Bowl Turning Gouges With A Lathe


Bowl Turning Gouges For Beginners’

There are many other things that you can make with a wood lathe other than just spindles. Such as wooden bowls made from logs or bowl blanks that you can buy. Interesting looking vases can also be turned and these are just a few of things that a wood-turner can accomplish. However to do this safely and correctly you’ll have to acquire bowl gouges because the spindle gouges will not work. You can however use the carbide turning tools for this. The focus of this article is on the traditional HSS wood turning bowl gouges.

Over time a wood turner will acquire many tools to help them along there path of woodturning. But when getting started, there are only a handful of bowl turning tools that one needs. So in other words don’t go and buy a ton of woodturning tools until you’re sure that bowl turning is something that you’ll take seriously. As time go’s by you can buy others here and there.

Beginner Bowl Turning Tools

  • 3/4″ Bowl Gouge
  • 1/2″ Bowl Gouge
  • Face plate Or A Four Jaw Chuck
  • Round Nose Scraper

3/4″ Bowl Gouge (The Work Horse)

The 3/4″ bowl gouge is used to rough out your bowl blank and is the work horse of all the bowl turning tools that you’ll own. The size of this tool can withstand the punishment when the wood is turning on the lathe. Not to mention if sharpened properly with nice 45 and 70 degree angles. When you sharpen the bowl gouges stay between these two angles and you should be in good shape.

it makes short work of roughing. It works very well at removing wood not just on the inside but the outside of the wooden bowl as well. What I like about this bowl gouge is the design.The sturdiness and the weight of it gives confidence that it won’t break off in your hands. however it’s hard to get finer detail work done with this bowl gouge which is the reason for its sister the 1/2″ sized one.

1/2″ Bowl Gouge (Finer Detail Work)

The 1/2″ bowl gouge is a nice addition to the bowl turning tools that you might think about buying. like it’s larger bowl gouge, it should have a 45 to 70 degree angle grind. It’s easy to handle for smaller and finer angles that you might want to do. One point to mention though is you can rough out a bowl blank and remove center material with this one bowl gouge, but the problem is it won’t do it as quickly and the beveled end or cutting edge of it will dull faster. Through its smaller design of the flute, you can make some nice smooth detailed bowls.


There are many types and sizes of bowls that you can make on a wood lathe. But for your first bowl I would consider choosing an easywood to work with. Green bowl blanks that haven’t been dried yet are easy to work with. It doesn’t take much effort for the bowl gouges shear through the wood. Plus this easywood doesn’t normally cost as much as already dried bowl blanks. So if you mess it up your not out that much money. Also soft wood like this means less wear and tear on the gouges which means less time sharpening them.

What Is A Faceplate

So the first thing first. You will need to acquire a faceplate and a four jawed chuck to hold your bowl blank. The faceplate is first thing that’s used to attach your bowl blank to. But before that it’s important to find the center of your blank. Once center has been established, take the faceplate center and put it over the blank’s center and screw it down with wood screws by making sure that at least seven threads are screwed into the wood.

Do not use any other types of screws than wood screws. Once that’s done, screw the face plate into the live head of your wood lathe. At this point you’ll want to shape the outside of the bowl. Once that’s done it’s time to attach the four jawed chuck. To do that you’ll want to create a tenon on the opposite end of where the faceplate is and this is where it can be tricky.

Four Jawed Chuck

You’ll notice the inside of the four jaw chuck has a slightly tapered angle to it. When you turn the tenon it also needs to have this slight taper so that the jawed chuck will clamp onto it securely. The first thing you want to do is slightly open you four jawed chuck, then take a measurement of the inside opening. Divide that measurement in half and transfer that to a pair of calipers.

Take one point of the calipers and put it on the center of the wood blank and turn the live head of the lathe with the other point of the calipers touching the wood. While both points of the calipers are in contact with bowl blank you should see a scribed mark on the wood. To make it darker you can us a pencil once the circle has been established.

To cut the tenon, use the bowl gouge by starting on the line and shaping it away from center. What you should see with a few passes complete is a raised area of wood the size of the circled that you marked out. Be sure as not to make it too thick because you don’t want it to bottom out on the bottom of your jawed chuck. Matter of fact you want it to just ride off the bottom.

Now the way that you want to taper the the tenon is to use the skew from your spindle woodturning set. The skew chisel excels at getting that exact angle that you want by utilizing the point and getting your tool rest at the correct angle for guidance. Once done and if done correctly, your jawed chuck should fit nice and tight when you have it clamped down of the tenon.

How Do You Use A Bowl Gouge?

