Found a professional gouge that won’t gouge you

Hirsh straight #7 37mm carving gouge – a top-notch gouge for artisans

DSC_0002Everyone needs at least one substantive gouge and I am asked at least once a week if I can recommend a good carving gouge for bowls and chair seats, spoons and such. They are not always that easy to find in larger widths and certainly not usually included in kit sets, (I usually tell people to avoid so-called starter kits) but my search ended last week when I visited Highland Woodworking. Reverse Rckng chr14 adjst

This is one of my designs in mesquite from 2000. I carve the seat with the same sized gouge.

I much prefer gouges for carving spoons, more so than scorps and hook knives. I find that gouges give greater control and cut quickly to depth and more uniformly. I also think that this may be as much to do with my using traditional chisels rather than knives in my everyday work so don’t dismiss knives and such too. IMG_25002-149x225.jpgAnyway, I picked up a very nice 35mm #7 straight gouge when I was at Highland Woodworking in Atlanta last week and I was astonished at the quality results I was holding. Unfortunately I didn’t get chance to try it out or even look at too much until I returned to the workshop here in our New Legacy UK School at Penrhyn Castle.

 

Me carving motifs for restoration project 2009

DSC_0009I have of course heard of Hirsch tools for a long time, but I already have all of the carving tools I will ever need. I couldn’t find the Hirsch Brand here in the UK, but Tool Nut carries Ashley Iles carving gouges and they have a 37mm #7 for £29, which almost exactly matches the Hirsch gouge at $45.99. Ray Iles is one of the finest tool makers and he has a long family history in the trade. He stepped into his father’s shoes as a master in his craft and Ray has really developed many products that were almost lost to the trade.

I did find many carving gouges and tools in sets but that’s a bit like buying turning tools in sets; half of them you may never use so it can be false economy. I would suggest that you buy individual carving tools as you discover exactly what you need. There are good carving sites and lots of individuals including me who are willing to share from their personal experience and with impartiality.

PICT0071-300x225.jpgThe Thorex hammer works well for carving
Spoons and bowls can be readily carved using a straight gouge, and the centre of percussion you get when a Thorex 38mm hammer and a straight gouge connect (bliss that sweet spot) gives absolutely direct and positive delivery with every uniting blow. Not so with bent tools, which require a different technique. Pulling the Hirsch gouge from the manufacturers sleeve I was greeted with that well-made tool smile you get when a tool has been carefully crafted and well finished. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at the quality I found in every aspect of this tool. DSC_0006German made by one of Europe’s oldest tool makers, Hirsch carving tools are indeed top-grade professional quality and they come with every facet of steel highly polished to a near flawless polish for a feel like no other gouge. I thought that the handles looked like hornbeam and if so are excellent for carving with mallets or by hand paring pressure. 

Samantha mastering new carving skills

PICT0127-300x152.jpgGouges are held more by the hand spanning most of the steel part and only part of the handle for gouging work so the smoothness of the steel was real treat for me. I like the 38mm width 1 1/2” nominally because you can carve a little or a lot with a gouge like this so the chisel felt really firm as I scalloped this pine hollow. Now pine is soft wood, but it is an excellent wood for testing as the grain has both soft and hard aspects to the growth ring. DSC_0015That being so, carving or chiseling often results in inconsistent pressure resulting in torn fibres in the softer aspect of the ring. Slicing into the pine i found the gouge to be exceptionally sharp straight from the plastic pouch. Four blows from each side of the scallop had me 1/2” deep 1 1/2” wide and 3” long in no time at all.DSC_0005 That’s a spoon scallop pretty much done. I’ve made many hundreds of wooden spoons in my time and so I have no hesitation recommending this gouge. I’m told that the hardness is Rc61 in high-carbon steel so that makes it sharpenable and the gouge seems to have a toughness about it so edge retention is good too.

