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"Commissioning" carving tools

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I'm interested to know Mary's and others thoughts about Chris Pye's practice and recommendation that all new carving tools should be commissioned, i.e. reshaped to lower the cutting angle of the tool.  I have a lot of carving tools, and I've not commissioned any of them over the years.  In fact, I only learned of it when I saw Chris's video's on sharpening and read about it in some of his books.  One of the first video's in his sharpening series deals entirely with this process.  Commissioning a tool looks like a lot of time and effort involved, to say nothing of mastering the technique, and if one has a lot of tools to commission . . . wow.  But, the way he describes the reason for commissioning tools makes a lot of sense - easier, smoother cuts, etc.

Hi Ron,

As long as I purchased good quality, professional European carving tools (usually costing between $30 and $50 each) I don't generally alter the way the carving tools are shaped, and haven't in over 25 years of carving. I have never found a need, and have always been able to get the shapes in the wood I needed with the tools just as they are.

That's not to say that there are some reasonable and legitimate reasons why Chris alters these (mainly referring to the inside bevel), but I have never really found it necessary. I know that his teacher taught him to sharpen this way, and my teacher taught me to sharpen a slightly different way. Both of our teachers were European master carvings (one Italian and one Greek, and I'm sure if the 2 of them sat in the same room, there would be some heated words).

I also would be cautious having brand new tools, being brand new to carving and putting the tools immediately to a grinder to alter the angle of the bevel - unless, of course, you have a teacher like Chris or someone with you to guide you through this process. A tool can go bad and become misshapen very quickly on a grinder.

If you speak with 5 different carvers, you will probably find 5 different ways of sharpening - mainly based on how they were taught. The bottom line is - if the tools can get you to where you need to be, are razor sharp, and able to carve the details that are needed, then enjoy! My Greek woodcarving teacher, Konstantinos Papadakis, would probably never forgive me for saying that 🙂 "This is the ONLY way..."

Ron, I completely agree with Mary on the tool altering.

I also read and watched Chris Pye’s “commissioning” technique when I got into carving last year, and while I wanted to go grab my tools and do anything I could to get the sharp whisper-carving tools that he has, it came down to this for me: I have a severely limited budget and didn’t want to alter my Pfeil tools. If I messed/burned them up, I couldn’t afford to replace them! So I kept at practicing sharpening the way Mary and others do until I was finally able to slice away at oak like it was basswood.

Which brings me to another reason why I didn’t like Pye’s technique. I did sharpen a number 3 gouge like he showed. One day I was making some stabbing cuts in oak, grabbed that gouge, gave it a tap with the mallet and it curled the tip back badly. Maybe the way I sharpened it wasn’t the way Chris Pye would have done it, but I’d like to think that the lower angle of the blade isn’t meant for anything other than thin slicing cuts in hard woods...food for thought.

I have never seen the video. I did see a video that explained why you should not alter the bevel on a carving chisel. It's designed to let you be able to come out of a cut. I am not about to second guess master tool makers and put my expensive (for me) chisels on the line. Thats my 2 cents.

Hi everyone. I believe I have ruined my 3/6 by trying to "commission" it. I, too, watched Chris and thought it made sense. Now, I think the technique may be more delicate than my skills allow. I plan to try to get the original shape back but failing that, I will need to buy another gouge.

Tom Weir has reacted to this post.
Tom Weir

Sorry to hear that Carolyn...here’s hoping you can get it restored without having to buy another!

Hi all, the Tormek sharpener and jigs, although very pricey, seem well suited for this scenario. Here's a link to its use on gouges. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7V4bjePKkM

@Carolyn Senter Sorry to hear this. If you can revive that chisel, there won't be anything you can't sharpen. Could be a good, although costly, learning experience. Unfortunately, if you lowered the bevel (handle lower to cut) you will have to remove metal from the front of the blade to achieve a steeper angle. Did you put it to the grinding wheel? Can you post a pic?

I am getting back into carving after a couple of decades.  I was just checking out my 12/10 V chisel which sometime in the 90's I had badly and grossly messed up trying to sharpen. Uneven and different angles on the sides.

I have recently come across Sharpen my Gouge

This is a new joint venture between Mark Atkins and Chris Pye.

I am considering shipping my mis-shapen V to them for salvation.  I was wondering if anyone here has any experience sending tools to Sharpen My Gouge.  Thanks

Hello again, thank you to those who responded to my sharpening problem. I didn't photograph the chisel but I think I have rescued it. I purchased a Ross Oar sharpening system. I took that route because it cost less than $40 including shipping. For that price, I thought it was worth the risk. I had a rough beginning because learning how to use the system is a bit touchy. The person whose name was on the package (different from the distributor from whom I bought the tool) was amazingly responsive and helpful. (If anyone is interested in pursuing this, the contact name on the package <www.stadtlanderwoodcarvings.com> is Mr. Stadtlander.)

It is correct that I had to remove a lot of metal from the tip but,  I have been using the tool on my new project and it is as sharp as it has ever been.

The Ross Oar implement is actually a "crutch" to maintain the bevel angle. As part of trying to reshape the chisel, I watched Mary show us how to hold the tool and I thought I was doing it exactly as she was demonstrating.  Clearly I was wrong as the chisel developed strange facets on the surface and the front edge continued to develop a strange angle.  If anyone is capable of maintaining the correct bevel, the Ross Oar gadget probably won't help but for someone such as I, it has provided a relatively inexpensive way to provide hope that I can actually keep my tools sharp and correct the mistakes I have previously made. I am currently trying correct my v-chisel!

Thanks to all for commenting.

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