Commissioning chisels

Lettercarving needs a different set of chisels and gouges than those used for small in-the-round carving. Consequently, there are quite a few brand new Ashley Iles tools on my bench. These carving tools are superb, strong enough for very heavy work, and comfortable in hand. They arrive almost sharp enough for immediate use; a little stropping takes them the rest of the way. However, their cutting angle is steeper than I prefer. To Ashley Iles’ credit, they grind to an angle suitable for hardwoods, a safe choice for creating a strong edge, about 30 degrees. Much of the lettercarving work, especially raised letter relief carving, wants a lower angle. Notice how the lower angle lets more of the forward hand rest steady upon the work, and eases the wrist angle of the other hand. They really push noticeably easier. (The only tool left with a high angle the v-tool, which requires more courage to regrind.)

photo collage of chisel angles and sharpening stationSo, I’ve been “commissioning” these new chisels and gouges. My sharpening has long been based on the “scary sharp” sandpaper technique. I took this time, with a lot of work to be done, as the time to switch to stones. My choice is oilstones, from coarse India stones to translucent Arkansas stones. Yes, I considered water stones, all the rage these days, but decided against them because there are many narrow gouges that make trenches in the stones and require very frequent flattening. Those narrow tools won’t cause the same havoc with Arkansas stones. My new sharpening station is as simple as I can make it, a hand cranked wheel that gets held in the end-vice when needed, and a single board with several fixtures. Stones are kept in place with simple fences. There’s room in that corral for a 1/2 inch thick piece of glass for those times when I want to sharpen plane irons held in a sharpening jig. The 3 little strips on the back side are depth stops for putting plane irons into the sharpening jig. The spring clips are for holding slipstones. All very simple, easy to use, and easy to put away.

In other news – “Man Caves”

Amanda DeMatto wrote me a few months ago, asking about my garage workshop (discovered earlier in this blog). She is a freelance writer who sometimes publishes in Popular Mechanics. Her latest features 7 interesting garage conversions which she has titled “Ultimate Garage: The 7 Most Extreme Man Caves.” I never imagined my simple workshop would be considered “extreme,” but she gives it space in photos 15-19. THANKS Amanda!

4 Responses to “Commissioning chisels”

  1. Al Navas Says:


    I am probably miles and miles away from even trying any carving. But you are doing great – and the choice of stones is terrific.

    Congratulations of the Man Cave photo tour – I absolutely loved it!!!


  2. Bob Says:

    Thanks Al.

    I’ve been putting off making storage racks for all the new chisels … torn between something simple and pragmatic, or something nearing perfection made of maple with fine finger joints and barrel hinges. :)

  3. Al Navas Says:

    LOL – Big chuckle when I read this! But I had already put down the coffee cup…

    The racks are probably the best and most practical, short of stashing them all in a nice drawer, Bob.

  4. Steve Branam Says:

    A little late, but congratulations on the PM photos!