Gouge Technique Explained.
Even when an ideal bevel supported cut is happening, the gouge can drift inward towards the wood bowl and begin cutting too much material.
Each differently sized bowl gouge has an ideal amount of material it can efficiently remove. When that amount wood exceeds the bowl gouge capability, the gouge will drag and begin to bind up and can potentially catch.
It’s a good idea to watch the amount of material your bowl gouge removes when things are going well. If you see that bowl gouge is removing more material than usual, a catch may occur.
Aggressive Flute Angle
If the bowl gouge flute angle is incorrect, the bowl gouge cutting edge may be exposed to more wood surface than it can cut at once.
The worst situation regarding flute angle, and one that will cause the most dramatic catches is when a side wing is accidentally introduced to the bowl surface.
When the bowl gouge tip is making a nice clean cutting pass but then approaches an area where there is additional wood material that hasn’t been removed, this can cause a catch.
A situation where this is likely is when clearing the interior of the bowl. Working the inside bowl walls down to the point where material has yet to be removed can put too much wood at the bowl gouge tip all of a sudden.
How To Avoid Bowl Gouge Catches
Now that we’ve explored the many ways bowl gouge catches can occur let’s start proactively figuring out how to avoid them.
First off, our bowl gouge must be properly sharp. This seems obvious, but a dull edge, even while adequately using a bowl gouge can cause a catch.
Keep this woodturning tool sharpening phrase in mind at all times, “if you think your tool needs sharpening, you should have done it ten minutes ago.”
The ABCs of woodturning is also a time-tested phrase to keep in mind. A is for anchor. Anchor your tool on the tool rest first. B is for Bevel. Be sure you have bevel support. C is for cut.
Sticking your tool into a spinning bowl blank before it is anchored on the tool rest is a recipe for an adrenaline rush and a nasty catch.
Tool Rest Reach
The distance the bowl gouge cutting tip reaches beyond the tool rest needs to be as minimal as possible. Also, the size of a bowl gouge will affect the amount of tool reach possible. A large diameter bowl gouge can go a bit further across the tool rest threshold than a small diameter gouge.
Regardless of bowl gouge size, the further the cutting tip reaches across the tool rest; there is less tool control. When tool control is reduced, the gouge can quickly come off bevel, bounce around, and some not-so-good things may occur, including a catch.
Stop the lathe frequently and move the tool rest within a good working distance to the wood bowl blank. Not so close that the tooltip is resting on the tool rest. But, not so far that control and stability are lost.
I like to keep my tool rest close enough that the bevel of my bowl gouge is not near the tool rest. If the bowl gouge is resting on the bevel, I do not have tool control. Instead, I make sure the bevel edge is just on the other side of the tool rest, and the bowl gouge shaft is only contacting the tool rest.
More Than Can Be Chewed
Know your bowl gouge’s appetite and don’t let it over-eat. While that might seem funny, I hope that visual will stay with you at the lathe.
Each bowl gouge is a bit different. Larger gouges eat more wood than smaller gouges. When gouges eat too much, they can get upset and make catches.
Here’s a simple observation to make. Look at the flat outside surface of a fresh bowl blank on the lathe. Using a bowl gouge, make simple, clean straight cuts across the face of the bowl blank.
During these straight cuts look closely at the tip of the bowl gouge. Observe how much material is coming off the tip. Make another pass but this time press inward a bit more and have the gouge cut a little deeper. Again, observe the material coming off the bowl gouge leading edge.
There will come the point, with increased depth to each cut, the gouge does not perform as well, or cut as fast. This is the point where the bowl gouge is overeating.
Memorize the Sensations
On a nice straight path, this is easy to recognize. Remember the way the gouge feels, sounds, and handles when the amount of material is increased and becomes too much for the gouge. Store this information in your memory bank.
The same exact feelings, sounds, and handling will occur with the bowl gouge in similar situations while making more complex curve cuts. However, typically our mind is preoccupied with getting the curve right, and we forget about paying attention to the signals coming from the bowl gouge.
Listen to your bowl gouge! It is a lean mean cutting machine, and when we try to overfeed it, it will rebel.
Riding the bevel is the wood bowl turner’s happy place. It’s important to understand and practice bevel supported cuts all the time. Once this technique is learned, repetition makes bevel riding second-nature, like riding a bike.
Using the bowl gouge efficiently with clean bevel riding passes is a significant step in ridding bowl gouge catches completely.
Angle Angle Angle
The angle of the bowl gouge cut is probably the biggest woodturning catch culprit. When the tip of the bowl gouge is angled improperly, the cutting edge can quickly become overwhelmed and grab.
It’s easy to overlook the simplicity of angles while cutting. Angles are so important. When we angle a cut, we reduce the amount of wood being removed, and we reduce the amount of taxation on the bowl gouge cutting surface. This makes for a cleaner cut and requires less effort by the cutting tip.
Here’s another great experiment to try. You will need a sharp knife and a regular sheet of paper. Hold the sheet of paper on edge with one hand and the knife in your other hand. Gently hold the knife above and perpendicular to the sheet of paper. Make a downward motion towards the paper with the knife while holding the paper steady.
Did the knife cut the paper? Probably not.
Now angle the knife at about a forty-five-degree angle above the paper. Make a cut along the paper, away from you. This time, depending on how sharp your knife is, it should have cut the paper.
