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Thread: Breaking in new Flex Cut chip carving knives

  1. #1
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    Breaking in new Flex Cut chip carving knives

    I have almost no chip carving experience, but, I purchased a set of flex cut chip carving knives. I expected these knives to show up sharp and that all I needed to do was to strop them to keep them sharp.

    I also have a chip carving knife from Hock Tools. I had purchased a ceramic stone to sharpen it (back in 2011) but I managed to lose it so I grabbed a Black hard Arkansas stone from Dan's Whestones (Dan claims this is their finest stone) and I was using that. Note that I intend to try the Norton Ascent Ceramic stones since Norton claims that they produce a better edge than their translucent which is their finest stone.

    I made my own strop and added the Flex Cut compound on the rough side. I was stropping my Flex Cut knife to keep it sharp. It cut, but the Hock Tools knife seemed much sharper than the Flex Cut knife so I bit the bullet and I used the Arkansas stone rather than the strop. The Flex Cut knife cut much better. So I came here and I saw this post from a few years back:

    https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread....-carving-knife

    I saw a claim that stropping made the knife sharper and that the only thing needed to keep it sharp was stropping. I have already packed everything but I will try some tests in the next few days, but I do have some questions:


    1. Do you really just need stropping to keep your carving knife sharp (for me that means chip carving) after it is sharp?
    2. I thought that Flex Cut knives came fully ready to go. They were shiny and sharp, but are sharper and cut better off the Arkansas stone. It had not occurred to me to throw it back onto the strop. But, does this sound right? Maybe I am just poor with stropping.
    3. Maybe I am rounding my edge on the leather strop. Maybe I can just try it on a bit of popular for stropping? Would hard maple be better?


    I am just trying to figure out what I should try next. Ironically, when I had a chip carving class in 2011, they did not even mention using a strop. All they did was sharpen on a ceramic stone.

    Also, based on the comments in the link above, I ordered a copy of the chip carving book to give it a skim / read.

  2. #2
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    I confess I donít do any chip carving. But I do have a bunch of carving knives I have several that I donít strop I only stone flat. I like shape of the bevel to stay stropping definitely change the tip to a apple seed shape. The shape definitely affects the control of the cut.
    I do remember one flex cut knife I had one side flat and one side beveled.
    Good Luck
    Aj

  3. #3
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    I lightly strop on very thin (pigskin) leather glued to a board, a bit of polishing compound rubbed into the leather. I strop only when the chip carving knife starts to feel dull. After restoring the edge a number of times with a few stropping passes I stop and resharpen.

    I have good stones and ceramic stones but what works best for me is the sharpening kit from My Chip Carving. It’s a set of four extremely fine adhesive-backed abrasive plastic strips stuck to a smooth hard surface, used with a light mist of water as lubricant. After following their sharpening sequence, a couple of passes over the stroping board and I’m carving again.

    I’ve written about this before: it was imperative to reshape my new knives before they were useful for chip carving. The Barton knife I bought first was useless and in my ignorance I gave up trying to chip carve for years before I looked at a professional’s knife and learned how much reworking the blade needed! I used a combination of coarse and fine diamond and ceramic stones to get my three knives correct. It took hours. Once shaped it’s very quick to sharpen and resharpen with the kit mentioned. BTW, to “fix” the knives I basically ground away the bevel that came on the original knife, reshaping the side of the blade until the bevel was almost flat all the way from the cutting edge to the backbone of the blade. This changed the blade from useless to incredible! Changed my chip carving attempts from frustratingly impossible to effortlessly clean and controllable. After that, chip carving was one of the easiest things I’ve ever attempted. (I have some old drawings and pictures about the knives I can get to later if desired - can’t access them from this iPad.)

    That said, I’ve had good results putting razor-sharp edges on my skew chisels by stropping on a piece of MDF resawn to give a rougher surface to better hold some polishing compound rubbed into the surface. I haven’t tried it with a piece of poplar but that should work too. Lathes are really hard on sharp edges but this method nicely hones/polishes the edge ground with a 1200 grit CBN Tormek wheel and restores the edge a number of times before going back to the grinder. I should try this stropping method with the chip carving knives. BTW, I use three: the Barton, a My Chip Carving modified knife for tighter curves, and a Hock, a backup.

    JKJ
    Last edited by John K Jordan; 01-03-2022 at 12:28 AM. Reason: typo

  4. #4
    Hi Andrew. Happy New Year!

