5 Ways to Sharpen a Lino Cutting Tool

Lino cut tools help in cutting out and shaping linoleum (lino). But similar to every other cutting equipment, your lino or wood carving tools will become blunt after repeated use. If you’ve found yourself in such a situation, you must be curious about some of the effective ways to sharpen these handy lino cutting tools.

While there are many ways to sharpen lino cutting tools, whetstones and strops are among the most popular. For instance, Whetstones come in varying grit sizes and can sharpen even the bluntest of lino tools. For slightly blunt edges, you could also use stropping equipment to sharpen the tool.

Still, reading? Great, read on as we discuss 5 ways to sharpen a lino cutting tool and maintain its sharpness despite repeated use.

Five ways to sharpen a lino cutting tool

Using a Whetstone

Also known as water stones or sharpening stones, whetstonesOpens in a new tab. are handy tools used to sharpen and maintain the sharp edge of steel equipment. Whetstones come in different sizes, shapes, and grit values. While most sharpening stones are usually flat, some have unique shapes to sharpen complex edges like pfeilthe v shaped tool or v gouge, or u tool.

Grit value is a crucial factor to consider when using whetstones. Whetstones that are grittier or significantly coarse are ideal for sharpening an extremely blunt blade. But as your lino tool becomes sharper, it’s advisable to switch to a finer grit to make the edge smoother and well-honed.

So, how can you use a whetstone to sharpen your lino cutting tool?

Choose a Whetstone of the Appropriate Grit

When choosing a whetstone, it’s crucial to check on the grit values. Ensure that one side has a grit value of at least 700 while the other should have grit values between 3000-6000. As Nick MorleyOpens in a new tab., a renowned lino artist, advises using an extra coarse whetstone is crucial when sharpening blunt lino cutting tools.

Start With the Coarse Side and Switch to the Finer Side

For successful outcomes, you’ll need to switch between the sides. While the coarse side allows you to sharpen the blunt edges, switching to the finer grit will refine your cutting tool.

Advantages of Using a Whetstone

  • Easy to Use. You don’t have to be an expert to use a whetstone to sharpen your lino tools. Provided you select a high-quality whetstone like the Suehiro Dual-sided Sharpening StoneOpens in a new tab., you can sharpen your cutting tools with relative ease.
Suehiro Japanese Sharpening Stone, Dual-sided #1000 and #3000 Grit with Rubber Base, Compact
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Suehiro Japanese Sharpening Stone, Dual-sided #1000 and #3000 Grit with Rubber Base, Compact Opens in a new tab.
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Whetstone Sharpening Stone Kit Dual Sided 400/1000 & 3000/8000 Grit Professional Whetstone knife Sharpener Stone Wet Stone Set Nonslip Bamboo Base Angle Guide, and Flattening Stone
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Using a Slip Stone to Remove Burr

A burr Opens in a new tab.is the build-up of metal surfaces that occurs as a result of using whetstones to sharpen. Slip stones have a curved edge and a pointed edge, both of which help remove the burr from V-shaped or U-shaped tools.

These stones come in handy in giving your lino cutting tools a zero radius, thus allowing for easy and accurate cutting. The Japanese Multiform 4000 Grit WaterstoneOpens in a new tab., for instance, has two edges. One edge has a curved radius that changes from 13mm to 3 mm, while the opposite edge is taperedOpens in a new tab. at 40 degrees, allowing for easy sharpening and refining of V tools.

Using Stropping Equipment

StropsOpens in a new tab. help to maintain both the outside and inside of V-gouges. Using stropping equipment is pivotal in maintaining your lino cutting tools by keeping them sharp. Therefore, the main purpose of a strop is to refine and maintain already sharp edges. These handy stropping devices help remove microscopic scratches and unevenness that occur as a result of regular use.

Most strops consist of unpolished leather (acts as a coarse surface) and softwood usually shaped into suitable U and V profiles. In case you want a ready-made, easy-to-use strop, you should consider the Flexcut Slipstrop Carving Tool. The strop ensures that the inside surface is well sharpened, allowing you to save time and energy.

