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Slip Stones

Hi Everyone,

I'm new to woodcarving.  Really enjoying exploring this whole new world.  I have a quick question regarding slip stones.

Do I need to own different size slip stones in order to accommodate the different size gouges?  If so, where do I purchase these stones?  I've checked out several of the named suppliers (Lee Valley, Woodcraft, etc.) and all I've been able to find are single size stones.  I've read where some carvers have made/shaped their own stones.  Is there a tutorial which I can refer to in order to make these myself?

I do general woodworking, so I already have some Shapton stones and a DMT Diamond stone which I use on my bench chisels.

Hope this makes sense.  Sorry for all the questions.



Hello Kevin and welcome to the wonderful world of woodcarving,

Others may have other ideas on the subject but here is how I use my slip stones with carving tools. When I get a new (new to me anyway) gouge I check for grinding marks on the interior.  I use my stones for smoothing up the interior near the edge as necessary and the slip stone only has to have a smaller radius than the gouge so that you can continuously move the stone along the edge as you shape/sharpen it. If your stone has more than one radii, then use the one closest to, but smaller than the radius of the tool.  They don't have to be an exact match to the radius of the tool. Some carvers will produce a slight interior bevel but I have never felt the need to do that unless I was trying to compensate for pitting on older tools. You can also use a light stoning to remove any burr from shaping/sharpening the bevel. The only other time I would use a slip stone on my carving tools is if they have to be re-shaped since stropping/honing should keep them in good shape after initial shaping/sharpening.  I have never been able to get an acceptable carving edge from stones alone and absolutely recommend honing/stropping after stoning.

Another thing you can do is to use fine wet-and-dry abrasive paper draped around a radiused piece of stock (dowel or shaped stock) since slip stones are so expensive. I got most of my stones from estates sales and flea markets through the years and they will last a lifetime if you take care of them. While I am sure someone shapes their own stones (if you can think of it, someone is doing it), with this new information why would you want to? If I was just starting out I would just go with the wet-and-dry paper route, no more than you should have to use stones on the interior. To be honest, I use my stones much more often for maintaining my molding planes and in-cannel bench gouges than I do for my carving gouges. By the way, I use the same stones/plates stropping/honing tools and materials on my carving gouge outside bevels and carving chisels, that I do on my bench chisels and plane blades.

Much is written about the "magical science" of sharpening when it really is a straightforward and simple process that can make the difference between having tools that are a joy and those that are a royal P.I.A. While I have encountered a small number of tools that required unique techniques, the vast majority require little time or effort to keep super sharp. If you ever have the opportunity to use really sharp tools you will never be satisfied with using anything less.

Hope this helps and have fun.

Charles Hubbard has reacted to this post.
Charles Hubbard

Thanks Michael for taking the time to respond.

What you posted regarding the slip stones makes sense.  I guess I thought you needed to have stones which matched the exact radii of the tool.  Any recommendation as to what grit wet-dry paper I should use?

I had to chuckle when you noted the "magical science" of sharpening.  Ain't that the truth.  I wish I had a dollar for every sharpening system out there.  Interesting what you said about honing.  I do believe honing is essential in order to obtain the best cutting edge, which is why I was surprised when I recently spoke with a rep at Lie Nielsen and she said they didn't think honing or stropping plane blades or chisels was necessary.  She said a lot of times stropping will round over the edge, which will give you a less than ideal edge.

Thanks again for advice.

Charles Hubbard has reacted to this post.
Charles Hubbard


Do you remember the days when (according to popular media) you just didn't have a "complete" and "modern" shop without a radial arm saw? How about all of the home decorating magazines that promoted trash compactors, harvest gold and avocado green appliances or promoted the idea that every American home just had to have a bidet? Trends come and go and while some of them do become staples of culture, many fade away when people realize either a disadvantage or at least not enough of an advantage to justify the cost and trouble. Woodworking is no different so I recommend looking to the thousands of years of woodworking tradition to help determine how to go about the craft. Do investigate new products and methods but take lightly all of the trends and manufacturers sales pitches. Many beginning woodworkers are put off by the impression that you have to have a huge shop with many thousands of dollars of tools in order to do good work, but folks, it just isn't true. Much good work has come from simple tools and less-than-perfect conditions by intelligent craftsmen. Consider the wonderful furniture that came from the simple shops that were in colonial America. Much enjoyment can be derived by overcoming the challenges.