    Question #1: I don't have really anything to add to what was said in my original post (link you posted). Like Mr. Jordan, I spent a lot of time shaping the blade. After that, I still find that stropping is usually sufficient to keep the edge scalpal sharp. But again, I work only in basswood. Also, I do not wait to strop. I developed a habit of "automatically" stopping to strop every little while, rather than waiting until the knife "needs it". But when stropping no longer gets me the edge I need/want (e.g., maybe I slipped and rounded the edge) I go to my Shaptons and carefully reshape, then strop.

    Question #2: Even LN plane irons suggest that you hone them for best results. I strop them too.

    Question #3: It's easy to round an edge. Took me a while to train my hand/wrist to stay steady. Also, My strop is glued on a flattened piece of a pine 2x4 - so the rounding was my technique, not flex in the strop.

    Please understand that I'm no expert by any means. This is just what works for me. YMMV.

    Fred
    Last edited by Frederick Skelly; 01-03-2022 at 7:04 AM.
    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
    - Sir Edmund Burke

  5. #5
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    I will give stropping another try, but I think that I will load up a different strop to see if it might be too much give in my strop.

  6. #6
    I think some of it has to do with the knives.

    If you take a look at Pfeil and Barton, the blades are very similar. I don't understand John's distaste for the Barton knife, it is better than anything else I've used - Hock, Pfeil, Flex Cut (Hock is the worst).

    To the question, no, a strop along can't keep the blade permanently sharp, it repolishes/realigns the burr on an edge. Along with what Fred said, there is a "dubbing effect" so I use a piece of hardwood loaded with compound, not leather.

    Chip carving knives are a different animal and takes some practice, as there are no jigs (I know of) they have to honed free hand.

  7. #7
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    Thank you, very useful to me:

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Engel View Post
    I think some of it has to do with the knives.
    For certain the three knives I have are all very different. Based on use the last month:

    Pfeil - my hand hurts if I use it too long. I think I can fix that with some sand paper. I think that if I sand the handle flush with the metal part of the blade handle then there will no longer be a groove that is catching on my hand, which hurts eventually.

    Hock - I have not had a problem with this. I let a friend try it yesterday and he declared it the best; he was also holding it like a pencil to chip carve. The plunge knife is much thicker than pfeil. I am curious what you dislike about the Hock chip carving knife. Is it the handle or the blade?

    Flex Cut - No strong opinion (I have used it twice), but it seemed to hold fine in my hand for chip carving.



    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Engel View Post
    To the question, no, a strop along can't keep the blade permanently sharp, it repolishes/realigns the burr on an edge. Along with what Fred said, there is a "dubbing effect" so I use a piece of hardwood loaded with compound, not leather.

    Chip carving knives are a different animal and takes some practice, as there are no jigs (I know of) they have to honed free hand.
    I think that I have managed the free hand thing since these are at least cutting pretty well off my Arkansas stone; somewhat of a surprise to me to be honest. It is one reason I was hoping that the strop would keep it sharp, which is what I had expected.

    I picked up (but have not inspected it) a strop from both Flexcut and Beavercraft so that I can see how much give (or not) there is in their strops compared to the strop that I made. I suspect that:


    • I need (as you say) to use a stone to make it sharp and then I can use a strop to keep it mostly sharp and extend time between hitting the stone.
    • I am probably rounding over the edge with an angle that is not shallow enough for the knife. (complete guess).

  8. #8
    One of the problems I have is creating a convex bevel since it is such a long bevel.

    I took a class from Wayne Barton years ago he said the biggest mistake people make honing is not being shallow enough on the angle or gradually elevating the angle inadvertently while honing. A dime's width elevation.

    I may have a different model Hock, the blade is entirely too thick on mine, I can't even carve with it.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Engel View Post
    One of the problems I have is creating a convex bevel since it is such a long bevel.

    I took a class from Wayne Barton years ago he said the biggest mistake people make honing is not being shallow enough on the angle or gradually elevating the angle inadvertently while honing. A dime's width elevation.

    I may have a different model Hock, the blade is entirely too thick on mine, I can't even carve with it.
    Then I am probably not shallow enough when I strop. I'll bet that's the problem. I hope that's a problem because that I can fix.

    I purchased three hawk knives as chip carving knives used from someone. One of them is a plunge knife and it works as a plunge knife but the blade is too thick for anything else. It looks to me like hawk only lists one knife as a chip carving knife and that would be the smallest knife that I have and it works for the things that I do but I don't have enough experience to say really.

