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I find many different suggestions for length of time between sharpening, from before and after every whittling session to once every 2-3 years. I assume that many of these suggestions are talking about different applications, tools, and even using terms wrong (honing or stropping vs. sharpening).

Is it possible to quantify how often I should sharpen a whittling knife?

I realize the best answer is, 'when it feels dull', but my 9 year old son is doing the whittling and is not yet experienced enough to know the difference. Sharpening is my job, but I don't have any woodworking experience.

Is it possible to say a certain number of days/months/years, a certain number of minutes/hours of actual woodworking, an approximate number of strokes in the wood, certain number of projects or times per project, a table or multiplier by wood type for increasing or decreasing the sharpening frequency, or some other measuring guideline?

  • When I was first given the whetstone and original sharpening instructions, I was told to sharpen my son's new whittling knife before and at every 15 minutes of use. Due to the stone's small size, and unpleasant smell, as well as the gusto with which he is jumping into this hobby, I find myself shopping for a new stone. If I will be doing this activity 8-10 times/day for the next few months, or longer, I should spend a little more on a better sharpening set. But, since at least some of the instruction I was given seems inaccurate, I thought I had better check before I spent a lot of money. – CWilson Feb 26 '18 at 23:32
  • Not an answer really, but I recommend you take a look at one of these rigs with the guide rods: amazon.com/Lansky-Standard-Coarse-Sharpening-System/dp/…. When you're starting out, one of the hardest things is keeping a consistent angle, and these can help a lot with that. Especially if you're doing it every 15 minutes, being able to reproduce the angle precisely will speed things up a lot (once you've got your bevel angles established) :) – scanny Feb 27 '18 at 3:43
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Honestly, as you seem to suspect, there is no way to quantify this except by learning through experience on a given tool/wood species/usage.

Some woodworking tools used on certain woods can last for tens of hours of continuous cutting (mostly this would be with tungsten carbide or diamond power tool blades), whereas others like woodturning tools need sharpening after just a few minutes of use.

If in doubt, sharpen more often than you think you need to.

  • Thank you. This answer has value and should remain for posterity, and your examples of a range of tens of hours vs. minutes do help put it into perspective. On the other hand it just makes me realize that without a relative or neighbor having sat with me while I was younger, I may just never get it. . +1, but there ought to be a better way! :) – CWilson Feb 27 '18 at 16:55
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    Another way to look at it: Sharpen/hone as often as you need to. With a little practice (even during one session with the strop sitting beside you), you'll be able to feel a difference in a freshly honed blade vs. one that has become just a bit dull. Whenever you feel that dullness, hone it on the strop again. – Charlie Kilian Feb 27 '18 at 19:40
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Is it possible to quantify how often I should sharpen a whittling knife?

The need to hone depends on the variables:

  • the knife (the steel, the edge profile, how well it was sharpened previously)
  • the hardness or abrasive quality1 of the wood(s) being worked
  • the total amount of use
  • the nature of the use (any levering or chipping versus only draw-through cuts)

Is it possible to say a certain number of days/months/years, a certain number of minutes/hours of actual woodworking, an approximate number of strokes in the wood, certain number of projects or times per project, a table or multiplier by wood type for increasing or decreasing the sharpening frequency, or some other measuring guideline?

If you want to maintain the edge to a very high standard (which many whittlers consider an absolute must, for quality of work as well as safety) more frequently than you'd expect.

Even with some better knives some touchup work can be required periodically during a single whittling session because of how sharp whittling knives, in common with other carving tools, need to be maintained, and because wood is relatively wearing to steel (think cutting cardboard rather than vegetables).

With a good knife and working softer, easily cut woods (which I'd suggest should be the case for a child whittler), you may be able to hone only daily, or after each session in other words.

Better news is that if you can learn to get good results by stropping this routine 'resharpening' is the work of just a few moments at best2, certainly less than a couple of minutes including the time needed to get the equipment out and store it again. As mentioned in a few previous Answers this upkeep can greatly extend the period between actual honing, with knives (which are softer than chisels usually) to perhaps weeks.

Some previous Answers for more context and info:
Is the "paper test" actually relevant to sharpening chisels and planes?
How can I tell if wood turning (lathe) chisels are sharp?
When sharpening, how do I assess what grit to start on?


1 Not all hard woods are abrasive (most aren't) but the harder they are the more they'll blunt edges. Some softer woods though are surprisingly blunting, e.g. because of tiny amounts of silica, red cedar being one of those despite being only about as hard as cherry.

2 Experienced stroppers are done in 10-20 seconds.

  • Thank you. I have more research to do to understand everything you wrote (it appears I have a basic misunderstanding of the term hone, nor do I have any practical idea how to perform stropping), but I think this will be helpful. I may need to create additional questions if I don't already find them first. My son's current project is attempting (and to my eye, already doing a pretty good job) to whittle his pinewood derby car we got from official the boy scout kit, so I believe this is soft wood he is working with. – CWilson Feb 27 '18 at 15:55
  • @CWilson This is an imperfect medium for this kind of thing but if I can help clarify some of the terms just shout. It's not a topic that's easy to quickly get a handle on unfortunately because of varied terminology (person to person, as well as geographic differences) and on top of that various people have slightly or greatly differing notions about what works, doesn't work and how best to get from blunt to sharp. – Graphus Feb 28 '18 at 14:50

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