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Simple Gouge Sharpening and Restoration Tricks by XXLRay in woodworking


Picture of Simple Gouge Sharpening and Restoration Tricks

I inherited a set of old woodworking tools. Amongst them are also some gouges that I plan to restore.
Most of them were sharpened very badly by the previous owner. The blade angle is totally off and the used sharpening stone was far too coarse. When I compared this particular gouge to another one from the same set I recognized that it’s a lot shorter. This can indicate that it has been sharpened beyond its hard steel that is only near the tip for some especially historic tools. I’ll try to fix it anyway because you never know what you can get out of such a tool until you try it. Note that even if gouges for wood turning are usually narrower than this one and have longer handles the same principles for restoration apply. Furthermore will I show the worst case sharpening scenario. Regular sharpening should take much less effort and tools.

Tool list:

  • Vise
  • Mallet
  • Diamond stones 140, 400
  • Water stones 1000 3000
  • Strob
  • Abrasive paste
  • Belt sander
  • Speed square
  • Combination square
  • Pencil
  • Sanding paper 80, 120, 240, 400, 600, 1000, 3000

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Step 1: Rust Removal

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The first step to a sharp blade is to get the rust of. If you do it only after sharpening you may dull your blade depending on how you do it. I tried multiple methods before but the one that works best for me is do use a brush bit with a drill. Mine is a copper plated steel brush.
Fasten the handle firmly in a vise and use for example soft wood to protect it from the steel brackets. How long and how hard you apply pressure determines how shiny the surface gets. Don’t forget to where protective glasses as tiny pieces of rust can easily hit your eyes otherwise.


Step 2: Sharpening Tool

Picture of Sharpening Tool

Most people will find a way to sharpen the outer side but struggle to take care of the hollow part. You can use dedicated oval sharpening stones but these can be expensive and are difficult to straighten when they are worn out. They also can be a bit expensive and you need to get used to them. I know a different trick.
Take a piece of scrap wood that is nearly as wide as your blade. I only had plywood but a solid piece of softwood like pine will work a lot better because it doesn’t brittle. Cut off four pieces that are at least 5 cm / 2″ long. Fasten one of them in a vice. Carve the top part of the wood until it fits your gouge’s shape. Usually even a dull gouge should be still sharp enough to still use it for this task. Repeat this for all other pieces. Glue a piece of double sided tape to the top of three of the wood pieces. You could also use adhesive spray but it doesn’t work as well for me. Then put 400 grit sanding paper on the first piece and 1000 and 3000 grit on the other ones. When you carve top and bottom into shape you only need two pieces of wood but I find them a bit uncomfortable to handle then. You will see how to use these blocks later on.

Step 3: Correcting The Angle

Picture of Correcting The Angle

The bevel on the blade should be regular but it wasn’t at all for my gouge. So I corrected the blade angle on a belt sander which also fixed my bevel.
How steep the angle is depends on your needs but 35° is fine for general purpose. You could also use a file but this may take ages as you are working on hardened steel. I let the belt pull away from me so that the tool can’t flip back and hit me. Tilt the blade left and right to grind it evenly. I don’t wear gloves so that I can feel how warm the steel gets. As hardened steel softens when it gets too hot I make a break when I can’t touch it anymore. Marking the tip with a sharpy or pencil helps to keep track. Double check if you get the blade evenly straight. I used a combination square for this job.

Step 4: Taking Care Of The Inner Side

Picture of Taking Care Of The Inner Side

Now you are going to see how to use the blocks I prepared.
As a blade can only be as sharp as its back I took care of its inside. I started to sand it on 400 grit sanding paper and then went over 1000 to 3000 grit. Slide the block forth and back and make sure it sits tight on the block. Depending on the width of your wood piece you may need to twist the gouge a bit after each stroke to reach the whole blade. It’s not necessary to get the whole back shiny as you are only cutting with the tip. Nevertheless it can be a bit tedious to get it really flat but fortunately it has to be done only once in a tool’s lifetime.

Step 5: Sharpening The Blade

Picture of Sharpening The Blade

I started with 240 grit diamond stones and used soap water as lubrication. If your tool is in better shape than mine you can skip this stone and probably even the next one.
You can feel when you hit the correct angle by tilting the gouge up and down. Some people like to do a figure eight but this is not what works best for me. For the method that I use you need to lock your elbow on your hip. Then you swing left and right. Note that this works best when your work bench is a bit lower than mine. Depending on the shape of your gouge you may also need to twist you wrist a bit. This method sharpens the whole blade evenly. Stop when you can feel a burr on the back and switch to the next finer stone which is 400 grit for me. Don’t hesitate to control the angle as often as you like. Give the blade just enough pulls on the 400 grit block to remove the burr. I then continued on a 1000 grit stone. This is a water stone that needs to be soaked in water for ten minutes before you can use it and it should be levelled from time to time. The motion is the same as for the coarser stones. As soon as you can feel a burr again break it on the 1000 grit block and switch to a 3000 grit stone. Follow the same procedure again. I also use a bit of soap water on my water stones. Otherwise it can be difficult to start the sharpening process on a water stones when your tool is oily. Generally it doesn’t matter if you sharpen on sanding paper that you put on a flat surface, water stones, oil stones or diamond stones. I prefer diamond stones. They may get less aggressive relatively quick but they last a lot longer than water stones for me. I furthermore don’t have to bother about levelling them. Although this is not necessary I like to polish my blade. For that reason I rubbed some abrasive material on a strob which is just a piece of leather glued to a board. I then pulled the gouge firmly back on it twisting it a bit more after each stroke to treat the whole blade. For the inside I did the same with the remaining block of wood that I prepared.

Step 6: Beautify The Handle

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As the varnish on the handle had cracks and I didn’t like it anyway I started to give it a makeover.
The easiest way to get the clear coat off is to use a scraper. I used a knife to clear the thin slots. Then I sanded the wood with 80, 120 and 240 grit sanding paper. Always work along the fibres. Otherwise you cut them and that results in a rougher surface. I wiped off the dust with a soaking wet cloth and let the handle dry for an hour. If you try this method you will find that the wood now feels rough from loose fibre ends. They are there anyway but only when they stand up from soaking in water you can remove them. I used 400 grit sanding paper to get rid of them The handle got a good coating with kettle boiled linseed oil. Wipe off all excess and always put used cloths into water to prevent them from self-ignition. I let the oil harden over night and gave the handle yet another sanding with 600 grit. This is totally overkill but I like how smooth the handle feels afterwards. Then I applied a second coat and let it dry over the day. It was then time for the final coat. To prevent the blade from rusting I treated it with Ballistol oil. When you store the used rag in an airproof container you can use it for many other tools. Overtime you use less oil per treatment and can save money that way. Glass may to be the best option as it tends to shatter when it falls on the ground or is accidentally hit by a tool. So probably better look for a metal tin. The gouge worked flawless after the restoration and even the control when I carved just by hand was great.

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