Editor's Blog: How sharp is sharp?

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Mark Baker

Thursday, May 24, 2018

To many sharpening is a tricky subject to master, especially when starting out. Just like any technique, it requires practice to master but I also acknowledge that process of learning is coupled with a bit of frustration until one has. But let's face it: everyone strives to make the perfect cut. Sharp tools and a knowledge of how to cut the wood, with what tool, and in what situation, is learned over time. There is no magic cure. The tool that most people struggle with regarding sharpening is the V tool.

There are thousands of words, hundreds of pictures, and numerous video clips online to show you how to sharpen and there are myriad sharpening devices, jigs and products available to help. My advice is to read, watch as much as you can and ask people who know how to sharpen tools well as to what they are doing and using to sharpen their tools and what angles they are using and why. And most importantly, before committing to buying anything, try it before you buy it.

Cutting edges. Photograph by Mark Baker

Photo © Mark Baker

I have numerous tools for sharpening. The basic kit is a medium diamond stone for creating the primary bevel, a finer ceramic stone for refining it and, for the final ultra sharp edge, a strop loaded with a micro-fine abrasive compound to polish the bevel. I have various shaped strops to fit inside the different tool flutes to polish those faces too. I must admit I have a few power sharpening and buffing systems too, but sharpening by hand is cheaper and easier to learn when starting out.

To create sharp edges does not have to cost much money. Instead of sharpening stones be they natural stone, diamond, ceramic and so on, which all work very well indeed, look at suitable abrasives stuck onto a backing board. The strop is simply some thin leather or compressed suede or MDF to which one has applied a fine honing compound.

The key thing is to take it slow, and strop it frequently to maintain the ultra-sharp edge. It only takes a few seconds to hone/strop a tool. Only go back to using the stones when you have to reform the primary bevel due the tool becoming extremely dull, the edge becomes damaged or if you radius off the bevel too much which might alter the cutting angle adversely.

Lastly, please don't get vexed! There is no rush when sharpening. Get it right and it makes carving so much more fun.

Have fun, Mark

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