View Full Version : Need sharpening information, please

Joe Pack
04-02-2009, 12:18 AM
I am an absolutely new carver. I have a set of carving tools (Swiss Made Rockler Anniversary Set) plus 4 other (Ashley Isles) that need sharpening. These are new, so the factory bevel is still on them for guidance. What I don't know is how to sharpen them properly.

I went with a friend to a carving studio one night and saw that they had a couple of wheels mounted on a motor/arbor setup. One wheel looked to be linen, the other leather. I assume both had some sort of compound on them, as it took just a touch to bring a sharp edge back to the tool.

I have a 6" grinder I am not using. Would it be appropriate to set this up with 2 wheels dedicated to sharpening carving tools? If so, what wheels/compounds, etc. do I need? Am I even on the right track here?

Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated.

Faust M. Ruggiero
04-02-2009, 12:48 PM
How to sharpen carving tools is a fair and simple question with a lot of diverse and complicated answers. If you ask the question of 10 different wood carvers you will likely get as many answers. Many carving tools never see a power grinder because they are so easy to burn. Certainly, even those of us who may choose to grind away excess metal prior to hand sharpening don't use the gray aluminum oxide wheel that is common to most grinders. We use a white, pink or power blue wheel specifically designed to wear quickly and avoid excess heat build up. Even then, the operator touches the tool to the wheel with a light and careful touch.
The final stone work is almost always done using your favorite sharpening stones whether they are oil stones, ceramic water stones or diamond stones. In any case, the hand stones are used to create the final shape prior to honing.
Honing is the process that removes all trace of a wire edge and polishes the cutting edge thus eliminating the most microscopic grooves left by the stones. Honing can usually be done many times before the tool's edge begins to round over creating a shoulder on the back of the tool that effectively steepens the cutting angle and makes the tool difficult to move through the wood.
Honing can be done with a buffing wheel dressed with white or green compound. Many carvers hone by hand using a leather surface treated with a slightly abrasive dressing. If you choose to hone using a buffer, find yourself a selection of sewn cotton wheels. Some are quite hard and suitable for the convex surface of a "gouge" or both sides of a straight "chisel". Wool "felt" wheels can also be used. Buffing the concave (inside) surface of a gouge requires a softer wheel that will mold to the shape of the tool. V shaped "parting" tools, arguably the most important chisel used to create clearance as well as to outline your shapes are the most difficult to master and require a soft buffing wheel to reach the depths of the inside of the V.
Carvers who are proponents of hand honing will point out that buffing tends to wear the corners of the tool, making them lose their square corners and can prematurely round the edge. They are absolutely correct but these are trade offs for the efficiency of buffing.
This conversation does not even touch the topic of whether to shape a bevel on the concave side of a gouge or not.
In the end, you have to experiment with several ways to find what works for you. In any event, expect to slightly shorten a couple of those new tools in the learning process. Go on line and look up a British woodcarver named Chris Pye and read his comprehensive methods of sharpening. He will provide a good foundation for you to learn and you can experiment from there.
If you have a woodcarvers guild in your area, there is no substitute for hands on learning.
Enjoy your carving, it is the best way I know to make a small amount of wood provide a long time of enjoyment and become an heirloom to someone.

phil harold
04-02-2009, 5:14 PM
none of my carving tools touch a grinding wheel
I use stones and slips to define the edges
Honing I will do with a powerstrop leather and cotton wheel with black compound

Jamie Cowan
04-02-2009, 5:37 PM
I asked the same question about a year ago when I started carving. I'm still not any good, but my tools are sharp. Click through my posts to find the info, a lot of people chimed in with some really useful advice. Including Mr. Ruggiero. I was totally thrown by the curve of the gouges, and the advice I got helped me get past it in a hurry.

Joe Pack
04-03-2009, 2:49 AM
Thank you all for your tips and encouragement. I know I will have a learning curve with sharpening/honing carving tools, but your advice will get me going. I appreciate your help.

"Gary Brewer"
04-04-2009, 11:13 AM
Joe: If the Swiss carving chisels you have are Pfeil then they come with the correct bevel and are sharp. They only would need to be honed to be in business. A leather strop ( a rectangular piece of leather, can be glued to a board or not ) and honing compound compound would be all you need to get and maintain a razor sharp edge. I use some green honing compound I got on-line and have a second strop and some "simichrome polish" when I need extra snap in the sharpness. This puts an edge on it that can cut you just by brushing up against the edge. I have dropped my DNA many times with cuts. The wheels you saw at the class basically just hone but you don't need to get that fancy and I think rounding over the edge would be a problem for a beginner. To hone the inside of gouges you could use the flex-cut honing jig which comes with yellow honing compound ( available at Woodcraft) and/or a piece of leather ( a piece from a sole from a shoe repair shop works fine). So basically a few pieces of letter and a couple of honing compounds should be good as long as the intial bevel has been ground and polished by the manufacturer. If not then you have to do more work to get the initial bevel and shape. For me usually a few swipes on a strop charged with honing compound puts me back in business. The Pfeil I have just get honed and honed. Some time I will have to reshape but honing is quick and effective for a lone time. You might want to take a few lesson to get started. It is very critical to have your carving tools sharp and it is worth getting some qualified help.