Almost every type of woodworking uses a gouge of some kind. From the carpenter's chisel to the woodcarver's "v" gouge, those that work with wood find the many types of gouges important and useful. The term gouge simply means that the chisel used is either curved or angled.
A gouge is used to create shape or detail on a piece of wood. Gouges allow the woodsmith to take a block of wood and turn it into a piece of art or a practical useful item. Each form of woodworking, from carving to lathe turning has gouges designed specially for the task or machine required.
Gouges are designed to remove unwanted wood in order to create the desired piece. Large gauges can remove excess wood quickly, while smaller woodcarving gouges remove tiny pieces that add interest, texture and detail to a carved piece.
There are three main types of gouges and each type may have many variations in size. The first is the straight gouge, which is similar to a chisel but has a very slight curve to the blade. The second is the scoop gouge which, depending on size, may just be slightly curved or have a more drastic curve often called a spoon. The third type is the "v" gouge that instead of having a curve is angled with the cutting edge primarily in the center of the angle or the "v," which gives it the name.
A woodworker's gouges are relatively easy to identify as they normally have a wooden or plastic handle and the edge of the blade is beveled. By looking at the end of the blade on a level surface, determining if the edge is beveled is simple, as it will not lay flat against the surface. The curve or angle of the blade can also identify the tool as a gouge.
Gouge sizes vary depending on the task they are made to do. Woodturning gouges to be used on a lathe often vary in size from 1/2 inch to 2 inches wide. Turning gouges are most often 12 to 18 inches long. Woodcarving chisels can range in size from 6 to 12 inches in length with the blades as small as 1/16 inch to around 1 inch wide. Smaller woodcarving chisels are intended to be used by hand for carving, while the larger ones require a mallet in order to carve the wood.
When looking to purchase gouges, know what you expect the tool to do. A handheld woodcarver's "v" gouge will not work when working on a full size lathe. Gouges can range in price from very nominal to very expensive. The best choice for a beginning woodworker is often to purchase a set of gouges specific to the type of woodworking they wish to do. By doing this, they can become comfortable with the different types and later purchase higher quality versions of the tools they use most.
Because of their design and use, gouges are very sharp. Care should be taken when using any type of gouge. If at all possible, the wood piece should be held in a wood vice or by another secure method to keep both hands free. Woodcarving gloves are available that can help prevent gouge nicks and cuts on the hands when worn.