Ultimate Guide to Sharpening Wood Carving Tools


Several wood carving tools available today are supplied already sharpened by the manufacturer. However, over time and with constant use, these tools become dull. A dull tool can pose problems to carvers of all levels and make carving tedious. If you dare to use a blunt tool on hardwood, you will end up frustrated.

Sharpening your wood carving tools is not only important but also necessary. It helps get the job done faster, more efficiently, and much safer. Those who would love to find out ways to sharpen their wood carving tools, rejoice, for this is the ultimate guide to sharpening wood carving tools.

The best way to sharpen wood carving tools depends on the particular tools you want to sharpen, and your expertise as a woodcarver. Most of the time the best approach to sharpening wood carving tools is to do it with a with a sharpening stone, it is important to sharpen your tools in a proper sequence which is: Sharpening-Honing-Sharpening-Stropping. In some rarer cases, you can also use a belt sander to sharpen your tools.

In this article, we will answer several questions covering how to sharpen different wood carving tools and methods of sharpening these tools. We would even give you tips on sharpening your tools effectively and safely while making you understand the difference between sharpening and honing, among other things.

How to Sharpen a Wood Carving Knife

Sharpening a wood carving knife can be done in many different ways and by using various sharpening tools. The most common way is to sharpen the knife with a whetstone, but other ways such as sharpening a knife with a leather strop and sandpaper are also very functional and good to know.

The method you choose will depend entirely on your preference; the aim here is to get the edge of the carving knife razor-sharp and ready for use.

How to sharpen a carving knife with a whetstone

When it comes down to popularity, the whetstone is the Sean Connery of sharpening a carving knife. This tool has over the years proven to be the most valuable and versatile sharpening tool. Its use is not limited to carving knives alone; it can also sharpen many other straight edge sharp tools.

The whetstone has a fine grit on one side and a coarse grit on the other side. To sharpen your carving knife with a whetstone, you will require these materials.

1. A whetstone; the grit size will depend on the current state of your blade. For very dull blades, a grit size of 1000 grit will suffice, but for sharp knives that need to be made sharper, a grit of 3000-6000 is necessary. We can recommend the Pebble Premium Whetstone that is double-sided with the coarser side being 1000 grit for quick sharpening and the finer side being 6000 grit ideal for making your knife very sharp.

2. Water and a clean cloth to keep the knife clean

3. A stone holder for holding the whetstone in place and prevent it from sliding away.

Since you now know what a whetstone is and the necessary tools you need to get this started, let’s show you how to use the whetstone to sharpen your carving knife.

Step 1: Find the Sharpening Angle

The first thing you should do is get the whetstone wet. This will ensure a smooth glide while using the whetstone. Finding the sharpening angle is not hard. Hold the knife with the cutting edge facing down at a 90-degree angle to the whetstone, then move the blade to a 45-degree angle. Next, move the knife to half the 45-degree angle. Now you have your sharpening angle.

Step 2: Expose or create the Burr

Once you have your sharpening angle, place your thumb on the spine of the carving knife and use your other hand to guide the knife as you draw the knife over the whetstone in a forward and backward motion.

Remember to adjust your fingers as you move back and forth. Put pressure on your fingers when you move the knife forward on the whetstone, and release the pressure as you draw the knife back towards yourself. This will expose the burr. 

The burr is also known as the wire edge. It is formed on the other side of the blade as your grind metal away from one side. Forming a burr is crucial, and the burr will only be formed when the knifes cutting edge is very thin.

Step 3: Remove the Burr

After the burr is formed on the opposite side of the knife cutting edge, switch the bade to the side where the burr is formed and begin to sharpen that side. By doing this, you will remove the burr.

Everything described in steps 1 and 2 should be repeated, but reduce the pressure on your fingers while running the knife over the whetstone. About 50% reduction is enough. This will remove any burr from the edge of the blade. Flip the blade from one side to the other repeatedly to achieve this. This will clean the edge of the blade and remove the burr.

Remember to move from heel to tip and then back from tip to heel.

Step 4: Confirm the sharpness of the sharpened knife by doing a paper test. 

Here is a more detailed piece on How to Sharpen A Whittling Knife With a Stone? Here we talk about selecting the perfect whetstone and the difference between honing and sharpening a knife.

How to sharpen a wood carving knife with a leather strop

A leather strop is designed specially to remove any left-over burr after the sharpening stage. The leather strop works best with a stropping compound. The stropping compound is normally applied over the leather strop. The process is similar to applying crayon on a coloring book.

