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How to Sharpen Wood-Carving Tools

For both safety and precision, every wood craftsman, woodworker or wood carver needs to know how to sharpen wood-carving tools properly. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, your tools’ condition can make a significant difference in the carving process and the final product. As you master your artistic skills, you must also learn to correctly care for your tools and to help them last longer. Use the tips below for sharpening wood-carving tools to get started.

How Do You Sharpen Wood-Carving Tools at Home?

There are two primary stages to use when sharpening carving tools at home. The first stage uses a stone that is designed for this purpose. This technique is for when your blade has become extremely dull and needs quite a bit of maintenance. 

The second method is called “stropping.” You’ll strop on a more frequent and regular basis in order to keep your tools as sharp as possible without damaging the blades.

How to Sharpen Wood-Carving Tools With a Stone

Learning how to sharpen wood-carving tools with a stone is relatively straightforward, as long as you have the right materials. It is worth investing in high-quality sharpening stones for wood-carving tools that provide different grit options for different stages of the process. For example, the 400/1000 Grit Diamond Sharpening Stone from Schaaf Tools has a 400 grit surface for the first stage of blade sharpening, and a 1000 grit surface for the second stage, where you’ll need a less abrasive touch.

  • If your tools is very dull, begin sharpening on a medium-grade grit to efficiently flatten to bevel and smooth out any irregularities along the blade. 
  • Finish sharpening using a fine grit stone for a precise edge. 
  • A fine grit surface can also be used for periodic maintenance when the blade is not overly dull.
  • Find the strategy that feels most comfortable to you when holding the blade against the stone. Position the blade nearly flat (pretend there is a dime under the back edge) and push the knife away from you like you are trying to cut a slice off the surface of the stone. Another method is to position the knife on the edge of the stone furthest from you with the sharp edge pointing away, imagine the dime under the back edge of the knife, and pull the knife towards you.
While some make small circular strokes, it can be hard to hold the blade at the same angle against the stone. Whichever process you choose, repeat the process until you can feel a bur or “wire edge” the length of the cutting edge.
This wire edge shows that the entire edge has been sharpened. Then, move on to the finer stone. The finer stone will break off the wire edge and then create smaller one. Again, repeat the carving process on both sides of the blade until you feel the wire edge. 

    Stropping to Sharpen Your Wood-Carving Tools

    After finishing with the stone, you use a leather strop to remove the wire edge and polish the cutting edge. As you use your wood-carving tools, return to the strop anytime the tool feels like it is not cutting as well as it used to. You can make a flat leather strop that will work well for straight tools and the outside edge of gouges. However, if you are serious about your craft and want the most precise sharpening for your curved tools, you may wish to create or purchase a strop with grooves designed to accommodate gouges and V-tools.

    • Begin with a block of stropping compound and scrape off a small amount of the chalky powder with a butter knife or the back of your knife blade. Coat the leather strop with the compound. It will embed itself in the leather, so you won’t need to apply the powder every time you use the strop.
    • Place the flat, beveled edge of your tool against the strop with the blade facing away from you. Apply pressure and pull the tool toward you. Repeat for the other side
    • Repeat the entire process until you remove the wire edge and polish the edge. It shouldn’t take a lot of time or effort at this stage.
    • Use the strop frequently to keep tools in top condition. If you wait for them to become too dull, you will need to go to the diamond stones to restore the edge.

    Sharpening a Wood-Carving Gouge

    Sharpening wood-carving tools with varying shapes, such as gouges, uses a similar process. However, it is important to have a strop with the right grooves for each tool. 

    When sharpening the outside edge of your gouge, you can still use the flat leather surface, but the motion will be different. Instead of pulling the blade straight and keeping the edge in one place, you roll the edge as you pull. This way, more of the surface of the blade will be polished and the edge will remain even.

    For the inside of the gouge blade, choose the groove on your strop that is exactly the same shape and angle for the tool you are sharpening. Otherwise, you may end up sharpening your tool unevenly or even changing its shape slightly. Use the same rocking motion as you pull the blade across the strop and make sure to apply even strokes to the entire blade. Dowels of various sizes charged with stropping compound will also work.

    What Are the Best Wood-Carving Tools for Beginners?

    There are a few features to look for when choosing wood-carving tools for beginners. For starters, it is generally preferable to get a set of tools, rather than one or two tools individually. This way, you can try out a variety of tools and learn several carving techniques. Plus, you won’t have as many limitations on what you can create. Use the checklist below to choose a great set of beginner wood-carving tools and get started.

  • Strong, High-Quality Metal - Choose tools made from a durable and high-quality metal, such as carbon steel or chromium-vanadium steel alloy. These metals will hold their sharp edge and stand up to a variety of wood types.
  • Pre-Sharpened Tips - A set that has already been professionally sharpened is ideal to get a sense of what the tools can really do. It will also help you to know how they should look in the future when you sharpen them yourself. Plus, you can get started creating beautiful woodwork right away.
  • Guaranteed and/or Quality-Inspected - Find tools that have been inspected for quality or offer a money back guarantee if any items arrive damaged or do not meet your standards.
  • Affordable - As a beginner, you don’t want to use a set of tools just because they don’t cost a lot of money. Don’t sacrifice quality to save a few dollars. However, keep in mind you are just starting out and can always invest more money into getting more or better tools as your talent grows. 

  • Sharpen Your Skills & Your Chisels With Schaaf Tools

    You can learn how to sharpen wood-carving tools and how to use them to create beautiful projects with help from Schaaf Tools. Sign up for our email list to become part of a supportive and educational community, and find more of the products we offer right here. Plus, get an exclusive ebook full of tips, inspiration, and instructions on sharpening carving tools and using them correctly.

    If you are interested in watching an instructional video on using our sharpening stone, please view the video below created by Joe Dillet.



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