Just like woodcarving, sharpening the tools used in woodcarving could be considered an art form itself. There is a learning process and nothing replaces hands on practice to perfect the techniques. An old Dutch proverb reads " A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains." Sharpening isn't rocket science but it is time consuming, especially with stones. Below is an overview of some of the tools needed for sharpening and just like woodcarving, there are instructional books available that give great advice.
Keeping your tools sharp is an essential part of woodcarving. Most tools you purchase from a woodcarving supply store will be sharp and ready to carve. If your tool is already sharp, then you might be able to get by with a strop and some abrasive for a while. Strops are typically made of leather on which you apply an abrasive. An abrasive is usually a fine metallic oxide of some sort that polishes the steel of your tool. These come is powdered form and in a solid stick. We prefer to use powders on flat strops and solids on power sharpening wheels or belts. A strop is a preventative maintenance tool for keeping a sharp knife sharp and you would routinely strop your tools while carving, or before and after to keep that keen edge. Anything other than the smallest of burs or imperfections would need to be taken to a grit product ( stone, diamond card, ceramic, etc.) to refinish the edge.
When your tools need more attention than the strop can give, you'll need to sharpen them. Sharpening products, regardless of material, will come in different grits. These grits will range in anything from super fine to coarse. It's helpful to have a range of grits on which to sharpen your tools so that you can choose the right grit for the job. Minor burs may require some light work on a glassy smooth ceramic, where some heavier shaping will require a coarse stone whether it be natural stones or diamond products. You don't want to waste time by using the wrong stone for the task at hand.
Sharpening can be a time consuming process to get the desired effect. Remember, you're basically grinding steel with a rock. Power sharpening can speed up this process quite a bit. Rotary wheel systems have served us well and will take a tool from absolutely dull to a keen carving ready edge in a matter of minutes.
Techniques, angles, and all that is involved with sharpening with stones or with power is bit more than can be covered in a few paragraphs so be sure to check our sharpening section menu located on our home page for instructional books and all the sharpening products we have available.