With a little bit of practice the bowl turning gouges will become a delight to use because of the different angles that can be explored. But first you have to learn the initial basics and there’s no better way to learn than picking a very easy bowl project.

Starting with the tool rest, the position should always be just below lathe center so that the bowl gouge contacts the wood on center. This is a requirement when working the inside and outside of the wooden bowl.

The distance of between the tool rest and bowl blank shouldn’t exceed 1/8 of an inch, closer would be better. Sometimes bowl blanks aren’t perfectly round so before you turn the lathe on I would spin the bowl blank by hand to make sure that it doesn’t hit the tool rest. So the next thing to understand is the cutting edges of the bowl gouge.

The angled sides or beveled cutting edge is what you’ll be using to shape the wood blank into a bowl. Positioning of the bowl gouge is key. While the lathe is still turned off, let’s start by bracing the handle of the bowl gouge against your body. The next thing to do is angle the gouge so that when it contacts the bowl blank it’ll be the cutting edge that makes contact and not the very tip of the fluted gouge.

At this point you won’t see that anything is being cut yet. That’s because you have to slightly lower the handle below the tool rest to get the cutting edge of the gouge to start making shavings. This whole process is known as riding the bevel.

Pay attention to the direction of how your cutting a bowl blank. When shaping the outside of a bowl, it’s normal practice to go from right to left. But when it comes time to shape the interior of it go left to right. When you get the bowl blank rounded out or trued up, adjust the distance of the tool rest again, no more than 1/2 of an inch. You’ll need to do this often as the bowl takes shape. Having too much of a gap between the bowl blank and tool rest is considered a safety hazard because it’s a pinch point.

If your more of a visuals person like I am I’ve found a video on you-tube. This gentleman goes through all of the basics of how to position your body when cutting on a lathe. He also shows how to position the tool rest and what angle you should be using your bowl scrapers. Some other information that he covers is a couple of different grinds and why he uses them. Anyhow it’s very informative and straightforward without any confusion so enjoy.

Beginner Bowl Turning With A Wood Lathe

Round Nose Scraper AKA Bowl Scraper (Refining And Tight Corners)

The round nosed scraper is used for adding the final touches to the inside wall of your wooden bowl. One of the problems when using this bowl tool is that it can do more harm than good if you don’t know how to use it correctly. Half the battle is knowing when you should and shouldn’t use the scraper when turning a bowl. So let’s do a little exploring here.

The round nose scraper excels at removing high spots on inside walls of a bowl and unwanted tool marks pretty fast. But if you get to aggressive with it, it can leave major tear out on the end grain. So remember a light and delicate touch go’s a long way.

It’s also great for removing stubborn bowl gouge marks that are left behind. sometimes when we use a bowl gouge when removing the interior part of a bowl, the bowl gouge will sometimes create a path that makes the thickness of the bowl uneven.The bowl scraper works wonders when you need to turn the thickest part of the bowl to the same thickness as the thinner part of wood bowl.

Click here to see a video on how this gentleman does his bowl. He explains a couple of different types of bowl gouge grinds and why. He also details why body position is so important when working with a wood lathe.

How To Smooth A Wood Bowl Using A Round Scraper

once you have the bowl turned to the desired thickness and shape you’ll notice that the bowl might have a lot of rough spots left behind from the use of the bowl gouges. Because of the roughness you’ll have to spend more time on sanding to get those out. That’s fine if you don’t mind sanding which I don’t particularly care for but if you have a round nosed scraper handy you can cut your sanding time down significantly.

To start the smoothing process when working on the outside of the bowl, raise the tool rest just high enough to where the round nosed scraper is riding just above center. The tool rest should also be turned to the same angle as outside of the bowl. So if the outside of the bowl is a forty five degree angle then the tool rest should be the same.

The next step is to lay the bottom of the scraper flat on the tool rest and roll the scraper at a forty five degree angle with the handle of the scraper raised slightly. GENTLY move the scraper into the bowl from right to left. If you see fine shavings, you know that your’re doing it right. When the lathe is stopped you should notice that the outside of the bowl of much smoother than it was when you started.

Like the bowl gouges, the round nose scraper are available in different sizes. They can range from 1/2″ all the way to 3″. So how to choose which ones are right for you? Well your gonna have to do a little soul searching and find out how big or how small the bowls that you’ll be turning. What you could do is go the middle of the road with the sizes by buying a 3/4″ and an 1-1/2″.

Be forewarned that when you buy your new scrapers don’t expect them to be sharpened. Often times they won’t have a bevel on them at all. You have learn how to do this yourself. Don’t get discouraged these scrapers are pretty easy to sharpen and grind. That will be discussed in another article and there are plenty of youtube videos on what you need and how to do it.