Sharpening those tools

Wooden sign making tools
Wooden sign buffer tool

Rob from Woodcott Signs again talking about the wooden signs I make.
I thought I’d share with you my methods (and particularly one contraption) for sharpening carving tools – chisels and gouges, because it is not much use having all the skill in the world if your tools are blunt!

Funnily enough people tend to think that hard woods like oak would require the sharpest tools but in fact soft woods like open grain building materials can be the most difficult – ripping at the slightest excuse.
I once was asked to quote for carving a traditional phrase and dates on a ‘village cross’ building in a Wiltshire village, beautifully made out of oak - mostly! - in the poor light I didn’t notice that the high cross beam that I had to do the work on was in fact rather poor quality softwood. I arrived to carve the lettering and found to my dismay that the wood just gave way under my tools so I had to turn tail straight back to the workshop and give my tools the best sharpening they ever had! - even after that the carving was difficult but I managed.

Anyway - you will see in one photo all my sharpening equipment. It is all pretty standard stuff - grinder for tools that really need attention (rarely once you have got them properly sharpened), sharpening oil stones in block form and small hand ones with profiles and (the unusual thing also in photo 2) my buffing up thingy ’(technical term) attached to a drill, which I use to finish off sharpening the gouges after the slip stones, and often without the stones at all. It needs sharpening paste (eg carborundum) to give a good effect. This is what the green block is.

I made the buffer from a drum sander, drum removed obviously, three fibre and buffing disks and some spacers I made myself to go in-between.
As it is attached to a drill I find it useful to take the weight by hanging it from above with a piece of cord (otherwise your arm gets tired).
I won’t insult you by describing how it is used (obvious) but I will say that it is very fast and effective - certainly made my carving work easier, so make one yourself if you are doing a lot of carving - very useful.

I have not described how to best use the grinder and slip stones - quite difficult and takes a bit of practice – but I may do that some other time.
Keep those tools sharp!