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Carving a straight gouge, but against the grain

When I use a v-gouge to gouge a line in the direction of the grain, the sides of the gouge are generally smooth.  However, when I must make a gouge across the grain, such as when I have to make a straight line perpendicular to the grain, the edges of the gouge are almost impossible to make smooth.

What is the best way to gouge perpendicular to the grain and avoid jagged sides/edges to the gouge?

I have attached a picture of a New Mexican "zia" symbol that I am practicing on.  I believe the wood is a relatively soft pine.  Obviously, I am very much a beginner wood carver.  🙂


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  • Zia-Wood-Carving-Symbol.jpg

Hi Roger,

A lot of things are in play here. My first thought is that your v-chisel might need to be sharpened. I often test my v-chisel's sharpness by cutting across the grain, and if it creates a rough, jagged cut where the wood snags, I need to go back to the sharpening stone.

The choice of wood is also an issue. Pine seems like it would be a good carving wood, but is one of the more challenging woods to carve because of the radiant hard grain, then spongy grain, then hard grain, and spongy - all within less the 1/8" (as it appears on the photo).

I would suggest getting a piece of basswood and making a cut with the same tool and you will see an immediate difference.

Welcome to the carving world! And have fun!

Thank you for the quick response, Mary.  Although my tools are quite new ( I bought a set of 10" Flexcuts), I have been practicing a bit, and I thought that perhaps that sharpness might be an issue.  I seem to use the v-gouge quite a bit.  I do have a nice long piece of basswood which I can test on the back.  I bought the piece of basswood to make a mural of the nearby Sandia Mountain range that we can see directly from our backyard here just outside of Albuquerque.

I have enjoyed watching your free lessons and plan to get a weekly or monthly membership in order to take advantage of a few more advanced ones, now that I am beginning to understand a few of the basic techniques a bit better.

Brand new chisels and plane irons almost never come sharp, even from high-end manufacturers. Just expect to immediately sharpen new tools before you put them to use. Now, most of my carving gouges are from Pfeil, and they did actually come usably sharp right out of the box! But they cheat. The gouges seem to have been ground rough and then given a quick micro-bevel with a mechanical polisher. Although they worked pretty well as-delivered, that didn't last long before they needed to be resharpened. That initial resharpening was painful too, as I hand sharpen on diamond plates and it took a little bit of time to get past the as-delivered micro-bevel and down to a straight, flat grind. As a rule, I never go more coarse than 1200 grit on my gouges and knives, but, in a couple of cases, when initially preparing a new Pfeil gouge, I've had to start with a coarser grit (600 or maybe even 250). Those are very aggressive though, and now that the bevel is ground to my liking, I'll never need to go coarser than 1200 again. While working, I just re-sharpen on my strops until that doesn't seem to be getting it, and then go to my 8,000 grit diamond plate + strop. Eventually though, I need to go repeat the full sequence 1200 / 8000 / strop.

I have to say, the grit sequence for gouges surprises me. I'm new to wood carving but I've been using bevel-edged bench chisels and hand planes for years, and, for those, I always go 250 / 600 / 1200 / strop.  I don't even bother with the 8000.  And that sequence works great! It leaves a shaving edge every time (and a left arm perpetually missing half its hair, with the bald patch kind of moving around from week to week!). But on my carving gouges, 250 and 600 would just tear them up! Clearly they are thinner and more dainty than my bench chisels, but I wonder if they're made from a softer alloy as well. I don't really know how hard Pfeil's gouge steel is.

BTW, for what it's worth, I have a very small number of new Two Cherries gouges, and I feel like they're about the same as the Pfeil ones were new, but I can't swear to it.

Finally, really go slow and take your time on that V-chisel when you first go to sharpen it! I worked hard to almost ruin one of mine the first time I attempted to sharpen it. I still hate doing it. I suppose I'll get better with it over time, practice making perfect and all.

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Cathy Paschane