Archived E-mail Posts

Subject: Tool Sharpening Tips and Techniques

Prepared by Michael D. Parker, KnifeCut@aol.com
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From: cnelson@austin.ibm.com

I've found that there are two types of carvers when it comes to tools. Those that see the tool as just a means to carve the wood, and those that see the wood as a chance to use the tool. I fall into the later category.

With a bent blade, the first type sees this as a loss of carving time, while the second type sees this as a chance to reshape the tool. Now you may fall into the first type, but even if you don't really like messing with your tools, you will find a great deal more freedom when you develop the skills to fix and reshape your tools. So here goes.

When I started carving, I was extremely frustrated with sharpening. I finally found that practice was what made the difference. Sharpening a tool is not rocket science, its being able to hold the tool in the same position repeatedly while going through the sharpening process. The other part is having some basic knowledge about edge shapes. If you are at all mechanically inclined, and can visualize what the edge looks like, then you have all you need.

Pictures make all the difference, but text editors don't do them, and I'm no good at doing that funky ASCII art. So here are words for some basic principles.

1. The shallower the angle (smaller), the sharper the knife edge. Conversely the shallower the angle, the weaker is the edge. So for choking done trees, you need a much steeper angle then for shaving your beard. Angles in books are nothing more then general guidelines. If you are too shallow, then the knife cuts great, but gets dull quickly. If too steep, then the knife cuts less great, but does it for a lot longer before resharpening. As you continue wood carving, you will form opinions about what that angle should be based on the particular tool, the wood being carved, and your own particular style. Don't agonize too much over the proper angle. "Good-enough" goes a long way here, but I like 27.43 degrees.

2. It is the microscopic edge (the leading edge) which determines how sharp the blade is regardless of the angle used. That's why you can shave with an axe that's well sharpened. Once you have an appropriate angle, all of your effort is to make this microscopic edge; clean, polished, and true. How this is accomplished is where you get all of the differences of opinion.

3. You can sharpen your knife with a flat rock found in the back yard. It will turn out just fine. But, it will take a lot of work, and it will be a pain. You will need to buy some things to make your job easier. What you buy though is wide open. It mostly depends on:

- $ or $$$$
- Are you high tech or low tech (new fangled vs old fashioned)
- You like hand tools or power tools.
- You just want it sharp, or you want to perfect the craft of sharpening.
- Big workshop or small box in the hall closet

--> I am a cheap, low tech, tool sharpener with a garage (part of it at least, the rest keeps filling up)

Now, since you have no opinions, and are looking for specifics, I will give you my idea of the basics you should have. This is roughly in order of priority.

1. a double-sided carborundum stone at least six inches in length. This can be found in any hardware store. This is your basic stone for reshaping and establishing the edge. It has two sides, a rough side, and a medium side. Note: you will need to use oil or water or spit to keep the pores clean while cutting (see 2 below). For these stones I find spit best. Oil is too messy, and water soaks right through too quickly.

2. a soft Arkansas stone, again at least six inches in length. These are a little harder to find, but any store that handles knives will have one of these. You should get a small bottle of honing oil for the stone. It usually comes with the stone. The oil keeps the particles of metal from getting embedded into the pores in the stone (the little crystalline cutting edges which do the work) and clogging them up. You can use any light oil for the job, including cooking oil. Water or spit works too, but I like to stay consistent with a stone.

3. a honing strop (sp). This you make your self. Instructions below.

4. polishing compound for the strop. These look like big fat Crayons. It is a polishing powder mixed with wax to hold it together. You rub it on the surface of your strop, or on some cotton or felt power sharpeners. You can find this at many hardware stores hidden away someplace. Also you can find it at jewelry supply and some auto supply stores. It comes in different colors (the color of the powder used). They have different hardness and polishing characteristics. The box they come in will give you some guidelines. I've just always used the red rouge and never really experimented with the rest much. You don't need much. It goes a long way I still have the original set after 20 years (but I don't use power buffing tools much).

