Staying Sharp: Readers Talk About Sharpening Tools

In last issue’s eZine, Rob wrote about sharpening tools: do woodworkers view this as a pleasant diversion or a necessary evil? – Editor

“I have no problem when it comes to sharpening tools.  It’s just another challenge in materials handling/shaping.  Working wood, working metal, it is all part of the fun of making stuff.  What do I use?  I use them all. I have a Tormek and an assortment of stones.  For really fine sharpening, I use ceramic sharpening rods from Spyderco.  Now, when it comes to sharpening my wit, I usually go to the comedy channel.” – Dave Barkdoll

“Sharpening tools is not something to be taken lightly. I do not believe it is as simple as saying, ‘OK, I think I will start sharpening my own tools today!’  That is kind of like saying, ‘Gee, I think will go down to the hospital and do some brain surgery.’ There is a skill to properly sharpening any cutting device just like woodworking is a skill where it takes a lot of practice and learning. An improperly sharpened saw blade becomes a danger rather than an asset.   I do sharpen some of my own tools and I learned to give them a touchup rather than wait until they become dull.” – Randy Brumback

” I guess I never thought that sharpening was not a part of woodworking. I see it as a necessity, not a necessary evil. I use waterstones to sharpen my irons, but I will use files and a Dremel tool to shape and sharpen irons for hollows and rounds that I have made from scratch. The heat treating processes of annealing, hardening and tempering are alos not impossible tasks for the average woodworker. With that said, I suppose that I rather enjoy the metalworking part.” – Jeffrey Murray

For some, sharpening does carry the frustration of having to stop in the middle of a woodworking project. – Editor

“I love to sharpen chisels, planes, etc.  I have to be forced, however.  Do not like stopping project to sharpen tool and I accumulate tools to sharpen.  So when I stop to do it, it is a bigger job. Use a 1,000/2,000 wet stone to get a really polished edge.  It is always a lot easier and fun to do once I start. Send saws out to Atlas in Illinois. They are good and only charge $15 plus shipping.” – Phil Zoeller

“I schedule part of one day a week to make sure everything is sharp and all tool maintenance is up-to-date. I use a grinder and waterwheel for lathe tools, oil stones for knives, sandpaper through 2,000 for chisels and plane irons (finish them off with
a leather strop and 5,000-grit), and finally ceramic slip stones and metal rods with sandpaper for carving tools and bits. I was taught by my granddad that there’s no excuse for a dull blade. My knives have been razor-sharp since age 5 or 6 when I was given my first one.” – Bob Farris

“I typically reserve this task for in between projects. Like you, I don’t like to stop working to sharpen. Now, if I’ve got a lot of dovetails to do, I do keep a leather strop close by. Also, I prefer using plate glass and abrasive sheets. I like the constant dead flat surface as opposed to having to flatten a stone, too. I sharpen my chisels, plane blades, jointer knives, planer blades, etc. all in the same manner. I seem to achieve a “scary sharp” result quickly and easily every time, so I stick with it.” – Edward Burns

“It is a love/hate relationship as you described.  I love sharp tools, but I hate sharpening them.  You have to clear a place on the bench, which means you may as well clean the whole shop and get reorganized.  By the time you’ve done that, there is no energy left to sharpen.   If the shop is somewhat clean, you feel the need to not just sharpen the dull tool but ALL the tools.  Depending on the system you use, you may need to find the flat plate, correct wet/dry sandpaper, sharpening jig, and unload the shop stool so you can sit down.  It’s just way too much work, so I just keep a large box of Band-Aids in the shop.” – Bob Mayfield

 Those whose woodworking is primarily woodturning seem to have a higher interest in sharpening than others. – Editor

