Common Bevel Angles
for Woodturning Tools

Various angle jigs are available to measure the bevel angles on your turning tools, including the Tormek Angle Master (left) and the Woodcut Tools Angle Jig.

Overview: Woodturners are a lot like chefs… If you ask ten chefs for their favorite chili recipe, you're going to get ten different recipes. So it is with woodturners. If you ask ten woodturners what their favorite grind and bevel angles are for common woodturning tools, you're going to get ten different answers, or maybe a hundred. Part of the reason for this is personal preference, part is due to the fact that we all do things a little differently and part is because we are all turning different timbers, shapes and types of projects.

If you're just getting started, it can be really confusing to figure out where to start. When I was demonstrating around the country for The Woodworking Shows, I always had some turners that would come up to me after a demo and ask me what bevel angles I recommended for certain tools. Since there are so many different variables to consider, that can be a difficult question to answer.

However, there are common bevel angles for our tools that have been proven through the years by thousands of woodturners. These bevel angles are merely a starting point, as you will no doubt change them as your projects change and as the specific type of wood you are turning changes. The information below is presented only as a good starting point for various tools, bearing in mind that your particular preferences and the types of projects you are working on will ultimately determine what bevel angle is best for your tools.

Remember too, that what works now for you may not work at all in the future. If you're turning a standard half-round bowl, a 45-degree front bevel angle may work well. However, that same 45-degree bevel won't work with a deep tulip style bowl, which may need a 60, or even a 65-degree front bevel to maintain bevel contact throughout the cut. You have to be flexible and willing to change your approach to turning wood, as your projects and woods change.


Spindle Gouges

Used primarily for spindle (between centers) turning, spindle gouges are a great tool for detail work like turning beads and coves. A good starting point is a 35-degree bevel. Some turners vary the bevel angle between 30 and 35 degrees, to suit particular situations. These are typically ground with a standard fingernail shape, although some turners (myself included) prefer Irish grinds on spindle gouges. The swept back wings offer excellent visibility when turning fine details and the shape allows you to get into very tight areas, without touching adjacent design elements.



This 1/2" production spindle gouge features a 30 degree bevel angle with a secondary double bevel.

Production spindle gouges are available from some manufacturers that offer increased metal under the flute, which allows you to work a greater distance off the tool rest without vibrations. These production spindle tools are usually ground with double bevels, to shorten the long bevel that would otherwise be present on the tool.

This 1/4" micro spindle gouge features a 35 degree front bevel angle with a 3/4" long side wing.

Spindle gouges can also be used to a limited extent to hollow very small projects like goblets and boxes as well. When used in this way, the gouge is typically ground with a 45-degree front bevel angle. Since spindle gouges lack a lot of mass under the flute, they are only suitable for very small, shallow hollowing projects. Spindle gouges should never be used to hollow the inside of a bowl, since they lack the mass and rigidity necessary to resist the forces generated when the tool hangs off the tool rest to hollow the bowl.


Spindle gouges are typically available in various sizes including, ¼', 3/8", and ½" in round bar stock and ½" and 5/8" in forged stock. Micro versions are also available in ¼" and 3/16" sizes, or even smaller from some manufacturers. I really like the small micro turning tools and I use them frequently in my studio for fine detail work. Remember, if using micro tools, keep your tool rest support close to the work piece, to minimize tool overhang and chatter.


Bowl Gouges

Used primarily for faceplate work and turning bowls, bowl gouges are one of the most ubiquitous tools in a modern woodturner's studio. Useful for not only bowl work, but bowl gouges can also be used for many spindle-turning tasks. There are two basic ways to grind a bowl gouge, flat across and fingernail shape. The fingernail shape has two popular styles, traditional and Irish.

This 1/2" Texas Irish grind bowl gouge features a 40 degree front bevel with 1.25" side wings.

This 1" straight ground bowl gouge features a 40 degree
front bevel.

