How to Sharpen
Wood Carving Tools

An easy and inexpensive way to sharpen your wood carving tools.

When reading the favorite woodcarving magazines, you might think that you need expensive Japanese water stones, perfectly machined flat diamond plates, complicated motorized sharpening setups and the patience of a zen master.

It is not true!

I knew a man who carried his sharpening kit in an envelope! He would sit at his table at the beginning of the carving club meeting, pull out his cloth backed 600 grit wet sandpaper and a strop and sharpen as he listened to the business end of the meeting. By the time the carving part of the meeting started he had a razor sharp knife.

To get the best edge on a carving knife that will be used to carve some of the softer woods such as Basswood, Tupelo, and Butternut you will use some cloth backed wet sand paper, a heavy piece of leather or gray tablet cardboard and some Aluminum oxide buffing compound. All totaled up, less that ten dollars worth of equipment.

Depending on how damaged your blade is, you will use a 400 grit wet sandpaper laid on a flat surface such as the edge of the table or a smooth board. Place the blade edge down and drag it across the wet surface of the paper at an eleven degree angle. Right now you thinking an eleven degree angle? What does an eleven degree angle look like?

There are two ways to find this out. Take a post-it note, fold it corner to corner to give you a triangle. Take the newly formed folded edge and fold it again to the bottom. You now have a twenty two and a half degree triangle. Fold it again and now you have a Eleven and a quarter degree triangle. Close enough. The top edge of the triangle represents your blade and the bottom of the triangle represents your sharpening surface.

OR the simple way,
If your carving blade is three quarters of and inch in width or more, lay your blade flat on the sharpening surface and raise the spine of the blade until you can fit the edge of a nickel under it. If it is less than three quarters of an inch, use a dime. Now drag the edge along the wet sandpaper surface at your eleven degree angle until all the nicks are gone and you have a smooth edge. Move on to a 600 grit wet sandpaper and do the same thing on both sides.

Now you will load your cardboard or leather up with your white aluminum oxide to the point that it will not absorb any more compound. You may use some light oil to help this process to create a paste-like consistency. Wipe your blade clean of any sandpaper residue with a cloth. You do not want to get any grit on your strop.

Now, drag your knife edge along this strop at the same 11 degree angle, and continue equally on both sides until you get a mirrored edge.

To test your edge to see if you still have any nicks, LIGHTLY and slowly, drag the edge of your knife across the surface of your thumbnail. If you have any nicks, you will feel the edge catch on your nail. If you feel any nicks, go back to the sandpaper again, then strop.

Another test. Take your knife and carve across the end grain of a piece of your favorite carving wood. After taking this slice, you should see a smooth shiny surface and the end grain clearly. If you see a white line in your slice, you have a nick in your edge. You need to go back and start the process over.

When you are done with your sandpaper, wash it off with water and dish detergent. And your paper will last longer. Keep your strop clean. That nice surface you have created loves to attract sand and dirt.

Once you have the edge you like on your knife, all you should have to do is protect your edge when you are not using your knife with some plastic tubing over your blade edge, and strop often, say every fifteen minutes or so.

The whole point of this article is that you do not need a lot of stones etc. to achieve the perfect cutting edge. Enjoy your wood carving knives.

How to Sharpen your Bent Knife, Spoon Knife, etc.
This is an easy and inexpensive way to sharpen any knife that is curved.

Roll up a newspaper to the diameter of the inside of the knife. Now, place some 600-800 grit sandpaper along the curve of the newspaper. With a sort of filing action, "file" the knife edge. Then place the sandpaper on the opposite side of the newspaper and "file" the other side of your knife.

Optional: Rub buffing compound on the newspaper and use as you would a strop.