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My Biggest Sharpening Challenge to Date

Let me say right off the bat that I have sharpened HUNDREDS of carving tools. I have a Pfeil #12-1 mm v palm tool that has lain around unused that I had picked up along with others from an estate sale. I finally decided yesterday that it was finally time to put it into working order. It was not cutting at all and, as best as I could tell, it had been worked on but had never really been used. Now I know why. I tried heavy magnification and every trick I knew, starting with flattening the end to establish a clear understanding of the interior grind shape and establish the wing angle. The root was nearly a sharp intersection with no obvious radius. After repeated attempts to develop a decent shape on stones by hand as I normally would, I found that I could control the overall shape better straight off of the grinder where I could actually observe the edge development. Internal faces and the root were worked lightly with fine abrasive paper to remove any burrs  Attempts to further refine the keel at a stone (along with light stropping) invariably resulted in a weak, malformed, and nonfunctional edge at the keel which bought me back to square one in the process and no useable tool. After at least 10 attempts with no workable (and a shorter) tool, I decided to just walk away and nearly threw the tool away. After several repeated attempts this evening I decided on a different approach. Using a small diamond triangular file I reworked the interior profile near the edge which resulted in a very tiny but barely noticeable radius at the root.

Because the radius was so small, instead of stoning the keel I only had to strop the profile to eliminate  any "point" at the keel. After that the tool worked beautifully. I realize that the file will probably be used again in the future as part of the maintenance of the tool but feel that is a small price to pay for having a useable tool.

If anyone has any helpful hints in dealing with other tiny challenging profiles I would love to hear them.

Hi Michael,

Sorry for the delay in seeing this post (it's been a crazy month). I love your persistence! You remind me of me 🙂

There have been some gouges that have taken me hours to sharpen, just because there was something unique about them that had to be discovered. Only occasionally do I put the tool aside and decide it's unusable (blame it on bad metal, ground past the temper point etc, etc) It sounds like you were able to figure out the issue and a 1mm v-chisel can come in very handy for making very fine, sharp cuts.

Often an issue with smaller v-chisels is that the corner of the slip stone is usually not sharp enough to fit into the inside of the tool, so it (the corner of the slip stone) usually needs to be refined on sandpaper before trying to sharpen the tool.

Another thing you could do with these really tiny, awkward tools (1 and 2mm #11 also) is using 3000 or 4000 grit sandpaper folded in place of the slip stone.


I finally realized that there was a slight undercut near the root on one of the wing internal surfaces. Introducing the normal sharpening resulted in a weak and malformed edge. Reshaping the internal profile near the edge with the tiny diamond file reshaped the wings and root restoring the profile to something that could be used. I am sure that as the edge recedes into the tool body with use that I will have to do additional reshaping with the file but that is a small matter.

I do hate to let a tool go. I recently acquired over 50 Henry Taylor tools that had been stored in a high humidity area and many had some bad pitting. While they did represent a challenge to restore them to useable condition (thank goodness for low primary bevel angles, combined with small internal bevels). Collectively they didn't provided me with as much vexation as that that little number 12. Many antique tools have survived  because they didn't function well for the previous owners and were thus not used up. If you can learn their secrets and put them into useable condition they can often serve you quite well. Sometimes when using some of my old tools, the wear on them reveals patterns of use over many years in the shop. Slight depressions in the wood surfaces show where craftsmen have gripped them in use. I see it as shaking hands with the crafts people that have come before and I am but a caretaker and recipient for both the tools and the traditions.

The abrasive paper trick has served me well through the years. The higher grits can be hard to find but I have found that even 1000 or 1200 grit wet-and-dry paper can be used with sufficient stropping afterwards. It is still finer than many of the slipstones. As the paper wears it effectively functions as a higher grit so that saving a worn piece of abrasive paper can be a replacement for higher grits.  Have fun and be safe,