WoodTurning Gouge Sharpening and Grinding An Elsworth or Fingernail Grind for Woodturning Gouges

Grinding An Elsworth or Fingernail Grind for Woodturning Gouges

One of the toughest choices I had to make when getting started in wood turning was deciding which type of woodturning gouge or wood turning chisel to purchase and use.

It gets complicated really fast.

You have to know or learn about steel, that is the steel used in your tools. Brand names become important and deciding on a budget for your woodturning tools is really the major factor.

Knowing what type of steel is used is important because that will tell you how long the woodturning tool will stay sharp and how long it will last. Woodturning tool steel is important also when considering or learning how to sharpen the tools, will it cut green wood easily? ….will it slice thru dry wood?

I watched all kinds of youtube videos, read a bunch of books and did a lot of googling for “woodturning tools” and the amount of information was really overwhelming!


Affordable Wood Turning Chisels
Get Started with the most expensive woodturning chisels you can afford!

I purchased a cheap set of HSS woodturning chisels from Harbor Freight. I think there are about 8 tools and the regular price is around 60 dollars. I had a coupon and ended up getting the set for less than $50, in fact, I think I had a 25% coupon and I paid around 48 bucks for the set.

They were kind of sharp to start with, I found out after a while that they were no where near the sharpness they needed to be. I can tell you how many times a gouge dug into a bowl and stopped the lathe 🙂 …..I don’t know how it did’t break those poor tools….. I read of guys paying just as much for one woodturning gouge and having the steel shank break in two! So, I guess I was pretty lucky.

I could go on and on about gouges but I wanted to share how you can get a fingernail grind on a cheap woodturning tool to experiment with while you are learning.

Here’s the deal. Buy a cheap set of chisels, start to learn how to use them, buy the jigs you need to sharpen the woodturning gouges and chisels and then figure out which woodturning chisel you like best.

Once you get a handle on sharpening and abusing your cheap set of woodturning tools, you can now think about which tools you really like. No need to guy a whole new set, because now you can spend some money and buy a good, expensive or more expensive, wood turning tool. Eddie Castelin says, “Hey, no need to buy a set of tools ….just buy the one you like to use and learn to use it well, after you master that move on to the next!”

Of course if budget isn’t an issue you can get a set of Sorby Woodturning Tools or Hamlet woodturning gouges & chisels or the famous David Ellsworth Signature Gouges …I think made by Crown. You can find good deals on Ebay, best deals on Amazon ….then again, if you have a local woodworking store in your area they can always use the business. Check your local area for Woodturning clases, you might have some luck Googling “woodturning” or even your local college might have classes.

I saved the best for last.

The Ellsworth or Fingernail Grind ….A Swept Back Cutting Bowl Gouge Grind

Ellsworth Grind for Woodturning tools
Woodturing Bowl Gouge with Ellsworth Grind, known as Irish Grind or Fingernail Grind

Since I really wanted to learn how to make bowls, I tried to learn as much as I could about the woodturning tools needed to turn wood bowls. As it turns out, no pun intended :), there are a number of variations of something called a fingernail grind or the ellsworth grind….check out the image (if I found one). These bowl gouge grinds allow you to do a variety of cuts but they are:

  1. hard to master
  2. hard to sharpen

You can spend anywhere from $60 to $200 for a bowl gouge with an ellsworth grind already on it, all you need to do is learn how to use the tool and keep it sharpened.

Wolverine Oneway Grinding JibTo keep it sharpened you need a sharpening jig similar to or a Oneway Wolverine Sharpening jig, something designed to sharpen a variety of woodturning chisels and gouges. There are different manufacturer’s of this system and youtube can provide you with some homemade solutions, Eddie Castelin actually shows you how to make one of these jigs ….he also sells them. Eddie is a long time wood turner, quite a character who suffered a stroke. If you appreciate his videos, you should consider supporting him! This is his youtube channel

Captain Eddie’s WoodTurning Channel

he is a wealth of knowledge ….he is affectionitly known as Captain Eddie!

I don’t know why, but it seems like I can write for hours….late at night. All I wanted to do is share a cool video I found that educates you on how to put an ellsworth grind or fingernail grind on a standard bowl or spindle gouge.

Why is this good?

Because you can take your cheap bowl gouge with a standard bowl grind and turn it into a fancy and effective fingernail grind ….oh, I should have mentioned it can also be called an Irish grind.

Turning an older or cheaper woodturning bowl gouge into a ellsworth grind will allow you to practice using this unique grind at little cost. If you break a 20 or 30 dollar chisel you won’t go busto! Maybe the most important aspect of this whole process is that you can learn and fine turn your woodturning gouge/chisel sharpening skills. It won’t be long before you can shape the Irish grind or Ellsworth grind on your woodturing tools, and it won’t be long before you can effectively use it.

I have yet to use an expensive woodturning gouge with the ellsworth grind such as a Sorby or Crown (Ellsworth) but all the reviews I’ve read tell me that they are a dream come true, they cut the hardest wood like butter, the sharpening last’s 3 to 6 times as long. So, maybe like you, I’m awaiting the finances to get one of the beautiful woodturning tools, the great difference being the type and hardness of the steel …but that’s for another day and another discussion.

How To Grind An Ellsworth Grind or Irish Grind on a Standard Bowl Gouge

So, watch this video about how to take a standard woodturning bowl grind and grind it down to the shape of the fingernail grind, which is the basis of the Irish and Ellsworth grinds. This is one of those videos that you don’t want to lose, after you watch it I would download it and create a folder on your computer with important woodturning videos!