5. two good flat files. A medium one, and a fine one. By good, I mean not too small, and one with a decent handle.

At this point you have everything you need. It's about as cheap as you can go. From there on, you are getting into specialty items which can make things easier or faster. You can get:

- harder Arkansas stones for finer polishing
- specialty ceramic stones instead of Arkansas
- Japanese water stones instead of Arkansas
- Diamond surfaced stones instead of Arkansas
- cotton and felt polishing pads for a bench grinder
- belt sanding rigs replacing the carborundum
- water bath power sharpeners
- bench grinders for fast reshaping and blade making
- $$$$

Ok, now how do you fix the point on your new knife. I have not had much success with bending the points back. If you have a hammer and a solid surface (like a metal anvil) you can try hammering it flat. It will still need some fix-up, but not as much.

With your file, file off the bent point. When it starts to get flat, you can switch to the rough carborundum. Work on it until all of the bend in the metal is gone and you have only the original "plane" of the blade. Then its decision time.

You said it was a roughout knife. Not knowing what it looks like, but clueing off the word roughout, I'm figuring that a pointy type end is not real important. If so, you are almost home free. You just resharpen the end to make it match the rest of the blade.

- well no, not really because you will find that you are going to put an entirely new edge on the blade anyway which take some time.

If you think you want a point back on, or want to reshape the end, then you are going to do some major surgery. This is the real hard part - it takes faith - take the edge off your knife with the rough stone so you don't cut yourself while reshaping. Have faith, you will get the edge back on.

With your file, filing perpendicular to the edge, file the point until the shape looks right. You can use the rough stone here too. You aren't trying to put an edge on, just to get the shape (profile) right.

Ok, now how to resharpen. I would use this as an opportunity to practice. This will take about 30 minutes, so get a good flat surface, and a chair to sit in. You are going to go rough side, medium side, soft Arkansas, and strop. You want to develop control and consistency. You want to experiment with pressure, and with different postures of hands and body which help the consistency. Some people use a round-and-round motion when sharpening. I just do a sweep in one direction - cutting edge leading rather then trailing. I will use a round-and-round motion when I want to take off metal faster, particularly at the start, but then switch. This is personal preference (and it works for me)

Ok, here is where the visualizing comes in. What your are doing is grinding a face on your blade. In the books and instructions, this face looks nice and flat, but because you can't keep the blade at exactly the same angle your face will be more rounded. The flatter the better (consistency). As you are working you blade, stop, wipe it off and take a good look at the edge. If you have a good magnifying glass, use it. Also, get a black magic marker and go over the edge with it. Then go back to the stone for a little. Stop, and look at the edge. You can see real clear where you are grinding and where you are not. Bright light helps too.

You will likely get a bias in the blade from change in angle as you move it across. This means that one side is at a different angle then the other, or that the front or back of the knife is at a different angle. Try to minimize this bias.

To test the knife, use your fingernail rather then shaving your arm. Push the edge across your thumb nail as if it was the sharpening stone (not a slice or saw motion). Don't push down on the knife, let the weight of the knife be the pressure. When it starts to get sharp, it will "grab" the nail rather then slide over it. This is rather dramatic, and you will know it when it happens. Also slide the edge of the nail along the knife edge feeling for smoothness. You can feel the slightest micro-nicks this way. Do this slowly and cautiously. We don't want to cut ourselves.

You will spend the most time on the rough stone. Your are going to remove a lot of metal. Stay with it until it starts to catch your nail, and has a good face on the edge. Figure 15-20 minutes here (but it depends).

Next go to the medium. You want to make sure to keep the same face angle. The magic marker works well here. You are also smoothing the scratches from the rough stone. You are done here when the edge starts to look polished, and there is a significant increase in sharpness. If you "think it feels a little sharper", then you aren't done. If you aren't making progress, then you are probably changing the angle and are trying to grind a new face. This is the mistake I always made. With a magic marker and a magnifying glass this is real obvious.

