November 29, 2021

What is a Sweep Gouge Chisel

Difference between a sweep gouge and straight gouge

Chisels and Skew Chisels have straight cutting edges. Gouges have a curved cutting edge that is the arc of a circle. Straight-edge chisels can have a bevel on one or both sides. Bevels are angles on the face of the chisel. They help to draw the tool into or out of a piece of wood. A double-beveled chisel works with either side up, and the edge will not pull in or out.

A single bevel chisel will pull the edge into a workpiece if the bevel is up and push it out of the wood if the bevel is down. Single-beveled wood carving chisels are good for woodworking. Many carvers use double-beveled chisels because they do not dig into the wood.
You do not need a lot of chisels. Focus on buying a 1/4″, 3/8th”, 1/2″, 3/4″, and it has to hold an edge well. Try keeping varied grades in the workshop. Glue chisels that are more affordable do not sharpen well.

If you sharpen items like cans, you will throw away the chisel. You can hardly spend more than 10-15 on these. Intermediate chisels need regular sharpening and are for rough work. Wood chisels are for joinery work, and you should keep them razor sharp.

Brands like Pfiel, Two Cherries, Narex, and Sorby are worth considering. They make high-quality chisels. Gouges are for carving and come in a lot of flavors. They can be confusing since manufacturers are not consistent. The manufacturers who have become popular are Pfeil and Two Cherries. When using carving gouges, use two numbers. These are discussed later in this article.

Types of gouge chisels

The Straight Gouge

They make straight cuts, have a thin tip of the blade and two bevels sometimes. That makes it easier to sink into the wood. They are for surface polishing or raising layers of wood. It has a concave blade to remove wood without causing splintering. The depth of the curve or sweep determines the depth-of-cut

The Bent Gouge

Bent Gouges are for concave surfaces and come in two variations. That is the long bend and short bend. The number of sweeps on the bent gouge is the same as for the straight gouges. The Spoon Gouges cut a concave surface with a tighter radius than the long bent gouges can handle.

The Spoon Gouge

A spoon gouge makes concave cuts in tight areas. The tool end looks like a spoon because it has a short curve at the end of the blade. The shape of this tool raises the handle angle to almost 90°. This position makes a right-angle cut possible.

The Fishtail Gouge

A fishtail is called a fishtail spade gouge is a type of chisel with a flared blade that looks like the tail of a fish. It is for light wood finishing, lettering, skimming, and modeling. It is for cleaning out corners and undercutting when the side clearance is limited.

The Back Bent Gouge

The back-bent gouge has a curve of the sweep gouge reversed. That is why the cutting edge is convex instead of concave. This tool is for carving or cleaning out the underside of a carving. The back bent gouge is used in relief carving to undercut where there is a restricted area to work in.

The Straight Chisel

Straight chisels are for smooth-out cuts. They have a skew edge style ground at a 23-degree angle. When carving in tight corners, you might use a straight chisel. It requires final sharpening before its first use and comes with an overall length of 220mm.

The Skew Chisel

Skew chisels are for smoothing and cleaning the corners of dovetails. If you want precise paring and finishing of multiple types of wood joinery, you can as well use it. These chisels are also suitable for finishing end grain.

The V-Gouge

These have a triangle-shaped tip and come in multiple versions, but the frequent ones. The standard ones range from 45º to 90º.

What do gauge numbers mean

The first number tells you the shape or the sweep. That is how shallow or deep the curve is. The second number tells you the size of the cut. That is how far away the two points are. If there is a cut 3/10 5/10, 8/10 gouge will be made, the distance from edge to edge remains the same. As the first number increases the scoop between them gets deeper.

The gouges cut a cavity that is 10 millimeters wide but either 3, 5, or 8 millimeters deep. As the first number goes up, the sweeps get more curved to the extent that they will not be curved anymore. There are different sweeps of each different size gouge.

As you get close to #11, the profile becomes V-shaped, and you can start referring to them by the angle of the V. The tighter or narrower the V angle. The harder it is to cut through the wood. The reason being the tool’s cutting edge has an inside dimension that is smaller than the outside dimension. The second number is easy. It tells you how far apart, or how wide the cut is going to be in millimeters.

How do you use gouges?

Drive the gouge into the wood using a chisel hammer or mallet. You are allowed to use hand and arm pressure only. Use them to pare cut, depending on the gouge type. The pressure applied determines if the gouge can make shallow or deep cuts. When using it to hollow, apply more pressure than using it to pare cut.

Choosing a gouge chisel

Look at the quality of the steel when buying wood carving tools like carving gouges. A carving gouge will not only get very sharp but hold the edge for a long time performs better. Consider the shape and comfort of the handle.

The Swiss Made Pfeil wood carving gouges have flat faces on the handle. They give good gripping and prevent the gouge from rolling off your workbench. Carving gouges come in a variety of sizes, separated by different variables. Focus on the size number (width in millimeters) and Sweep (curvature).

David D. Hughes
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