Below are steps you can observe to sharpen lino cutting tools using strops.

Hold the Cutting Tool in Place

Sharpening edges using stropping equipment requires a bit of technique. You’ll need to hold your tool in such a way that the cutting edge faces the strop. The cutting edge should then be slid backward (carefully but with a bit of energy) along the strop.

Slide the Cutting Tool Repeatedly

Ideally, it would help if you stropped in between your lino cutting project. This helps to keep your edges sharp enough to make the tiniest cuts. Once you start stropping, do it severally until your edges become as sharp as they were before you started the project.

The whole idea is to apply as much force as possible when sliding the cutting tool on the coarse surface. As you continue sharpening the edge, be sure to maintain the right angle of inclination as that will help to maintain the sharpness of the cutting edge.

When stropping V-shaped tools, it is advisable to alternate the sides. That is, if you sharpen one side ten times, sharpen the other edge ten times as well. Balancing between edges helps keep the tool sharper on both sides, which is crucial in maintaining consistency when lino cutting. 

You’ll also need to be careful when stropping U-shaped tools as the curved cutting edges mean that not all points can be sharpened simultaneously.

WATCH: How to sharpen a lino cutting toolOpens in a new tab.

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Professional Sharpening and Tool Regrinding

Hiring professional sharpeners can save you a lot of time, especially if you have little to no experience in sharpening lino cutting tools. While it might cost you some dollars, outsourcing to experts will give you the peace of mind that your tools will come back in better shape, which allows them to give you long-term service.

For instance, Lawrence Art SuppliesOpens in a new tab. is an example of an agency that provides sharpening and regrinding services. Outsourcing to professionals can be expensive and time-consuming if done every time your cutting tools become blunt. Therefore, it’s advisable to start with basic sharpening devices like whetstones and stropping equipment.

Using a Grinding Wheel

If you want a fast and highly effective way to sharpen your lino cutting tools, you might fancy using a grinding wheel. High-quality grinding wheels are usually versatile and efficient enough to sharpen edges and surfaces to allow for a smooth, neat surface finish.

The SG-250 Tormek Original GrindstoneOpens in a new tab. is among the best grinding wheels in the market. Point to note, though, using grinding wheels requires patience and care. Before using these handy devices, you might want to try out the other methods first. But if you’re confident about your sharpening abilities and experience with tight edges, you’ll love the efficiency that comes with grinding wheels. 

Traditional Grey Lino vs. Easy Carve or Soft Cut Lino

Traditional grey lino, also called battleship lino, is made from pine resin, cork dust, and linseed oil. This linoleum is usually hard to carve if you use cheap or beginner lino cutters. The good thing about traditional grey linos is that the end of the carving lines tends to snap off, which allows you to create marks and lines with ease. If you want to think of the usability of this material, or you feel it might be a waste, thinking about it practically, you can read some suggestions on our article 6 Best Things To Do With Old Lino Blocks.

It’s best to use traditional grey linos when new since they tend to go brittle over time. With this linoleum, however, using professional lino cutting tools is recommended.

Easy carve or Soft Cut lino, as the name suggests, is easy to carve. This type of lino works best for beginners looking to learn the art of lino cutting. Soft cut linos are made from plastic and tend to distort in etching presses. If you would like to read more on how to soften it before carving, you can read our article How To Soften Lino for Cutting (5 Easy Methods).

Differences Between V-Gouges and U-Gouges

Understanding the difference between these two types of gougesOpens in a new tab. is crucial to your success when cutting lino. 

V-gouges are known for their V shape (at the tip of the tool) and are mostly used to make small details and fine outlines when carving. Therefore, V-gouges are ideal for outlining and defining edges. You can select different sizes of V-gouges depending on your intended design.

