Safe Starting with a Gouge
The Line of Support
Every between-centers lathe project you do begins with using a gouge. Done incorrectly, it can be dangerous. Here's how to do it right and safely.
To get a piece of stock from square to round on a lathe, woodturners turn to gouges. Using one properly makes it a quick and easy task. Remember the following advice, and you'll be able to do it, too.
Cut with the line of support
When a turning gouge's steel circular shaft touches the tool rest, only a small section actually contacts it. This is the supported area. Trying to cut with any part of the gouge to the left or right of this area can result in grabbing of the work and damage to the wood, or worse.
You'll see this effect if you rest a gouge on your workbench. Hold the handle as you normally would, then press down on the left or right side of the gouge—the areas not contacting the bench. The tool twists. Now push on the part of the gouge in contact with the table. Nothing happens because that part of the tool is supported by the table. Cutting on the lathe with a gouge works the same way. Use the supported area and all you have to do is guide the tool.
With the gouge on the tool rest, imagine a line from the handle to the cutting edge passing through the point of contact between the tool and the tool rest. That's your support line, as shown in the drawing above. And where it reaches the cutting edge is where the tool should contact the wood. If you roll the tool left or right, the line moves and the point of contact with the wood moves with it.
Bevel Controls Cut Depth
Lowering the gouge's cutting edge onto the upper surface of the workpiece gives you greater control over the depth of cut and lets the tool support itself, as shown in the drawing below. Start with the handle lowered and the cutting edge above the work. Then slowly raise the handle.
First, the heel of the tool, then the bevel edge comes in contact with the wood. You'll feel it, and know precisely where the wood is in relation to the cutting edge. Continue raising the handle slowly, lowering the cutting edge into the wood. With very little practice, you'll be able to produce paper-thin shavings under precise control.
Keep the Bevel in Contact
Much to the surprise of many woodturners, the best results happen when both the cutting edge and the tool's bevel contact the wood at the same time. When the tool's bevel is flat against the wood, the edge makes a clean cut and the depth of cut is controlled by the tool. Raising the handle creates a deeper cut because the bevel no longer controls its depth.
Practice locating this bevel-controlled position. And keep the suggestions below in mind. You'll find woodturning becomes safer, easier, faster, and produces better results.
- Always wear a face shield. It will protect your from flying chips or other objects imbedded in the wood (especially green wood).
- Before you turn the lathe on, check its speed setting. Out-of-round pieces generally require slow speeds, such as 800 rpm. For later shaping cuts, speed up the lathe to 1,500 rpm.
- For better tool stability, position the tool rest within 1⁄2 " of the workpiece. To test for clearance, rotate the work by hand with the lathe turned off.