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Sharpening a Spindle Roughing Gouge

Updated: Jun 4

Video below; One of the first go-to tools you will use as a Woodturner is the unfairly named Spindle Roughing Gouge. Why unfairly named? Due to the term 'Roughing', many people assume that this tool is only used for hogging out material but in the right hands, at the right presentation angle this tool is capable of making very fine cuts on spindle work which can reduce sanding time significantly. I want to share with you a few handy tips to keep your Roughing Gouge in top shape! These are often overlooked by new Woodturners and can affect the tool performance. Please read on.

Spindle Roughing Gouge Safety Message

For new Woodturners, never, ever, ever, ever use a Spindle Roughing Gouge on a Platter or Bowl!! You will end up hurting yourself, possibly very badly and you will almost certainly break the tool at the tang and quite possibly the lathe tool rest too. This tool is designed for cutting across grain between centres only!! Bowls and Platters are oriented differently and the tool is not shaped to safely make these cuts.

Important to Have Sharp Tools

Having sharp tools is essential for safe, productive and fun Woodturning. There is nothing worse than a blunt tool so always sharpen before the tool edge is gone! A good rule of thumb is to give the tool a quick edge before you start your day's Turning session and if you are doing a lot of work give a quick re-sharpen at some stage. You will learn after a bit of experience when a tool is not cutting as it should.

Spend money and get a decent sharpening system before you go off buying other accessories for your Lathe. You will be grateful you did in the long term. Many of my students want to skip the sharpening system stage or go and buy something really cheap with a crap motor and bad sharpening stone. I don't have to ask those Students later if they made the right choice, I know they didn't.

Clean the flute first.

This is often overlooked by novice Woodturners. My preferred method is a quick rub with used fine grit sandpaper which will quickly clean up any resin or debris on the inside of the flute allowing you to create a clean cutting edge at the tip of the tool. Aesthetically, it also shines the inside of the flute too making it look like new. I normally use a small piece of used 320 grit sandpaper from my Spindle Turning pieces which will scratch the tool surface much less than fresh sandpaper.

1,000 grit or higher wet/dry sandpaper can be used too but will struggle against any kind of residue. First try the used 320 grit and then use a high grit wet/dry sandpaper if you like to create a high shine. To finish off the tool after sharpening, I find wiping the tool with a small bit of Furniture Polish with Beeswax will clean up the entire tool, steel and wood handle inclusive. This is also beneficial if the tool has become sticky or greasy from use. I normally spray the polish onto a flat kitchen tissue, wipe all over the tool and then use the dry side to buff the polished surface.

Correct angle

Spindle Roughing Gouges are typically angled between 35-44 degrees with 35 degrees being a very aggressive cutting edge and 44 degrees being less so. The reason I sharpen to 44 degrees is simply because I got used to that angle some time ago. I also favour a lower than normal Tool Rest height which works well with this angle. This allows me to Turn with the tool at a more comfortable lower angle with my arm in a very strong position against any kicks or catches. For my students, this is also a much safer way to hold the tool while learning. For newbies, you can continue to follow the factory edge of the tool when sharpening although the factory will be slightly different to most sharpening jigs on the market today.

Watch the video below for sharpening tips. I am new to video making as you can probably tell. I don't like being in the camera frame at all, maybe that will change over time but for now I find it easier to hear my mistakes rather than see and hear them :) My plan is to produce a video for each tool that I commonly use, hopefully people will watch them and hopefully learn something new.

A few Points of Mention; It's hard when you don't work with a script so I probably glossed over a few things in the video above. You shouldn't remove grinder guards, especially if you are using stone wheels. Stone could conceivably shatter during operation due to manufacturing defect, transportation damage or user error during installation or during sharpening operation. The CBN wheels shown are solid steel with ceramic electroplated onto the surface so very low danger during operation. I say low danger instead of absolutely safe because nothing is ever 100% safe. As mentioned in the video, students are not allowed touch the machine and I alone operate it. A face shield or decent safety glasses are always worn when I use the grinder.

The Sharpening Angle Jig

The Sharpening Angle Jig is very easy to make and the same principal can be used for other tools like Parting Tools, Skew Chisels and Negative Rake Tools etc. All you need is the correct angle or angle you are comfortable with, a piece of waste wood and you can save loads of time throughout your Turning Career or hobby. Always write the tool name on the piece of wood when you are finished and add a hanging hole to keep it at your sharpening station. When you have multiples of every tool like I have, sharpening is a dream to replicate.

Wolverine System

The Wolverine System is something you should invest in as soon as possible. It is the best platform on the market to my knowledge but I have come across cheaper homemade versions. I even bought a DIY version on eBay but eventually splashed out on the Wolverine System which turned out to be far superior.

My philosophy these days is to buy the legit brand even if you can save a few Euro by making one yourself or buying a knock-off. In the long run, it works out cheaper. I bought a second Wolverine set so I could have a 2nd flat platform. As I own 2 grinders, the extra parts won't go to waste. The platform can actually be bought separately but became rare during Covid restrictions. You can buy the Tormek attachments quite cheaply too. Due to Brexit complications, I chose to go to Dictum in Germany to buy what I needed.


Look after your tools, keep them clean and sharp. Sharp tools are far safer to use and make Woodturning much more enjoyable. I wish someone had made me listen and understand that advice when I started Woodturning, it would have saved me no end of grief and I might have been much further along in skill level than I am today. FYI; I sell a range of Hamlet Woodturning Tools here in Ireland.

I also have a brief video on CBN wheels if you are interested. Please help me out and watch both videos to the end. Please subscribe too if you can. Thank you in advance, David

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