    I never gave the blade thickness any thought until I bought a pattern book on chip carving just recently by Tatiana baldina. Her pattern required a cut I'd never done before and I'd expected to be able to use that plunging knife and the blade was too thick. I took a look at pictures of the knife she was using and they were very different than any of the knives that I had.

  10. #10
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    What I learned before I could chip carve

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Engel View Post
    ...
    If you take a look at Pfeil and Barton, the blades are very similar. I don't understand John's distaste for the Barton knife, it is better than anything else I've used - Hock, Pfeil, Flex Cut (Hock is the worst).
    Unless Barton has changed their ways, the knife I bought many years ago from Woodcraft was useless as purchased. The bevel on it was short less than 1/8", can't remember, but what I do remember is the angle at the cutting edge was WAY to big. The knife couldn't enter the wood without pushing it to the side, tearing and distorting as it went. A clean cut was impossible. It also had so much friction it was difficult to either stab or pull. After sharpening the existing bevel and trying for a few days I put the thing in the drawer and forgot about it for years. Then in 2015 (I think) I met expert chip carver Bill Johnson at the Klingspor shop near Asheville, NC. (https://www.carolinamountainreefs.com) Someone turned a small round platter (probably worst demo I ever saw) and then Bill carved on it. One of the most useful demos I've ever seen.

    Bill was gracious to talk with me extensively and show me some of his work up close and how he held and used the knife. One look at his knife and I knew exactly what the problem was with the Barton knife - the bevel at the cutting edge was too large an angle, too blunt. I told Bill about this and he said for a long time he'd been trying to talk Wayne into preparing his knives better to start with instead of shipping with a quick and useless grind. Perhaps he finally listened and is selling knives more ready to use now, I have no idea.

    BTW, Bill Johnson probably spent an hour with me that day. Over the next few months we communicated quite a bit by email. I ended up sending him a variety of woodturnings from basswood that he could chip carve - ornaments, goblet, one of my small squarish platters. Without that chance meeting and his help I probably would have never tried chip carving again. I had bought planks of basswood from 2-4" thick just for woodturning.

    As I mentioned, I hand to extensively reshape the sides of the Barton knife before it looked like Bill's and was actually useful. I also had to shape the MCC Modified and the Hock knife, but not as much as the Barton.

    After sharapening all three knives I carefully measured near the tip, where all the carving takes place, and made this drawing showing the angles on the three knives. I wasn't trying for these angle, they were just what I ended up with after grinding and sharpening. They all work.

    chip_carving_knife_angles_c.jpg

    I use these two the most:

    chip_carving_knives.jpg

    I wanted to learn chip carving so I could carve on round things made on the lathe. Most of the carving I'd seen in books and elsewhere was on flat things. After getting the knife right I was finally able to start making things after a couple of months of practice.

    Some of my practice pieces and a few turned pieces.

    practice_comp.jpg chip_carved_goblet_c.jpg chip_ornament_CU2_IMG_5009.jpg


    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Pitonyak View Post
    ...Hock - I have not had a problem with this. I let a friend try it yesterday and he declared it the best; he was also holding it like a pencil to chip carve. The plunge knife is much thicker than pfeil. I am curious what you dislike about the Hock chip carving knife. Is it the handle or the blade
    I found the grip on the knife to be the very important. The grip not only defines the two angles of the cut but stabilizes the hand to allow control. I don't think I could chip carve holding the knife like a pencil. I used the method that Bill showed me and what I found later in several good books. Since all of the books were carving flat things I had to modify it a little bit when carving on rounds but it is very close, just the angle of the wrist had to change since the wood wasn't flat on the table. I found that using the thumb for support was important. Here's an example:

    ornament_carving_2.jpg chip_ornament_start.jpg

    I also looked at some cheaper knives and tried holding some. A few didn't angle the blade properly - I think that would be difficult to use and painful on the wrist/hand. I far preferred the handle shape that was like the Barton. BTW, I don't think Wayne Barton invented this handle shape or the angle of the blade - I found nearly identical knives in a book on the history of chip carving in Europe long ago and it showed almost identical. Perhaps he re-invented it, not aware of the earlier knives, I don't know.

