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There are lots of different types of wood carving techniques. Whether you are into specific shapes or geometric patterns, carving involves using the right tools as well. Three-dimensional carving requires specific tools, which cannot be used for relief carving – raised designs, scenes, or characters. From letter carving and whittling to caricatures, you will need different types of wood carving knives to come up with a good final result.
On the other hand, these tools tend to go off. You deal with a solid material, so it affects the edge and blade much faster. However, it does not mean that you should get rid of your knife. Instead, learn, how to sharpen your wood carving knives.
In general, if your knife has a classic design – regardless of how short or long the blade is, you can sharpen it just like your sharpen your kitchen knives. But then, there are more individualized tools that require a bit more attention and possibly a completely different technique. Now, what exactly should you know about sharpening your wood carving knives and how do you do it by the book?
The easy way versus the cheap way
The easiest way is also the option with the best results. It will cost you more money though. You can simply take your knife to a professional sharpening service and the experts will take good care of it. It might be a good idea to inquire about it upfront – have they dealt with this type of knife before? Does it require anything special? Do they have the tools required to make it feel and look like brand new? If they do, go on. Get ready to pay for maintenance every now and then, as the knife goes dull.
Then, you have the cheap way. You do it yourself. The result may not be professional, but you will get better with time. Plus, if you think about it, you do not need to be a genius to sharpen a knife. You need the right set of tools, as well as attention to small details.
How to sharpen your wood carving knives
Because of the shape, sharpening a hook knife is difficult. Get a permanent marker and mark the bevels – all the sides. One line is enough, so do not thicken it. Let the marker dry.
Grab a piece of 400 grit sandpaper and stick it to something hard, such as a piece of wood or stone. Your position can make the job more or less difficult. To make it easy, hold the hook knife with your non-dominant hand and grab the sandpaper paddle with the dominant one.
Remove the permanent market with the sandpaper, but stick to the back for now. Once it is done, adjust the sandpaper position according to the angle of the hook and remove the marker from the middle side of the hook, as well as the tip. When it all comes off in a single stroke, you know you are done.
Perform the exact same procedures, but with 600, 800, and 1,000 grit sandpaper. You can wrap sandpaper around conveniently sized wood parts and make some comfy paddles. You can replace the sandpaper after each step or simply create four paddles if you need sharpening on a regular basis.
Once you are done, you will have to remove the burr that forms inside the hook knife. You can use a bit more 1,000 grit sandpaper for the operation. Leather is also suitable for this operation. Burr is a fine amalgam of rolled over metallic wires. They are almost impossible to spot – some people may not be able to see them, but they are there.
How do you know you are done? Use the hook knife on your forearm. You can easily tell a knife carver by looking at a bald spot above a wrist. If the knife can shave the hair off your arm, it is sharp enough to work on wood. If it does not, you should go through all the steps again – remember, it will take a few tries to find the perfect angle.
Here is a good tutorial by ‘spoon carving with tom’ on sharpening a hook knife
Chip carving knife
This is one of the most important tools in wood carving – mostly used for whittling and carving. The blade is relatively short and almost never exceeds 1.5 inches. The handle is larger and feels more comfortable though. The operation is a bit more difficult compared to sharpening a hook knife, mostly because of the size of the blade.
First, you will need to come up with the bevel of the edge. You will need a coarse ceramic stone – anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 grit like Ha No Kuromaku Ceramic Whetstone Medium Grit #1000. You will then use a fine ceramic stone – 6,000 to 8,000 grit like Shapton Ceramic Stone Kuromaku #8000, for the sharpening part. You will have to perform the action with both stones in the same manner – hold the knife against the stone at a low angle, pull it, lift, turn and do the same for the other side.
Use a leather strop with a fine leather side and a raw rough side like BeaverCraft LS6P1 Leather Paddle Honing Strop Kit. Start by stropping the blade over the finished leather side, then do the same for the other side. It helps if you use some honing compound on the fine leather side – you can find red oxide rouge in most specialized shops or over the Internet.
Get a heavily printed newspaper – lots of pictures and images, then work your knife across it. It will provide a final polishing. It helps if you strop your knife while carving as well. It will maintain the edge sharp and it will require less sharpening in the long run. Simply do it for a minute or two every 30 minutes while carving.
Here is a tutorial by ‘Jeff Ballantyne’ on how to sharpen a chip carving knife.
The carpenter’s chisel must be perfectly straight, so you need a perfectly straight surface first. Most experts do it with glass. Get a piece of glass – around 0.25 inches in thickness – from any home center. Put it on a flat table and stick some sandpaper to it – 80, 150, and 220 grit. Buy the most expensive one you can find – it is still cheap, but it wears out slower.
The back must be perfectly straight. Stick 220 grit sandpaper to the glass and place the carpenter’s chisel on the edge of the glass to ensure the flat surface covers the sandpaper. Rub it back and forth for a few minutes. If you see a couple of scratches, you need lower grit sandpaper. If you see multiple scratches on most of the surface, keep going with the 220 grit sandpaper.
You can stop when there are small scratches everywhere. You should only do the first couple of inches only.
Turn the knife over and start sharpening it. Roll it on 80 grit sandpaper to sharpen. Do it until you can feel a tiny ridge of metal forming at the back. This tiny edge means that your chisel is sharp.
No matter which side you work on, make sure you dunk the blade in water every five seconds or so. If the blade gets a blue nuance, you have overheated it – totally contraindicated.
Here is a great tutorial by ‘Paoson Woodworking’ on how to sharpen a chisel
U and V gouges
U and V gouges are curved. U gouges represent the powerhouse of wood carving. V gouges are just as popular and can make a difference in your projects. A sharpening stone will get the job done, yet it may take a while. It depends on how hard and thick the gouge is.
More seasoned carvers rely on bench grinders. You can add cloth or other honing accessories. Whether you perform this procedure before you start carving or every half an hour into it, this option provides much quicker results than doing it manually.
Here is a tutorial by ‘David Trudeau’ on sharpening U and V gouges
Other wood carving tools
- Bent and spoon gouge – easy to sharpen with cone-shaped water stone slip stones, as well as a good strop.
- Skewed chisel – sandpaper or a sharpening stone will get the job done just like for any other type of classic knife.
- Mallet – a bench grinder is a more expensive option, but a sharpening stone is just as efficient, only it takes longer.
Just like everything else, sharpening wood carving knives takes practice and time. make sure you have the right set of tools.
Hi, I am Jay. I am the creator of Knife Guides, your one-stop site for everything related to knives. I am a computer engineer by profession, knife aficionado by passion. Here I work with a group of people who’ve always had a passion for knives and blades. Over the years we’ve kind of become experts and decided to share our knowledge and ideas. I am also an avid hiker and enjoy offshore gamefishing.