When going straight into the paper at a ninety-degree angle, the knife edge is being asked to cut more than possible. However, at an angle, the knife can manage the task. The same is true of our bowl gouge.
Let’s aline the flute and bowl gouge rotation with the hour positions on a clock. When using a bowl gouge think of the fluted center facing upward as twelve o’clock. When the flute is rotated ninety-degrees to the right, that position is three. Ninety-degrees to the left is nine o’clock.
THIS IS IMPORTANT: There are almost NO times when the flute should be in the twelve o’clock position while turning.
In that position, too much of the cutting tip is engaged with the wood. This aggressive approach will almost certainly cause the bowl gouge to catch.
Another bowl turner, Glenn Lucas, teaches this by having students color the inside of the bowl gouge flute red with a marker. If at any time while using a bowl gouge, you see red in the flute, you need to take caution and rethink your bowl gouge position.
Using A Bowl Gouge at 45° Angle Rule
Like the paper and knife example above, the flute of the bowl gouge needs to be angled to make ideal cuts. If and when the flute is asked to make a blunt cut, like the first knife cut example, it will most likely cause a catch.
One way to prevent this type of catch is to remember the forty-five-degree rule. This is similar to coloring your gouge flute red. If at any moment you’re not sure if the bowl gouge is positioned correctly, ask yourself this question.
“Is there at least a forty-five-degree cutting angle?”
If the bowl gouge position does not have an angle around forty-five degrees, it might be in a place for a catch to occur.
Here are a couple of examples of dangerous situations when using a bowl gouge that will most likely cause severe catches.
Adding an angle when using a bowl gouge is an important element to understand, practice, and commit to memory. This too will become second nature, if it isn’t already.
Point The Way
The tip of the bowl gouge is your leading edge, and it points the way of your cut. While this might seem obvious, its possible to get in a position where the tip isn’t leading the direction you intend to go.
Like an arrow, your bowl gouge is indicating where it will go. If that seems to be other than your intended cut, take notice.
Performing a push cut from the inside rim of a bowl to the bottom center point, with your eye, draw an imaginary line along this path. The tip of the bowl gouge should be following this line.
If the bowl gouge rotation, tool angle, or handle control are deviating from this path, it will be obvious by observing the direction of the gouge tip. Any other path to the bowl center can lead the gouge into the side wall, causing too much wood contact at once, and result in a catch.
The most grievous of all catches is the bowl gouge side-wing surprise. I call this a surprise because that’s precisely what it can be, a huge, ugly, nasty, startling surprise.
Typically this type of catch will occur on an inside push cut when rotation is lost during a cut. Let’s examine this closer.
Unlike the simple straight cut across the face we practiced with earlier, the inside curve of a bowl requires additional movements that all need to be coordinated.
The path down the inside of the bowl starts with the bevel supported and the gouge at nearly a ninety-degree angle at the rim edge of the bowl.
As the bowl gouge descends into the bowl, the handle must be simultaneously arced with the right hand on the handle and rotated, or twisted, more open to maintain the bevel supported cut.
If the opening of the flute angle is too severe or happens too quickly, the left wing of the bowl gouge can contact the wall of the bowl and become overwhelmed. Otherwise known as a big ugly bowl gouge catch.
The solution, while using a bowl gouge, is to watch the tip closely. Maintain a bevel supported cut, guide path of the bowl gouge with your right hand on the gouge handle, and gently rotate the shaft of the tool to keep the bevel contacting. Remember, the gouge tip will be pointing directly at the very exact center of the bowl bottom indicating you are on track.
If you’re not quite sure of your bowl gouge position at any given moment while turning, stop the lathe. Instead of causing a big frightening catch, or worse, fearing a big terrifying catch, do a test using a bowl gouge.
Yes! You can test for bowl gouge catches in a safe manner.
This test will let you know if your bowl gouge will catch in advance, without all the high-speed drama.
With the lathe off, position yourself and the bowl gouge exactly how you intend to make your next cut. Using your hand, manually rotate the lathe’s hand wheel or just turn the bowl slowly in the usual forward direction.
As the wood slowly moves forward, engage the bowl gouge and see what happens. If a smooth, effortless cut results, you’re doing well. Usually, depending on the wood, a clean curled shaving will be made. Curly shavings are a good sign of a proper bowl gouge cut. Curly shavings are our friends.
However, if the bowl needs to be forced forward with an effort to cut, or if the gouge stops the bowl, something is not right. Reposition the gouge, yourself, or both and try again.
In the beginning, we are all scared about nasty catches when using a bowl gouge and we usually imagine situations that are far worse than reality.
The most significant contributor to this fear is the unknown. Hopefully, after reading this article, you have more information, knowledge, and practical strategies for using a bowl gouge and dealing with those fears. Or rather, putting those fears to rest once and for all, is what I want to help you achieve.
Leave a comment below and let me know if this article helps you understand bowl gouge catches a bit better.
I’d really like to know too, what bowl gouge catch issues you may have had or are having now. Please leave a comment below.
Here are some other valuable articles for you to read:
• BOWL GOUGE SHARPENING ANGLES – SURPRISE ANSWER
• 10 WOODTURNING TIPS AND TRICKS FOR WOOD BOWLS
• 13 WAYS TO RUIN A WOODTURNED BOWL
• 7 VALUABLE DAVID ELLSWORTH WOOD BOWL TURNING INSIGHTS
• LIVE EDGE BOWL – 10 SECRETS FOR TURNING SUCCESS