Tips on Sharpening Woodcarving Tools

Wood is a fantastic material to work with, and offers its own rewards separate from other materials like stone, clay, wax or plastics. However, when working with wood, it's important to have the right set of carving tools. Here at Alec Tiranti we pride ourselves on providing some of the most high-quality woodcarving tools and woodcarving supplies in the UK.

One of the main tasks facing sculptors working with wood is keeping their woodcarving tools sharp. After all, a dull tool is only going to cause trouble, no matter whether it's your straight chisels or your carvers' adzes. For that reason, here are five tips to help you sharpen your woodcarving tools and get the best out of your carving equipment.

Sharpen before use

When you purchase a set of carving tools, you might think that your chisel or knife is ready to use straight away. However, tools like woodcarving knives are often only sharpened by factories to a 'standard grade'. As a result, you will need to 'finish sharpen' your tool whenever you use it.

When first using any new woodcarving tools, make sure to give them a gentle rub with a stone or a strop to clean any imperfections. All you have to do then is keep them clean and oiled when you're not using them, and give them a gentle sharpening before and during use.

Use a stone

One of the common ways of sharpening woodcarving tools is to use sharpening equipment like a bench or slip stone and honing oil.

Firstly, oil the stone and move the tool over the stone's surface. You'll need to position the tool so that the cutting edge sits evenly across the face of the stone. Then rub the tool over the stone in a 'figure 8' pattern. Don't forget to sharpen the backside of the tool to remove any roughness.

Follow it up by stropping

Once you've sharpened your woodcarving tool on your stone, you can then hone it by using a strop. Stropping is typically performed by those using a woodcarving knife or chisel to maintain the sharp edge of the tool and prolong its long term use.

A strop is usually made of leather which has a layer of carborundum dressing applied to it. Some people do this dry; others use oil and water. It's simply a matter of personal preference.

To strop a tool, simply run it back and forth slowly and evenly each side against the strop on a flat and level surface. Don't use short, sharp movements this can damage your tool.

Don't use another method

It might be tempting to sharpen your woodcarving tools on a power tool like an angle grinder or bench grinder. Whatever you do, don't do this! Simply put, this is highly likely to overheat the tip of the tool. This could make the metal of your tools soften or harden and fundamentally alter your tool's character really not ideal for your straight woodcarving tools.

But don't be scared of heat treatment

All woodcarving tool steels are heat treated and need to be cared for. Sometimes it's necessary to have a tool heat treated again from time to time to make sure it stays at its best.