9 Cuts From the Same Gouge Tool

Use the gouge tool for efficient and elegant woodworking with these nine easy cuts.

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Jump-start your woodcarving with simple, traditional techniques that beginners can learn to start transforming wood into beautiful works of art. Chris Pye’s Woodcarving Course & Reference Manual (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2012) is a guide to getting started. In the following excerpt, Pye gives clear instructions for nine basic cuts you can do with just one tool. 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Chris Pye’s Woodcarving Course & Reference Manual: A Beginner’s Guide to Traditional Techniques.

Did you know there are at least nine different ways you can cut wood with a single carving tool? Grab your carving tool and see what you can do with that cutting edge.

When you multiply different shaped gouges by different ways of holding and manipulating them, and different ways of actually cutting, you have many more things you can do than might at first appear. I’d really encourage you to waste a lot of wood trying different cuts and grips, experimenting, having fun, and just getting to know your tools.

A Guide to Gouge-Tool Cuts

Vertical entry
This cut is done by stabbing with the full edge. You could also stab with just one corner.
man holding gouge chisel tool upright stabbing in to a wood board
Slice-along sweep
From the stab, shunt the tool along the sweep.
gouge tool upright along a circular cut in a wood board
Tighter slice-along sweep
Make the circle with the sweep. Then, as you go to pass around a second time, lift the leading corner, rotate the handle a little more firmly and spiral the cut into a tighter radius. The tighter the circle, the more you have to lift that leading corner. Here’s the rule: you can make any sweep cut a tighter circle, but not a bigger one. Try it!
person holding gouge tool carving a spiral inward
Angle stabbing
If instead of stabbing vertically to the surface you stab at an angle, the cut you make will have a tighter sweep. Can you see why? The sweep of the gouge is an arc of a circle. Thus, effectively, the profile of the gouge is a part of a cylinder. The edge enters the wood at an angled plane to the end of the cylinder thus creating an ellipse, a tighter sweep.
gouge tool angled in to a board making half moon gouges in the board
Full cut
This can be a full-on, bold, scooping movement — like a sweep cut — or a running cut. Use the full edge; keep the corners clear.
gouge tool being used to scoop while keeping the corners clear
Only part of the cutting edge
Take the same tool as you just did to make the full scoop cut but use only a fraction of the cutting edge. Cut very shallowly along the wood surface. You’ll find you cut as if the section of the gouge you are using has a flatter sweep.It’s one of those strange things about carving tool sweep charts that, for example, all of the #6 tools are not actually arcs of a same circle. Try fitting the sweep of any of your gouges on some of the others around the chart and you’ll see what I mean. The upshot is that you can use a bigger, deeper tool to dress a flatter surface by cutting lightly.
gouge tool being used to make shallow cuts to emulate a flatter gouge
Upside down
With an inside bevel you can readily use your gouge upside down on flat, rounded, or moderately concave surfaces.
gouge being used on a wood board upside down
Left and right corners
The extremely important corners are where gouge meets knife and are used extensively in traditional carving. Being curved, each corner of a gouge is different of course, so I’m calling that two cuts.
gouge tool being used to carve on the corners of the tip of the tool

Learn more: With a few more tools, Pye explains how to create the basic cuts of a wood carver.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Chris Pye’s Woodcarving Course & Reference Manual: A Beginner’s Guide to Traditional Techniques, published by Fox Chapel Publishing, 2012.

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