The basics of sharpening are simple enough to understand, but when I was learning how to sharpen it took me a long time to accumulate all the pieces, largely because I was task oriented, focused on sharpening this particular tool, and I didn’t have an appreciation for the general principles and how they applied to all the tools in my kit. So at first, here, I want to focus on the overarching ideas about sharpening that you need to have fixed in your head, and then I will walk through the common tools one by one, discussing the finer points.
When I say that sharpness is a nuanced idea, part of what is going on is that there is always a higher level you can take things to. You will quite rightly sharpen a sloyd knife differently than how you would sharpen a shovel, because they are used in different ways under different conditions and what you expect each to do is specific to its purpose. You could sharpen a shovel like a carving knife, but we would all agree that this would not be appropriate given that it’s going to be shoved into the ground and that such an edge does not match its purpose nor is maintaining it at that state a reasonable expectation. In general, you are asking your carving tools to do incredible things, things we don’t expect of any other knife in our life, be it a chef’s knife cutting a tomato, an Exacto knife cutting shapes in paper or a pocket knife cutting through rope.
There are very specific things we need from a carving blade for it to work well, and within the framework of those things being met, the sharper and more refined we can make the edge, the easier and more satisfying will be our carving experience. Sharp tools are more fun.
– Emmet Van Driesche, Greenwood Spoon Carving (Pre-order your copy before July 3rd for free domestic shipping!)