Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | March 16, 2010

Protecting Your Woodcarving Tool Edges

As a good sharp tool is a major key to success in carving and whittling, it is in our best interest to protect edges from damage and dullness.

All the time in carving groups, I see someone with their tools simply thrown in a box.  I have even seen an instructor keep the tools which he allows students to use, keep them loosely in a box.  A simple fact is anything that is as hard as your tool’s edge or harder will damage that edge if it clanks or bangs against it.

Choices in Edge Protection

Tool rolls – Leather or Canvas

Tool rolls are available anywhere selling carving tools or they are easily made.  Pick one made with a stronger fabric such as a heavier canvas or leather.  When placing tools in a roll, place the edge into the envelop/slot so only the handles are exposed.  Then roll up the roll and tie it securely.  And, an even a better idea is to make a slip cover for your tools and place that cover over the tip of your gouge. Then place the tool, handle first, into the tool roll. This latter technique will save your tool roll over time.

Scabbards for knives – Scabbards are easily made from leather or wood.

A leather scabbard can be stitched with standard leather stitching tools or if thin enough leather, it can be stitched with standard staples.  Cut 3 pieces of leather roughly 3/16″ larger than the blade you wish to cover.  On the third piece, cut the center out of it to the exact size of your blade.  Sandwich this third piece in between the two full pieces and carefully glue them together with a good quality glue appropriate for use on leather.  Once you are satisfied with the fit of your knife, you may then stitch it or staple it.  If you have a particularly thick bladed knife, you may need 2 center pieces to accommodate the thickness of your blade.  You can build a good scabbard for either a knife or a gauge.

A wood scabbard can be made using exactly the same method as for leather but without stitching or stapling.  Make sure the glue you choose is suitable for wood.  One beauty of a wooden scabbard is that it may be carved upon, customizing it with your favorite subject matter or your logo.

Corks – Plastic or natural cork

Wine bottle corks make a reasonably good knife and (small) gouge covers.  Plastic corks are better than real corks.  When pushing your tool into the cork, do not hold the cork in your hand but place it on a sturdy wood block for obvious reasons.  Do not push the tool all the way through the cork but stop leaving at least 1/4″ at the end of any blade.  Plastic corks may be cut to fit just about any small tool.  I cut one into quarters lengthwise to accommodate dockyard miniature tools.  In some cases a half cork will do the job.  Assuming you have access to corks, you can’t beat the cost.

Tool Totes – Make one – buy one

Tool totes are a great idea as you can carry your tools in them and you can use a tote as a holder/organizer while working.  A tote will prevent you from having to spread your tools out in front of you.  There are several totes available in the market place or you can build your own.  Don Mertz has created a fine, cost efficient tote which can be built for just a few dollars.  Don’s tote can found at .  Not only is Don a heck of a carver/writer…  he is also a heck of an innovator.   And, if that one doesn’t ring your bell, try this one for even less out of pocket … .  I think “Mr. Clever” is trying to out do himself.

Slotted Tool Box

A slotted tool box may be used in the same manner as a tool tote.  However, with a tool box, you can close the door and pack your tools safely anywhere without exposure to the elements.  You can also lock it up should there ever be a need.  I have two slotted boxes.  Both are Gerstner boxes; one large and one small for carrying to classes, etc.  The small box is set up specifically for knives and palm tools.  The small Gerstner box is imported and is affordable whereas the larger Gerstner boxes are quite expensive these days.  One good thing about being an older guy is that when I bought most of my tools, prices were a lot less than today.

Honing your tools

So, we have pretty much covered not allowing your fine edges to bang together.  Now lets discuss maintaining an edge.  This discussion is not about sharpening but about honing and maintaining an undamaged and otherwise near-sharp edge.

I hone my tools approximately once each hour of use.  An indicator of when a tool needs to be honed is when you start to feel resistance in the wood.     If that does not work for you, CAREFULLY (or should I say “carvefully”) drag the edge across your thumb nail.  If it slides off, it probably needs stopping.

The method used by thousands of wood carvers is to hone their tools on a buffing wheel.  This may be a good method in many cases but a high speed wheel is prone to remove a good bevel and round the tools edge.  You may find it okay to use a wheel to some degree but continued use will require a full out sharpening job in time.

Many years ago, I bought a Swiss made hand crank sharpener from Woodcraft Supply when the only store they had was in Woburn, MA.  I removed the stone and replaced it with a 6″ med-hard felt wheel.  I apply Yellowstone compound to the wheel and crank it at a reasonable speed.  As I am doing it by hand, I really have no idea how fast the wheel is spinning but it is slow enough that I never produce heat on any edge.  I use both the face of the wheel and its sides.  It works like a champ.  I don’t believe anyone makes a hand crank sharpener any longer (which is a shame) but you may be able to find one at swap meets or flea markets.  While you may not be able to find a Swiss hand crank sharpener there are lots of others laying on the shelves.

Another effective honing method is to LIGHTLY use a fine ceramic stone and then hone the knife or tool on a good hard backed strop (leather mounted to a small board) with a good honing compound like Yellowstone.  If you want a softer compound, I suggest Tormek’s compound.  There are lots of compounds on the market.  I made my own strop from chrome tanned leather and it works very well.  When stropping a knife edge be sure to keep the knife absolutely flat… do not raise the back of the tool.  That too can round your edge over time.  Don’t under estimate a good strop… remember that 50 years ago barbers kept their straight razors sharp with a strop.  In my opinion a particularly good brand is Streich-Rieman.  They are a bit spendy… but you get what you pay for.

As far as sharpening or honing angles go, please visit my Cutlery Care page which contains good guidelines for angles.

Stay Sharp and be Carveful!

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