Stropping needs to be done on the edge of an already sharpened knife to increase its sharpness. It is the last stage of sharpening. If you are a DIYer you can also choose to make your leather strop yourself.

Getting your knife to a sharp edge by using a leather strop is easy. Lay the blade as flat as you can on the leather strop. Make sure the sharp edge of the knife is directed towards you. Then, using one finger, apply slight pressure on the blade and the strop, finally move the knife away from you by performing repeated gentle strokes.

Once the strop starts to turn black, it means your knife is getting sharpened as these black stains indicate that the metal is being cut from the blade. The Guide To Leather Sharpening Knives and Wood Carving Tools has detailed information on ways you can sharpen your carving knife and several other wood carving tools like chisels and gouges with a leather strop. 

How to sharpen a wood carving knife with Sandpaper

The sandpaper is a very cheap way of getting your carving knife to become razor-sharp. The process can be completed in a matter of minutes. 

Although not made of sand, this paper is made from synthetic or other natural particles. The sandpaper is available in different grit sizes, this makes it suitable for various stages of sharpening. 40-50 grits are coarse and are used for very dull knives, medium grits lie within 60-100 grits, and fine grits are within the range of 120-220-grit.

Here is how to use sandpaper to sharpen your wood carving knife

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Sandpaper
  • A flat sharpening surface
  • Acetone
  • Flat glass
  • A clamp

Step 1: Setting-up                 

Clean the glass surface where the sandpaper will be attached with acetone. After doing this, glue the sandpaper to the surface of the glass with a spray adhesive. Ordinarily, you need several glass pieces so that you wouldn’t need to remove and reattach the different grits of sandpaper you would be working with.

Lastly, attach the glass to a clamp and dab little water on the sandpaper. This will make the grit last longer as you sharpen your blade.

Step 2: Start Sharpening

Hold your carving knife at an 11-degree angle to the sandpaper; you can if the angle is accurate by passing a nickel under it. Ensure the beveled edge is flat on the sandpaper. After this, slide the cutting edge of your blade across the sandpaper repeatedly. Hold the knife with one hand and apply pressure with the other.

As you slide the knife over the grit, ensure you do not cut into the grit. Make sure you slide the bevel from the hilt to the tip until it is razor-sharp and all the imperfections on the cutting edge of the blade are gone. 

Step 3: Test the sharpness of the knife and clean the knife

Once you are done with a particular grit size, test the sharpness of the carving knife by slowly dragging the blade across the nail on your thumb. If there are any imperfections, you will feel a little resistance. If this is the case, take the knife back, increase the sandpaper’s grit size, and re-do step 2. 

Additionally, after using the sandpaper, wipe it clean with a piece of cloth. After sanding, you can go the extra mile of using a leather strop to polish the knife. Just follow The Guide To Leather Sharpening Knives and Wood Carving Tools to know more.

How to sharpen a wood carving Flat Chisel

The wood carving chisel is beveled a little differently than the carpenter’s chisel. This chisel is beveled at both end at a 20-degree angle. Woodcarvers use their chisel for shaving wood. This is referred to as paring. It is also used for cutting and scraping wood. Our article on chisels talks about four basic techniques to carve wood using chisels

In this section would focus on flat chisels; they are also referred to as sweep #1. They make it possible to smooth the surface of a rounded shape and create straight lines in relief carvings. 

Sharpening a chisel is much like sharpening a knife, and we would show you how you can do this using a sharpening stone.

Step 1: Getting Started

Start by pouring a few drops of water on the sharpening stone. This is to ensure the stone is well lubricated. Place the stone on a flat surface and hold the flat chisel at a 20-degree angle to the stone. 

Step 2: Start Sharpening until Burr is formed

Once you have gotten the flat chisel as close to a 20-degree angle as you can, drag the cutting edge of the chisel across the sharpening stone. Once a burr forms across both edges of the chisel, move to the next step.

You can test for the formation of burr by using your fingers to move along the cutting edge of the chisel slowly. If the burr is present, you will feel the roughness. 

Step 3: Remove the Burr

To get rid of the burr, you will need a leather strop. Using a leather strop to remove burr has already been explained in this article. It follows the same method. Just move the cutting edge of the blade across the strop, then turn the chisel over and do the same with the other side until all the burr is gone. Perform the burr test again on your fingers to know if all the burr is gone.

Sharpening a Skew Chisel

The skew chisel is a bevel edge chisel that has an angled cutting edge.

Sharpening a skew chisel is much like sharpening a flat chisel. The only difference between the way the two are sharpened is that the skew chisel must be placed at the side of the sharpening stone. This way, the cutting edge of the skew chisel will be perpendicular to the sharpening stone. 

