Shop Stuff #2: Fingernail Gouge Sharpening on the WorkSharp

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Blog entry by SPalm posted 05-22-2013 03:08 PM 11744 reads 33 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: $12 Incremental Stop Block Part 2 of Shop Stuff series Part 3: Sharpening Gouges and Skews on the WorkSharp »

While learning to turn, the tools in use eventually need to be sharpened. I looked at various jigs, holders, and solutions for sharpening. I own a WorkSharp, but I thought that I would not be able to do it all on this machine. But I have made a series of jigs, and am now able to sharpen all my major tools with it. First up is the trickiest one.

The hardest one to do is the Fingernail, or spindle gouge. Tormek and others have bars that slide out and pockets that hold the handle. I just could not justify the expense so I came up with a technique that is really pretty simple. Actually the flat sandpaper helps out here. This will work with any WorkSharp type clone too.

The first thing was to build a flat platform that is level with the sanding disc. This was solved with Stumpy Nubs’ add-on cabinet. I downloaded the plans and built it out of ply with iron-on edge banding. I have not built the drawer yet but find the slots handy for storing extra paper and stuff. I have not used the rubbing compound discs. I believe that for turning tools 120 grit does a pretty good job by itself.

Then I made a tool holder. I drilled a large enough hole for the tool to pass through, two holes for bolts, and one stopped hole for the dowel. Then I split the block on the tablesaw. I stuck a long 1/4 dowel in it, measured from the tip of the gouge to the center of the dowel at 5 inches, and clamped it. I then measured 5 inches from the center of the gouge and cut off the dowel. I then rounded the end of the dowel. The measurements are more accurate than the picture shows. I used 5 inches for both – 4 inches for both (or so) maybe better for your gouge. This determines the amount of ‘fingernail’ curve – just make them the same.

I then made a quick measuring tool for next time by gluing a block to a thin piece of ply. This will allow easy clamp setup for subsequent sharpening. By pressing this jig against the flat part of the gouge, it is also good for checking that the dowel is 90 degrees to the gouge’s face.

I drew a centerline on the top of the wood platform. I took a piece of scrap, cut a notch in it, and clamped it on the platform.

Now since the two legs of the triangle are 5 inches, the gouge will be ground at 45 degrees. Chuck up some 120 grit and roll the gouge from side to side while keeping the dowel in the notch. I ‘paint’ the gouge face with a Sharpie and that lets me know how I am doing. Move the notched board towards or away from the sandpaper to get some fresh grit. In the real world, I use both hands (one of them was taking these pictures). My left hand is kept near the sandpaper, keeping the tool in the middle, while the right hand sweeps the handle.




Ta Da

Comments and suggestions welcome,

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

22 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile


8547 posts in 3846 days

#1 posted 05-22-2013 03:13 PM

nice one. this is what jigs are all about – taking something and simplifying it like THAT to take the guess work out, and make it repeatable.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View eddie's profile


8565 posts in 2812 days

#2 posted 05-22-2013 03:34 PM

very cleaver Steve ,

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View fernandoindia's profile


1081 posts in 3141 days

#3 posted 05-22-2013 03:37 PM

Nice one Steve.

And yes, turning is 90% sharpening, 3% turning, and 7% fixing mistakes.
My first rolling pin became a toothpick in a breeze!

-- Back home. Fernando

View Cliff De Witt 's profile

Cliff De Witt

130 posts in 2890 days

#4 posted 05-22-2013 03:41 PM


This I will, with your permission, copy.

Actually I will copy it with out your permission also, but that is the kind of guy I am.

I will need to work out a setting for the SRG and the skew also, they could be done with wedges rather than the “holder on a leg” that the gouges would need.

Thanks I can not wait to get out to the shop now.

-- Trying to find an answer to my son’s question: “…and forming organic cellulose by spinning it on its axis is interesting, why?”

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10320 posts in 4250 days

#5 posted 05-22-2013 03:53 PM

COOL way to jig-up-holder!

Does the Across-the-Edge sharpening rather than 90* to the Edge come into play?
... like with a chisel… I sharpen by moving the chisel in-line with the handle, not cross-grain…
... does it make a difference which way the angle of the sand-paper meets the tool?

Looks good!

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View SPalm's profile


5325 posts in 4080 days

#6 posted 05-22-2013 03:55 PM

Hey Cliff, go for it. My pleasure.

Next up are the other tools too.
Stay tuned.


@Joe – I do not believe the cross grain sanding is a problem. Also these are lathe tools, a lot of time they do not have to be ‘as sharp’ as a chisel or plane. But what do I know?

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View amagineer's profile


1415 posts in 2795 days

#7 posted 05-22-2013 04:17 PM

Thanks Steve for designing a simple but accurate solution. I will have to make one.

-- Flaws are only in the eye of the artisan!

View Rustic's profile


3254 posts in 3794 days

#8 posted 05-22-2013 04:32 PM

very nice indeed

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View stefang's profile


16123 posts in 3532 days

#9 posted 05-22-2013 05:04 PM

Very nice setup Steve. Simple and effective. True that turning don’t need to be as sharp, but they need to be ‘touched up’ often. Happy turning!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View robert triplett's profile

robert triplett

1566 posts in 3303 days

#10 posted 05-22-2013 05:35 PM

Steve, this is one for my favorites in case I ever pull my lathe out of storage. (drum sander took it’s space) I did my fingernail gouge sharpening by hand and eye! Not always so good! Thanks.

-- Robert, so much inspiration here, and now time to work!!!

View doubleDD's profile


7874 posts in 2241 days

#11 posted 05-22-2013 05:55 PM

Nice work on designing the jig. Think I’ll go and start on this right now as my gouges are in need of realignment. Thanks for the pics.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 3132 days

#12 posted 05-22-2013 08:50 PM

Cool setup Steve!

I am copying too…

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

21718 posts in 3303 days

#13 posted 05-22-2013 09:11 PM

Cool and simple, Steve!!

When I got hooked on turning, it was in a seminar taught by Lyle Jamieson. During the day he brought out many neat tools that he used there and sold from his web site. But, he let us measure and copy anything he had and a lot of us were busy drawing and measuring. The fingernail grind on his bowl gouges is done with a similar holder that fits in a pocket out front of a pedestal grinder and swings on a rod similar to what you have made.

It was called 2-4-7 grinding setup. Essentially the pocket for the rod was 4” down from the center of the wheel. the pocket was spaced out 7” from the surface of the wheel and the end of the gouges was clamped in a fixture and stuck out 2” from the holder. This is so nice to set up the tool exactly each time to grind right over the surface from the last sharpening and not waste any material.

It is so important to have these simple fixtures because some of them that do multiple things are so difficult to use, you have to pull out the instructions for set up each time. There is no time for that when turning.

Thanks for sharing , Steve!!

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View peteg's profile


4423 posts in 3021 days

#14 posted 05-22-2013 09:36 PM

Great post Steve & I am sure it will be of immense benifit to any new commers to turning (& some seasoned as well )
I have two set of the Woodcut System, one for my small 6” machine & one for the 8”, fancy though they may be they do no more than the practical solution you have made here.
If it get the job done to your satisfaction then thats all hat matters
well done & I can see a lot wanting to copy ::))

-- Pete G: If you always do what you always did you'll always get what you always got

View Lenny's profile


1616 posts in 3725 days

#15 posted 05-22-2013 09:40 PM

Thanks for posting this clever and informative idea Steve. Well done!

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

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