Thursday, December 26, 2013

Card scrapers, shavings and sawdust

Ever go along using a tool that works OK but you know could work a lot better?  That has been the case for me with card scrapers.  I have often seen videos of other woodworkers getting actual shavings with them and scowled.  I got something more than sawdust but definitely less than shavings.  Finally I said, "That's it, I've had enough, I've got to figure this out."

I had made several prior attempts, even taking a four hour class.  I didn't find it helpful as we spent the entire time learning how to polish your scraper to the point you could use it for a shaving mirror, which left no time to learn to burnish properly.  In any case, I already have a mirror to shave in and I couldn't, and can't, see how it would make the scraper perform better.  I've read articles and watched videos but never could seem to replicate the results.  This time, I vowed to keep sharpening a scraper over and over until I got it right, all day if necessary.  I couldn't do it right without figuring out what I was doing wrong though.

  I decided to go on the internet and look for videos. There are lots and lots, so I picked three to focus on initially:

  1. William Ng
  2. Curtis Buchanan
  3. Paul Sellers' son
As Curtis comments, there are 10,001 ways to sharpen card scrapers and that is part of the confusion I think.  You have to pick one and try to develop skill with it.  As it happened, I was initially most intrigued by William Ng's method, partially because it is at the opposite end of the spectrum from what I have been doing, so I tried exactly what you see on the video with the exception that I used oilstones rather than waterstones.  I didn't joint the edge with a file, just worked to create a polished square edge on the stones.  Then I very lightly burnished the edge using his two step process and, whadayaknow, I got shavings, not as good as his but shavings nonetheless!  His advice happened to be just right for me because it corrected what I had been doing wrong.  With all the talk of hooks, I somehow thought I needed to burnish a hook big enough to catch a salmon.  He doesn't even care about a hook, just creating a very sharp edge and says that his hook is often nearly imperceptible.  His focus is on a sharp corner.  He likens big hooks to long fingernails that will bend and break easily.  I had been creating a big, weak hook that failed quickly.

Time will tell, but the improvement was dramatic.  I don't necessarily think the Ng video is the right answer for everyone but it was just what I needed to correct my error.  I even did what he did and created some deep scratches on hard maple to see how quickly I could scrape them out.  Amazing--and fun.


  1. Right on--in fact, the scraper I use at least as often as my card scraper is just a stiff-bladed putty knife, about 1-1/2" wide. I sharpen it with a mill file clamped flatwise in the bench vise; I hold the putty knife vertically and slowly, steadily push it along the length of the file. Two or three strokes are plenty. No burnishing, but the flat faces were polished one time, long ago--no need to do this ever again.

    I use it by pushing it forward at a low angle. It takes beautiful shavings, and is very easy on the hands and gets right into corners and tight spots with ease.

  2. This is another well done video by Mike Pekovic at FWW:

  3. Triple ditto marks are the vast amount of confusion out on WWW as to how to do this. I like Joseph's method, I used Scott's Phillip's way, and I read Phil Lowe's article in FWW about using a point to burnish. I still don't fully understand it and the Lost Art Press recently did a blog on sharpening a scraper like Lowe's FWW article. Like you, I've picked my method and I'll stick with it until I get proficient with it.