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Sharpening U Gouges

The 'sweep' of what I call a 'true' gouge is an arc of a circle. Even the flattest (#3) gouge will, if you continue stsbbing around its sweep, circle round and back to itself. It's more obvious with the #9's, which are semicircles. This circle-based quality of the cutting edge is one we make use of extensively as we carve.

'U-shaped' gouges, on the other hand, are just that and you can't spin them into a circle. They are normally given the Sheffield numbers #10 and 11, though not all makers agree exactly what shapes these refer to. Essentially the edges are extended from the bottom (#9) circle in various ways: parallel-sided or more spreading out. These more open tools can have 'sides' that may be flat like chisels, or a little curve, like gouges. So, a more complicated tool!

The trick to knowing how to sharpen these tools is to understand what you are looking at: either a chisel, or a gouge - or both...


| 02 July 2023 19:58

Thanks for your detailed and very helpful reply, Chris! Without much carving experience (yet!), it’s hard to know when to trust that my results — smooth, clean cuts— and not simply the appearance of the edge, are what’s important in the end. In the woodworking fields in general (as well as other fields), there’s a strong tendency to get caught up in technical details about tools , which is often bewildering for beginners. I greatly appreciate your technical advive, but more importantly, your encouragement to just get carving, not fussing too much over getting things perfect.

| 02 July 2023 13:59

Darrin - You'll not be the first carver seduced by the 'sets', or cheaper tools from places like China!
And, going forward, don't think of sets; think of what particular tool you need for your carving project, as you are carving and when you find the ones you have won't do what you need to do.
Then buy your tools, one at a time, from the several reputable makers. That way you'll build up you own collection of good quality tools that fit what you, personally as a carver, are doing.

But, sunk cost.
So what to do about the U-gouge...

It's not unusual to find old, hand-forged tools with uneven metal between sides.
One of my favourite gouges, a 1"x #5, is just so. But, I can sharpen the edge square across.
Here's the thing: its edge is square and the bevel is flat but THE HEEL (between bevel and blade) IS SKEWED, reflecting the uneven thickness of the metal.
And, honestly, this skewing of the heel makes no difference to how I feel the gouge performs.

So, back to your U-gouge. It's you (sorry!):
Square the edge again, then focus on keeping the angle of presentation to the stones constant - so the bevels remain at the correct angle - and thin the line of light (that is the cutting edge) evenly.
What you should end up with is a square edge, correct cutting angle - and an uneven heel.
And you'll have learned a lot about sharpening!

But - and I didn't say this - the U-gouge is a difficult one to sharpen; so if your edge is a little wavy, chances are it won't make much difference to the performance of the tool. Just make sure you have a good cutting angle of around 20-30deg.

| 01 July 2023 22:22

Hi Chris. Regretably, I bought a “beginners” set from Schaaf tools, which are made in China and marketed by an American reseller. The set includes a 15mm #11 gouge (which, by the way, is modeled after the Pfeil u-gouge, with the edges angled outward and slightly curved). According to the US-based professional who sharpens the tools (at an extra cost), the metal
going into the die isn’t of consistent thickness, so it’s nearly impossible to get even edges on some of the profiles. I’ve tried to recommission the #11, doing my best to follow your suggestions, but I keep getting a wavy cutting edg, like a Big Dipper/rollercoaster. if i I was ending up with ending pronounced, sharp wings or the opposite, rounded over wings, I could put that down to my technique. Am I correct to conclude that it’s the uneven forging, or could it be I’m doing something wrong?

| 20 December 2020 21:11

Understood..........Thank you kindly.

| 20 December 2020 12:04

John - If you keep the same angle, you'll just shorten the tool at the wrong angle so, yes, you need to drop the handle and sharpen at a lower cutting angle. Initially you'll be removing metal from the heel; as the bevel reaches the cutting edge, you'll see the whole thing is longer.

| 19 December 2020 18:59

My gouges have a short bevel. I want to extend them as
per your video. Do I just extend the bevel at the same angle that it
already is at, or do I need to change the angle slightly as I extend the bevel?
Thus lowering the cutting angle of the tool?

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