As a woodcarver, I believe one of the worst things that can happen to me is to drop my “V” tool on a concrete floor. I have done it more than once and as is falls to the ground, I pray that it hits handle first. Of course, it seldom does.
When I have a perfectly sharpened “V” tool, I am careful to treat it with love and am regularly honing its edge. Heaven forbid that it should get dull as sharpening the thing can be a major undertaking.
If you are buying a new tool and are somewhat of a novice at sharpening, I highly recommend that you purchase your tool from someone that will offer free sharpening on their tools such as Drake Knives or Cape Forge. If you are a proficient sharpener, that is not such an important factor.
More than any other tool, I believe it is important to buy the absolute best tool available in “V” tools simply because you want the edge to last and be easily maintained. In my opinion, forged tools are the best choice. I have had a 1/4″ “V” tool hand made by Savage Forge for about 40 years and have sharpened it only once… and “yes”… it was because I dropped it. Other than that, stropping is all that it has taken to maintain a razor edge. Dick Anderson at Savage Forge makes the finest tools I have ever used.
Let us assume that we do need to sharpen our “V” tool. It used to terrify me to attempt such a feat and I failed several times. Once one gets a bit of practice, it is actually fairly straight forward. Notice, I do not use the word “easy.”
When you think about a V-tool, it really is just a couple of straight chisels (I’ll call “wings”) joined by a small gouge forming the shape of a “V.”. Let’s go through the sharpening process one step at a time.
1) Begin by flattening the end of your “V” tool. Give it a square edge with a slow moving grinder or a course bench stone. I use a grinder with a 60 grit belt turning at 1750 rpm. Fattening out your “V” tool will give it a uniform thickness, removing either a “nick,” a protruding point or a recessed point. Flattening will put the entire edge on a level playing field, so to speak. Only grind until you have removed any damaged spots and the metal thickness is uniform.
2) Step two is to give it a fine surface. Move to a fine belt or a fine bench stone. The idea here is to give the flat surface a near polish by removing all grinding marks. It does not need a mirror finish but is should shine a bit. This make things much easier to see.
3) Despite the urge to begin sharpening on the wings, I don’t want to start there. Using a medium grit belt or stone (220 grit or so), I carefully grind the bottom of the “V” flat (removing the point), leaving just the slightest thickness of metal bridging the two wings. How much you take off or how wide the grind on the tip is really depends upon the size of the tool. Be carveful to leave a thin thickness of metal. I also grind my “V” tools with a low angle. This provides for a sharper tool and it allows you to keep your handle low as you cut. I don’t like having to raise up my tool handle to get the thing to cut.
4) Now we can grind and set the bevels of the two wings. Being carveful to not grind to an excess, grind each wing to the same thickness of metal that you have left on the bottom of the “V.”
5) At this point, we want to sharpen the entire tip of the tool. I use a 400 grit belt on my belt grinder. You can also use a fine bench stone. If you are using a belt, be careful not to over grind or to create heat or you will be starting over. I have done that… especially in the beginning of my sharpening career. As you sharpen, you want to carefully turn the tool around the tip. Keep the entire “V” a uniform thickness around the entire edge.
I am also known to set the correct angle on my belt grinder and leaving the motor “off,” I turn the belt with my hand. This ensures precision without the risk of over grinding or making heat.
6) I like a good, crisp point so working with a series of ceramic files, I remove the micro-roundness and bring the tip to a distinct point. My final strokes on the inside and the outside are done with fine and extra fine ceramic files. For fine touch ups, I use Spyderco ceramic stones and files on all of my tools when needed.
7) The last step in the process is to strop the tool to a razor edge. I use a leather clad hand crank wheel with Japanese green rouge. You may find that other compounds work well for you but I suggest a fine rouge such as the green rouge or “Yellowstone.” A good flat leather strop will work as well… it just takes longer. Lots of carvers buff their “V” tools and I do also but I caution you to be most carveful with heat. I keep ice water right next to my buffer and I never apply pressure when buffing.
Here are some resources for items mentioned in this article. There are other resources but I have used the folks listed below and have had a good experience with them.
Drake Knives = www.drakeknives.com
Cape Forge Tools = www.capeforge.com
Savage Forge = no web site… e-mail contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Japanese Green Rouge = www.japanwoodworker.com
Yellowstone Compound = www.cascadecarvers.com
Spyderco Ceramic Stones = www.CutleryShoppe.com
Leather clad honing wheels and leather belts = http://www.surgisharp.com
Years ago, I spent about 10 evenings with a Swiss master carver named Walter Schafer. Walter didn’t like “V” tools… he used skew chisels only. He was pretty remarkable as his cuts with skews were so precise that you could not tell the cut was not done with a “V” tool. He liked the skew approach as he felt that he had more control over his cuts. For years, I never picked up a “V” tool because of what Walter taught me but when I bought my little 1/4″ “V” tool from Savage Forge I pretty much dropped using skews for “V” cuts. Using knives or skews for “V” cuts is something you might want to try though. It works particularly well for hair.
In closing out this post, I recently learned of a pretty good tip for removing pencil marks on wood without cutting them off or sanding. Try using a bit of acetone on an old rag and rub the pencil marks away. They seem to disappear. The acetone dries quickly and will not discolor your wood or raise the grain like most liquids. When using pencils, keep your touch light
Happy carving and stay sharp!
Please visit my web site at www.WhiteEagleStudios.com