Sharpening woodcarving tools is one of those issues that you can get
hundreds of opinions on, depending on how many woodcarvers you ask. While I
don't recommend any one way over another, I would suggest that you spend
some time learning to sharpen your tools by hand before attempting to use
power. This way you will get a better understanding and feel for the tools
and the type of edge needed before running the risk of "burning" the edges
of your valuable tools.
I have found the following page from Smokey Mountain Woodcarvers to be a
good general instructional on sharpening
I highly recommend giving this
page a good look and adding it to your "favorites" list.
Below are some pictures of my tool sharpening equipment along with some
explanations which I'm sure there will be some debate over. As I said above,
this isn't an endorsement of one method over another, this is just how I
learned to do it, and it works for me.
two grinders are my main sharpening tools. The grinder on the left is a
variable speed grinder, equipped with two medium grit stones, which I use at
the slowest setting. The grinder on the right is equipped with a hard cloth
wheel and a loose cloth wheel for buffing the edges to a final polish. I
have my grinders set to turn toward me (notice the direction arrows). I feel
I can see the edge better this way and get that "wire edge" needed to
produce a sharp tool. This does dictate that I hold the tool pointing
downward when buffing it, to keep it from catching in the cloth wheel.
Notice that I keep a small can of water between the grinders. I constantly
dip my tools in water while sharpening them to keep the edges as cool as
possible to prevent "burning" the edge and loosing the tool temper hardness.
Also I soak my buffing wheels in kerosene when they are new, before putting
them on the grinder. This gives them a very light oil which holds the
buffing compound on better. Be sure and take the grinders outside and let
them run a while the first time if you try this, unless you want to be
anointed with kerosene.
I know by experience LOL.
This is my main sharpening station. The table my grinders are mounted on is
at a comfortable height for me, with plenty of good lighting to see the
edges of my tools. Notice I keep a rag hanging on the table to wipe off the
tool after sharpening so that I don't get any grit from the buffing wheel on
This big grinder is one of my pride and joys. The big, wide wheel turns
extremely slow and it is what I primarily use for sharpening my knives and
wide profile mallet tools. The trough the wheel sets in can hold water if
desired, but I usually just keep a can of water close by because changing
the water is troublesome and it gets rusty if I don't.
have this large strop mounted on my carving tool table so that I can lightly
touch up my tool edges from time to time. Having the strop on a hinge keeps
it out of the way and yet handy to use.
Some Personal Notes & Opinions
(A) I like a wide bevel for softer woods such as basswood and a narrower
bevel for harder woods such as walnut.
(B) I haven't found much difference with using a leather strop's rough side
or smooth side, although the rough side seems to hold the buffing compound a
(C) Before trying to sharpen your good quality carving tools with power, get
a few straight woodworking chisels to practice with. This will allow you to
get a feel for how the tool will heat up and the best bevel to put on the
tool for the type of wood you will be carving.
(D) Never sharpen when you are in a hurry. Take your time and above all be
aware of the safety factors.
(E) Sharpening is as much about feel as it is sight, get to know your tools
before and as you are sharpening. Each tool has it's own personality and
Since some carvers have their wheels turning away from them I placed this
warning sign above my grinders so that I can make sure each person using my
sharpening station is fully aware of the direction and dangers of using
Even though I do most of my sharpening with power due to the need for speed,
I do like to use a hand stone and strop to sharpen my most delicate tools.
The stone I prefer is this diamond impregnated medium grit steel stone. I
have rub buffing compound on my leather strop to do the final polishing.