Some people first began to carve wood by having one source of instruction: their own instincts, and thus it became a very frustrating process. Because of this, their carving attempts, while somewhat enjoyable, were few and far between. While many can easily have rudimentary collection of chisels and gouges, they would have no clue on why it seemed so hard to translate the visions in their mind to the stubborn pieces of wood that they had chosen to carve.
The results of these sessions are nearly always disappointing. The cuts will ragged and the figures would look unfinished and dull. To realize any goal in carving in the same way more accomplished carvers do, you have to educate yourself.
The Wood Carving Illustrated is a good read for this. The magazine contained mostly project how-to’s but there’s one standout article. It was a step by step guide to sharpening carving tools.
Properly sharpened tools are AS important as talent in carving!
The benefits of learning to sharpen your tools to a razor edge are numerous.
Sharp tools cut easier and more accurately. Sharp tools are safer to use; they do not slip as easily giving you more control over your work and saving your fingers from nicks and cuts.
Also, you can translate your sharpening skills to your kitchen tools, your garden tools, and your workshop. If you’re just starting out and don’t have a workshop yet, you can use your garage and set up a woodshop there so you can have a place where you can practice your wood carving and woodworking.
It is no more difficult to sharpen properly than improperly; it is a matter of angles and motion, and using the right materials to sharpen your tools.
There are a couple of methods you can use to keep your tools sharp and ready to carve.
The oldest method is to rub the blade against hard stones of graduated coarseness. Arkansas whetstones, Japanese water stones, commercially produced synthetics, and diamond stones. Each of these will work for you but have advantages and disadvantages that you will want to explore and decide which stone would work best for you.
Power sharpening is another option that you should look at. Requiring more investment but offering ease and speed as the compensating benefits. You need a bench grinder or drill with abrasive discs of graduated coarseness for shaping and honing, and a buffing wheel to polish up the tool at the end.
A third choice, for those who want to avoid the learning curve involved with sharpening your own tools is to use a disposable blade system like X-acto, Warren Cutlery, Excel, or Veritas Carver’s Knife. The drawback to this method is the expense of replacing the blades, although these blades as well can be touched up on a stone to increase their useful life.
If you suffer from any sort of painful joint condition that makes sharpening often unpleasant the last two methods would save you the pain of pressing the blade to the stone. Some prefer the hand sharpening method as they prefer the control that it gives me to tune my tools to fit my particular needs.
Carving wood is a relaxing and satisfying enterprise, whether you carve for pleasure or profit. You do not want to detract from the pleasure by trying to carve with tools that are not suited for the work. When you can sharpen your tools to a razor edge you free yourself to fully enjoy the merging of your spirit with the wood as you draw out the figure hiding within.
Learn to sharpen your knives and gouges early in your learning process and take your carving to a new level.