U-gouges also come in different sizes, each performing a unique function. For instance, the smallest U-shaped gouges are called veinersOpens in a new tab. and are ideal for making fine lines in tight spaces, such as when carving leaf veins in a plant portrait.

U-gouges tend to leave large sections that are commonly referred to as NoiseOpens in a new tab. by most lino cutters. Using a wide U-gouge usually results in small amounts of Noise in the linoleum. While not all artists fancy leaving Noise behind projects, these sections left by U-gouges can add a bit of spice to a piece when used creatively.

Five Best Linoleum Cutting Tools

The type of lino curves made not only depends on skill but also the type of tools used. With several brands available in the market, it’s crucial to ensure that you get one that perfectly suits your lino cutting needs. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the best lino cutting tools you can use to take your craft to the next level. 

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PFEIL"Swiss Made" Palm Set C, 6 Pieces
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Characterized by their pear or mushroom-shaped handles, these cutting tools are ideal for cutting linoleum and wood. Pfeil is among the most popular lino cutting tools. The product fits perfectly on the palm, allowing users to cut with relative ease and high precision.

Pfeil manufactures all its tools using chrome vanadium steel, which, besides maintaining its sharpness, is also easy to re-sharpen after repeated use. Although the product comes as a set, you can purchase different sizes individually, depending on your artistic needs.

Josei Moku Hanga ToOpens in a new tab.

This set of Japanese printmaking tools is among the best when it comes to precision. The set comes in various sizes and shapes, making it ideal for both beginner and professional artists.

When it comes to variety, very few brands compete with this set as it includes a knife, bent neck U-gouge, bent neck knife, knife, U-gouge, chisel, V-gouge, bent neck chisel, and a double-edged knife. The various tools make this set highly versatile, more so when used to cut wood or linoleum.

The tools in this set have long and ergonomic handles, making them ideal for long-term use. The use of high-quality carbon steel also helps the edges to hold their sharpness for long.

Mikisyo Power Grip Carving ToolsOpens in a new tab.

Mikisyo Power Grip Carving Tools, 7 Piece Set (Japan Import)
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Besides its affordability, the set comes with seven easy-to-sharpen steel blades that fit well to increase maneuverability. All the cutting tools in the set are hand-made and designed to be held as pencils. These chisels are known to maintain their sharpness, meaning you won’t have to sharpen your cutting tools every time before use.

Mikisyo Power Grip Carving Tools, 7 Piece Set (Japan Import)
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Mikisyo Power Grip Carving Tools, 7 Piece Set (Japan Import) Opens in a new tab.
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  • Set of 7
  • Material: Special full surface double layer steel

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In addition to the use of high-quality wooden handles, the blades are made from double-layer steel, which is easy to sharpen and strong enough to cut both hard and soft surfaces.

Flexcut Mini Palm Carving ToolsOpens in a new tab.

Flexcut Carving Tools, Mini Palm Gouges for Detailed Carving, Ash Hardwood Handles and Carbon Steel Blades, Set of 4 (FR604)
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Flexcut Carving Tools, Mini Palm Gouges for Detailed Carving, Ash Hardwood Handles and Carbon Steel Blades, Set of 4 (FR604) Opens in a new tab.
  • A selection of 4 miniature palm gouges
  • Ergonomic ash hardwood handles fit comfortably in your palm
  • Comes in a sturdy wooden tool box

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The ability to carve out creative patterns greatly depends on the cutting tools used. This set comes with four small gouges that fit the palm perfectly to allow for ease of maneuverability. You can easily hold each cutting tool like a pencil and start working on your lino patterns.

To ensure the edges remain sharp, Flexcut packs its products in a high-quality toolbox that acts as a storage box for your cutting tools. Moreover, the cutting edges are made from hardened carbon steel blades, which allow for easy sharpening and re-sharpening.  

Schaaf Full Size Carving ToolsOpens in a new tab.

Although this set of cutting and carving tools comes factory sharpened, the tools will require regular sharpening, especially when used regularly for lino cutting projects. The product comes as a set of 12 chisels and gouges for both beginners and professionals.