27 comments on “Found a professional gouge that won’t gouge you

    • Bent gouges are fine if you need them and most people don’t. People like the look of them in the same way they like the look of block planes and charriot planes. They are good for deep scallops in short distances in low accessibility areas of a project. If you are carving scallops in bowls and seats, a straight gouge works better.

    • Almost a year late, hopefully no dollars short: Any tool meant to be pushed, struck or driven will do so, optimally, when straight (linear). Yes, scoops are good for scooping. They, however are a different side of the physics-to-take-advantage-of coin. Curves and bends added to chisels and gouges results in a trade off. If you have no need for the curve or bend at any given time, you’re merely making the task more difficult. Of course, in many cases, the added effort may be minor enough not to notice. I am not here to dogmatize with absolutes. :0

  1. Hi Paul, the link & price of $45.99 is for the straight gouge but, the one pictured looks more like a pattern gouge. Is my eyesight failing?

  2. Hi Paul, are you sure this inst a 35mm gouge? 35 is what is stamped on the blade in your picture. Also, Highland does not list a 37mm gouge on their website, but it does list a 35mm.

    Thanks!

  3. While looking at various gouges on ebay, I noted that many of them have the bevel on the concave (inside) face, while the Hirsch has the bevel on the convex (outside) face. Should this be a consideration when looking at gouges? How does the placement of the bevel affect the gouge? I can see that sharpening would be different for each type. Thanks for your insights.

    • In- and out-canal bevels are totally different tools but look similar. The bevel on the outside is generally used for scalloped cuts. It’s almost impossible to create scallops with a bevel on the inside of the cove. These gouges were used much in pattern making and areas of joinery where coped cuts were used. Less for carving as such. That said, you can reconfigure the bevels from inside to out by using a grinding wheel and frequent cooling in water throughout the changeover. Better to find a chisel already suited to task though.
      In carving and shaping, the bevel of the tool often ‘rides’ the surface of the wood and following the cutting edge for a smooth cut relies on the bevel leveraging to optimise the cutting into the wood as the cut follows through to conclusion. When the bevel is inside, we usually rely on the outside shape, radius of the curve to effect a straight cut into the wood and not a scallop as in bowl carving and such.

  4. I have a PFEIL #7 35 mm, it’s only 2mm narrower and it doesn’t have a metal band at the end of the tool. Most of my gouges are PFEIL and they have been good to me. I would prefer not to have to buy another tool if this one is acceptable. Do you consider my tool OK?

  5. Paul, now that you’ve had the Hirsch gouge a while, can you tell me how the edge has held up compared to other chisels/gouges you’ve used? Of course carving tools need to be touched up frequently for optimal use, but I find that some gouges hold a keen edge significantly longer than others, especially when working in harder hardwoods. I’ve been making spoons and spatulas from pecan recently, and I’ve been looking for a gouge that will hold its edge a bit longer than the cheap firmer gouge I’ve been using.

  6. Paul,

    I see this is an old post, it appears that this product is no longer carried by Highland Woodworking, they have the #7 straight gouge but no hooped/firmer gouges as yours is shown, do they use a harder wood now requiring no hoop? Thank you,

    • Gouges don’t necessarily need ferrules nor hoops. Different tang types have different requirements. If you buy fro Highland you buy from a reputable company. I doubt you will have any problems.

  7. Dear Paul,
    For smaller jobs what do you recommend? I mean what other sizes do you recommend to have as an essential gouge set. I have seen you use the center tip of this Gouge in one of your videos for a smaller cut, but if one would have a one or two dedicated smaller sizes what do you recommend? (I mean by No. and width)
    Thanks so much for this excellent post. Just what i was looking for!

  8. I ordered the hirsch gouge and it arrived with the cutting edge ground rather out of square. Is this common, and something you should expect to correct yourself at this price point?

  9. Dear Paul,
    I will be ordering this gouge, but i wanted to ask whether you recommend any smaller size gouges for smaller cuts. I have seen you use the center tip of this Gouge in one of your videos for a smaller cut, but if one would have a one or two dedicated smaller sizes what do you recommend? (I mean by No. and width)
    Thanks

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