With the Arkansas stone, you want to finish the polishing of both the edge face and the edge edge. Watch your angles here. Check yourself. You will see some improvement in the sharpness as measured on your thumb nail, but it will be more refined. Keep going as long as you see increased progress. Use the magnifying glass and watch the edge.

When you think you are ready, You want to put about 5-10 strokes on each side at a steeper angle - just slightly steeper, say 5 degrees. This puts on your micro-cutting edge. It is this micro edge that you will be reconditioning as you resharpen your knife while carving. You don't have to go back to this major resharpening as described here until you no longer have success in touching up the micro edge. The strop and Arkansas stone will be your tools for the touch-up.

Wipe the knife, and then under a bright light gently press the knife almost flat on your thumbnail. If you have done the job right, you will see the extreme edge appear to bend (the reflected light lets you see this). The part that is bending is called the "wire edge". It is very thin, and is an artifact from the sharpening process. If used this way, it will break off causing micro-nicks (can't see them, but can feel them with the nail). We use the strop for this.

Take the strop, and lay the knife flat on it and use some pressure pushing it against the strop. Then draw the knife with the edge trailing (else you cut the leather strop) across the strop switching from side to side. 10 strokes usually does it. If you test the knife for sharpness on the thumb nail, you should see a dramatic increase in sharpness. Keep stropping until it doesn't improve. Use this same procedure to touch up your knife while carving. When you don't feel an improvement, then go back to the Arkansas and re-do the micro-edge. Eventually you have to go back and put the face back on. How often depends on the steel, the original face angle, and the carving. Re-doing the face is never as dramatic as putting the original face on the tool. Much faster.

The knife should now catch immediately in your thumb nail. It doesn't skid at all. You are doing this with little or know pressure. The weight of the blade is all it takes. If your are unsure of the feel of this, get a razor and test it on the nail. This should be your benchmark.

Now, how to make a strop. Get a 14-16 inch piece of 1x2 pine. Carve a decent handle in the first six inches, and leave the rest flat. Now get a chunk of leather at least 8-10 inches long and 2 inches wide (and not real thin). Glue the leather onto the rest of the stick. White glue or contact cement work fine. Clamp or weight the thing down to set overnight. When set, use a sharp knife to trim off excess leather. Take the polishing compound as described above and rub it all over the leather putting on a reasonable coat. Every so often I will scrap off the old stuff and put on a fresh coat. Well, there you have it.

Chris Nelson

From: smithles@norand.com

Chris: I printed off your sharpening tips last week and then blew away the message. I read those tips in detail last night and I have to say that is the BEST sharpening tips I have come across in my five years of carving. I am a technical writer by day and to do what you did without graphics or being in front of the student, well its just GREAT. You should write and publish these my friend. Les Smith

From: WoodSculpt@aol.com

Could someone email these sharpening tips to me? It seems I joined this list too late to have seen them. Would be much appreciated. Thanks, Leon (Plymouth, Michigan)

From: FredPost@aol.com

HI: I've been carving caricatures off-and-on for 20 years using knives, Fordom tools, etc. Due to poor vision after recent surgery, I need to make larger carvings with larger tools. I need some advice on how to sharpen gouges. I've got diamond stones (medium and fine). Nothing I tried seems to work so far. Thanks. Fred Post

From: lbertsch@planet.eon.net (Llew Bertsch)

Hi Fred;
If you are still looking for sharpening advice, maybe I can help. If you have access to back issues of the British magazine, "Woodcarving", there is a good article on tool sharpening in the November 1995 issue #21. If not, contact me off line and we can come up with a way to get the article to you. Llew Bertsch

From: Duane MacEwen (macewen@isn.net)

Currently I use felt buffing wheels and two grades of honing compound to sharpen my carving knives and chisels. In a recent article of Chip Chats, it stated that constant use of a felt wheel to keep an 'edge' on you carving tools will eventually round off the edges. My questions are ...
1.) Have other carvers found this to be so?

