Understanding Micro-bevels

Understanding Micro-bevels

By: Del Stubbs, Pinewood Forge

A micro-bevel is just that, a very tiny bevel at the very edge of a knife, sometimes so tiny they are invisible to the naked eye, or up to a max of 1/32 ” wide, which can be seen. The principle reason is to provide toughness right at the edge, without sacrificing the geometry of the blade. They are used on chisels, power and hand planes, saw blades, and even certain carving knives.

They are essential in the Harley knife in particular (named after the woodcarver Harley Refsal) because it has an unusually thin included bevel angle (13 degrees). The reason for such a thin bevel is ease of cutting – this is allowed in this knife only because it is designed for just one task – straight flat cuts in soft basswood. For any other tasks (cutting hollows, hard basswood, knots etc.) one would need a more normal heavier beveled knife (16-25 degrees). By adding an ever-so-tiny micro-bevel to each side of a Harley knifes’ edge it loses very little efficiency, but toughens up the edge just enough to make such a thin knife very serviceable. ( There is an illusion about knives being thin – the Harley knife has a very thin included bevel angle – because this continues all the way to the back of the knife it looks thick at the back – this make it wonderfully strong without sacrificing cutting ease. There are knives made of much thinner stock – but which have much thicker actual bevels near the edge – so even though they look like they would cut easily they may not.


Stropping is for keeping the edge on your knife. If you have inadvertently rounded the cutting edge of the knife too much while stropping or improper honing, no amount of further stropping will fix the roundedness. You must then hone it flat again (600-1200 diamond stone works well for this purpose, 1200 if only a very small amount of honing is required).

Have the hone situated so it can’t slide (most diamond stones come with rubber feet for this purpose.) Lay the knife flat on the hone, put one or two fingers on the blade to gently press it down – to keep the entire blade flat on the hone. With a sawing motion pull and push the knife back and forth, slowly working your way down the hone, away from the edge. (Diamond stones can be used dry – or with a lubricant, soapy water works well if you feel you need a lubricant.)

The shiny surface of the knife should be very quickly dulled, enabling you to be able to see that right near the edge it is still shiny – this is the rounded part of the knife you are honing going to get down to. All carving knives have some flexibility out near the tip – keep this in mind as you hone – keep pressing evenly all the way to the tip by having a finger there if need be. By examining where the knife surface is dulled – or not – you can see if you are maintaining even pressure. Keep honing until there is no shiny line at all near the edge – then flip over and repeat on the other side. If you have a 1200 grit ( extra fine) diamond hone, repeat the same process with it to remove scratches from the coarser hone, but you can end honing with a 600 grit (fine) hone.

How to add a micro-bevel

Use a wood-backed leather strop with stropping compound. (note: most kinds of stropping compound work ok, but not jewelers rouge {red compound} – it is for soft metals).

To create the micro-bevel, lay it flat on the strop, then raise the knife the thickness of the back of the blade. Give a half dozen firm strokes the length of the strop to each side of the blade, keeping it at this angle.

Under a strong light source, turn the blade until you can see the new micro-bevel. It should be about 100th of an inch, which is equivalent to the thickness of about 2-3 sheets of regular paper. Importantget magnification, I use 3 to 4 power reading glasses I get at the dollar store. When you can easily see a micro-bevel it will make sense, then you can start to learn about them.

The edge is now toughened microscopically, but still allows for very efficient woodcarving. If you carve with it and it still breaks down it means that you need a heavier micro–bevel for your particular wood and style of carving techniques.

Maintaining the edge

From now on, the best way to maintain the edge is to strop with the blade flat on the strop. This should maintain the micro-bevel as well (this is because of the natural cushion on the leather).

Eventually, after many many hours of carving, you may find that the bevel is getting too rounded again, you may then go back to the hone, following the above instructions.


Harley Refsal carves hundreds of hours a year, yet some knives he has never honed, at most he hones once a year. It could be that Harley doesn’t even know what a micro-bevel is – he is too busy carving! My point being – don’t get obsessive about micro-bevels or sharpening.  Just enjoy carving!

Reader’s Comments

I received one comment this week and it comes from Bill Glisson who remarks about Pete LeClair’s book, “Carving Caricature Heads and Faces” which I reviewed last week.  Bill writes:

“Bob, I own a copy of Pete LeClair’s book and I agree with you that it is an excellent book! I am an avid follower of Lynn Doughty and have always had a difficult time carving ears the way he does. Pete’s method resolved that weakness for me!! There are a few photos in his book that are a little hard to decipher as to what he is describing but overall I am very happy with my purchase. I recommend it highly!”

Thanks for your input, Bill. I agree. Some photos in books are not always clear. Fortunately, most of what Pete’s content is generally clear and understandable. Pete also has two other books that are both excellent which I plan to review down the road.