I have seen plane blades and chisels used straight off stones, some to reasonably good use. But if you want to do extremely fine work you have to take the edge to a higher level, which means you have to either invest in super fine (and super expensive) stones (and if that is the direction you want to go then have at it) or strop. Like so many things in woodworking, there are at least three ways to get the job done and I recommend whatever method you like that works best for you under your particular circumstances. I do have a 16,000 grit stone and I have used it in an effort to get to get a better edge. I didn't like it because the resulting cut-in-use simply wasn't as good as what I get after honing and the flat back bench chisels (and flat back plane blades) would stick to it due to flat surfaces and air exclusion when using sharpening fluids. Using the "ruler trick" for plane blades eliminates the vacuum issue but brings some additional issues that I won't bring up here. If there are no advantages and some disadvantages why would I use that method? My experience is that even fine stones will leave a slight burr that should be removed during the first uses of the tool.  While many of the numbers of sharpening methods and tools result in in more precise edge geometry they don't necessarily result in a better working tool/system. Just remember that many of the currently popular sharpening methods are relatively new to traditional western style woodworking. Other methods have been used for  hundreds of years by great craftsmen who did some outstanding work. Try all of the methods if you have the resources and stick with what works best for you, otherwise learn from the past. As for me, a general bench grinder (shaping and restoration), diamond stones, natural stones, artificial oil stones, slip stones, abrasive paper (depending on circumstances), followed by stropping/honing keeps my edged tools in good order, and believe me, I am very particular about the quality of my edges.

Rounding issue are more of a concern with the flat backs of bench chisels since the backs are used as reference surfaces during cuts. Just be sure to hold the flat to the strop or possibly use a hard strop (MDF is good) when polishing chisel backs. Plane blade edge surfaces are either cutting faces or relief faces and fractions-of-a-degree in either won't noticeably effect how well the tool works. Otherwise, the "ruler trick" would not be so popular.

There is a competition held in Japan where the objective is to produce the thinnest possible shaving and some folks see that as proof that their sharpening method is the way to do it. There is at least one woodworker (a very good one by the way), who will remain nameless, that demonstrates a version of this in Woodcraft stores across the country and on YouTube.  It is impressive to watch those whispery thin shavings floating across the room, however, the quality of cut noticeably degrades quickly and much of my planning involves hogging off large amounts of material in an effort to get the stock into proper condition. It is only the last few shavings where there is some advantage to thinness in an effort to produce a final surface. Since I have interest in producing accurate and well finished pieces in a timely manner, instead of just producing the thinnest shavings on earth, and wanting to produce those pieces in a straightforward and workman-like manner, I choose a different methodology. After any edge has passed through wood there is going to be some rounding and unless you take stropping to an extreme (or use bad technique), the amount of rounding from stropping is going to be minimal and inconsequential to the work. After all, all you want to do in stropping is to polish and/or burr removal.

As to the subject of what grit of wet-and-dry to use; I have used 1200 grit to good effect unless to object is in shaping rather than sharpening.

Sorry for the long post guys. Have fun.

Scott Taylor, Charles Hubbard and Douglas Morse have reacted to this post.
Scott TaylorCharles HubbardDouglas Morse

Hi Kevin,

In all of woodworking there is nothing more over thought and filled with opinion than sharpening steel.  Given the "systems" and products available today it's hard to see how those great woodworkers of the past were able to produce anything!!  If the Goddards & Townsends were alive today they may never have completed those great secretaries or knee hole desks much less the stunning shell carvings.

As to sharpening, I'm a simple guy.  I grind on a 60 grit white wheel and hone with a couple of natural Arkansas oil stones, one of which is my grandfathers hard black stone that he used for razors.  Carving tools have never needed the grinder and as to slip stones remember the stone only need touch at one (moving) point along the radius so a simple small round slip does fine.  I do strop my carving tools and knives but not plane irons or bench chisels very often they are plenty sharp off the hard white Arkansas stone.  If you are not carful you can dub the edge but it's not a huge deal.

The obsession with angles and measuring them with such precision is just nuts, the wood doesn't care.  Nor does it recognize 20,000 grit... Again Grinling Gibons didn't seem to need it.

Relax, buy tools as you find you need them and have fun!!!

Charles Hubbard has reacted to this post.
Charles Hubbard