Lately, I’ve received a few questions asking for my recommendation on a first gouge. I think the best answer might be, “a sharp one,” but sharpness aside, I do have a general recommendation. For roughing, especially with a mallet, I recommend a steeper sweep, something like a #7 or #8 30mm wide (or so) bent gouge. You can also do the final surface with that, but the texture will be more pronounced. As you add to your tool kit, it is nice to have a shallower sweep, like a #4 or #5 bent gouge, that will give you the option of leaving a much more subtle texture. Even though I have different gouges to choose from, you can really accomplish a lot with just one in your kit.
There are several brand options. In the Hans Karlsson gouge selection, I would go with the #90 sweep 35 or 40mm wide bent gouge or the #55 sweep 30mm wide bent gouge. The #90 sweep will be more useful for large dough-bowl styles, while the #55 sweep will be a bit more versatile and able to cut in tighter arcs like undercut handles and such.
HK uses a non-traditional system for describing the sweep of a gouge. The circle described by a gouge of a given sweep remains constant regardless of the width of the tool. In other words, a #90 sweep gouge is always an arc of a 90 mm diameter circle, regardless of that tool’s width. That is not true in the traditional system, in which, for example, #5 gouges of various widths will be arcs of different diameter circles (i.e. In the traditional system, the sweep is relative to the width of the tool.)
In the photo above (left), my 45 mm wide #150 sweep HK bent paring gouge sits next to my 16mm wide #5 sweep long-bent gouge from Pfeil (Swiss Made). I was just using the smaller one last night to pare the interior of a walnut bowl. It is providing the particular texture I’d like on this bowl, but a gouge like the one I recommended as a first gouge would have worked also. I just would have used a portion of the edge. I have found the Swiss Made gouges to be excellent as well, for paring or mallet work. Here you can see the selection of #5 long-bents, and the #7s. Usually, the edge of a Swiss Made needs to be reworked a bit before it will work sweetly, even though they come “pre-sharpened.”
Of course, there are other options and other makers that are just as worth considering, and any attempt for me to mention them all here would fall short. This is not meant to be a recommendation of one brand, maker, or supplier over another. I have just used these brands in this post to illustrate the key concepts involved in choosing a paring gouge. Antique tools are also a consideration. I really enjoy using an old Addis bent gouge I picked up at an antique shop years ago.
As you can see in the final photos below, each good brand has it’s subtle differences, but they will all work well. The person behind the gouge is the most important factor.