Ensure you don’t move your wrist as you sharpen the tool.

How to Sharpen a Wood Carving Gouge 

The gouge is like the chisel. However, instead of a straight cutting edge, the gouge has a curved cutting edge. This shape makes it an indispensable carving tool for many woodcarvers. It can be used to create deep or shallow hollows and curves while carving.

The outside and inside edges of a gouge need to be sharpened when dull. For the outside edge, a flat leather strop will be enough to get the task done. Using the leather strop to sharpen a gouge involves a different process in comparison to using the leather strop with a carving knife or chisel. Here instead of moving the tool in a straight-line pattern like you would do if it was a carving knife or chisel, you would roll the edge of the gouge as you move it back and forth.

For the inside edge of the gouge, you need to select a leather strop with a similar groove as the angle and shape of the gouge. This will prevent you from changing the gouge shape. Once you have the right groove move the gouge back and forth.

Honing vs. Sharpening tools

Honing and sharpening tools are different tools that are frequently misused. People tend to mistake one for the other. We are going to clear all doubts and set things straight now.

What is Honing and What are honing Tools?

Honing refers to the process of maintaining a sharp cutting edge. In this process, the cutting edge of whatever carving tool you intend on using is stropped to remove scratches or burr that may remain after the sharpening process. 

Honing tools are instruments that make the honing process possible. These tools can push the edge of the blade back to the center and align it. By doing this, you will fold back the burr. 

A typical example of a honing tool is the honing steel used to maintain the edges of a knife. Tools that have inside and outside cutting edges can be honed on a fine grit bench stone or by using jigs on a rotating felt. The insides of these wood carving tools can be honed using slip stones that have different honing profiles

What is Sharpening and What are Sharpening Tools?

Sharpening is different from honing. Sharpening is done to remove bits of metal from the cutting edge of the wood carving tool. This way, a new sharp edge is produced. Some instruments that can be used for sharpening wood carving tools include; sharpening stones, sharpening rods. 

It is crucial that you don’t use honing tools for sharpening. Many tools termed “sharpening steels” are meant for honing and not sharpening. These steels are made from stainless steel and so cannot be used for sharpening. This is because to effectively sharpen steel, you need a material that is harder than steel. Examples include diamond, ceramic.

When should you Hone and When to sharpen your wood carving tools?

Knowing when to hone and when to sharpen your wood carving tools is essential to extending the lifespan of the tool. If you use your wood carving tools regularly sharpening them every time you need them is a no-no. After a while, you won’t have any cutting edge left on that tool after a while. 

When should you Hone?

  • Always hone immediately after every sharpening episode. This will ensure that there is no burr left over from the sharpening process.
  • Always hone your wood carving tools before using them and every 15 minutes during use. 
  • Lastly, hone if you are unable to cut or slice thin shavings.

When should you sharpen?

  • It would help if you sharpened a wood carving tool whenever you notice that the cutting edge of the tool is nicked.
  • If the tool tears the fibers in wood, that would be an excellent time to consider sharpening the tool.
  • When using the tool to cut requires more force than usual it requires sharpening.
  • If you want to change the shape of the cutting edge of the tool or change the cutting angle, you can also decide to sharpen it.
  • If you still don’t get the desired results after honing the tool, you can consider sharpening the tool.

How often to sharpen wood carving tools?

How often you sharpen your wood carving tools will depend a lot on how often you use them. If your wood carving tools get to do a lot of wood carving, they will lose their sharp edge faster than carving tools that do not see much carving.

We recommend that you sharpen your wood carving tools anytime you notice any of the above-listed points in the subheading “when should you sharpen.” How Often Should You Sharpen Your Wood Carving Tools that throws more light on how often you should sharpen your wood carving tools.

You should also inspect each tool individually. Some tools don’t get used as often as others, and that’s okay. Lastly, by visually inspecting a tool, you can determine if it is ready to be sharpened.

To do this, you need to check the true angle of the tool with the help of an angle finding tool. If the actual angle is off by more than three degrees, it is an indication that you need to sharpen that wood carving tool.

What Is The Best Way To Sharpen Wood Carving Tools?

The best way to sharpen wood carving tools is by following the proper sharpening sequence.

The proper sequence is Sharpening- Honing- Stropping- Polishing.

Sharpening wood carving tools

Sharpening is done after you notice that the cutting edge of your carving tool is chipped. You will need to sharpen and straighten that chipped edge. A power sander or a sharpening stone can be used to straighten these chipped edges. 

