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What is a Gouge?

M. McGee
M. McGee

Gouges are a type of manufacturing tool used to remove material from a surface. While most gouges are hand tools that resemble chisels, some industrial machines use gouges as an early step in the creation of a final shape. The shape of a gouge has a large impact on its name and the final shape of the groove it creates. The tool’s name has been used as a slang term for many years.

Early gouges were woodworking tools. These hand tools were often used to create the basic shape of a carved object before starting in with finer instruments. Early medicine used these tools as well, primarily as a way to separate bones and connective tissue, usually after the subject was dead.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

Modern gouges have several different designs and applications. Industrial machines will occasionally use gouges as a way to quickly remove material from a source object. This is often wood or other soft material, but an industrial gouge can work on metal as well. In order to gouge metal, the blade needs to be harder than the metal being worked. This generally means metal gouges are made of some type of carbide.

Hand tool gouges look like chisels, except the ends are curved or bent. This shaped end allows a gouge to remove material from a source object in a very set way. Since a hand gouge is human-powered, it is usually only used on softer materials.

Several names describe the function and appearance of gouges. If the gouge’s blade is on the outside of the tool, the area touching the source object, it is an incannel gouge; an outcannel gouge has the cutting surface on the inside of the tool. This also speaks to their function as well—incannel gouges work better for shaping material, and outcannel works best for material removal. Gouges with bent ends are called Vs, and ones with curved ends are called spoons.

People use gouges for a number of reasons. The basic shaping of soft material is one of the more common. In addition, gouges are used to create decoration on wooded objects ranging from violins to kitchen tables. Several art styles use gouging, including block art and linocut.

The history of "gouge" as a slang term involves its use to describe a type of physical attack where an area of a body is pressed and pulled. This is called a gouge, because it is as if the attacker is attempting to remove the area of his opponent’s body. Gouging is also a common way of saying something is overpriced, since it is like money is being ripped away from the purchaser.

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      Man with a drill