I picked up a couple of gouges at a local thrift shop. Some of them are in good order, but some of them are in bad shape and should've been sharpened long ago.

I've seen a couple of instruction videos on YouTube, but those feature nice clean gouges that just need a little touch up. Is sharpening a badly worn gouge doable by hand? Or should I either just toss them, or keep them around until I get my hands on mechanical means?

  • 2
    take them to a pro for sharpening. Mar 17, 2015 at 21:15

3 Answers 3


I just went through a very similar process. I bought a bunch of old Mifer (Spanish) gouges from craigslist. I tried to bevel them on the stones but the steel was way too hard and thick and just took too long. After about an hour on one chisel I decided to give the grinder a go. You can do nearly the same thing by hand but it will just take a lot longer. For your time, it is probably worth it to spend $50 bucks on a 6" bench grinder. Most come with a wheel on each side (you won't need the course one) and you can replace it with a 6" cloth or whatever type of honing wheel. This makes rehoning every 15-20 minutes much quicker when carving.

Thankfully they did not have hardly any surface rust. Red rust is what to watch out for as it can mean deeper pits in the blade than you might suspect. In this case you can take off metal from both sides until hopefully you find a clean center from a stone grinder. I had to do this to a old planer blade which was gifted to me recently and turned it into a double-bevel chisel.

If you are free of surface rust I suggest using a bench grinder to set the initial bevel. Hold the blade sideways and turn the handle as if it was a screwdriver while gently touching it to the grinder. Be patient. Go slow. Dip the tip in water constantly. If you burn the metal (heat generated due to friction) it will change colors. The temper is lost, and you need to grind out all the way.

Like the image below:

gouge sharpening

The goal is for after polishing for the bevel to be FLAT from the start of the bevel to the cutting edge (the gouge will obviously have a curve to it, but this should be from one cutting-end/bevel to the other, not from the start of the bevel to the blade). This means light reflected will have minimal bend, and be more like a flat mirror. The more bend the reflection has, the more the bevel was bent towards the edge, giving a more cannel (or Moran) bevel to the blade. While this Moran edge can be desired in certain situations, typically when done unintentionally (aka on accident due to poor flat bevel sharpening) the quality is not so good.

I have attempted to show it below: bevels

I attached a picture showing the bevels on the gouges I sharpened. They are not perfectly flat, but they are acceptable (to me):

reflections in gouges

You can put sharpie all over the bevel to make it really obvious where you are hitting. Frankly it will be obvious anyway since the grinder leaves fairly course markings. Afterwards hit it with honing compound on either a wheel or strop for a few minutes, alternating sides until the small wire burr at the end of the blade comes off.

I will sometimes grind the end flush if the gouge is way off, leaving a very thick end. Then as I grind (as shown in the image above) I will check the thickness of this edge constantly to make sure I am grinding evenly along the radius of the gouge. The goal is to cut through the thick dull spot on all parts of the blade simultaneously, which implies an even grind. As the tip gets thinner and thinner it gets easier and easier to burn. Dip it in water every 1-2s of grind, seriously!! It sucks to burn the metal right at the end of a otherwise good bevel.

PSA: The bevels I ground on the wheel gave me a bad skin reaction all over my hands back and around my mouth where the respirator was (weird). I don't know if it was the vanadium steel or what. But just a heads up use long sleeves and good ventilation.

  • So am I correct in concluding your answer boils down to "don't do it by hand, invest in a bench grinder"?
    – SQB
    Jan 10, 2017 at 19:57
  • @SQB: You can do it by hand, but it will just take longer. For me at least, doing the same thing by hand takes about ~2-3 hours per bevel. I don't have a super low grit stone though; my lowest is ~600 grit arkansas whetstone.
    – jbord39
    Jan 10, 2017 at 20:11
  • @SQB: It really depends how many gouges you need to rebevel and how long you want to spend at the stone. I had 5+ gouges to rebevel. After spending a few hours on just one gouge (and successfully sharpening it) I started to think what my time was worth. Especially because bending over to keep the right angle on a stone really hurts my back.
    – jbord39
    Jan 10, 2017 at 20:20
  • @SQB: you can invest in a bench grinder but it is not needed. Find a very coarse sharpening stone - it can remove a lot of metal very quickly. With a couple minutes of work, nicks, bad angles, etc. will be removed. Then you can to move to your regular sharpening method. I only mention this so folks don't feel like they must have a grinder. Like many things in woodworking, having the perfect tool makes that one task easier and quicker but there are other ways to skin the cat if you don't have that perfect tool.
    – ewm
    Jan 11, 2017 at 22:30
  • @jbor39 try working on a higher surface (or some similar adjustment); save your back!! note: I'm not a doctor but I've had that same problem.
    – ewm
    Jan 11, 2017 at 22:33

Keep them! or send them to me :) Many folks claim older gouges work better than new. There are a few extra steps needed to save an old gouge.

Remove the rust, gunk and the like. Then using your sharpening stones make sure the flat backs are, indeed, flat (if the gouges in question have flat backs).

If the cutting edge is chipped, then you will need to grind the edge back evenly until the chip is gone.

Don't forget to inspect the 'inside' curve of the gouge; improper sharpening or abuse may require you to use sharpening slipstones to correct any defects found here.

At this point, you can dress the edge and sharpen the tool as you would a new one.


Assuming they are high speed steel (most likely) using a very fine file ... And lots of patience, you can reface the tool.

Follow the same pitch, and remove material until there isn't any more gauling.

Otherwise, I would invest in a bench top belt sander.

  • What is gauling? - I have tried to find it - the best I can find is an alternate spelling "galling" that refers to "when two surfaces in contact seize up as a result of cold welding".
    – Ast Pace
    Mar 5, 2016 at 17:48
  • Gauling like knicks, chips, scrapes Mar 7, 2016 at 13:04
  • I think you meant "galling".
    – keshlam
    Jan 10, 2017 at 2:39

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