What is the most important part of carving? Buying an expensive set of knives
or chisels? You might think so... but not really. Some of the best high carbon blades are inexpensive too. I've seen amazing
carvings done with a simple folding pocket knife. Getting the right piece of wood? I'd say, no... wood is pretty easy to get.
Like most carvers, I started carving by whittling twigs. The most important part is understanding how to sharpen knives and
Most good chisels come unsharpened. Even if you spend a lot of money, you
still need to know how to sharpen a knife or chisel. If you are ever going to be successful at wood carving, you must first
learn to sharpen your tools. Sharper tools are much safer to use because you need to use less force to make them cut.
To sharpen tools you need: 1) a sharpening stone and 2) a leather strop.
The stone can be a diamond lapping plate, a ceramic stone, or a natural or synthetic stone used with oil or water. If you
are just getting started, you might find that a very effective "sharpening stone" is a wet/dry piece of sandpaper on a
flat surface. Use it with water to hold it down on a flat surface. The water will also float away the little pieces of
metal that clog the grit. You can purchase a leather strop or make one very easily. To make a leather strop, just get a piece
of leather and glue to a wooden handle. Easy, right? Now, treat the leather with some polishing compound. I like the red polishing
compound that comes with dremel polishing wheels.
Learning to sharpen isn't hard, but it does take a lot of practice.
There are all sorts of tables and charts that will give you the correct angle (20 or 25 deg is often mentioned). There are
all kinds of complicated jigs to hold the tool at the proper angle from the stone. Lansky makes a real nice one. For a knife
you want to keep pretty, a jig is a great thing. But for wood carving, I don't use a jig. It takes too long to setup. You
are the one who will use the knife so you should decide what angle works best for the type of wood you are carving. More of
an angle will make a knife that isn't as sharp, but it will stay sharp longer. Less of an angle will make a knife that is
super sharp but doesn't stay that way long.
My technique for sharpening:
Imagine you are slicing a long thin layer
from the stone. This is what I do. Make sure that the knife is honed on both sides and at all points along the blade. A quick
trick: use a black marker to color the edge. A pass on the stone will show you where the edge contacts the stone. You know
you are done sharpening when your knife develops a wire edge. To remove this, you must use a leather strop. Polish the knife
edge to razor sharpness. Once you have a good edge, don't use the stone again until you absolutely have to. Just polish it
with the strop.