2.) Many companies have various sharpening systems, (eg. Veritas), which one is best, relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and exact?

Many carvers in our Charlottetown, P.E.I. club use the same method to sharpen our tools. Any suggestions?

Duane MacEwen

From: Tom Wray (twray@UH.EDU)

(Edited to remove shouting)
I Have not had the opportunity to use felt wheels...but I use a Leather wheel with a compound block that I got out of canada, and I haven't had any problems....do you know where the compound came From in canada by chance.....the leather wheel is great for putting On a sharp clean edge, haven't had any problems with breaking Down the edge as long as you approach the wheel at the correct Angle for the knife, chisel, etc.

From: Ainslie Pyne (woodart@woodart.com.au)

Hi Duane,

I was given a very comprehensive demonstration of the Tormek system at the Melbourne Timber and Working With Wood Show last weekend. I think I will be purchasing one of these for my workshop. I have the felt wheels but have found that they tend to round off the bottoms of the gouges over some time and it is necessary to regrind the bevels. I don't find a problem with actually rounding over the fine edge though but it is a pain to have to go back and try and grind a flat bevel.

I do not know of agents in the States or the US price for these unit. They are Swedish. I think it would be better to get hold of the larger unit as the wheel is much larger in diameter and would not give such a pronounced "hollow" ground bevel as much as the smaller unit.

Hope this is useful information. If you need any further details I might be able to get hold of a leaflet and send some particulars over. Ainslie.

From: "Robin Edward Trudel, Woodcarver" (rtrudel@tiac.net)

Yes, that's correct, eventually the edge will "round over". The tool will pass the fingernail and arm-hair tests, but not cut worth a darn. Re-sharpening is called for at that point.

On my most used knife, I do daily buffing and monthly sharpening... Robin Edward Trudel President, New England Woodcarvers

From: Bill Judt (bjudt@terranet.ab.ca)


Any sort of buffing with any type of wheel/strop/buffer will EVENTUALLY round off a tool's edge. That is because the is always a little deflection of the buffing wheel as it comes off the tool,... as sort of depression... that rounds the tool edge ever so slightly. The buffing wheel, though, rounds the edge off less than, say, a stitched cloth wheel. Unless of course, the person at the "handle end" of the tool is causing the tool to contact the felt wheel at too "blunt" an angle.

I watch my students buff their tools on my felt wheel, and honestly, sometimes I just cringe. They may as well just push the "sharp" edge right into the wheel, the way they are attempting to buff the tool. When a tool's cutting angle becomes blunt from buffing, it is a very simple matter to take the tool to the bench stone, dress the edge with a few stroke, take the burr off with slip stones, and buff the edge to a fresh, sharp finish. I can do this in less than 3 minutes in a pinch.

No sharpening system is EXACT, especially when it comes to buffing. This is because the person who holds the tool is not EXACT (like a machine) and also because buffing wheels/strops deflect. Instead of trying to find something that is EXACT, try your best to develop the SKILL you need to keep your tools in shape. It takes practice, but the effort is worth it.

Just accept the fact that ONCE IN A WHILE you will have to reshape the edge on your bench stone to bring the cutting angle back to specs. It's a fact of life where sharp edges are concerned. Hope this helps.

Bill Judt
Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada

From: Lloyd Smith (lgsmith@worldchat.com)

Lee Valley carry an excellent green compound.

