Tool Sharpening: Love It or Hate It? (The Answer is: Yes)

In last issue’s eZine, Rob spoke of how he enjoys sharpening tools – but has come to realize that not everyone does. He asked how eZine readers feel about it.

Those with backgrounds in metalworking, unsurprisingly, enjoyed sharpening their tools.

“I’m a newcomer into woodworking. As an electromechanical engineer who grew up in an automotive mechanical shop helping my father, I didn’t considered or put much interest into wood, it was more metalwork. In recent years, something happened to cause a complete turnaround and hook me up to learn everything about wood. I still consider myself a beginner and keep looking for tips from you guys. This is a process, and I enjoy the finished results as much as learning from the mistakes.

“I love sharpening my tools and bits as much as using the tools to work. In my case, my background of metalworking has somewhat eased the transition into transforming wood. And, more specifically, sharpening stuff.” – Luis Oviedo

“Maybe it is because I like making my own tools (planes, saws, floats) that I enjoy shaping irons and sharpening them.  Because of that, I enjoy sharpening my other tools, such as chisels and plane irons, and I am pretty good at it.” – Jeff Murray

“I am very good at sharpening my tools, but then I am a retired tool and die maker.” – Bill Ling

The concept of sharpening as a “Zen thing” came up more than once. – Editor

“When I was in college studying furniture design and construction, whenever I went to work in the shop I would sit and sharpen a chisel or two, whether they needed it or not. It helped to clear my head of any extraneous thoughts and feel centered in the space. A Zen thing, I suppose.” – Dean Avery

“I love to sharpen my tools. I spend hours a week doing it. I would not say that I’m good at it, but I do get a sharp edge.” – Steve Kindle

“I have loved sharpening ever since I got my first Boy Scout jackknife. We learned the tricks and traps of sharpening our knives, hatchets and axes and were taught that dull tools are dangerous tools.  When I got into woodworking, carbide was only for industrial use, so I got some jigs and files to sharpen my handsaws and circular saw blades. It was like magic.  Suddenly my tools performed better than ever with so much less effort. When I started using planes and chisels, the articles in Woodworker’s Journal and other publications hammered on the importance of sharp tools for good results.  I tried to use the information provided, but it was not until I took a class at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship that I finally got it.  For me, sharpening became the Zen of my trade.  The tool became part of me due to my efforts and I it.  Planes moved over the wood with ease.  Chisels cut with little effort and accurately.  While I admit it can be a bit of a chore when you just want to get on with the project at hand, the rewards outweigh the work.  Am I good at it?  I suppose I’m good at what I know how to do from the results I get, but I know that there is much more to learn and always new ways of doing things.  I own some tools that I do not know how to sharpen, so keep those articles coming.” – Lee Ohmart

Some attribute their sharpening success to a variety of sharpening tools. – Editor

“Not my favorite activity, but I bought a Tormek and it takes a LOT of the pain out. Of course, I still have six of the same skew chisel so I don’t have to stop in the middle of something to sharpen. I can’t do that with planes, but plane irons seem to need it less. I guess that is
because I don’t use a plane as often as I do a skew.” – Dennis W. Ewing, Sr.

“I have a WorkSharp 3000 for sharpening my chisels, but I don’t use them often, so the sharpener gathers a lot of dust. I have sharpened Forstner bits, but not perfectly, as there several different methods suggested by folks on YouTube, and so far, none have been simple, easy or satisfactory for me. In a pinch, I have tried to sharpen router bits, but not well.  I think I have the lathe tools mastered, now. It was not easy at first, but having made the investment in an expensive sharpening system, it has become easier, faster, accurate, and repeatable.” – G.P. Patnude

“I am getting better at it with my Tormek machine. I also have a slow-speed  grinder, and use it some as well as sharpening stones.  As a woodturner, once you turn with really sharp tools, you no longer consider sharpening a nuisance.” – James Yarbrough

“I pretty much use diamond stones to sharpen most everything that I can sharpen. I really enjoy the process and I do it and do it to the best of my ability. Good sharp tools are a pleasure to work with. Sharpening is like sanding, finishing or just about any aspect of woodworking. If you don’t like doing it, the end results will show up in your work.” – Greg Little

“Yes, I do enjoy it.  Up until about 2003, I didn’t have a clue on how to truly get the correct edge on anything. After using the 220 Norton Waterstone, I went and bought a DMT Coarse Diamond Stone. The 220 waterstone wore very fast, with not all that much material removed. I read somewhere that a wet stone shouldn’t be allowed to dry out after it’s been wet. So I built what I call my Wet Bench. It has a tank in it so the stone always stays submerged when not in use. The tank is just a rectangle wood box, lined with thermal plastic roofing (That’s what I did for a living). It has a drain in it like a sink so it was easy to drain, clean and refill the tank on occasion. I built a stone holding rack that sits on top of the tank when using the stones, plus a HDPE lid to cover it and blend in with the melamine top of the bench so I can be used for other things.
“We have a new neighbor, ex-Marine. (I sell knives on the side) He bought a few knives from me, and I threw in a free sharpening. He was in awe, he had never seen a knife so sharp. When you can do it right and you get perfect results in a minimal amount of time, you sure do enjoy it. You don’t shy away from it and put it off.” – John E. Adams

