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Keeping your tools in order

In the first of our guest posts, we've chatted to long-term volunteer and part-time trainer, Craig, about how he looks after his tools. Craig demo-ed his techniques for sharpening at the Great Scottish Spoon Hoolie 2019, so knows what he's talking about! Here's what he had to say.

I carved my first greenwood spoon in 2015. The enjoyment I get from carving greenwood for me is how much easier it is compared to carving seasoned dry timber which I tried and gave up on many years ago. Being able to make a useful kitchen implement from a fallen branch and a few basic tools can be so gratifying and a few hours de-stressing while whittling for me is a win-win combo.

My original kit consisted of a Mora 120, a couple of Ashley Iles carving gouges and a combination oil stone for sharpening. They were all leftovers from my previous carving attempts but helped me make a few spoonish looking things – and a new obsession was born! A couple of months later and some YouTube vids saw my kit expand, with a cheap axe, a cheap garden pruning saw and a proper spoon knife, the Mora 164. I'm now four years on. My search for the perfect tool means that my kit has grown – as it does when you get hooked on a craft – so there's a need to properly look after these tools.

Keeping them in good order is essential and relatively easy. Keep your tools clean and dry. Add an occasional light application of Linseed or Danish oil on the handles. I avoid varnish or lacquer on my handles as this may make them slippy to use.

Looking after the blade is where the most maintenance is needed. This is mainly sharpening and stropping, but also involves protecting the blades when not in use, so I always sheath a tool when putting it down. Every tool has a sheath of sorts, so make sure you use it! This reduces the chance of cutting yourself or someone else on an unprotected blade, or worse – the cutting edge gets damaged resulting in having to re-sharpen and strop the blade.

I sharpen my knifes roughly every 6-8 weeks or sooner if I feel the edge is dull and not biting as I think it should. However, the frequency can vary depending on how often I carve, how much roughing out of blanks I do and also the type of wood I may be working on. Roughing out beech blanks will result in a dulling an edge quicker than roughing out the same quantity of birch blanks. I strop my knifes every time I carve and every hour or so while I’m carving.

I sharpen my flat ground knives using successive grades of sticky backed wet and dry abrasive paper on a piece of 4mm float glass that is glued onto a piece of seasoned hardwood block both approximately 45x210mm. This allows for 6 strips from one sheet of wet and dry. For most spoon knives I use a 12mm dowel with ordinary wet and dry wrapped around tightly and held in place with a finger to sharpen the inside of the knife. On a dull edge I’ll start with grits 1200 then 3000 then 5000 then strop. On a damaged edge I’ll start with grits 400 or 800 depending on damage then as above.

For stropping I use the Tom Scandian Kangaroo leather stroping blocks – one suede side up and the other smooth side up – and his Kangaroo leather stropping stick for the spoon knives. After sharpening I strop the blade on the suede strop with an abrasive compound applied and then onto the smooth strop with no compound for a finishing few strops.


  • Strop your knives more often than you think

  • Use a marker pen on the bevel when sharpening to check you’re removing metal equally over the bevel

  • Avoid creating a micro bevel when sharpening and stropping by lifting the blade clean up at the end of the stroke

  • Don’t use a sweeping motion

  • If stropping on cow leather don’t press down hard on the bevel as this will create a micro bevel

Taking care of your tools is essential for safe and effective working. If you need more help to look after yours, look out for our sharpening workshop in the spring.

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