Maintaining tools is a significant aspect of any wood worker’s duties. This is specifically true for wood carving knives and bladed tools. While it is easy enough to sharpen flat edges blades, you might get confused about how to do so on a curved one like a hook knife. However, if you ask any professional woodworker, they will tell you it is easier to sharpen a hook knife than a normal one. In this article, we will guide you on how you can do it as well and sharpen your hook knife scary sharp.
To sharpen your hook knife scary sharp, you need to use sandpaper attached to a dowel. Since there is a curve between the points of contact on a hook knife, it takes minimum effort. The inner curve does not require any sharpening whatsoever. The two points of contact are very thin and using sandpaper attached to a dowel allows you to sharpen both of them at the same time. Start with lower grit sandpaper and take it up to super-fine grits to reach desired sharpness.
Without maintenance of tools, you will always get subpar results when using them for your crafts. This is why it is essential to maintain them every day if possible. Some people use leather for stropping right before using the hook knife for carving. People also clean their bladed tools after use to avoid the blade from getting dull during storage. Doing this prolongs the time before you need to sharpen the hook knife again.
Step by Step Guide on How to Sharpen Your Hook Knife
For this process you will need various grits of sandpaper, starting from 150 up to 800 or higher depending on how sharp you want your hook knife to be. Along with the sandpaper you will need equal amounts of wooden dowels on which to attach the sandpaper. You will need an adhesive as well to stick the sandpaper to the dowels and lastly some leather for stropping.
Step 1 – Sizing the Sandpapers
First, cut the sandpaper a bit bigger than the diameter of the wooden dowels to which they need to be attached. The width of the sandpaper needs to be half the length of the dowel.
Step 2 – Attaching the Sandpapers to the Dowels
Apply some glue to the back of the sandpaper and the dowel itself. Once you have applied a sufficient amount of glue to both, wrap the sandpaper around the dowel on one end. If you don’t have glue, you can also use staplers for the job. Once you have wrapped the sandpaper around the dowel, wait for the adhesive to cure.
Step 3 – Sharpening the Hook Knife
Now that numerous sandpaper dowels are prepared, it is time to sharpen your hook knife. There are only two points of contact on the blade of this tool. You just need to rotate your sandpaper dowels on the length of these. By placing the sandpaper in the middle of the curve so it crosses both the blades, just rotate it while moving the sandpaper dowel horizontally.
Once you feel a slight burr forming on the back of the edge, you can move on to the next grit sandpaper. Repeat the same process with this grit as well until the burr is finer. Keep repeating this till you reach your desired sharpness on the edges.
You have to start from a coarser grit to a super-fine, i.e. 800-1000 grits of sandpaper. It is a lengthy process that might take several minutes for you to accomplish even though it is very easy. However, the good part is that there aren’t a lot of blades for you to sharpen, the two points of contact are extremely thin. The curved shape of the blade ensures that you only have to sharpen the edges only.
Note: Maintaining your hook knife and storing it away properly will ensure it does not require frequent sharpening since it can be a lengthy process.
This process works best for sharpening the inner edge of the hook knife. Depending on the shape of the tool, you might need to sharpen the outer bevel of the knife as well. To do that you can use a handheld whetstone or sharpening stone. Use push motions that you would use for sharpening the inner edge of the bevel will sharpen it greatly.
Step 4 – Stropping the Hook Knife
Once you have reached the desired sharpness on your blade, it is time to remove the burr that forms behind the blade where you sharpen. This burr is basically excess material that is removed from the edge during the sharpening process. Using leather, strop the backside of the hook knife. Use a push motion to do this, as using a dragging motion will tear the leather as the burr gets caught in it. Use firm and smooth push motions a few times till you don’t feel a burr on the underside of the hook knife blade edge.
Alternate ways to Sharpen Hook Knife
1. Sanding Block
People also use a slim sanding block to sharpen their hook knife as well. As we said, since the knife has two points of contact at the end of the curve, you can use a block for the purpose too, and not just a dowel. The dowel allows for easier push motion since it can rotate at the edges of the blade utilising the whole length of the sandpaper. Although with a sanding block, it is limited to only corners of the block.
