Tool Review: Arbortech Ball Gouge
By Jeff Fleisher
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
The Arbortech Ball Gouge is a carving tool that is designed to create small
concave surfaces in wood. The head of the gouge has a 30mm diameter ring-shaped cutter that is just
the right size for shaping small carvings, bowls, spoons and chair seats.
The ball gouge attaches to a 4 or 4-1/2” angle grinder which is perfect for free-hand shaping of
wood or carving. I started out in the early 1990's as a wood carver and I found the ball gouge very easy
to use after about 30 minutes of experimentation. Once you get the feel of using the ball gouge over
various grain directions it becomes very comfortable to use.
The package comes with the ball gouge, an Ian Key and an instruction booklet. The Ian Key is
used to loosen a screw at the tip of the cutter head in order to rotate the cutter blade so that you can use
all portions of the blade.
The ball gouge has a ring shaped blade that you can rotate as one part gets dull and is
eventually replaceable. It will mount on the 5/8” shaft of an angle grinder and can handle speeds up to
12,000 RPM. The blade is mounted at a 30 degree angle onto the inner head. The gouge is used at an
angle such that the inner head prevents it from digging into the wood. Arbortech calls this their "Anti-
Grab" Technology. Instead of digging in and grabbing the wood, it will bounce out of the cut.
The cutting action creates a chisel-like texture as if you were making the cuts by hand
with a conventional gouge and mallet. It also makes small chips rather than sawdust. I recommend
you still wear a dust mask when using the ball gouge but you won't be surrounded by a cloud of dust.
After about 30 minutes of practicing with the ball head and having it bounce around and tear up
some cross grain wood I finally got the hang of using it and made some very nice
looking depressions in a cherry board. In all seriousness, it takes about 30 minutes to get a feel for
which part of the tool to use as you move with the grain and across the grain. Once you have the feel
for the tool, you can draw boundary lines on a piece of wood and carve right up to the line
under control. As I've mentioned earlier, the surface has a natural chisel-like texture, is very smooth
and the blade cuts very quickly.
Once my cuts were looking good I decided it was time to put the ball gouge through its
paces! As a woodturner I've turned a lot of bowls but on a recent cross-country trip I saw some very
nice hand-cut oval shaped bowls. I thought it would be a very interesting shape to create using the
ball gouge. I started out with a block of cedar and drew a rough outline for an oval bowl with an
elongated rim on either end.
It took only a matter of minutes to nibble away the waste wood at each end and to start to give
the bowl a rough shape. I started on the outside so I could create an overall look and could then hollow
out the center guided by this shape.
Once I had the ends shaped I could literally start to 'draw' with the ball gouge and blend the
ends and sides together. The gouge easily moved back and forth along the long grain direction and
blended nicely into the end grain. If you were doing this by hand you would be continuously
remounting the blank in the vise to be able to chop with or across the grain. Using the ball gouge, I
could leave the blank mounted in the vise and easily move the grinder and gouge around to
continuously refine the shape.
Once the outside was roughed in I turned my attention to the inside. By changing the angle of
the ball gouge you can take either an aggressive cut or a lighter, smoother cut.
The ball gouge can go deep in the center and then blend that cut into the side walls to slowly
work down to the proper depth and width. I could control the aggressiveness of the cut which allowed
me to design and cut at the same time. After a few minutes I had my 'final' bowl. It could actually use some final touches but getting to this point was fun and easy!
I was very impressed with the Arbortech Ball Gouge. The surface it created looked like a hand-cut surface from a chisel and mallet and it had a very reasonable learning curve. You can
easily sculpt a shape with a high degree of control. If you need a tool for small scale shaping and
carving, the Arbortech Ball Gouge is for you and you won't be disappointed.
To find out more or to purchase an Arbortech Ball Gouge, visit the Highland Woodworking website.
Jeffrey Fleisher has been a woodworker for approximately 20 years and a professional woodworker for the past 6 years. He is the president of his local woodturning club, the Woodturners of the Virginias and past president of the Northern Virginia Carvers. You can see some of the furniture he has made at
www.jeffswooddesigns.com. He can be reached by email at email@example.com
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