How Do I Know If My Knife Is Sharp?

Today’s question comes from Bill who writes: “Thanks, Bob, for starting this blog!!! My question: When I watch videos of some of the well known carvers doing what they do the best, it often looks as though they are cutting through butter rather than wood. I buy my basswood from the same place that I know some of them do and my knives are very sharp, but I’ve never been able to slice it like they do. Do they have a special technique, a different grade of bass wood or something else? Again, thank you!!”

Bill, that’s a very good question, and one that I think many carvers have on their mind.  When it comes to wood carving knives there is what seems to be sharp and what is truly carving sharp.  A carver’s knife may not be as sharp as he thinks it is.  Many carvers test the sharpness of their blades by shaving hair off the back of their hand.  This is not a good test as most any blade with a somewhat decent edge will shave the hair off the back of your hand.

Just because a knife can shave the hair off your arm doesn’t necessarily mean it can cut a piece of wood.  The true test to see if your knife blade is truly carving sharp is this:  Take a block of basswood and try to make a cut across the end grain.  Not with the grain, but across the grain.

A truly carving sharp blade should be able to make a smooth cut across the end grain, a cut which is perfectly smooth with no ripples, chips or drag marks.  If you see any of these your blade is not carving sharp and requires more stropping.  The cut should be as smooth as a baby’s…well you know how the saying goes.

It is possible your knife is already carving sharp.  However, there is another reason why it might not be cutting through the wood as well as it should, and that is the angle you are holding the blade to the wood.  Too steep of an angle and your knife will dig in and not cut properly.  Too shallow of an angle and your blade will “slip” across the wood and only take off small wood chips.  Try changing the way you hold the knife in your hand to change the angle of the blade as it approaches the wood.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly; the way you actually carve the wood will make a difference.  Most wood carvers push and pull their knives straight through the wood as they carve.  The blades on most wood carving knives are not meant to do this.

They are designed to be sliced through the wood as if you were slicing a loaf of bread.

A slicing cut makes all the difference in the world when wood carving.  Try it and see for yourself!  The next time you’re carving first make a cut by pushing or pulling the blade straight through the wood.  Then make a second cut but this time slice your blade through the wood as you make your cut.  I guarantee you will notice a big difference.

This is one reason why knives with up sweep blades work so well.

Helvie Up Sweep Knife

The up sweep blade has a natural slicing motion as it is pulled through the wood.

Note: These same principles hold true for gouges and V-tools as well as carving knives.

I hope you all find these few pointers helpful.  Meanwhile…

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

PS: Please send in your questions and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going.

Am I Ready To Take A Class?

Today’s question comes from Dean.  Dean asks: “How can I tell if I have the right level of experience or skill before taking a class?  Do certain instructors focus on certain skill levels?”

Wood Carving Class Today!

Just like you’re never too old to learn how to carve, you’re never too new or inexperienced to take a wood carving class.  Most instructors today teach from roughouts which is a block of wood carved out on a CNC machine to produce a carving in its very rough form.

Typical Roughout

  The basic shape is there but all the detail work is left for the carver to do.  If you take an in-person class the instructor is right there to guide you along and help you wherever you get stuck.

The latest concept in wood carving classes are online classes which are becoming more and more popular.  These are classes you take right at home on your computer live with the instructor where you have a front row seat to watch the instructor carve the entire carving as you carve along with him.  The necessary roughout is sent directly to your home prior to the beginning of the classClasses are generally 8 hours long and are broken up into 4 two hour sessions which usually run on a Saturday and Sunday over two consecutive weekends.

Online classes have some advantages over in-person classes.  1) You save time and travel expenses because you take them right at home.  2) The classes are taped and are made available for the students to review (as often as they like) for two weeks after the class has ended.  The downside there, however, is that although you can interact with the instructor over the computer during the class you don’t have the advantage of having the instructor providing you with hands on assistance like you would in an in-person class.