Lloyd Smith

From: "Gale B." (bkreutz@sisna.com)

The Tormek system is carried by the Woodworkers Store here in the states, probably by a few other also but I haven't seen them. I must be old fashioned or something, I still use the manual method, it gives me time to reflect on things, I find it a bit therapeutic (does that make me a nut?) Actually once the tool is sharp, I don't do anything but strop it unless I drop it and nick it. I guess that's what makes it hard to justify a sharpening machine. Well, enough of my soapbox, I must get back to the mask I'm carving, it needs to be done next week. Gale in Seattle

From: Ainslie Pyne (woodart@woodart.com.au)

I agree with you. I can actually let my mind wander around a number of carving projects and problems while I am honing my carving gouges and chisels on my black arkansas stone!

I do the same in summer when I swim 100 laps of my swimming pool each day. Then all I have to do is a few quick sketches during a coffee break and I am off and running with the next project.

Still, I think there might be some merits in the Tormek system for some people. I have to be able to demonstrate so used it for some very worn out and rough edged gouges and plane irons.

Must go, a 20' carving to design and get to the timber people this week for an idea of the timber and its cost so that I can send a quote to the people wanting the panel.
Should be about twelve months work in it from all accounts.

Catch you later, Ainslie

From: Duane MacEwen (macewen@isn.net)

Thanks for the tip Ainslie, I'm currently using 6" felt wheels! Met a very nice couple from the Melbourne area this summer who were visiting here in Atlantic Canada. Had a great time with them. Duane MacEwen

From: Duane MacEwen (macewen@isn.net)

Tom, I purchase the compound blocks at any local hardware store, but most carving supply stores carry it as well. 'Lee Valley' for instance! Duane MacEwen

From: "Jim Swank" (jumbo@nwark.com)

One of the major advantages of felt is that it will deform to the shape of the applied object - it has some "give" to it. How much it will round (or deform) the edge depends on the amount and aggressiveness of the compound applied, the angle at which the edge is introduced, the length of time in contact, and the force with which you apply the edge to the wheel.

With that out of the way, yes it will round your edge, but how much and how soon depends on your individual sharpening practices. I personally use two cardboard wheels to sharpen with, one charged with 220 grit aluminum oxide abrasive and lightly coated with wax. The second is plain cardboard with slots across the face, and a buffing compound, usually white rouge applied, for honing.

I use the grit wheel for normal sharpening, which is only required occasionally, unless an edge becomes damaged. I use the honing wheels for final honing and light touchup. This is on all knives and the outer bevel of all sweeps and gouges, including vees. The commercial name of this system is Frizzell's Razor Sharp, but I have seen similar under other names.

I also use a muslin buff, a fairly stiff one, as a final touch to remove all traces of rouge from the edge and on the inside of gouges.

I know many professional carvers who use felt wheels, but always in conjunction with some sort of hard wheel, most frequently a conventional grinding wheel.

If you use felt, eventually the edge will round enough that you must go back to something else to flatten it.

If, however, your edge will cut a thin curl across the end grain of a piece of basswood, that is a curl thin and smooth enough to curl near full circle before breaking, it is suitable for carving.

Regardless of all the theories and pundits - myself included - the ultimate standard in sharpening has to be the ability to cut clean and smoothly, without requiring excessive force. Regards,

From: gjpat@user.rose.com (Gordon Paterson)

Sorry for the late reply on this one, been busy with the OWCA show this past weekend.

Yep Jim, no truer words were ever spoken, seems like everybody, well almost everybody has a preferred way of sharpening and honing their carving tools that is the "best" way, but I guess as you say the end result is what counts, however or whatever you use to get there.

And Duane, just wanted to suggest a book that you might like and one that I think all woodcarvers who use chisels and gouges should have, Chris Pye's Woodcarving - Tools, Materials and Equipment, it has most, if not all the answers about woodcarving chisels and gouges, such as sharpening, care and use of, as well as much much more.

Also Duane, although you are in PEI, there is a Wood Show coming up soon over in Nova Scotia, the Halifax Wood show Nov. 15-16-17 1996 at the Winter Fair Exhibition Grounds, 200 Prospect Road. maybe its close enough for you to visit.

