As a spoon carving teacher, finding a good carving ax at an affordable price was not easy, at least here in Spain.
I was lucky enough to get one when I was just starting out. Gransfels Large Carving Ax(I later regretted it, and I’ll explain why later.) But most of my students are trying to carve spoons as a hobby and don’t want to invest too much.
Luckily, you don’t need an expensive carving ax. You can start by tuning your all-purpose hatchet into a perfectly fine carving axe.
It all comes down to three basic factors: size, weight and edge shape.
The carving ax should be light enough so that you can carve for a long time without getting tired. It also needs to be heavy enough to allow for efficient chopping motions thanks to the weight of the head and still be able to aim.
My sweet spot is about 650 grams (1.5 pounds). So when I bought Grand Fall, I regretted that it was too heavy and hurt my wrist. I know many sculptors bigger than me for whom Gransfels is perfect. After all, Gransfors is from Sweden, and I’m a petite Colombian, probably as tall as the average 12-year-old Swede.
Size-wise, most utility hatchets sold at hardware stores and home improvement stores have a handle length of about 30-40 cm and a head of 400-800 grams, suitable for carving.
Once you’ve found the right weight that’s comfortable, all you need to do is polish the edge shape for carving.
Most hatchets have bullet-shaped blades and are intended for splitting or chopping firewood without requiring too much precision. Engraving requires a wide chamfer and ideally a flat surface so that it can slide over the wood and actually touch the edge.
The first thing we need to do is grind the convex side to set two symmetrical bevels.
widen the bevel
The wider the bevel, the easier it is to mesh the edges in a very controlled manner. This is great for action along the grain but not so good for chopping as the edges are too brittle. So you have to find a balance that also depends on the thickness of the ax head.
A 9-10 mm (about 3/8 inch) edge works best for the type of ax I work with.
Draw the width of the bevel using a permanent marker. This helps establish the correct angle for the grinding wheel by aiming at the center.
First, use a high-speed grinding wheel to remove steel as quickly as possible, then transition to a low-speed, water-cooled sharpening system. This gives you more control over the angle to get perfectly even hollow ground bevels.
It is important to feel the burr along the entire edge when you have finished sharpening each side.
Next, use a diamond file or regular sanding paper on the scrap block to create a flat chamfer. It is important to use the stone in stages so that the marks of the previous stone can be erased until a polished surface is obtained.
With great care, place the file over the bevel, making sure that the concave edges are aligned, and sand along the edge until a scratch pattern of the same width is visible and there is a slight burr on the opposite side. slide the file down. Repeat on both sides using all grit.
Hollow ground blades can feel very biting, but using an ax and continuing to sharpen will flatten the chamfer and change the way the blade bites into the wood. It can be sharpened completely hollow with a fine micro bevel or a full flat bevel and can be adjusted to your liking.
You now have a great carving ax to start with! As an extra step, you can change the shape of the handle to make it look better. I like to use a card scraper to scrape off the glossy finish and create small facets for better grip. Enjoy applying natural oils for protection.
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