Gouge bevel angle for hardwood?

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    Steve Beck

    New at wood carving and using ULMIA 30mm #9 to form the bowl in spoons. My issue is with the bevel angle, it is @ 37º, puchased it used so not sure if this is factory grind. When staring the bowl cut it feels like the gouge has to held at a steep angle to make a cut. What bevel is recommended or is my carving method incorrect. What I’m asking is how much does bevel angle affect what your trying to achieve. I don’t want to start grinding away at tool just for the experience. I have a low speed wet grinder and water stones for sharpening.

    Thanks for any suggestion.

    David R.

    I think 25° is a standard value. This image suggests as much, even if it’s not very good quality and I don’t think an official image from Ulmia: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31QrGcrY1pL.jpg

    IIRC Mary May recommends 22° for carving chisels.

    Best regards,

    from Germany


    Paul’s new book says 30 degrees. 🙂 He doesn’t really elaborate or call it out, but in the sharpening section mentions holding at 30 degrees. To the extent that metal is metal and wood is wood, it’s probably the same as for a chisel: Steeper gives a stronger edge but harder to push and more likely to bruise and tear; Shallower is weaker, but better in softer fibers. If you search, you may find some thoughts about gouge sharpening in a PDF by Chris Pye. I don’t feel confident with gouges yet, but maybe this helps.

    Steve Beck

    Thanks for the responses. I’m going to bring the angle to 30º and try a few cuts. Mary May’s videos were very helpful and informative. And have ordered Chris Pye’s books on woodcarving tools.

    Tom Shepherd

    I have a Faithfull gouge, sharpened following the method in Joseph’s video, and got very poor results attempting to carve a spoon. Then I checked the bevel and it is close to 45 degrees. This seems to be much too steep an angle. But, before I grind a new bevel,……did you change your bevel angle? To what degree? What was the result?


    37 degrees sounds a bit steep to me but the short answer to the original question is that it can be anything that works. In reality, the angle is the agregate of what should be a very gentle curve.

    Again the angles depend on the hardness of the steel – too shallow and it can chip the edge; the hardness of the wood – again a shallow angle can split rather than cut the wood and your own comfort. It’s not unknown for carvers to have more than one gouge in a popular size sharpened in different ways for different tasks.

    Whatever your bevel angle, forget all you’ve learned about sharpening carpenter’s tools, chisels, plane irons and the like. You don’t want external micro bevels, hollow-ground bevels or defined backs. Carving tools perform a different funtion and are shaaped differently.

    You can use a gouge for three basic cuts: a plunging cut, a continuous hollow groove or scooping cuts – for example bowls or spoons. If you look very closely at the tip and the bevel behind it on a well-used carvers gouge you see that it is a series of rounded curves.
    The exact shapes of gouges are a personal preferences, but it is a complex shape, not a straight line.

    When sharpening a gouge that is going to be used for a scooping cut, you form the cutting edge by rolling the edge from side to side along the stone, at the same time dropping the level so that the shoulder of the bevel becomes rounded. The idea is to have a continuous rounded bevel shape that will enter a cut, scoop it out and roll through at the same time in one motion. A smooth, rounded shoulder serves to burnish the cut as you follow through the stroke. Most carvers will also relieve the side wings of the gouge behind the corners to reduce the likelihood of splitting a deep cut.

    Again, it is common to stone the inside bevel very lightly with a slip stone to remove the shapes of casting marks on the inside face of the gouge. The corners of the gouge are a personal matter – some carvers prefer sharp corners, others round them over.

    It’s difficult to explain the exact process in words, but watching it done will remove any mystique. Have a look on You-tube for carving videos on gouge sharpening. I know that Chris Pye has some very good sharpening vids, but I’m not sure they are on his free site or you have to pay.

    Hope this helps.

    Steve Beck

    I did grind and resharpen the bevel angle to 30º for a start. I tested scoop cut on both hard(maple) and soft(cedar) woods and found the gouge left a deeper and smoother cut with less effort. Infact,the cut was smoother on the hard maple. Think I’ll get in some more carving time with the tool at this angle before lowering the angle anymore. I’m using the gouge to make spoons. Also new at carving, so this experience was just part of the learning skills process.
    “Joyner”lots of good information, you did a brilliant job of explaining the process,are you an instructor, thanks!

    From No.California


    Hi Steve,

    No, I’m not an instructor though I’ve been carving off and on for 30 odd years.

    Ulmia is a German maker – good stuff, too. They will obviously use the ‘continental’ numbering system for their gouges. This means that No 9 is a fairly steep sweep. The British sweep numbering system is called the ‘Sheffield’ list and on that, the sweep of a straight No: 9 would be a semicircle, but there are differences in the two ranges and they don’t align exactly.

    30 degrees is about where I would have aimed to begin with, but whatever the angles, it’s highly recommended that the ‘heel’ of the bevel at the back is rounded – you’ll be surprised how much it improves the action. I think that in time you’ll get used to the gouge and the gouge will get used to you.

    If you are new to carving, I’d highly recommend finding a good teacher, who, I’m sure, will spend the first day or two going through sharpening techniques. Believe me, it ain’t time wasted!

    Good luck

    Steve Beck

    Hi Ajoyner,

    Your advise is well taken, thank you. I do have soom woodworking experience(furniture, picture frames,etc.) and a garage full of power tools. But I’m really enjoying a transtion of using hand tools. I don’t have any friend that carve so it’s been abit of trial and error. There ia a local woodworking club that welcomes new members I think I’ll attend a meeting and see what’s offered.

    Thanks, again!

    from No.California


    I agree 30* is my go to bevel for most of my edge tools.


    Steve Massie, I live in the great State of Florida, US

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