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Sharpening gouges

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  • Sharpening gouges

    Hello woodcarvers, I am sure that this question was asked already, so if someone could point me to the post, if there is one. How do you sharpen gouges that are V, U shape and with various degree of roundness? What are tips and tricks? Is it possible to use flat surface (sandpaper on glass), and if so how hard it is to sharp round chisel on flat ground? Or are there some clever alternatives.
    Thanks for answers,
    Chuck Boris

  • #2
    Strops.jpg Flexcut Strop-Side 2.jpg
    Flexcut makes a strop with curves and grooves on it. A similar simple strop can be put together by even the most novice carver.


    • #3
      Yes use a flat surface to sharpen or strop your tools. We sharpen the outside of a gouge not the inside unless you develop a bur or have rolled the edge over.

      Curved gouges are sharpened using the same motion as used when stropping. Start with one shoulder in contact with the surface rotate through the curve as you draw the tool towards you ending on the opposite shoulder.

      V tools are two single bevel chisels connected buy a tiny gouge at the base. So you are sharpening three surfaces. Chisels are flat so no rotation.

      Lots of YouTube videos that provide the visual for this.

      Yes you can sharpen using sand paper on any flat surface. Ideally your keeping them sharp with your strop so only if an edge becomes damaged should you be reaching for sandpaper or stones.

      I personally believe carvers often become obsessed in the pursuit of the perfect edge. While not suggesting carving with tools that aren’t cutting smoothly and leaving a clean surface. When we head down the rabbit hole of using a microscope to prove the superiority of a sharpening process we maybe spending to much tIme on sharpening when we could be making wood chips.

      Local club


      • #4
        Here is a previous discussion on this topic: Sharpening CURVED Cutting Edges - Woodcarving Illustrated Unfortunately the photos were lost when this site was hacked.
        The information that is often missing from videos or written discussions is how to "read" the feedback from the sharpening process. After you have slavishly followed the expert instructions ("take ten strokes on each side. . .") what should it look or feel like? You may be able the shave hair off your arm or slice paper, but not cut wood. Why not?


        • #5
          The Scanning Electron Microscope images in Leonard Lee's book showed clearly when to stop.
          For my purposes, that is 1,500 grit 3M wet&dry silicon carbide sand paper. Honing on a strop makes a great difference somehow. Why that is, I don't know and don't care, but it works, every time. Gravity is my friend, I glue nothing down.

          If I am carving in western red cedar, I test edges in WRC. Hard to do detail, carving hair.
          Wood quality matters. That's why I bring up the values in ring counts.

          Sharpening all sorts of crooked knives and adzes is just the reverse.
          I hold the edge stationary and move the abrasive (even on a tennis ball).
          I can tune up a crooked knife over my knee and I don't think you would catch on to what I'm doing.
          It's freehand. I was taught well in the beginning and it took a lot of practice to get good at it.
          Now, I'm pretty quick at it. I don't feel inhibited that sharpening "cuts" into my carving time.
          Brian T


          • #6
            Both of my grandfathers were carpenters. They normally sharpened their tools on their own time. So I would see them hand filing their saws or honing plane blades on the weekend. They would sharpen their tools in a way that would keep them functional until the next sharpening. It was a compromise between sharpness and durability. They could tell by feel which tools needed priority during the next sharpening session.

            I try not to obsess over the sharpness of my carving tools. I let them tell me when they need touch up. Usually it's a few passes over 800 grit wet or dry paper, followed by a few passes over compound loaded cardboard. Maybe a week since the last touch up. I don't think about it.


            • #7
              I have had a Pfeil (aka Swiss Made) 8/7gouge since the beginning.
              It gets harder and harder to "push." I can feel it. Have to lean into it just a little.
              The cuts still look OK just more effort.
              I just guess that it needs a wipe on 1,000 then 1,500 then hone on a cardboard strop.

              The early wood, the spring wood, in each western red cedar growth ring is prone to crushing with dull carving edges. That damage is really hard to repair. Sharp matters.

              Brian T


              • #8
                Chuck, as you can see, lots of different advice. Here my 2¢ worth.
                I have a TomZ sharpening system which I use only when I have got a damaged tool. The rest of the time rely on stropping. I have a Flexcut Slipstrop, which I use for blade and "V" tools. For gouges, I've made myself a 12" long x 2" sq Basswood strop. I just carve groves, both inside & outside curves into the wood. Rub a little baby oil on the groves then rub Gold Flexcut stropping compound into the groves.

                Each day at the start of carving, when I reach for a tool, I also reach for my bloc. MY stropping routine is: I start by stropping each side 5 times, then I go to 4 times, etc. until I've done one time on each side. Then I rotate five times of stopping each side alternatively.

                If I feel my tool needs touching up I go thru the routine again.

                This is an image of the stropping BW block I use

                Ed info on "V" is important to know!
                You do not have permission to view this gallery.
                This gallery has 1 photos.
                Last edited by joepaulbutler; 06-08-2021, 05:50 PM.
                . . .JoeB


                • #9
                  Thank you for your answers. I guess I don't have enough confidence to sharpen a round bevel on a flat surface. To much room for error, being that I don't have that routine yet. I will give it a go with a block of wood for stropping and sharpening. And practice on some gouges I don't really use.


                  • #10
                    Shame that you can't visit my shop for an hour.
                    I could easily teach you to do gouges freehand on flat abrasives.

                    No matter which method you elect to use, remember three things:

                    1. The end result, a carving-sharp edge, is the end for all of them.
                    2. Every method requires practice to get good at it. Maybe more, maybe less.
                    3. It's just a piece of steel which requires a little craftsmanship.

                    I am forever inspired by an old video of Mungo Martin sharpening a crooked knife with a bucket of water and a rock.
                    Brian T