Saturday, July 7, 2012

My Shop-Made Gouge

I've never been truly satisfied with any gouge that I have purchased from a commercial manufacturer.  I've owned tools from a variety of suppliers, but have had complaints about all of them.  Some of my concerns are: the grinds and flutes are off center, the blades are not mounted in the handle straight, ugly wood for the handle (you know my motto, "Don't carve with an Ugly Tool!"), low quality steel that doesn't take or hold an edge well, . . .   The list goes on and on.

Since I'm a knife maker, and know a thing or two about steel and making quality tools, I took it on as a challenge to make my own gouge.  I found a piece of drill rod made of O-1 High Carbon Tungsten-Vanadium Tool Steel.  Now that's what I'm talking about!  O-1 is perfect for a top quality tool.  It takes a razor edge and keeps holds it for a very long time.  I proceeded to forge the blade, hardened and tempered the steel to approximately 59HRC, filed the flute, shaped the heal and polished her up all nice and shiny like.

The one thing that is missing in my shop, the one tool that I covet, is a good lathe.  Even a bad lathe would be better than what I have.  But, me and my spindle and bench top belt sander get along great, so I solicited their help in shaping a suitable handle from a beautiful piece of black walnut.  I made my own ferrule from a 1/2" copper coupler which I trimmed off and rolled the front edge over.  With a little 5 minute epoxy, everything was fastened forever into place.  I wood burned the size and sweep onto the flat portion of the handle so that I can see it when it's upside down in my tool box. 

After the finish on the handle was dry, it was time to put it to the test.  OOOOOHHHH MY!  Now that's how a tool should feel.  It handles terrific and glides through end grain like it's cutting through hot butter.  After making a mountain of curly little shavings, I tested the blade on the hairs of my arm.  Let me just say that I need to wear my watch to cover up the bald spot.  That's how a tool should hold its edge.

I guess I've opened a can of worms.  Now I'm going to have to replace all of the gouges in my tool box with ones of my own making.  I think I'll make each handle from a different species of wood to make them as beautiful as they are functional, and maybe get a little fancy and creative with the ferrules.  I'll post photos of each as I get them made.  I guess that cowboy carving that I'm working on will have to wait for a little while.  I'm going back out to my workshop to play!

Who knows, maybe I'll like making these tools enough to sell them if there was enough interest.


  1. If you build them they will sell! As a craftsman of 20+ years I can tell you that nothing is better than having the right tool for the job. I have been a cabinet maker for those years and like you I often end up creating my own tools for the job at hand. I just now am getting into carving and already am disappointed in the gouges I have as well. If you decide to produce ill be one of the first in line to try em.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Michael and Rustedpalm. I will certainly let you know when I'm ready to make them available for sale.

  2. Brandant, I Too would be interested in a 9/5 and an 11/3. It looks like you took some time in producing that. Nice job. fred k