“By preference, I’m a woodturner first and all the other stuff? Well because I love it, too. From a woodturner’s perspective, it’s a skill that is almost as important as riding the bevel or tool control. I have found what works best for me is an inexpensive slow speed grinder with CBN wheels and the Wolverine setup by Oneway. This is what I use and, except for the wheels, I recommend to my students. A bowl gouge takes about less than a minute to sharpen from when I stop turning to when I’m back at it. The rest, well, I’m in the middle. I don’t mind, but I’d rather be using one of my hand planes than sharpening it. I use a marble slab with PSA sandpaper, usually the gold stuff from Klingspor (only on new old blades that need it) and the Shapton ceramic stones to finish; again, it’s quick, easy and not all that messy. That covers everything I have except for my spokeshaves and I use PSA on a piece of PVC that matches the curve or I make it match the curve. I’ve tried a lot of the machines –Tormek, WorkSharp and a few others — but I always go back to doing it by hand. Want to buy a really well maintained Tormek?” – Bill Dalton

“One of the things you do in woodturning is stop and touch up the tool before taking the final cuts on a project. Makes sure those cuts are good clean cuts and reduces sanding. I don’t like to sand, do you?  I like to feel and hear a good sharp tool cutting wood. I use a Tormek wet wheel sharpener and its jigs for lathe tools and regular chisels and plane blades.  A wet wheel sharpener makes sharpening almost fun, and at least satisfying.” – James Yarbrough

 And, it seems that eZine readers use a variety of sharpening methods. – Editor

“I discovered flat plate diamond plates  about 12 years ago. Sharpening is so much easier with a big, fast-cutting diamond plate.  I have a 10×3 inch dual -rit diamond plate  that is at least 10 years old. It has sharpened countless kitchen knives, chisels, plane irons and carbide router bits in that time. All I need is the plate, a bench stop and a strop to sharpen and true any of those edges. Recently, I started using honing fluid which has improved the performance even more. Both my daughters now have diamond plates for their kitchen knives.” – Fred Larimer

“I am using the Deulen jig to sharpen my 13” DeWALT planer and getting amazing good results. I use water paper (dark gray in color) starting at 320 mesh and going up to 1,200 mesh grit size. I add a small amount of WD-40 oil to lubricate the process. The results are amazing, with mirror surface finish. The performance after planing a 10” wide hard wood is superior and way better compared to a new planer knife out of the box. The other alternative for sharpening the planer knives is going to a professional sharpening shop; however, this takes time, has a high cost, and the quality is not as good as what I am getting at home. Needless to say that this simple process is saving a lot of money and, more important, valuable time.” – Gideon Levinson

“I started using diamond stones and leather strop about one year ago and I find it fast, efficient, and not messy. It was easy to master the technique and I get excellent results.” – Thomas Wilson

“I have found to do my own takes lots of practice. I have also found that I like using a thick piece of glass (very flat) and various grits of wet sandpaper. Also use a honing guide to set your angles: no freehand. Use progressively finer grades of paper till you have the edge you desire. I know I make it sound easy but like I also said … practice, practice, practice. I like to  keep one extra blade for each plane. Easier to change a blade and get it set than to have stop and hone or send it out. One man’s opinion.” – Charles Trahan

“ I used to really hate sharpening but it didn’t take a long time to see the error of that thinking.  Then my first step was to launch out and buy the best one I could afford.  The Swedes made a wonderful, dead-on accurate sharpener that could take precious time away from my projects with the mundane task of sharpening.  Next, I tried winging it with hand sharpening on a 8” grinder but predictably poor results.  Next came the realization of  ‘some things work better on the big grinder and some work better on the hand stones and some work well with my high dollar wet grinder.’  My hand planes get the best possible edge I can produce while my turning tools get what the grinder can kick out, but one thing I invested in that has helped as much as anything else is two double-headed polishers.  They put a mirror finish on hand plane blades and they are not necessary for gouges although I will run a skew chisel through the polishing steps.

“So, the outcome to all this is really like most things in woodworking: if you can’t invest effort in a step-by-step plan to take care of the tools you use, you won’t get good results, and that is a guarantee!  I used to sell high quality professional mechanic’s tools and I have had a sincere love for tools from childhood.  My father put me in charge of a major repair on his old Oliver tractor when I was a 12-year-old farm boy with only the barest minimum of tools.  I got through it but became interested in doing things with the right tools, and that  has been my mantra for the last 56 years.  Tools don’t make the man/woman, but they sure do help him/her achieve predictably better results and not wear us out physically in the meantime.” – Greg Thacker

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