I was paring the interior of a cherry bowl recently. Whenever I perform this operation, I hold the gouge in an unorthodox carving grip, reminiscent of a scene from Psycho or Julius Caesar.
This allows me to register my thumb against my upper chest, just below the shoulder. I use my body weight to propel the gouge forward, maneuvering my hands and wrists slightly to control the path of the cutting edge. I adjust the positioning of my feet and body to work around one entire half of the bowl.
Raising yourself up on some boards, or working on a lower bench may help, also. I’m used to mine. I’m 5’11” and my bench top is 35 1/2″ high. Another possibility is working at a low bench. By sitting behind the bowl, you can lower the weight of your upper body over the gouge.
You can see a bit of my usual paring at about the 7:25 mark in this video.
The cuts don’t always go that smoothly; especially when paring hard dry cherry end grain right along the central long axis of the bowl. Regardless of the length of each cut, I aim for nice transitions between each stroke. I try to avoid the ridges (or divots) that result if the gouge stops rather than making a clean exit from the cut. For particularly hard areas, I don’t propel the gouge slowly. Once the edge is just engaged, I let my torso fall downward sharply, punching the edge forward and making a clean exit from the wood in one quick motion. Many such cuts, overlapping, can tame hard end grain.
In addition to the use of one’s body, there are a few other things I try to remember:
- Sharp. There is no substitute. If the thought passes through my mind that maybe the gouge could use a touch-up, it has needed a touch-up. I often amaze myself at my ability to ignore that thought. One test that has proven reliable to me is to try to skate the gouge edge very lightly across the surface of my thumbnail (heading toward the end of my thumb). If it is sharp enough, there will be no skating. Even with no pressure, it engages and will not move forward. Invariably this test fails first in the central portion of a gouge, while the outer portions still bite.
- Softer woods will not require as much force. It will be easier to control and propel the gouge. However, the tools have to be just as sharp to get nice, clean cuts.
- I’m supposed to be enjoying this. There is no perfect cut.
- It is easier to push a little steel through wood than a lot of steel. Gouges that are narrower and/or have a higher sweep are easier to propel and control. In the photos below, the flat, wide gouge to the far right will leave a subtle surface, but is much more difficult to push through hard wood fibers. The gouges to the left will glide through the wood more easily. Clean cuts with any of these gouges will result in different, pleasing surfaces.