It is impossible to use this technique if the hook knife has a sharp curve since a sanding block corner cannot fit in between. In such cases the method we explained step by step will be much better for sharpening your hook knife.
2. Dremel Tools
The Dremel rotary tool has been a really helpful piece of equipment when it comes to power carving wood. With a multitude of bits at your disposal, you can do so much more than power carve wood with it. It also comes with sanding drum bits that can be used to sharpen a hook knife as well. You can actually modify existing sanding drum bits so that they can accommodate more than one grit of sandpaper on it.
Since you can design the Dremel bit to be thin it can reach into sharp turns of a hook knife. Also since it rotates itself, it will use the entirety of the sandpaper without making any waste. You also get ceramic stone bits that can be used for the purpose of sharpening as well. These stone bits are available in multiple grits, but they might not be available outside of a set, so you will have to purchase a whole set of bits for the Dremel if you want to sharpen your hook knife properly.
Best Kit for Sharpening Hook Knife
Finding an all-in-one kit for sharpening a hook knife is extremely difficult. However, for the right tool, there are kits out there that can sharpen and also strop the blade. The BeaverCraft Paddle Strop for Hook Knives and Gouges LS5P1 is not only great for sharpening the inner edge but also the outer bevels. It comes included with a polishing compound that can be used on the leather to strop the bevels and remove the burr.
The shape of this kit can limit the tools it can sharpen but for certain tools, it will do the job great. The curves on the corners are great for stropping and sharpening the inner edges while the curves on the surface of the paddle do a fine job sharpening the bevels and removing the burr once you are done with the sharpening process.
How to Make Your Hook Knife Edge Scary Sharp
While the process we mentioned in our step-to-step guide will definitely make your hook knife scary sharp, you can do a few more things that can take it up another notch. The first thing is to sharpen the outer bevel using a sharpening stone or a whetstone. When you do that you can hone that bevel a bit and improve the sharpness on the cutting edge.
For the inner edge, you should start off using 1/2 inch dowels that have sandpaper attached to them, and using rotating movement run it along the edge of the blade. If you aren’t sure whether you are sharpening the edge at all, then you can cover the edge with a marker. The area that you have to sharpen will be covered with a marker and when you sand it properly, the marker stains will have been removed. This will show that the whole edge is being sharpened equally and properly.
You can do that with every grit of sandpaper you are using on the hook knife to make it scary sharp. This will help indicate that it is time to move on to the next sandpaper grit as well. From coarse to super fine grit, up to 1000 or 1500 depending on how sharp you want your hook knife to be.
Removing the burr on the hook knife requires quite a lot of stropping since the hook knife is made of hardened steel. This is because brands want their hook knife to be durable without the fear of it bending too much under duress. Using the suede side of the leather and some polishing compound removes the burr with relative ease and some patience.
Here is a great tutorial which shows how a professional woodworker sharpens a hook knife:
In this video, you can also hear the woodworking professional claim that you can maintain the edge for a longer time by stropping it with leather.
How Often to Sharpen Your Hook Knife
Ask any professional woodworker when to sharpen their knives or chisels, they will tell you when you start to struggle with it. Of course, you can keep a scheduled day on which you sharpen all your tools, but it is unnecessary. Because a hook knife can hold its edge for a pretty long time before it requires sharpening. Frequently sharpening will lower the life of the steel and knife itself and you will have to buy another one.
Whenever your tools are struggling to do their job, it’s time for maintenance. When it comes to hook knives, they require sharpening when they are unable to carve into the wood properly. A dull edge on the knife will make you struggle and give you subpar results. The cuts won’t be as clean as they should be when the blade is sharp.
If you are stropping your hook knife before every use with leather, then you won’t need to sharpen it as frequently. This is because the stropping process removes the burr and cleans the edge that might be hindering cleaner cuts. Professionals usually sharpen their hook knife after stropping it 10 times.
However, if you feel like the edge of the blade is not cutting into the wood as it should and you are getting subpar results, then it is probably time to take the hook knife to the sharpening station. This can be after little or extensive use, depending on the task the hook knife is performing.
