For more information on the gouge, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.
Hirsh straight #7 37mm carving gouge – a top-notch gouge for artisans
Everyone 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.
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. Anyway, 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
I 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.
The 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. German 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
Gouges 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. That 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. 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.