Thursday, January 31, 2013

My problem with waterstones

. . . is that they require more strength of character than I possess.  My shop is in a garage, on rare occasions it can freeze and it has no utility sink.  I lack room for a dedicated sharpening station.  I'm too cheap to spend $170 on a diamond flattening plate so I had to use a granite plate and sandpaper.  Getting everything  out, soaking, flattening, the mess . . .  kept me from interrupting my work to touch up my edges as often as I should have.  Sharpening must be an ongoing process in which you pause for a minute from what you are doing to hone an edge and then get back to work.  I came to the conclusion that for me to use waterstones like this I would need a dedicated sharpening station with a sink, and that wasn't possible.

I accept that water stones are likely the "best" sharpening method, particularly for A2 steel, but they just aren't for me.  I'm too lazy, a known character flaw.  If I had it to do over again, I would only buy tools with O1 or vintage steel, get myself a few nice oilstones and live happily ever after.  I watch Bob Rozaieski with his oilstones and vintage tools and feel jealous.  Unfortunately, I bought a fair number of plane blades and chisels with A2 steel, so that's not an option.  To show you just how strange my thinking is, I keep thinking about selling them and reverting to O1 and vintage steel.  The old chisel that I wrote about earlier sharpens incredibly easily to a very keen edge.  For those of us of a certain age, keeping it sharp is almost like the barber taking a few strokes on a strop with his straight razor before shaving your neck.  This more than compensates for the fact that the chisel dulls quicker.  I just don't care because it is so easy to resharpen it.

I feel somewhat sheepish to tell you what I have been doing.  Basically, I have been doing my sharpening on a Worksharp 3000 with the top table, mostly freehand but sometimes with a jig if I get off track.  I have all the grits up to the micromesh 6,000.  The key for me was to buy a footswitch that is only on when you press on it.  After sharpening like this, and throughout the day, I use a strop.  Not the best probably, but it works.  Now, I want to improve on this method so that routine resharpening at the bench during the day is unplugged, very quick and convenient.

Paul Sellers had the same reaction to waterstones as I did but went in another direction.  He uses course, fine and superfine diamond stones followed by a strop.  He still uses a little bit of water (window cleaner actually) but his sharpening setup is quick, convenient and effective.  He uses all three stones and the strop every time he sharpens so as to continuously maintain the convex bevel that he prefers.  Sharpening a chisel takes him only a minute, as you can see.

Here's what I decided.  I have the Worksharp 3000 and it works fine for creating primary bevels.  I want a quick, convenient method for honing secondary bevels at the bench so I will be encouraged to touch up my edges regularly.  I've purchased a two-sided fine/superfine diamond stone and I'm going to keep using the strop.  Basically, I've adopted the last three steps of Paul Seller's method, but not the first.  Everything is a step away on a large, sturdy metal tray that I can put on the bench, use and put away in no time.  Given that I have so much A2 steel, this is the closest I can come to the traditional use of oilstones.

So far, it seems to work as I expected.  Because it is so easy to maintain my edges throughout the day, they are sharper on average.

I know that many of you will strongly reject this approach and I don't challenge you at all.  This is an experiment and I may reject it myself.  Sharpening is incredibly important, but it is also one of those things where personal preference is strong and different woodworkers adopt sharply different methods.  I wanted to share what I am trying, but even if it works for me it may not work for you.  You wouldn't expect all baseball players to use the same bat, would you?


  1. Andy, I went a similar way - started with scary sharp, moved to waterstones in an unheated garage, and have now been using diamond plates with Spyderco (George Wilson's recommendation) with a strop at the end. Works wonderfully, nice and quick with little mess and hassle.

  2. Hey Andy, I sharpen A2 chisels and plane irons on oilstones, having discarded my waterstones for much the same reasons you have (I'm in WA, and the last thing I need in the shop is more damp). The key is to dress the oilstones with a diamond hone to keep a fresh cutting surface, though you won't get a high polish as from a worn-in Arkansas. I don't recommend changing if you have a method you're comfortable with, though!

  3. Andy:

    I have mostly vintage and O1 steel, but do have a few A2 blades and I use oilstones. The Norton Medium India oilstone is quick and will easily sharpen A2 steel. I then briefly use a natural soft arkansas, a black arkansas, and then strop. If you want to save some money, you could get the medium India ($17), the soft arkansas ($35-40) and strop, which you already have. The soft arkansas does a great job sharpening O1 steel without changing the camber I have on a blade. It also acts as a polishing stone for A2.

    I got my India stone from Tools for Working Wood and the Soft Arkansas from Hall's Pro Edge.

    I hope this helps.


  4. Andy, I'm thinking about doing the same thing. I already have an extra course plate and thinking about just getting a fine/superfine and selling off the waterstones.

  5. I took a look at waterstones, and luckily passed on it despite how much every one raves about them.

    The mess is the major turn off for me, every waterstone sharpening area I've ever seen is a goopy gritty mess. No thank you.

    I managed to get a fantastic translucent arkansas oil stone from TFWW with a bonus check, but it was worth it. I have also not gone A2 and use mostly vintage plane blades anyway so it's less of a concern to me.

    However, I think the single most important thing about sharpening is this: get it sharp and get to work on the wood. Use whatever works, and don't fret about it.