Hook Knife Maintenance
- When you have sharpened the knife, you need to use a polishing compound on the backside of the leather to not only remove the burr but also polish its edge further making it sharper.
- Clean the hook knife after every use, using microfiber clothing to remove any debris that might be stuck to the edge.
- Once you are done cleaning it, store your hook knife properly so that its edge does not hit any other metal tools and gets damaged. Any accidents like this can cause the blade edge to chip or roll and would require extensive sharpening to remove those.
- If possible, design a leather sheath for the hook knife in which you can safely store it so that the edge remains untouched by any other tools in your toolbox.
- You can strop your hook knife before every use to get better results.
When to Replace Your Hook Knife Instead of Sharpening It
At times your tools just require replacing instead of maintenance. When this happens you should avoid using that tool and just purchase a new one instead. It might be that you are attached to a certain tool, but like everything, the tool will come to an end sooner or later. Maintenance and sharpening will delay it but to a certain degree. When it comes to hook knives, a few factors contribute to whether you have to replace the blade or sharpen it instead.
For instance, if your hook knife’s handle has been cracked, you can always replace the handle. However, if there is a crack in the spine of the knife you might want to avoid using it. You can weld the crack but when you heat metal there is always a chance of altering its grain structure. When you do so, it can become brittle and break off even faster.
If your hook knife has become bent out of shape then you might want to consider buying another one. Because metal can go back into its original shape if bent to a certain degree. Although at one point it goes to a point of no return and does not go back to its original shape. This is when you need to understand that the tool has become too dangerous to use and needs to be replaced.
Lastly, if you have removed too much blade during the age of the blade and now even sharpening does not help with keeping its edge, then it’s time to replace the hook knife instead of keeping up with it.
Tips and Tricks for Sharpening Hook Knives
- Go from coarse grit to super-fine: You need to understand that just like wood, you need to start off from a coarser grit wet and dry sandpaper to a super-fine grit one. Also, you need to increase the grits gradually and not just jump from coarse to super-fine in one instant. So if you start at 180 then move up to 240, 300, 500, 800, 1000, and lastly 1500.
- Use rotary motion when sharpening the edge: When you are sharpening the edge of the hook knife using a forward rotary motion allows for better results. The rotation utilises more area of the sandpaper compared to if you just used forward motion alone.
- Take your time stropping: When you use the backside of the leather for stropping the burr after you have used the finest grit sandpaper for sharpening the edge of the blade, you need to take your time. Hook knives are made of hard steel which requires more strokes to remove the burr that has formed behind the edge of the blade.
- Store away the knife properly: Storage should be a priority in the maintenance of your tools. Keeping your hook knife stored properly, away from any other hard surfaces which might dull or damage the blade will prolong its life. You can make a sheath out of cloth or leather for this purpose that will protect the edge of your hook knife when being stored away.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Should I use the front or the backside of the leather for stropping?
You always use the suede side of the leather, which is the backside, for stropping and always in push motion.
What grit of sandpaper should you stop when sharpening your hook knife?
You can stop at 1000 or 1500 grit sandpaper for sharpening your hook knife. This alone will make the blade of the knife extremely sharp and the edge almost glistening.
How to make sure you are sharpening the knife at all?
When sharpening with sandpaper, a technique that woodworkers use is to cover the area that needs to be sanded with a pencil or marker. You can do the same here by covering the edge of the blade with a marker and when you sand you will see the marker fading. When the marker has completely faded away you can either repeat the process or move on to the next grit and apply the same technique for reference.
How to sharpen the bevel of the hook knife?
You can either use sandpaper or a sharpening stone to hone the bevel of your hook knife.
What if your hook knife has become too thin after frequent sharpening?
When you sharpen the hook knife too frequently and it has become thin, it is a sign that you need to buy a new one.
Using the dowel and sandpaper technique is recommended for sharpening a hook knife. If you follow our guide step-by-step you will end up with a sharp and functional hook knife if it has gotten dull and unusable. However, people have different methods to sharpen their tools. If you see someone who has had success with another method and you find it easier than the one mentioned in our guide, go for that. Although most woodworkers who are seasoned and professionals use the technique in our guide, it is much easier as well.