Which style is best for you depends on many things, including your personal preferences, your skill level and the horsepower of your lathe. I use the Irish style of grind the most in my studio, but I will on rare occasions, use a flat ground bowl gouge. For example, the interior belly cut on a Hawaiian Calabash style bowl. The decision on which grind or profile is best for a particular project, is determined by the specific project's shape, subject timber, depth, soundness of wood and skill of the turner to name a few.

Bowl gouges are available in numerous sizes including ¼", 3/8", ½", 5/8", ¾" and 1" to name a few. The larger sizes are great for roughing out and doing the bulk of the initial shaping work. The mid size gouges are great for refining the design and the smaller gouges work well for adding fine detail. The ¼" bowl gouge is a particularly elegant tool that is capable of producing amazingly smooth surfaces.

I've often been asked what angle you should use for turning bowls. This really depends on the size, shape and depth of the bowl you want to turn. In reality, you need several different bowl gouges, each with a different front bevel angle to turn various sizes and shapes of bowls. Another factor that determines what angle you need is how you turn your bowls.

I prefer to make a single sweep on the interior, from the rim to the bottom (side grain bowls). This requires an angle that will allow me to complete my entire sweep before the shaft of the gouge touches the bowl rim. Once the shaft of the gouge touches the rim, you lose your bevel contact and the cut is interrupted.

If you prefer to hollow the interior of your bowl in several steps, then you have more options, since you can use two different gouges, each with a different front bevel angle to complete the interior sweep. The important thing here is that you want your bevel to maintain contact throughout the entire cut on the bowl. Having said that, you still need some kind of a starting point if you're just getting into bowls.

Half Round Bowls: These are a popular style of bowl with many woodturners. The wall of a half round bowl will restrict the gouge movement to some extent, but as long as the depth does not exceed the radius of the bowl, a 45-degree front bevel will usually allow you to maintain contact throughout the cut.

This half round Honey Mesquite bowl was completed using a bowl gouge with a 45 degree front bevel angle.

Numerous front bevel angles
can be used to complete this Honey Mesquite shallow open style bowl.

Shallow Open Style Bowls: I really enjoy turning shallow open bowls either with, or without an Ogee style of rim. Because the bowl is short and very open, the wall of the bowl usually does not restrict the gouge movement and you can use various front bevel angles to complete the interior. A good starting angle for these types of bowls is 30 degrees, but many other angles could also be used as well.

Deep and Tall Bowls: The walls on these types of bowls are quite tall, with a small bottom and this greatly restricts the movement of the gouge inside the bowl when hollowing. Since this style of bowl has a depth that is greater than the radius, you have to use front bevel around 60, or even 65 degrees to maintain full contact throughout the cut.

Semi-Closed Bowls: These types of bowls feature a rim opening that curves slightly inward, making the opening in the bowl smaller than the largest diameter of the bowl wall. This type of bowl typically has a depth that exceeds the radius, with a bowl wall that will restrict your gouge movement. A front bevel angle of 55 degrees or so, should allow for full bevel contact when making your interior cuts.

Semi-closed bowls like this Ash bowl require front bevel angles of 55 degrees or more to complete the interior sweep.

Recommendations: Ok, that's a lot to digest. If you're looking for a happy medium and you only have a few gouges, what do you do? I would grind one at 40 degrees, one at 45 degrees and keep one ground at 50, or 55 degrees. That will cover most of the styles of bowls you're likely to want to turn. If you decide to turn a bowl where these front bevels won't allow full contact throughout the cut, simply regrind one to a steeper, or blunter angle to accommodate your design. Another option would be to buy another gouge and grind it to either 50 degrees, or 60 degrees if you like turning tall and deep bowls.


Scrapers

These half-round scrapers feature a blade that is 3/8" thick and 1.5" wide with a front bevel of 60 degrees.

Scrapers have a bad reputation with some woodturners, but they can be a very effective, especially when they are used as shear scrapers. When buying scrapers, always purchase the thickest scrapers you can afford. Thin scrapers are prone to chatter when extended off the tool rest very far. The thicker cross section of some scrapers (3/8"), allows the tool to be used much more effectively when the tip of the tool is far off the tool rest.