One of the vendors will be TOW from Toronto Ont., they carry the Chris Pye book as well as Swiss Made carving tools by Pfeil, together with other useful carving equipment.

If any people from the woodcarver mailing list happen to be at this show and see Gord Meinecke the owner of TOW, tell him you got the info about the show from this list.

On another note, any Americans that live near by, might wanna visit this shew, could find yourself a real bargain on Swiss made carving tools, TOW's prices are about the same as some of the American woodcarving catalogues that I have seen, so with the exchange it could save you a fair bit of moola.(G)

I get no commission from, nor have I any connection with TOW, other than the owners name is Gord, like mine, he is an OWCA member like me, and I spend a lot of my time at his booth with him,... spending my money on his tools and books.(G) Gordon Paterson

From: Mike Wells (mikewell@csra.net)

Yep, they sure will round off the edges. I have got the John Burke sharpening machine myself, and personally I feel that it's the best money I ever spent on a tool. I bought mine direct from John, but you can also order it through Ivan Whillock's catalog for $275. It's pricey, but well worth every cent. Call 1-800-882-9379 to order a catalog from Ivan. (Mon-Fri, 9-5) Mike Wells

From: "Danny E. Cook" (dcook01@mail.win.org)

I agree whole heartedly. Just about the best money spent for sharpening. I don't remember John's original configuration on the wheels (I believe he offered two leather, one emery cloth and one felt). But for a few dollars more I ordered mine with four leather covered wheels, which are now loaded with 200, 400, 800, and 1200 grit compounds. I can do a quick touchup on an edge in seconds as opposed to hand working a hand held strop. I also vary the angle, occasionally, of the tool handle to the wheel. Instead of the tool handle being inline with the wheel, I'll slide the handle 20 to 30 degrees to the right or left of center. Sure, I still have to go back to a stone once in awhile, but I'm doing it a lot less.

From: Mike Wells (mikewell@csra.net)

You are still using a stone Danny? I haven't touched a stone for any reason since I bought mine. I also use a side angle to sharpen everything except the #1 chisels. I don't know why, but it seems to work better for me.

This last summer I went to Nebraska for a week for the annual carving seminar held at Crete. I had the extreme pleasure of being invited to John Burke's house for four days, and I got to use the very first John Burke sharpening machine. That thing looks like it was built during the stone age, and has been through a bunch of years of John's abuse. (He isn't exactly gentle on tools.)

I also designed a full figure cowboy while I was there working with John. He like the design so much that we bartered around and I wound up trading it to him for use in future classes. I just found out that he is now teaching classes using my cowboy. That was a real thrill for me. John is a long time idol of mine, and to have him teaching something that I designed really makes my day. Mike Wells

From: "Danny E. Cook" (dcook01@mail.win.org)

Occasionally, a gouge will get away from me and wind up on the floor. The concrete basement floor is very unforgiving, and it is inevitable that the gouge will miss the fatigue mats around my bench. And though John's machine is good, it's not that good. Yes, I still have to hit the stone (but it's now electrified and running in a water bath). (snipped) From: Ken Watson (watsok@fortnet.org)

Greetings everyone
I am just starting out and have been told that sharp tools are the key to easy wood carving. I have a few stones to down to 600 grit. I have tried wet/ dry sand paper glued to glass down to 1500 grit along with an old leather belt with Al oxide compound to try and strop the blade.....The hairs on my arm are still laughing at my efforts. I have been trying to sharpen my knife to get experience before I attack my gouges but I am having problems getting these as sharp as legend claims they should be. So it is now time to ask for help.

From: "Danny E. Cook" (dcook01@mail.win.org)

True Ken, sharp tools are the easiest way to carve, but woodcarving is not necessarily easy, and something even harder than carving is sharpening, at least for most people. I know people that have been carving longer than I have (eight years) that still have problems with sharpening. I carved for a couple of years (used a lot of Exacto blades) before I felt adapt at sharpening, and V-tools still can give me problems. What I'm getting to here is this, don't give up! As many theories and techniques are used in sharpening as there are in carving the human face.

