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Sharpening Simplified

by Everett Ellenwood

Reviewed by Matt Kelley


Every carver faces a lot of challenges. If you are Harold Enlow, keeping tools sharp isn't one of them,, not when you haul your tools around in a cigar box that seems to magically keep them sharp at all times. For the rest of us, keeping tools sharp can be a maddening road block to wood carving happiness. This is most particularly the case with newbie carvers; the wood carving community has undoubtedly lost many a member for want of a shape tool.

So what are your options when it comes to sharp tools?

1. Get a clone of Harold's magic box
2. Buy new pre-sharpened tools when yours get dull
3. Pay someone to sharpen for you
4. Find a friend that will succumb to whining and sharpen 'em for you
5. Take your sharpening gear to a club meeting and sit looking forlorn until someone takes pity on you
6. Learn to sharpen tools for yourself

These all look like possibilities at first blush, but upon further review . . .

1. Sorry, people have tried for years, but there seems to be only one magic cigar box out there
2. While this would make the tool vendors and manufactures quite happy, most of us can't afford the option
3. Might work if you can find someone that can properly sharpen carving tools
4. Works initially, but after a while your "friends" never seem to be home
5. Also works for a while, but eventually they wise up
6. Ultimately, this is the best and only long-term option

Having so boldly stated the obvious, how does one begin. Certainly there is lots of instructional material available. Web sites, books, video tape, CD's and DVD's One of the newest entries on the market is Sharpening Simplified by Everett Ellenwood.

A resident of Rochester, MN, Ev Ellenwood has been carving for over thirty years and teaching for more then twenty; he specializes in realistic human faces. Along the way he has developed what he describes as "a unique, easy to learn, sharpening technique."

I had the opportunity to spend several hours with Ev last spring. He gave a short demo while sharpening a badly damaged palm tool, and we chatted quite a while over dinner. It was an interesting, informative experience.

Ev Ellenwood has all the zeal of a dedicated missionary with a through understanding of his topic. Interestingly, while he teaches a proper way to sharpen various tools, he does not suggest there is just one best set of sharpening equipment. Oil stones, wet stones, diamond stones, wet/dry sandpaper, leather strops, cardboard with buffing compound - all have a place at the sharpening bench. Heck, Ev even allows that power sharpening rigs are OK for large tools, ONCE you learn the proper techniques.

This review is of the DVD version of Sharpening Simplified. The content is the same as the VHS videotape, but the DVD allows you to more easily go back and review specific chapters. The 110 minute long video was professionally produced, which is apparent in the production values. The lighting and sound quality is excellent, and even the close-up shots have good visual quality.

The video is divided into nine sections:
1. Introduction
2. Sharpening Position
3. Sharpening Stones
4. Carving Knives
5. Gouges/Veiners
6. Flat Chisels
7. "V" Tools
8. Micro Tool
9. Conclusion

The video has a number of strong points:

Still not sure? You can actually sample the video; three excerpts are available for review at http://ellenwoodarts.com/video.htm.

Sharpening Simplified is, in my opinion, an excellent resource for learning to sharpen carving tools. Both the newbie carver and old hand will find useful information in the video. At $24.95 I would call this a very good value, and would recommend it for any carvers toolbox. Accordingly, we'll award Sharpening Simplified a WOM Four Thumbs up