When using a power sander to sharpen your wood carving tools, you need to be careful. Power sanders rotate at high speed, thereby generating enough heat to change the internal structure of the cutting edge of the tool. If the blade of your tool starts to change color, this means it has gotten too hot.

Additionally, always keep a lubricant by your side when sharpening your wood carving tools. It could be water or oil. Oil lubricants should only be used if you are using an oil stone.

Honing Wood Carving tools

Honing is an integral step that ensures that the cutting edge of your wood carving tool stays sharp. Many times, people sharpen their wood carving tools instead of honing them.

Honing is done when the edge is dull or after as a next step after sharpening. When done properly, honing will remove the burr formed during the sharpening process.

Many times, people refer to the honing process as sharpening. Honing is done with sharpening stones; typical examples of sharpening stones include oil stones, water stones, diamond stones, and ceramic stones.


For many people stropping is the final stage of sharpening wood carving tools. It is done to remove the leftover burr after the honing process by using a leather strop. The leather strap has two sides; one is made of smooth hide, and the other is made of rough leather. If honing is done properly, stropping shouldn’t take more than a few passes.

Polishing and Buffing

Polishing and buffing are finishing operation and they are done to improve the appearance of the edge of the blade and give it a shiny finish. Both finishing methods differ in some ways. Some people even go as far as carrying out the two processes; by polishing first before buffing.

Polishing vs. Buffing

Polishing is a finishing process that involves the use of abrasive belts to create a brushed or lined finish.

Buffing, on the other hand, is another finishing process that is done after polishing. It establishes the luster and shiny finish that is seen on many new wood carving tools. To create this shiny and bright surface, you will need cloth wheels with compounds embedded in them. These compounds can be sprayed or poured in liquid form on the rotating buffing wheel.

The Best sharpening kit for wood carving tools

The Trend DWS sharpening kit is a product we recommend if you are having trouble selecting a sharpening tool for your carving knives, chisels, and several other wood carving tools.

This kit consists of all the essentials you need to sharpen your carving tools without contacting a professional tool sharpener. In this it there is a bench stone, a honing paste, leather strop, lapping fluid, and an instruction manual. 

3 Tips For Sharpening Wood Carving Tools

These 3 tips will help you sharpen your wood carving tools effectively and safely.

Tip #1- Choose the Right sharpening Stone

When choosing a sharpening stone, there are two critical things you must consider. The first is what type of lubricant does the sharpening stone require. The second is the grit size of the stone.

We recommend that you select a sharpening stone that uses water instead of oil as its lubricant. Oil can lead to unwanted stains on the project and your clothes. If you decide to choose a stone with oil as a lubricant, select an oil stone. Also, when it comes to grit size, it will be better you choose sharpening stones of different grit sizes. 

Tip #2- Maintaining your sharpening and carving tools

Proper maintenance of your carving tools will reduce the need to sharpen your wood carving tools. You will only need to hone the wood carving tool before using it. Always strop your tool before using it to carve.

Additionally, a tool roll is also a good addition that will help you preserve your carving tools when not in use. You can as well decide to protect the tools by keeping them in the box they came with. Remember to return a carving tool into the box or tool roll once it is not in use. Do not wait until you finish the entire carving operation.

For your sharpening tools, ensure you use them properly. Suppose you use the whetstone to sharpen. Ensure it never goes dry while using it to sharpen any wood carving tool. Also, remember to flip over the surface of the whetstone. This is to ensure that you don’t focus all your sharpening on one end. 

Lastly, always use the proper sharpening tool for right wood carving tool. This will prolong the lifespan of the sharpening tool and the cutting edge of your carving tool.

Tip #3- Safety tips while sharpening your wood carving tools

Safety should be your priority. Wear protective gloves that are suited for sharpening. A typical example is the Kevlar and steel mesh gloves. Wearing them reduce the risk of injury greatly.

Additionally, other safety measures include keeping a safe distance between your body and the steel knife. And if you are sharpening with a sharpening stone, make sure the stone is at least one foot in front of you.

Lastly, there is no need to rush while sharpening. A slow and steady movement will get the job done effectively and safely.

Final thoughts

If you carve a lot, owning your personal wood carving tool and learning how to use it is a bonus. You wouldn’t have to put aside pending jobs waiting for a professional tool sharpener. It will also help you save money that would be spent buying new tools. We also will like to reiterate that you should never carve with a dull wood carving tool. Carving with dull tools will only lead to injury.

Thank you for reading our article, we hope you enjoyed it. If you would like to learn more of wood carving, be sure to surf our website a bit more, or save us to your favorites to view us later.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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