I'm sure that the scope of sharpening is beyond the capabilities of this listserve (diagrams always assist the printed word), but a few comments may be in order. I feel that first of all, 600 grit is a bit too mild for putting down the initial bevel of your tool. 100 to 220 would probably be a better range for your first stage, the process of the initial bevel. But you are on the right track with the rest of your arsenal. I think that the best advice is to try to find someone who can personally show you how to sharpen. So much is involved; the angle of the tool to the stone, maintaining that angle throughout the process, and patience. To be honest, a lot of good articles, books, and videos are on the market, but until I sat down with fellow carvers and asked them to show me, my attempts were often lacking in success.

From: afn42847@afn.org (Daniel L. Starbuck)

Ken, I am sure that you will get, and probably already have gotten, a lot of advice from the folks on the listserver. Most of them are really great folks (take a bow) and really know what they are talking about. Most of them probably know more about sharpening than I do, but I will pass this along anyway. I have been carving since 1988, mainly as something to kill spare time when I don't feel like watching the boob tube. I have never really gotten a sharp knife until recently, and now that I have one, I enjoy carving even more. I have tried diamond stones, regular stones, strops, and sandpaper. I found that I have the best luck using different grits of sandpaper to get to my edge, then a strop with aluminum oxide to polish. My biggest problem all along was not what I was using to get my edge, but the inability to hold my knife blade at a consistent angle. Without my realizing it, I was changing the angle of attack and constantly rounding off the edge. I still need lots of practice at sharpening, but I am realizing that was probably my problem all along. I just wish I had realized it before I spent $$$ on all those different sharpening systems. Good Luck. Dan Daniel Starbuck
Gainesville Carvers
Gainesville, Florida

From: Graeme Vaughan (vaughan@webnet.com.au)

The best information I have received on sharpening (after a good deal of reading and asking and trying) is from Les Miller at the recent Working with Timber show here in Melbourne (Les also produces videos on this and other subjects but I don't have the contact details - sorry! perhaps some other Ozwoodie can help).Advice as follows:
The sharpening process is best divided into three parts:

  • grinding or setting the bevel
  • honing
  • stropping or polishing

For this you will need a soft start bench grinder with an 8 inch white Aluminum oxide wheel (NOT the Silicon Carbide wheel which is sold with most bench grinders), 46 grit and rated K or J for hardness. The wheel is large, quite coarse and soft. The reason for this is that it enables material to be removed quickly without heating the tool and ruining the temper. There is no need to dip the tool in water to cool it as it remains cool throughout the process. To clean and true the wheel do not use diamond sticks etc, but use a silicon carbide dressing stick as this keeps the wheel true. You will also need a tool rest which adjusts to any angle. Daniel Starbuck's point about maintaining the bevel is absolutely spot on. It is very difficult to maintain the correct angle freehand.

2. Honing
For honing, use a diamond impregnated steel plate or Arkansas slate slipstone (the former is preferred). Use WD40 to keep the stones clean. For plane blades, chisels etc, use a bought or shop made holder to keep the blade at the correct angle to the plate. See any good sharpening book on the techniques. Hone the flat side of single bevelled tools first.

3. Stropping
For this you will need a leather wheel and polish rouge. There are power strop systems available for power drills. Hope this helps. Cheers. Graeme

From: Mike Wells (mikewell@csra.net)

Danny, when I have one get a good running start and good away from me like that I first cringe, get cold shivers, curse furiously, and then hit the strip sander for the major metal shaping. Then I go back to the Burke machine. Works great for me, and fast too. (snipped)

Mike Wells

From: "Don M. Leners" (dmleners@wt.net)

I recently saw a new (or at least new to me) sharpening stone advertised in a Garrett-Wade tool catalog. The stone was a Translucent Arkansas Stone. It is advertised as a rare strain of the Arkansas stone and is supposed to be a finer grit (or harder) than the Hard Black Arkansas Stone. Has anybody had any experience with the translucent stones (or even heard of them)? I am curious as to whether they are worth the extra cost or not.