“What’s not to enjoy about a sharp tool? I must admit some of my turning tools give me a bit of grief, but the ONEWAY sharpening system works. I like to keep edge tool sharp. Sometimes I think it is an obsession, as when visiting friends and relatives I sharpen their cutlery from butcher knives to steak knives. Have you ever sharpened a straight razor? It is a real challenge if it is fairly dull.” – Andy Stanton

“Since I now have a Tormek Sharpening System, I look forward to having sharp tools.” – Eugene Stern

“I agree with most that sharpening and sanding are necessary evils.  I do both just enough to get the job done. Having worked in others’ shops, I note that I probably do more sharpening than the average and do get a pretty good edge.  But, I am lazy and use a WorkSharp tool to do all my sharpening. Stones are just too much for me. I have used them and have become frustrated. I wasn’t patient enough to truly learn a proper technique. For me, a sharpening tool like WorkSharp takes all the technique out of the equation and I get results that are adequate. Perhaps, in your case, your name legacy gave you the heredity to have the proper technique to use a stone!”  -Bob Bosch

But some eZine readers just can’t for the life of them seem to get the hang of sharpening. – Editor

“I like sharp tools, but as a novice, I can’t seem to get a good edge. My stepmother sharpened mine years ago but has since passed away.” – Kevin  Saylors

“I don’t like to sharpen or sand. I don’t really know how to correctly do it.” – William Miller

“I am not good at it; I do not enjoy it, but … I do not avoid it, mostly.” – Al Micucci

“No, I don’t like to do it. No, I am not good at it.  And so on. Don’t do it often enough. Have learned well the difficulties of using dull tools. Almost experienced the joy of using sharp ones once or twice. Perhaps one day? Oh yes, throw in card scrapers, too! Always hope. I hope.” – Jerry Johnson

“I’m not a sharpener! I can sharpen knives, blades, chisels and other things, but I’m not very good at it! I try my best to not do it if I can avoid it! Some of my router bits need a touch-u,p but I’ve been putting it off as I need some better stones designed for those bits. I really would rather do anything else but will if I find that the tool that I need to use isn’t up to the task.” – J. Eric Pennestri

“I try my best, but I¹m not good at it, even after taking a couple of classes, and buying recommended sharpening products within my budget.” – John Coon

“ Although I certainly enjoy the benefits of sharp tools, I can’t really say that I ‘enjoy’ sharpening them.  I appreciate a good edge that can take a shaving off a board so thin you can read the newspaper through it since it makes using the tool much more efficient and enjoyable to work with.  So, I take great care with my sharpened tools to not needlessly dull them by setting them down on my table saw or surface plate unless they are lying on their side.  I store them in a cabinet with a small lightbulb in the bottom to keep moisture out, preventing premature rusting of the fine edge.  I also tend to sharpen them frequently, just a little bit as needed, instead of waiting until they are so dull that it takes going through several grits to get them back in shape. I use hand planes and chisels almost exclusively in my shop unless I’m sizing rough lumber.” –  Chuck Chall

“Do I like sharpening tools? Not very much. Am I good at it?  I do strive for mirror sharp cutting edges on plane blades and chisels, but it does take time. My biggest issue is there are too many options, i.e. types of stones, types of jigs, styles/ideas for sharpening, and high prices. I have watched some woodworking shows on TV where some guy is shown sharpening chisels and plane blades freehand on a stone and gets a super sharp edge in less than 30 seconds, which is very frustrating since when I try it I get no such edge. I guess some of the tips and tricks relative to woodworking can be picked up just watching a TV show, but sharpening freehand does not seem to be one of them for me.  Maybe with enough practice I could become better, but I currently can’t justify the time and resulting frustration trying to get it right.” – Richard Riley

“In answer to your question about sharpening: I am terrible at it, hence I
hate it. I can¹t seem to learn to sharpen anything. Plane blades, hand saws, chisels, chain saws, drill bits, lathe tools. You name it; I can¹t sharpen it.  So, I hire someone to do it. And amazingly, the people I pay, well some can and most can¹t sharpen things either. They come back sharper but not like factory-new.  It is my woodworking nightmare. I am told that I am an excellent wood craftsman and have sold hundreds of pieces, but I sure can¹t sharpen stuff.  So I spend a lot on new blades and someone else’s sharpening ‘skills.’” -John Ahlquist