I use scrapers frequently in my studio for shear scraping, prior to sanding. A few minutes with a shear scraper can save me several grits and a lot of time in my abrasive protocol. They also allow me to make very subtle changes in the profile of my project, with relative ease and no heat buildup on the surface. The main benefit for me in using shear scrapers is a substantially reduced abrasive protocol.

Scrapers are available in ¼' and 3/8" thicknesses, and a few other thicknesses, depending on the manufacturer. Widths usually include ½", ¾", 1", 1.25" and 1.5." Numerous shapes are available including straight across, full round end (sometimes called a Bull Nose) left and right skewed, spear point, half round, diamond side, and various profiled scraper shapes.

The half-round scraper (top) features a 60 degree bevel angle, while the full round scraper below features a 65 degree bevel angle.

Many scrapers are intentionally double beveled to increase the clearance when working in tight quarters, like the inside of a box or goblet. The angles used by most turners vary according to what the tool is being used for, but a good point to start for a general-purpose scraper, is 70 degrees. The scrapers I use in my studio range from 45 degrees, to 75 degrees. I use these both with the burr and without the burr, depending on what type of timber I'm working with at the time.

This 3/4" wide, 3/8" thick round nose scraper features a 50 degree front bevel angle.

If the timber grain is relatively open and course, then I usually leave the burr on, just as it comes from the grindstone. When working with a dense or close-grained timber, I use a diamond hone to remove the burr to make the cutting action less aggressive. By removing the burr on dense, closed grain timbers the action is more controllable allowing the scraper to deliver a cleaner cut.


Skews

This is one tool that most turners either love, or really dislike. There does not seem to be any middle ground. This is certainly one of the harder tools for a woodturner to master but once mastered, it can be a very useful addition to your woodturning tool inventory. Used primarily on spindle projects, the skew can produce very clean; smooth cuts on end grain and side grain surfaces and excels at straight and taper cuts. Skews are usually available in numerous widths including, 3/8", ½", 5/8", ¾", 1', 1.25" and 1.375." Round skews are available in 3/8" and ½".

This 1" wide skew is 1/4" thick and features a 30 degree bevel angle with a 65 degree skewed edge. This skew is used primarily to turn soft woods.


Roughing Gouges

This is the primary tool for spindle turners to convert square turning blanks into round cylinders. Roughing gouges make short work of removing the corners on blanks and also are great for gross shaping work, bulk wood removal and for intermediate shaping work on spindles.

This 1.5" straight ground
roughing gouge features a 45 degree bevel angle.

This 3/4" straight ground roughing gouge features a 35 degree front bevel angle and is used on softer woods.

Roughing gouges are usually ground in two basic configurations, square across and with a fingernail (rounded) end. Most turners usually prefer one style or the other. In my studio, I prefer use roughing gouges ground with a fingernail end, with the wings ground back ½" to ¾" on the sides. Roughing gouges are usually available in several sizes including ¾", 1" and 1.25". If you're turning primarily soft woods, a 35 degree bevel angle is a good starting point. When working harder woods, adjust the angle closer to 45 degrees.


Parting Tools

A very common tool in most woodturners studios, parting tools make quick work of parting a spindle in half and also can be used for other tasks like cutting square grooves into the surface and depending on the specific style, turn beads. Parting tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including straight, square cross section, diamond style (relieved on the top and bottom to reduce friction), super thin (1/16") and several specially ground versions for working with unusual materials like antler, or very hard timbers.

A good starting bevel for a standard parting tool is 45 degrees. Custom configurations have various bevel angles, depending on the style of the tool. Usually, the manufacturer will give advice on the necessary angles for specialty tools and grinds.

From top to bottom: 3/4" diamond parting tool with a 45 degree bevel angle; 3/8" standard parting tool with a 70 degree bevel angle; 1/16" super thin parting tool with a 45 degree bevel angle.


Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.


Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.