I currently sharpen my stones by working my way up through the Arkansas stones till I get to the Hard Black Arkansas and then move to a leather strop with Jewelers Rouge. If I chip a blade or have to reshape the blade, I have a couple of heavy grit bench stones (and a few lunch breaks at the office) that I will use. Since this method gets my stones sharp enough to curl end-grain, I have not justified buying one of the expensive electric systems. Although if the translucent stone will provide a better edge or hold up longer than the Hard Black stones, I might be able to justify the cost of a couple of these. Any information on these stones would be appreciated. Thanks. Don M. Leners
Spring, Texas

From: jess@polarnet.com

STEVE, Can you provide recommendations for sources of all those water stones? I haven't seen such an assortment in any of my catalogs, and I'd really like to buy a few. I'd be grateful for names of companies, telephone numbers, or whatever you can give us.

Thanks....... ~jess in Fairbanks, AK From: "Joseph Aimetti" (jca455@mindspring.com)

Hi Steve-

I saw this reply you made, and only being in carving about a year, it sparked my interest, as I was thinking of trying the Japanese Water stones. At the risk of being Booed by most of the fine carvers on this list, I use a Gerber sharpening steel I had laying around since my years in the military to put a razor edge on my carving knives. I have also used the ceramic and lately diamond stones, but always seemed to go back to the Gerber steel.

Speaking of military, when I was stationed in Okinawa, I went to a festival and had the good fortune to see a demonstration of how the craftsmen in Japan make and sharpen those legendary blades. Yep...water stones. And I think most people have heard stories about the hair splitting sharpness of those babies! So there must be something to the waterstone end of the endless quest for the "Perfect" edge ;)

(PS: how do you think the 8000 grit water stone compares to the "translucent" Arkansas stone?) Joe Aimetti

From: "Joseph Aimetti" (jca455@mindspring.com)

I was looking through a wood carving book the other day (can't remember the name) and came across a really neat trick for honing "U" shape gouges. (My biggest sharpening headache)

If you take a scrap block of wood, use the gouge you wish to hone (hopefully before it gets too dull) to cut a channel the same shape as the profile of the gouge. Rub in some sharpening compound and strop the gouge in that channel. Excellent results!

The channel is custom made for that gouge, takes second's to make, and wood is pretty durable. A really nice, simple, no frills way of putting a polished edge on your gouges. (Even my "micro" ones). Joe

From: rkeller (rkeller@ibm.net)

if i am not mistaken, i believe that this hint came from the folks at Cape Forge, a supplier of high quality knives (i have three of their knives and use them with much satisfaction). Richard Kellerhouse
Carrollton, TX 75006-2157

From: Lloyd Smith (lgsmith@worldchat.com)

Harold Lee of Lee Valley Tools suggested this method at one of his seminars on sharping. He didn't restrict it to small gouges but suggested it for any shape including vee tools. Lloyd Smith
Dundas, Ontario

From: "Joseph Aimetti" (jca455@mindspring.com)

Hello All-

I posted a trick for sharpening gouges by cutting a channel in a piece of wood with same gouge to use as a honing guide; and credited it to a book I had looked through and did not recall the name.

The name of the book (which I now own) is called "The Complete Guide to Sharpening" by Leonard Lee.(President of Veritas Tools and Lee Valley Tools).

It is indeed an excellent book, and takes you pretty deeply into the mechanics of why a certain tool needs a certain edge to work a certain way, without putting you to sleep. As a pretty new carver (barely over 1 year) it helped me out a lot. (But not nearly as much as being in the company of this fine group of helpful people ;) ) Joe