How to Sharpen Gouges and V-tools
Gouges and v-tools are popular carving tools that can be a little tricky to sharpen. This article will walk you through the steps needed to quickly get you back to carving with sharp tools again.
How to Sharpen a Gouge
Sharpening the outside of a gouge can be done on any flat stone. You want to make sure you’re matching the existing angle of your gouge bevel. If you’re sharpening a gouge with a large bevel, it can be relatively easy to feel when the bevel is flat against the stone. It can be trickier to feel this with smaller gouges as you’ve got less surface area to rest on. Either way, I recommend using the Marker Trick to make sure you’re not changing the angle.
In general, I find sharpening easiest to do while standing. Place your stone with its long edge against the worktop edge. Hold the gouge in your dominant hand, with your forearm locked against your hip. This hand will set the sharpening angle, so you want as little unintended movement as possible. The only movement will come from twisting your wrist to rock the gouge and sharpen along the whole bevel. Use your non-dominant hand to put some light downward pressure on the gouge. You’ll move the gouge along the length of the stone by moving your body from side to side. As you do this, twist your wrist to change the section of the gouge bevel in contact with the stone.
You need to make enough passes to raise a burr on the inside of the gouge. This shows that you’ve removed enough steel from the outside bevel to create a new apex. Now it’s the slip stone’s time to shine. When picking a slip stone, you don’t have to exactly match the radius of the stone to the tool. The slip stone just needs to be a smaller radius than the gouge so it’ll fit in there. If the slip stone is a lot smaller you’ll just have to move it around more.
Match the slip to the size and sweep of the gouge. Your slip should have a smaller radius than your gouge.
Most gouges are ‘outcannel’, they have a bevel on the outside. This means the inside curve doesn’t have a bevel. You should be able to lay the slip stone flat inside the gouge and, with short back-and-forth strokes, remove the burr. Make sure the strokes are short enough that the slip stone isn’t riding up the inside surface of the gouge thus changing the sharpening angle. Some chisels do have a slight inside bevel from the manufacturer. If the burr is not removed quickly or you notice your slip is not contacting the edge, slightly lift your slip so you're contacting the edge. A few degrees is usually enough. Hold the gouge still and move the slip stone, or hold the slip stone still and move the gouge. Try both and stick with whichever feels most comfortable for you.
Holding the gouge vertically makes it easy to see how the slip stone is interacting with the bevel.
Keep going until you can feel a burr on the outside bevel. Now you’ve hit the apex from both sides and have formed a new edge. But you’re not quite done. That burr is still attached and needs to be removed. Alternate passes on the inside and outside bevel, using the same techniques as you did before. About 5-10 on each should remove the burr.
If you started with a coarse stone, repeat the whole process with a finer stone to create a more refined edge. Finish with a bit of stropping. The outside bevel can be stropped on a regular flat strop. If the gouge is wide enough, you can put stropping compound on an appropriately sized wooden dowel and strop the inside. For very small gouges you can strop the inside bevel with the edge of a piece of leather, or with some bent cardboard that you’ve put compound on.
Here I'm using a round wooden dowel with Green Honing Compound applied.
How to Sharpen a V-Tool
When sharpening a v-tool you've essentially got four bevels to think about. Two on the outside and two on the inside. Like gouges, you can sharpen the outside bevels on any flat stone. Position the tool so that the bevel is flat against the stone and move it back and forth to raise a burr. Repeat with the other outside bevel.
The two outside bevels can be sharpened in the same way as a chisel.
V-tools have a sneaky area that needs a little extra attention. The transition between the two wings. If left alone it can create a sharp point that extends beyond the wings’ edges. Fortunately, this section is small and can be sharpened in the same way as a gouge. Use the above gouge sharpening instructions to deal with this transition area.
The dark section between the two flat bevels should be sharpened like the outside bevel of a gouge.
To reach the inside bevels, select a slip stone with an acute enough angle to fit inside the v-tool. Try to pick one with a wide enough surface to contact the whole inside edge. It’ll make the sharpening go quicker. I like to hold the tool upright, with the handle resting on my thigh for longer tools, or on a tabletop for shorter tools. With the slip stone in my other hand, this position lets me see what I’m doing so I can sharpen at the correct angle. The movement might be quite small, so be prepared to take your time with this. Once I’ve raised a burr from one inside bevel, I can easily pivot the stone to sharpen the other side.
With a burr raised from each side, you can then deburr by repeating the process. Depending on how much sharpening your v-tool needs you may have started on a coarse stone and now need to repeat this process with finer grits. Stropping the outside of a v-tool can be done on a regular flat strop. Stropping the inside is trickier. If you’re a woodworker, you could fashion a piece of wood to fit inside the v-tool and apply stropping compound that. If you’re not handy with woodworking, once again a piece of folded cardboard with stropping compound could be used to get in there.