Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sharpening follies no more?

I am pleased that my last post resulted in comments that are more interesting than what I had to say.  Here are some excerpts and my observations:
I have found that picking up a spare iron often costs very little and just switch out the iron when one starts to get a little dull. But I do like to gang sharpen my tools - spend a couple of hours on a sunday afternoon listening to music... (essencedebois)
 Observation:  I don't run across spare irons but it's an interesting idea.  As for gang sharpening, that was my theory as well and is part of the reason that I have so many chisels and planes (another is that I can't resist a vintage tool at a cheap price) but it didn't work out in practice.  If it's Sunday afternoon and I am listening to music, I can always think of something better to do than sharpen.  :(
For tools that I have "scienced out" and can reliably sharpen them, this is easy enough to handle. My spokeshave blades and skew bladed planes, not so much. I don't have a jig for these, and freehand sharpening depends too much on the phases of the moon and planetary alignment for me. (mcglynnonmaking)
Observation:  I am in the same boat.  I prefer free-hand sharpening but struggle with consistency, so I need jigs to fall back on when necessary to get back on track unfortunately.  As for your spokeshaves, I have found that this is a good option.
I'm in the sharpen often and quickly camp. The biggest help for me is a sharpening bench that is only a step or two away from the working end of my main bench. A chisel touch up takes about the same time as a sip of coffee or water.

BTW, I hate doing a bunch of irons at a time. I try to never put an iron, chisel or plane, back in the rack unless it is sharp and ready to use.  (I'm a OK Guy)
Observation:  Your camp is where I want to pitch my tent.  You are probably more disciplined than I am, but I'm going to give it a shot.

After reading the comments and thinking about it, I concluded that I have to create a very well-organized, dedicated, sharpening station  that will allow me to sharpen quickly and get back to work fast.  The idea is to make regular sharpening the path of least resistance.  Here's the picture:

On the left, you can see my Work Sharp and the accessories I use with it.  On the right is a granite plate on which I place my two-sided diamond stones or, sometimes, sheets of sandpaper.  In the middle is a tray for tools for sharpening and a magnetic base for a magnifier with LEDs.  (I cleverly convinced my wife that she needed new baking pans on Black Friday.)  Everything else I use for sharpening is on the shelves or in the drawers.  I am going to write a post about the Work Sharp next, so here I am just going to give an overview.

Let me stipulate for the record that I accept that waterstones are the best sharpening method even though I don't have them and don't want them.  If I had a setup like William Ng I might go this way:  a dedicated space that looks like a chemistry lab table with a stone pond that has a water supply and a drain, an apparatus to hold the stones above the pond, a flattening plate, etc. etc.  I don't and using them is way too fussy for me without it.  Further, my workshop sometimes freezes.  Too fancy, not quick and easy enough, don't want to make another investment in another sharpening method.

I bought into the simple Paul Sellers approach and continue to use it in modified form:  diamond stones from coarse to very fine and a strop.  The strop stays on the bench and I do find myself using it quite often.  The image in my mind is the barber I went to as a kid who stropped his straight razors before every haircut.  I can go over here and touch up an iron on fine and extra fine grits very quickly, then strop at the bench.  Frequently I just strop a few strokes at the bench.

As for jigs, I have wasted time and money on a succession of jigs and finally concluded that the first one I bought is the best, this basic Lee Valley one, not the fancy Mk II.  You almost never hear about it anymore but I really like it.  It seems to hold most blades well and I have learned to square up blades in the jig fairly quickly using a small engineer's square.  I found the Mk II big, clunky, cumbersome to hold and slow and I had the same problem with the clamp that Ralph (The Accidental Woodworker) did, so I sold it.  My basic jig also has a convenient way to adjust it for micro-bevels and works well with that small blade holder I linked to above.  I don't use it all the time, but I consider it indispensable since I am not always consistent freehand.  As I will explain, I use it on the diamond stones and on the Worksharp.

A good horse rode hard and put away wet won't stay good for long. Maybe I should post this on the top of my tool chest:
 A good tool rode hard and put away dull is the mark of a bad woodworker!


  1. Andy,

    You might get some argument from me over water stones being the best sharpening method. I tire of the water stone mess and high maintenance quickly. They, water stones, will polish iron quickly and to a high sheen but a good polish doesn't necessarily mean a good edge, often a "duller" looking edge, one not so highly polished will give a sharper longer lasting iron.

    David Savage recently posted an email about the difference between highly polished synthetic water stone edges and less polished more matte looking natural water stone edges. I find much the same effect but with Arkansas oil stones, not as polished an edge but when looked at under magnification a much smoother scratch pattern. Of course as with all things wood, YMMV,

    BTW, I like your new sharpening station. I expect if combined with most of your honing being done freehand you will find keeping good working edges very easy and quick.


    1. Regrettably, I purchased a number of tools with A2 steel before I found out that I strongly prefer O1. Otherwise, I would definitely be trying Arkansas oil stones.

  2. The important part of what Paul Sellers was going into was the ease of the convex bevel, not the graduation of the stones. No jigs. The gist was really that working with a dull tool is useless; if touching up an edge takes 5 seconds then you really don't have an excuse not to have done it. In a video he gives an anecdote: when he was an apprentice he'd get into trouble if he spent more than a few moments sharpening and not being productive.

    The strop right there on the bench with you is not a bad idea for chisel work and such, but for face planing I think I'd rather have my bench real estate taken up by the board!