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Incannel Gouges- an introduction

Every woodworker worth his sawdust is going to have a set of chisels of one sort or another and possibly one or two ordinary firmer or outcannel gouges. Firmer gouges are a similar design to those woodcarvers use to produce a shallow depression found in a carved bowl. They’re often seen with a fingernail profile. With a little practice, they are not too difficult to sharpen freehand on your favourite honing media. I wonder though, how many woodworkers have a set of scribing or incannel gouges? In most respects, they look identical but differ in one significant way, namely that the bevel is on the inside of the blade, rather than the outside.

An incannel gouge is quite a specialist tool, but absolutely invaluable for precisely cutting an inside curve, as you’d find on the shoulder of a round component, for example, in the construction of a chair. I use them for all sorts of smaller stuff where I need to make a precise internal cut, such as tiny handles and, as such, there isn’t really any other tool that will do the job effectively.

Incannel Gouges
Small handles in Indian ebony created using an incannel gouge

The set shown in the pic weren’t bought specifically as incannel gouges. They are made from old firmer gouges obtained years ago from my local second hand tool shop. The outside bevel was removed by grinding very carefully (so as not to overheat the steel). This left the ends square and the blades somewhat shorter.

Incannel Gouges
Bespoke incannel gouges

Incannel Gouges- sharpening and honing

The big problem with incannel gouges is sharpening and honing the things. You’ll need to exercise the little grey cells to work out an effective way of producing that all important edge. You’ll also need to attempt to keep the end reasonably square; not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.

When I first used these tools some years ago, I tried grinding the internal curve on the corner of a high speed dry grinder. This proved impossible. Then I realised that the only sensible way to do it was to hold the gouge on the bench (or vice) and use a small conical grinding wheel in a large power drill. This proved too cumbersome. It wasn’t until I bought a Proxxon Mini Drill that I finally cracked it as it was now possible to grind the internal curve quite accurately.

Incannel Gouge
Proxxon Mini Drill suited to professional use in the workshop

Produce the cutting edge

Having ground the bevel, the next task was to produce the cutting edge.

Incannel Gouge
India slip stone and pink grinding wheel

An India slip stone or the small pink wheel is capable of producing the initial edge, which is workable, but nowhere near fine enough for detail work, so I then had the bright idea of making up some shaped mdf mandrels which could then be used in a pillar drill or later, an electric motor (with a chuck) mounted on the end of my lathe.

Incannel Gouge
Mandrel mounted in motor chuck

The mdf wheel was treated with a smear of Tormek PA-70 Honing Paste and Vaseline petroleum jelly to act as a lubricant, so that when this set-up is spun at high speed, a mirror shine and very sharp edge is soon produced on the internal surface. To finish the honing job, I polished the curved exterior on the leather wheel of my Tormek T7. This also removes any residual burrs.

In-Cannel Gouge
Mandrels with Tormek honing paste

Once I’d worked out a grinding and honing regime for these incannel gouges, they’ve proved to be invaluable. This was especially true where I need to cut an internal curve. If you’ve been very observant, you’ll also notice that my gouges have rather attractive London pattern, octagonal handles. The handles are English walnut. This little turning exercise will very shortly be the subject of another forthcoming Axminster Blog.

Discover more…

If you are wondering which Sharpening Stones to use, look no further. Our guide will briefly explore some stones sold by Axminster plus some of the many alternative stones which the craftsperson might consider. A new, or even experienced woodworker may find the whole area of sharpening stones confusing. We aim to eliminate any confusion through our informative guide. Furthermore, take a look at our Woodcut Miniature Woodturning Marvels! piece and discover the range of innovative, high-quality tools designed by turners for turners.

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