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What’s a Spoon Carving Gouge and How Do You Use It?


Spoon carving tools from Schaaf Tools

A spoon carving gouge is one of a woodcarver’s go-to tools for carving out concave areas. In this article, we explore what a spoon carving gouge is, how it’s unique from other gouges, and how to use it in different types of carving projects.

Chisels vs. Gouges

If you’re new to woodcarving, you may be confused about the difference between a chisel and a gouge. What makes a gouge a gouge? What do the numbers printed on the handles of chisels and gouges tell you about the size and shape of their cutting edges? Before we discuss the specific characteristics of a spoon carving gouge, let’s briefly review a few details about chisels and gouges in general.

Here’s a quick comparison of woodcarving chisels and gouges:

  • Chisels cut straight lines. They are beveled on one or both sides of the blade.
  • Gouges are chisels with rounded ends. They cut curves and rounded areas.
  • Quality wood carving chisels and gouges are labeled with 2 numbers.
    • The first number designates the amount of curvature on the blade; this is also known as sweep. The higher the number, the more curved the cutting edge of the blade is. A #1 “curve” is straight, and designates a chisel. A #2 sweep is barely curved; a #11 sweep is deeply curved. At about #12, the “curve” of a gouge becomes v-shaped; a #12 gouge is also known as a v part tool.
    • The second number indicates--usually in millimeters--the width of the cutting edge. Widths can be as narrow as 3 mm and as wide as 50mm or more. Wood carving tool sets for beginners frequently include a 6mm gouge, an 8mm gouge, a 10mm gouge, and a 20mm gouge.

With those details in mind, let’s take a closer look at the spoon carving gouge.

Schaaf Tools Profile Chart for the 12 Piece Foundation Wood Carving Set for Beginners

How is a spoon carving gouge unique from other gouges?

That’s an excellent question with more than one correct answer because not all spoon carving gouges look exactly the same. Signature features of a spoon carving gouge are:

  • A bent shank. Unlike the straight shank on many gouges, the shank on a spoon carving gouge is bent. The point at which the shank bends varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.  That shape means that the angle of the handle is nearly 90° when the cutting edge meets the wood block.
  • A profile that includes a spoon-like dip near the cutting edge. The length of the “spoon” portion varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, as does the sweep and width of the cutting edge of their standard spoon carving gouge. However, most spoon gouges resemble their name; you’d be able to identify them from a line-up of wood carving gouges. They are generally narrow along the shaft and spoon-shaped near the cutting edge.

Spoon carving gouge from Schaaf Tools

How is a spoon carving gouge used?

A spoon gouge is the ideal carving tool for making concave cuts. So, not only does a spoon gouge resemble a spoon, it works like one--with teeth. The curved shaft and scooped front work in tandem to remove sizable bites of wood with each stroke. Thus, an experienced woodcarver can quickly carve out the concave bowl of a wooden spoon, a mug, or a small dish using a spoon gouge.

You might wonder whether you could use a regular bent gouge in place of a spoon gouge. Indeed, you could, and some carvers regularly do. They choose a gouge with a medium sweep and a longer, wider blade than a spoon gouge usually has--something like a #5 or #7 that’s about 20mm wide. The wide cutting surface combined with a long shaft makes it possible to effectively scoop out the bowl of a wooden spoon. However, if the cutting area is small, a spoon gouge works more effectively to cut a concave surface because it can cut with a smaller radius. Some long bent gouges are just too big to reach into the smaller areas.

Often, carvers who use a bent gouge for the bulk of the concave surface use a hook knife to reach the small areas and smooth away the stroke lines left by the gouge. When wielded well, a spoon carving gouge does the work of a bent gouge and a hook knife.

Using a Schaaf Tools 7L 20mm Bent Gouge to carve a spoon

What types of wood carving use spoon carving gouges?

Spoon gouges work well for any carving project in which you need to scoop out and round a bowl shape. They are excellent tools for treen carvers specializing in spoons, bowls, and other kitchen utensils.  Lovespoon carvers also use them, not only to carve the bowl of the spoon, but also for any embellishment that needs a concave cut. 

Other types of wood carving make good use of a spoon carving tool. Relief carvers find that a spoon gouge can access tight corners and reach into angled areas where larger gouges can’t. Flat plane carvers and those who work “in the round” use spoon carving gouges to hollow out features of their pieces.

Chip carving is the single type of carving that seldom requires a spoon carving gouge. With its focus on straight lines and geometric patterns, chip carving relies heavily on chisels rather than on any type of gouge.

Summing it up

A spoon carving gouge features a curved, often narrow, shaft and a spoon-shaped dip near the cutting edge. This shape makes it an ideal tool for cutting concave areas in spoons and bowls and any other place that needs to be hollowed out.

A spoon carving gouge is a practical tool for nearly any type of carving, with the exception of chip carving, which focuses on straight lines and relies on chisels. Because it’s a versatile tool, a spoon carving gouge is included in many sets of wood carving tools for beginners.

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