I think I may have digressed here though…..

So no, you are never too new or inexperienced to take a class.  In fact, I have never met a carver yet who said he/she was sorry for taking a class.  Regardless of your skill level you will always learn something from taking a wood carving class, and that in itself makes it worthwhile.

To answer the second part of Dean’s question…no, most of the carving instructors I know of do not differentiate between beginner and advanced students.  During class everyone just carves at their own pace.  There is no race or time limit to get finished.  In fact, many students don’t ever finish their project in class.  They take the project home to finish afterwards along with lots of new knowledge gained from having taken the class.

So whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced carver taking a wood carving class is always a good idea.

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

Thank You Everyone!

I hope everyone had a great weekend and a healthy and safe 4th of July holiday!  I want to say that I launched Wood Chip Chatter over the weekend (Saturday, July 3) and the response has been overwhelming.  A great big thank you to all of you who have subscribed to my blog over this inaugural weekend!

Just one of the reasons I started Wood Chip Chatter was to encourage active discussions  regarding all kinds of topics pertaining to wood carving and whittling.  Any topic at all…..

I want start off the new month of July with some interesting wood carving topics so I’m inviting you all to send in your comments and questions so we can get some “wood chip chatter” going!  Remember, there are no dumb questions.

I’m happy to offer any help I can or answer any questions you might have.  I’m here to help!  Just click on the Contact tab at the top of the Home page and enter your information.

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

Welcome to my blog!

Here is a simple but useful bandsaw repair tip!

New 10″ Rikon Bandsaw

How to adjust the blade alignment (tracking) on your Bandsaw

The “tires” on bandsaw wheels can be critical for proper tracking. Have you changed them in recent years? There should be a slight crown to the tire which draws the blade toward the center of the crown. If you back off all the blade guides (side blocks, backing wheels) so that there is no contact with the blade, the blade should track near the center of both wheels. If not, you have an alignment problem. If the blade tracks okay, you may need to adjust the guides better.

The tires should fit snuggly on the wheels. Mine wore out a couple of months ago and I couldn’t keep the blades or tires properly on the wheels. Start by loosening the blocks or guides that contact the sides of the blade. There should be a pair for the top and a pair for the bottom. Then there is a bearing that is behind the blade on top and one on the bottom. Loosen all these and then place the blade back on the wheels and tighten it up just enough to keep it in place., The top wheel should have an adjustment on the side, that moves the bottom of that wheel in/out which is what adjusts the tracking of the blade. Moving the bottom of that wheel in one direction should make the blade move toward the inside of the wheel and vice versa. Turn the wheels by hand until you can get it to ride in the center. then try it momentarily with the power on and see if it tracks ok. If all that works, then you can start by tightening the blade until it doesn’t flutter. Then you adjust the different blocks/bearings so that the blade tracks properly through the cuts. If you still can’t get it to track properly, then check and see if there is any damage to the mountings for the wheels. It is recommended to release tension on the blades when they are not being used. Leaving them under tension can cause tires to get out of round and even broke one of the castings holding my upper wheel in place! Hope this helps!

One would think the start would be to open the cover (as you did to change the blade), then place a straight edge (yard stick?) across the edges of the wheels. Maybe not! I just did that on my 12″ Craftsman (that presently tracks fine). and the wheels are NOT aligned. So much for logic! Somewhere (perhaps on the back side) is a screw that adjusts to camber (the angle of the upper wheel relative to the machine). I would start by adjusting the camber until the blade will stay on while turning the wheels by hand. Then try power and adjust the camber until the blade tracks near the center of the upper wheel. All guides should be out of the way during this process.

The camber adjustment for the upper wheel is a setscrew with locknut in the hub. Loosen the locknut with a wrench, then you can turn the setscrew to change the camber of the wheel. When it tracks fairly well, tighten the locknut.

Tighten the wheels to the correct blade tension and reset and tighten all of the guides (top and bottom).