“Try to avoid it. Have struggled with it for many years.” – Ken Koehn

“I totally understand and appreciate sharp tools. I have since high school shop in 1960-something when hand tools were all most of us were allowed to use. In fact, I still prefer using a plane than a planer and I’m with the Japanese; the thinner a shaving, the better. Unfortunately, when it comes to sharpening: I have spent I don’t know how much on various guides and aids in trying to get a sharp tool . . . and have determined that as a sharpener of tools I am pretty dull. I have even gone so far as to mount a thick piece of glass on a piece of plywood and use it and wet/dry abrasive paper. Occasionally I succeed, whereupon there is great celebration and joviality.” – Leonard Hollar

“I don’t mind sharpening. But I really [stink] at it. I am teaching myself through YouTube and the good old hands-on method. Can be very expensive. I do expect to become a expert at it… perhaps in the next life.” – Joe Cooper

And some, while they may love sharpening or dislike it, are passionate advocates for the result: sharp tools. – Editor

“I’m good at it, and I love to sharpen and use sharp tools, especially chisels and hand planes. I believe that the safest tools in my shop are my sharp tools, and a dull tool is the most dangerous.” – W. R. Miner

“I am an avid woodworker, semiretired, from the physical work part of it anyhow. Keeping my tools sharp is important to me. I watched my grandfather struggle to build his own house in the late 1950s, early 1960s. He sharpened his tools every morning, and again during his ‘lunch’ break, which was really just another sharpening session. I sort of became the same way about keeping my own tools sharp, but found I was doing it all wrong during my full-time job in the late 60s, sharpening drill bits. I happened onto a sharpening chart at the bottom of an old crate of 1-1/2-inch metal boring drills and kept it for my personal use. After reading it, I looked into more instructions on sharpening all of my own drills for woodworking. After seeing what a difference sharp bits made for my wood, I went on to learn to sharpen everything with an edge. I can’t honestly say I enjoy sharpening these tools, but learned to love the ease of use they all give me now. No more struggling. I ‘touch up’ sharpen my chisels after each use, and when I pull it out to use next time it’s ready to go.” – Mike Watson

“I would like to share my recent “learning curve” regarding the  sharpening of my tools used for lathe work. I became a member of a woodturners club with zero experience on a lathe. Like any neophyte, I read and viewed every article available to me. It became apparent that a sharpened tool was critical for quality lathe work.The array of equipment and the techniques of sharpening were overwhelming. What do you purchase and how do you determine the exact degree of angles for various tools? You can get very confused and perhaps discouraged. The answer for me:  Select one system of sharpening and master that technique. In regards to bevel, find out what works for you and keep your tools at that angle. Most important: Be Consistent. I am now enjoying the craft, and the results are satisfying.” –  Bob Widder

“You can’t avoid it. if it isn’t sharp, it won’t cut the wood, although it might cut you. I think I’m pretty efficient at it. It’s just something I do. If the tool isn’t doing what I want it to do, it isn’t sharp enough, so it needs to b touched up. That means going to the stone on chisels and planes, or to a diamond card for my lathe tools, or to the strop for my carving tools. If you want to be a woodworker, you’ve got to learn to be a metalworker.” – Barry Saltsberg

“I love sharpening my chisels. The fine-honed edge never lasts long enough,
but whenever I mortise a lock, I break out my stones. I’ve been wanting
to sharpen my carbide blades and bought some diamond files. Not confident
in it yet, but when time permits I’ll return to it. I think sharpening tools stems from my time as a Boy Scout. I loved the axe and how well it cut when it was sharp. Any techniques on sharpening are always welcome here.” – Peter Farnum.

“Yes, I also share the love of sharpening.  It wasn’t always this way.  Until I got the proper jigs and instruction, my sharpening resulted in something only slightly better than the edge of a bastard file.  Now with much less effort (and time) I am proud to show my expertise.  My work shows the improvement as well.  Nothing like a really sharp tool!” – T. Newman

“I sharpen almost all my single-edged tools. Drills and saw blades not so much.
We have an older gentleman who celebrated his 90th birthday two weeks ago. He puts on an edge that is so good, man, and they stay sharp sooo long. My table saw blade was sharpened by him two years ago. I mostly cut hard rock maple.” – Neal Schwabauer.

“I look at sharpening as a job that must be done. Everything needs maintenance to work correctly, including cutting edges.  It’s not something I avoid, but I generally wait and sharpen several tools at a time. I once worked in a shop that I was the only one who could put an edge on a chisel. I was accused of making the chisels too sharp. One guy even ended up going to the emergency room when he sliced his fingertip with a chisel I had just sharpened for him. My only explanation was I like to work smart, not hard.” – Loren Neher

“I find sharpening very productive in the long run. I just wish it were easier to find good saw sharpening files. Chainsaw is no problem, because the Stihl dealer is close. It’s faster to sharpen a saw yourself rather than take the saw to someone
else to sharpen. I also carve, so sharpening and honing is something you just do.” – Tom Fink

“I, too, love to sharpen. It is easier than most believe and it is so quick when a tool is really sharp.” – Phil Zoeller

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