Schaaf Wood Carving Tools Set of 12 Chisels with Canvas Case | Gouges and Woodworking Chisel Set for Beginners and Professionals | Razor Sharp CR-V 60 Steel Blades | Wood Carving Kit
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Schaaf Wood Carving Tools Set of 12 Chisels with Canvas Case | Gouges and Woodworking Chisel Set for Beginners and Professionals | Razor Sharp CR-V 60 Steel Blades | Wood Carving Kit Opens in a new tab.
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For increased grip and handling, the tools come with octagonal handles made from hardwood ash. The octagonal shape also helps to prevent the cutting tools from rolling when placed on flat surfaces.

Each handles measures 14 cm (5.51 in) in length, which is ideal for different palm sizes.

Once you purchase this set of 12, you get various cutting tools, including a straight chisel, spoon gouge, heavy bent gouge, V parting tool, veiner, and different sized gouges.

Factors to Consider Before Buying a Lino Cutting Tool

Buying a lino cutting tool is not as easy as it may appear. For successful projects, you’ll need a tool that suits your lino cutting preferences. Therefore, if you aren’t sure about a particular set, it’s advisable to buy a single tool first. This will allow you to learn more about the brand and whether it suits your style.  

Before buying any lino cutting tool, be sure to consider the following factors.

The Handle of the Lino Cutting Tool

Whether you’re a hobbyist or professional lino cutter, you’ll need an extra-comfortable handle that’ll allow you to cut and carve. Brands like Pfeil are renowned for their pear or mushroom-shaped handles that enhance maneuverability when held by an artist. 

Therefore, as you look to buy a linoleum cutting tool, check on the type of handle to ensure it is comfortable enough for prolonged use.

The Blades of the Curving Tool

While most lino tools come factory sharpened and hardened, you need to get a cutting tool that maintains its sharpness and is easy to sharpen.

Remember, when buying a set of cutting tools, choosing one that contains different-sized blades is crucial. All gauges are necessary since V-shaped cutters will allow you to make finer lines, while U-shaped will enable you to create broader lines when creating your patterns. Getting a set with flat blades will also come in handy when outlining.

As you look to buy a blade, check on its carbon content to determine its ease of sharpening and whether it retains its sharpness over time.

The Fit of the Cutting Tool

You’ll need to maneuver the cutting machine with ease to make unique patterns. As a result, you should check on the size of both the handles and the blades. Doing so will determine how well you can hold or move the cutting tools.

To get a well-fitting cutting tool, examine its dimensions and design. Please don’t go for extra thick or long handles, as they can prove challenging to hold in the palm.

Your Budget

Buying a complete set of cutting or carving tools will cost more than purchasing the tools individually. Therefore, if you are on a tight budget, it is advisable to buy the items one by one as you slowly build your set. If you are still thinking about it, maybe you would like to read our article on Can You Carve Wood With Only a Kitchen Knife? 

Final Words

Lino cutting tools are only useful if they’re sharp! It doesn’t matter which brand you own or the amount of cash you splashed on a set; if a cutting tool isn’t sharp, then it won’t be of much help when cutting linoleum.

Using stropping equipment helps to maintain the sharpness of your lino cutting tools. Be sure to strop your cutting tools in between usage to ensure that their edges remain sharp enough.

Whetstones and grinding wheels are also proven ways to sharpen lino cutting tools. But you can also outsource to professional sharpeners if you doubt your capability to sharpen your cutting tools.

Since lino cutting is an art that requires a high level of precision, it is advisable to get cutting tools that maintain sharpness and are easy to sharpen once they become blunt.

Sources 

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Ines

Ines is a self-taught artist based in the UK. Originally from Caracas, she has dabbled in the world of arts and crafts in a diversity of ways participating in city intervention projects, sustainable practices’ open exhibitions, and her illustrations being featured in anniversary editions of literary magazines.

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