I don’t know about you, but I’ve always struggled a bit getting a spoon/bowl knife “really” sharp. You know, wicked sharp, where it wants to cut the wood from across the room? I’ve taught loads of people to sharpen chisels, plane blades,…, but these were all tools with a cutting edge along a straight surface. As you well know, the spoon/bowl knives have their cutting edge along a curve, which is what makes them more difficult to bring to the highest level of sharpness.
A while ago I recalled how I’d made two accessories that fit a small, tight-radiused gouge, and helped me hone it effectively. So why not use a similar process for these curved knives?
I found a scrap of Pine (I like using a softwood, but you can use what you have available) that I cut into two blanks that were about 4″ long and 1 1/2″ – 2″ wide. This allowed some extra material so I could hold it safely, while I was honing the knife. On the first, I used my spoon knife (made by John Switzer @BlackBearForge on IG) to remove some wood along a portion of one face, until I had a recess that matched the curve of my knife. This was just a shallow recess, just so no one works hard trying to fit the whole of the curved blade down into it. On the second pine blank’s end, I pressed a section of the curved knife’s blade into the end-grain, and then removed wood until I reached the cut line (curved).
As you can imagine, both blanks were made to these shapes so I could apply some honing compound, and then hone the blade against them. Having the blanks/jigs matching the shape of the knife creates a wider contact area, rather than just a point, which for me helps stabilize the knife and “jig”. When I’d used a flat piece of wood (with some honing compound on it) to work the outside of the spoon knife, I could tell I wasn’t as consistent.
You can use whatever honing compound you’d like, or if you are needing to sharpen, rather than hone, you can apply a section of PSA sandpaper to the “jigs” internal / external curves. I like to use the Tormek honing paste on the “jigs”, that my Tormek T-7 came with years ago, as it seems to cut most metal quickly as well as bring to a very polished surface. You can pick up a tube at Highland Woodworking (a link to their website is over on the right side of my page, and full disclosure, I do get compensated if you purchase through that link) or a number of other retailers.
Here is a quick video I made to show how I am using the “jigs” I discuss above, but if you cannot view this, the direct link for Youtube is here (or you can copy and paste this info: https://youtu.be/qOlaTIEUAVM ).
I hope this makes it easier for each of you to make your spoon knife as wickedly sharp as possible.
For the majority of the knives I’ve made, I split the handle down the middle (lengthwise) and fit it around the tang of my knife’s blade. On many of my smaller knives I have a hidden tang, so the tang doesn’t show at any point around the handle, except where it extends out the front.
For some of the knives, the tang is fairly narrow, but still strong for the intended type of work. With this size though, it can be a bit limiting as to the tools I can use when evacuating the wood where the tang will fit.
The width of the handle scales (when laid on there side) is also an issue, as one of the tools I’d normally choose would be my Lie-Nielsen No. 71 or my old Stanley No. 71. Even with the closed mouth version that I have, it is very difficult, if not impossible to stay registered on the outer wood, so the small square blade for the No. 271 is of no real use. As for shifting to the No. 271, I really prefer to have a fine screw-adjust, when sneaking up on a final depth.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine showed me a gift he received from his kids, and it was one of the Lee Valley mini planes, which got some chuckles from everyone around. He went on to share that it was truly completely functional, which I know it says on the website, but it was still hard for me to wrap my head around. Ok, shift back to present time, and I decided to take a chance and ordered one of the Lee Valley Mini Router Planes (shown above in the lower portion of the photo), hoping my results might surprise me.
I opened the packaging and my heart sort of sunk. The presentation box this little router plane comes in is so tiny, almost to the point where I was afraid I’d made a mistake. I opened the box and the plane was so amazingly small, but all of the parts worked super smooth. I took the blade out of the plane and took it to my Shapton 1000-grit Glass Stone (as this blade is quite narrow, the Glass series stone is one of the few stones I trust will not create a long dado in the stone in rapid order) and worked the bottom of the blade. This blade is made from A2 steel, and it took a fair amount of time to work so it showed a consistent scratch pattern.
This wasn’t because the blade was out of square or warped, just because the steel was so hard! It felt like I was working a super high Rc valued Japanese iron, or something on that magnitude. I followed doing the same on the bevel side of the blade, but since this is such a small blade, I could only make short back and forth movements. All of the sharpening was freehand, as no guides that I have would work with this blade. After both mating surfaces were complete on the 1000-grit, and I had a small burr, I very lightly worked both surfaces on my Norton 8000-grit water stone. This stone is much softer and I was very cautious not to stay in one spot for too long. I brought in my Glass Stone 16000-grit to finish up the blade, and brought both edges to a razor sharpness.
While I had the mini Router Plane apart, I noticed it’s sole still had mill marks from manufacturing, so I put some sandpaper down on my flat granite plate and worked it until all of the milling marks were gone. I applied some wax to the sole, which is what I do to the sole on all of my hand planes, so the friction between the wood and plane is almost nil. There is no good reason to leave the sole unworked, and basically fight against the wood.
After re-assembling the mini router plane, I took it to a knife handle where I’d already cut along the shape of the tang, with an Exacto knife, and removed a fair amount with a very sharp chisel. When I set the mini router plane onto the handle blank, it looked like this might actually work. The size of the little router plane just looked like it was the proper scale for the work needed. I was so pleasantly amazed when I started removing wood, as the blade in the router plane was cutting through the wood like it was butter. And this feeling didn’t stop anytime soon. I finished both inside areas of the handle for this knife blade, and it was still going strong. Part of this is the small cross-section of area it is cutting, but still, the A2 in this blade is really holding its edge like a champ!
I hope you enjoyed the read and perhaps will test the same for yourself. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
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I was recently working on one of my hand-made knives, and while finishing my curly-maple handle, I remembered a technique I’d use on some of my smaller wooden products that I don’t think I ever wrote about before. I decided it would be something good to share with my readers, beyond the aspect of it […]