In this article on Carving Basics: Sharpening your Knives we will discuss how to keep your knives sharp, how to use compounds, how to use the strop, and how to make your own crude thumb guard.
HOW TO SHARPEN YOUR KNIVES:
We’re going to start out with the important task of sharpening our knives. We’re going to talk as if you’re right-handed, so if you’re not just reverse all instructions.
Lay the blade flat against the surface toward the end of the 250-grit honing plate; apply light pressure with your right index finger on the side of the blade to hold it flat against the plate.
Now begin moving the blade TOWARD THE CUTTING EDGE, while pressing the blade down to keep it flat.
Be very careful not to tip the blade up, as this will cause uneven dips in your edge. When you reach the end of the plate, lift the blade and return it to the other end to repeat the process.
Do this several times. (We do between 10 to 30 times on each side.) Remember to keep the blade completely flat at all times.
Flip the blade to the opposite side and repeat the process. Remember to keep the blade completely flat at all times.
Wipe your blade with a soft cloth. You will notice a bit of black residue on the cloth. This is bits of your blade ground down. Don’t worry about this, it’s normal and expected.
Now repeat the same process with the 400-grit plate. Again do between 10 to 30 times as you did before while keeping the blade totally flat. Then wipe the blade again with a soft cloth. You should see less black residue now.
It’s time to use the knife strop and compound, these are used to hone the knife to a high sheen and make them cut like going through butter.
Compounds come in two forms, a stick, and a powder.
The stick is applied like a crayon. You want a thin layer, so be careful not to apply too much.
The powder is applied by sprinkling it on the strop and spreading it with your finger. The powder will give you a thinner layer but is a bit messy to apply. I’ll go over this process more in the strop area below.
How to use the leather strop:
The strop is a piece of wood with thin soft leather glued onto it. It is used to polish your knives and take any dust and metal bits off your blade.
First, you must apply your compound to the leather strop; a little goes a long way. Make sure you apply enough compound that your knife’s full-length slides through it on the strop. You don’t need a very thick layer though. One thin layer is better.
In the picture below I am sprinkling the powder compound into the surface of the strop.
In this picture, I am spreading the blue velvet compound with my finger. I’m making sure to get the compound evenly spread across the whole surface of the strop starting at the top red arrow and ending at the bottom red arrow.
I don’t go all the way to the ends of the strop though, because I don’t want the blade to slide off the leather’s edge, as this might cause a nick in the blade.
Lay the blade flat against the surface of the leather strop, having the blade’s edge facing toward the edge of the leather where it is applied to the wood. Apply light pressure with your left index finger on the side of the blade to keep it flat, just like you did with the diamond sharpening plate.
Now begin moving the blade AWAY FROM THE CUTTING EDGE, while pressing the blade down to keep it flat.
It’s important NOT to move the blade toward the cutting edge on the strop, because it will cut the strop. This will cause dulling of the blade and ruin the strop.
Do this several times. (We do between 10 to 30 times on each side.) Flip the blade to the opposite side and repeat the process, doing between 10 to 30 times again.
Wipe your blade off with a soft cloth after this step. You always want to start out with a clean blade.
You want to maintain a razor-sharp edge, so you will need to strop your blade before you think the edge is dull. To keep the edge sharp, strop the blade often during all carving sessions. A few times across the strop every half hour should achieve this goal.
A smooth leather strop with no applied compound can also be used for removing blemishes and burrs on the edge of your knife. You don’t want to do this too often though as it will dry out your strop.
HOW TO MAKE A THUMB GUARD:
You can rap two Band-Aids around your thumb, one over the tip, and one around the thumb at the base having the padded part towards your thumbs inside pad.
Wrap your thumb in masking tape having the sticky side facing out. Start at your thumb tip and work your way towards the base. Now do the same having the sticky side to the inside.
Using this method, you can use the same thumb guard over and over. It might not look very pretty, but it does the job.
You could buy a thumb guard like this one.
This thumb guard is made from leather and has an elastic band around the thumb base. These are easy to slip on and cheap to buy. After several uses, it tends to not hold as tight and will slip around your thumb through. If you’re anything like me, you tend to lose these and for me, it’s easier to make my own.
In this lesson of Carving Basics: Taking Care Of Your Knives you’ve learned how to keep your knives sharp, about compounds, strops, and even how to make your own thumb guard.
We hope you enjoyed this tutorial, if you have any questions, would like to leave a comment, or your own personal views on taking care of your knives, please feel free to do so below.
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