    This picture shows the Barton knife next to a cheaper knife, a huge difference.

    comparison-to-cheap-knife2.jpg

    It did take be a while to learn to hold the knife when sharpening and honing without rolling it even a tiny bit. I think the sharpening kit I mentioned and the method they teach to use it makes this easier. It certainly makes a sharp edge! If anyone is interested, this is the kit - it has a video on the page which shows the method.

    https://mychipcarving.com/product/knife-sharpening-kit/

    If using a stone, hone, or strop I set it up so I could use my hand and thumb to keep the blade angle constant to keep from rounding over the edge.

    JKJ
    Last edited by John K Jordan; 01-03-2022 at 2:48 PM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by John K Jordan View Post
    I was proud of my chip carving until I saw how yours looks. I have a lot of improvement to go. Then again, as new as I am at this, to be expected.

    You produce some very nice chip carving. Curves kill me when I try to do them.

    I am watching the video at the link right now by the way.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Pitonyak View Post
    I was proud of my chip carving until I saw how yours looks. I have a lot of improvement to go. Then again, as new as I am at this, to be expected.
    You produce some very nice chip carving. Curves kill me when I try to do them.
    I am watching the video at the link right now by the way.
    Thanks for the kind words! Don't give up - it took me a couple of months of steady practice before I could make consistent chips and make some interesting things.

    After talking to Bill Johnson, getting my knives right, reading some books, and the practice all this got easy. The biggest thing that helped me was learning to hold and guide the knife correctly for a consistent cut. Also, practicing the depth of both triangular and letter carving to cut to get the blade point depth right the first time. Making a second cut to clean up often makes it look sloppy, especially with curves. I try to envision how the knife would look embedded in the wood as if I had x-ray vision. It also helps me visualize the cut if I put a little dot in the center of each triangle and sometimes draw a line down the middle of a curve.

    Probably the most difficult thing when chip carving curved woodturnings is laying out the pattern! On some things I used a rotary table from my milling machine to set the calculated angles to make the patterns come out right around the item. For things with letters, I trace letters onto paper, cut out the letters and tape them together to get the kerning and spacing right, tape the paper strip to the object with graphite paper underneath, then use pressure to transfer the outlines to the wood. I accumulated a bunch of incidental tools such as the little tools with tiny balls on the ends made for transferring patterns. I found some good fonts for carving in the back of one of Barton's books.
    I made this sign for my shop.

    chip_mess.jpg

    I have tried chip carving with cherry and other species but basswood is easier. I usually glue a layer of basswood to between other hardwoods. On the ornaments and the goblet I showed I made the grain run vertically so I had side grain all the way around to carve on. Basswood is kind of bland so I think it looks better when combined with other wood. For larger things like these Beads of Courage lidded boxes I glue the basswood layer so the grain runs sideways. On these the tricky thing there is to lay out the pattern so I'm carving side grain and not carving into end grain!

    BOC_C_Jack_01_IMG_6687.jpg BOC_A_comp.jpg

    I draw out every chip I plan in the pattern. One thing I learned when carving on a globe like these ornaments: when cutting above or below the "equator", except for vertical lines I couldn't draw and follow a straight line on the surface or that side of the chip wouldn't be flat!. I had to make sure I drew the knife in a straight line which made it curve away a little bit from the straight line I drew. Good fun!

    ornaments_chip_carved_IMG_5.jpg

    This is the little squarish dished platter and a goblet I turned and sent to Bill Johnson - he sent back a photo of it laid out and partially carved:

    penta_chips_composite.jpg

    Also, something I've experimented with that I like - some kind of randomized chips. Almost everything I saw in books had regular and symmetrical or radially symmetrical patterns. I think the bit of randomness adds some interest.

    chip_practice_rosette.jpg

    I want to experiment more with the relative sizes and the pattern distribution. I'd like to nearly cover a globe on a Christmas ornament with random chips.

    BTW, I found this to be a great place to buy basswood. I bought some planks from 8-12" wide, 2-4" thick, and 4' long. They shipped by UPS for a very reasonable cost. They were a pleasure to deal with and the wood was perfect. https://heineckewood.com/
    A friend also brought me several 4' long roughsawn basswood boards, 4/4. If anyone in the area needs some practice wood let me know! The 1" stuff can be resawn to make thin practice boards.

    JKJ

  13. #13
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    Based on information here, I significantly lowered my stropping angle and it seems to make a huge difference in the results. I was not using stropping because frankly it seemed to make it worse. Now, it makes it better. I really appreciate the information.

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