Lynn Doughty is an outstanding wood carver and another good one to follow.  He has a unique style of carving western style caricatures and uses some interesting techniques.  Although he doesn’t instruct  on the traditional wood carving circuit nor has he written any woodcarving books he demonstrates his skills and techniques through the many videos he makes.  You can find Lynn’s video’s at outwestgallery.com.

Oil Bleeding Problem

My good friend, Kevin Johnson from York, Pennsylvania called me last week and mentioned that he had a few small carvings which he had soaked in walnut oil prior to painting, and has now noticed that the carvings are leaving oil marks on the surfaces of where he displays them.  Right away I knew what his problem was.  He soaked the entire carving in the walnut oil prior to painting.

The first thing I told Kevin was that first of all, ALL oils take a long time to dry.  It doesn’t matter whether you are using boiled linseed oil, walnut oil or any other kind of oil (that has not been manufactured with drying chemicals).  To solve the problem, I told him to never soak an entire carving in oil.  Instead, apply the oil with a brush and do not apply the oil to the bottom of the carving.  Also, as soon as the oil is applied, blot off the excess oil with a paper towel which will keep the oil from running all over the place and getting onto the bottom of the carving.

The difference between soaking and brushing is that when a carving is soaked in oil the oil not only coats the surface but also absorbs further into the wood (especially if the bottom is also soaked in the oil).  Brushing the oil on only coats the surface of the wood, which is where you really want it anyway if you are planning to paint afterwards.  The oil on the surface dries much faster than the oil which has soaked into the inside of the wood, so your carving dries faster.  The oil which has soaked into the wood (i.e. from soaking the bottom) will naturally take longer to dry, and because it is still wet, it will “leak” out through the bottom of your carving for an extended period of time.

The reason for applying oil to a carving is to keep the colors from bleeding into one another.  So it makes sense that you want to apply oil to the areas that you intend to paint.  Applying oil to the bottom of the carving which is not going to be painted serves no purpose.

I have never experienced any problem with oil bleeding through the bottom of a carving when following the method I described above.

Photo Shop

“Photo Shop” is the section of Wood Chip Chatter where carvers can send in photos of their wood carvings for display. It’s your chance to show off your work…sort of a show and tell. The photos will only be displayed and no comments or critiques will be made.  For critiques on your carvings send them in to the “Carver’s Corner.”  Send your photos to carverbobk@woodchipchatter.com.

Our only entry to the “Photo Shop” this week comes from Dean Stewart.  Dean came up with a brilliant idea to make those popular ddalo chickens into something functional.  Dean writes:

“My latest @ddalo_carver inspired chicken.  I enjoy making carvings that have a practical side.  And well every carver needs a sharp pencil!”

A really “sharp” idea (I had to say it!), Dean!  Once carvers see your chickens I think we’ll be seeing more of them showing up in the future.  I like the idea of using a round sharpener which easily fits into a hole drilled with a forstner bit.  I make a few owl pencil sharpeners using rectangular sharpeners but they were very difficult to fit into the bottom of the carving.  Great job!

Since we have only one entry to the “Photo Shop” this week I thought I would add one of my older carvings.  A few years ago I had a customer who wanted a bottle stopper mounted on a golf tee.  Here is the result:

Free Pattern


News & Announcements

The International Association of Woodcarvers has upcoming Zoom meetings on the following Saturdays at 3PM EST with special guest presenters.  Check them out…

Zoom:  310-460-3575


8/20 – Malcom Sharp of Currahee Twisted Sticks

9/3 – Daniel Clay

9/10 – Jack Loring

9/17 – TBA

9/24 – Carvin’ in the Rockies (Live broadcast)




We are in serious need of your contributions to Wood Chip Chatter.  Your questions and comments help to keep this blog active and going!  Effective discussions are one of the best ways to learn about the topics that interest you.  Remember, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.  Plus we would all love to learn about the unique tips, techniques and products YOU use in your woodcarving process.

We also need more photo contributions to the “Carver’s Corner” and “Photo Shop”.  My “Carver’s Corner” is a great way to get constructive critiques on your carvings so you can learn where to improve on your next ones, and I’m sure you all have some terrific carvings to share in my “Photo Shop” section.  Photos of your carvings liven up the blog’s appearance and make it more interesting. 

Please send your questions, comments and photos to carverbobk@woodchipchatter.com.  They will all be greatly appreciated.

Keep a sharp edge, and keep on carvin’!

Funny Bone

Who says nothing is impossible?  I’ve been doing nothing for years.

Published by carverbobk

I’m a self taught award winning wood carver who has been carving since I was a teenager. I enjoy instructing other carvers, especially beginners.

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