Keeping It Sharp !

Probably the single best thing you can do for yourself as a carver is to keep your tools sharp. Check the sharpness of your tools every time you use them, and don't assume that your new "store bought" knife is sharp right out of the box... many are not.  A truly sharp edge needs minimal pressure, is far easier to control, and is much safer to use. Sharp tools are a joy to use.  Dull tools on the other hand take much more force to plow through the wood, tearing, splitting and breaking it as they go instead of cutting the fibers smoothly, and because of all the force exerted become down right dangerous when the blade slips or suddenly breaks free of the wood. Every carver should know how to keep their tools sharp.

While there are many sharpening "systems", the process can generally be broken down into 4 steps: grinding, whetting (or stoning), honing, and stropping. As each step is progressive, a blade in reasonable condition may not need the full treatment. Often a previously sharp edge if undamaged can be restored by a simple honing and stropping, or stropping alone.

1. Grinding is used to bring a very dull or damaged blade back to it's proper (or desired) physical shape. This is usually done on a grinding wheel or very course stone. Be very careful not to grind so aggressively that you overheat the knife edge, seen as a discoloration of the blade edge, as this will cause the blade to loose it's temper or hardness.

2. Whetting  is the process of sharpening the rough edge left by grinding. Begin with the blade laying flat on the stone and then raise the back of the blade up about 15 degrees off the stone. Hold this angle steady and rub the blade back and forth on the stone 6 or 8 strokes. Flip the blade over and holding the same 15 degree angle rub the same number of strokes on the other side of the sharp edge. Repeat a few times on each side until the edge is sharp.

3. Honing is a further sharpening process on a very fine stone or ceramic.  The actual process is the same as for Whetting only the "grit" size of the stone will be much finer.

4. Stropping is the final step in sharpening a blade.  The strop is usually leather or wood, and often a buffing compound (a fine abrasive like jeweler's rouge) is used to impregnate the strop and produces a highly polished edge.