If you have ever dabbled in woodturning, and particularly, in
bowl turning, you will know the value of a good, solid gouge.
When I first started turning, I used a set of cheap carbon steel
turning tools bought from the local hardware store, and couldn't
imagine buying a single turning tool that cost more than twice
what the 6-piece set of tools I began with retailed for! Why do
they cost so much I wondered at the time?
Of course, years later, I see the value in a quality tool made
from quality materials. Such tools make turning much simpler,
and much better, with much less frustration to boot. I still
have my original set of turning tools, and use them
occasionally, but I now have a much bigger arsenal of turning
tools that are much more suited to the turning tasks at hand.
The latest "weapon" in the turning tool collection is the Ellsworth
Signature Bowl Gouge...
Ellsworth Signature Bowl Gouge
Named after and co-designed by
internationally recognized woodturner, David Ellsworth, the
Ellsworth bowl gouge is manufactured by Crown Hand Tools in
The gouge is made from M2 high speed steel which
is hardened to between 67 and 68 RC for extended tool toughness
and life. The steel is much harder than regular carbon steel and
will result in longer edge life requiring fewer sharpenings than
standard carbon steel gouges.
The gouge has a 5/8" diameter with an 8" long
flute for extended tool life. The gouge itself feels very
solid in the hand, and while not as weighty as a large scraper,
it is solid enough to keep vibrations down to a minimum and to
minimize chatter, particularly during deeper or extended cuts
where the tool rest cannot be moved right up close to the
A dominating feature of this gouge which adds to
its stability and ease of use is the LONG! 17" stained beech
wood handle. The tapered handle profile provides a comfortable
grip, while still allowing good control during heavy
roughing-type cuts as well as or for fine shearing cuts. You
will definitely appreciate the longer handle on this
The Ellsworth gouge is able to perform a wide
variety of cutting actions because of its hollow, fingernail-shaped grind.
Use the edge near the bottom of the flute and at a "squarer" angle
to the workpiece to make heavier roughing type cuts. Tip the
gouge on edge and use the lateral edges of the fingernail grind
to increase the cutting angle for finer shearing type cuts. The
edge angles in between allow a wide variation of cut types
depending on how you hold and angle the gouge tip. It is
actually possible to turn an entire bowl from start to end using
this tool, assuming the blank is somewhat rounded on the edge to
begin with. For square blanks, a dedicated roughing gouge would
be a better start before switching to the Ellsworth gouge once
the blank is rounded.
The tools edge holds up quite well, and I was
able to turn about 3 small hardwood bowls before I felt it needed a
touch up. Of course, it will need a little honing and checking
right out of the packet before you get going, and then the
occasional edge sharpening or honing as you go will keep it in
tip-top condition. Because of the
unique shape, you will need some kind of fingernail grinding jig
or device to maintain the correct profile if you use the
bench grinder. Freehand sharpening could be tricky on the bench
grinder. Nonetheless, I have been able to maintain a good edge
on the tool using a conical-shaped diamond sharpener to keep the
inside flat and some small diamond sharpeners for the bevel. It
takes a little work to sharpen this type of gouge shape, but the
results are worth it. You could also use any number of fine
stone sharpening items on the market designed for turning tools.
The Ellsworth gouge will set you back a few
dollars. It currently retails for around AUD$160 in Australia,
but is also available widely around the world. It is not a cheap
turning tool by any means, but if you are a dedicated bowl
turner looking to invest in quality turning tools, it is
definitely one to have, and with regular honing, should last a
very long time.
In use I found the Ellsworth very comfortable to
use. Because of its size and weight, if offers good vibration
dampening properties and will give excellent results with your
tool rest positioned appropriately. As mentioned above, the long
handle is ideal for a tool of this size and caliber, allowing
fine control, which can be essential when working with dense or
cranky-grained timbers. It is an especially useful tool for
turning burls, as the type of cut and heaviness of cut can be
changed virtually on the fly by using a different part of the
The Ellsworth gouge can be used successfully by
both beginners and advanced turners alike. The fingernail grind
may take a bowl or two to get used to initially, but you will
soon discover how versatile the tool shape is.
Again, if you have the money to invest in a good
turning tool like this, do so. If not, stick to your regular
roughing gouge and smaller bowl gouge, and start saving those
Ellsworth Gouge Photos
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Ellsworth Bowl Gouge with
17" long handle!
Special fingertip-type grind for versatility.
A nice deep flute...
Stained beech handle and brass ferrule complete the "look"
The gouge is well-machined
Making a shearing cut on the
outside of a bowl.