LumberJocks

Occasional Table Class (Hand Tool Build) #9: A brief bit about sharpening (dont worry more detail will come)

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by RGtools posted 1040 days ago 3990 reads 2 times favorited 26 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: The Bare Bones Tool kit. Part 9 of Occasional Table Class (Hand Tool Build) series Part 10: Sharpening and a lesson in humility »

Now you have brought your tools home and maybe even gone to the effort of finding nice homes for them in your work space. You might even have started tuning them up and that good. The most important part of making a hand-tool work is getting and keeping the edge sharp. a planes sole can be flat as can be and still be a paperweight because the blade is dull or sharpened to a bad angle.

In the next section of this class I would like cover how to sharpen all of the edged tools in the kit.

First off let’s dispel a few myths:

There is nothing magical about a sharp edge (though what you can do with it certainly feels that way) a sharp edge is the intersection of two highly polished surfaces at a near zero radius. I say near zero because…

There is no perfect edge. You will never see a 100% sharp edge; any surface looked at closely enough is going to have flaws. What’s important is that you get a good enough edge to do the task at hand.

There is no right way to sharpen a tool. As long as your edge is sharp enough to do the work, how you got there does not matter. Sharpening, just like any other task in woodworking is a personalized decision. Your methods are going to vary from mine here and there, that’s OK. If you see another woodworker doing something you like, try it, if not let them go about it their own way.

And lastly, it does not take years to learn how to sharpen. You can put a hair-shaving edge on a tool in a single afternoon. Your edges will only get better from that point, and you will get to that edge faster and with less thought…so maybe it does take years to learn how to sharpen…but it does not take years to start getting sharp tools.

The intricacies of sharpening tools are numerous and can be daunting so let’s just start with the most basic question. What do I use to sharpen? As I see it you have three really viable options for putting a keen edge on your tools (for ease of reading we are just talking about tools in the category of planes and chisels…we’ll talk saws later):

1. Scary Sharp (sandpaper attached to any flat substrate material…usually glass)

I started with scary sharp. I used 400, 1500 and 2000 grit silicon carbide sandpaper attached to MDF “stones” as well as glass substrate

It was easy for me to understand the concept of using sandpaper to polish steel…after all, as a jeweler I had used sandpaper thousands of times to polish metal. The introductory cost is cheaper than any of the systems: about $40 bucks worth of stuff and you are set to go. The system is adaptable since you can use so many different grits of sandpaper on so many different types and shapes of substrate. You can sharpen any tool to a highly keen edge using this system….So why in heavens name did I recently kick the system to the curb?

Because I am cheap and lazy. For all the benefits of scary sharp I hated having to replace the stones all the time because of wear and tear. The cost and the maintenance time add up making scary sharp the most expensive and maintenance intensive of the methods to sharpen your tools. The rule of thumb on changing the sandpaper I came up with…about half as often as you probably should.

Surely having read all the current literature on the subject I should have picked water-stones.

2.Water stones
From what I understand water stones have amazing polishing properties, they cut fast and they use water as a lubricant to sluice steel away to prevent it from clogging the stone. I have not used this system so I cannot personally recommend it. If i were to use this system I would grab a 1000, 5000 and 8000 grit stone (but if anyone who reads this blog and uses water-stones would like to add there two cents on them I would appreciate it.). When I decided to switch from scary sharp there were three very important reasons I did not choose water stones: 1. My shop is not insulated and if the stones are subjected to freezing temperatures they will crack. 2. The fast cutting speed is the result of the fast breakdown of the stone, they dish frequently requiring vigilant care. 3.Most water-stones need to be soaked before use…If I had to wait 10 minutes before I sharpened a tool, I would probably put off sharpening longer than I needed to.

Which Is why I opted for option 3.

3. Oilstones
I use a Medium India, a Soft Arkansas, and a Hard Translucent Arkansas stone along with an untreated leather strop. Here is a picture of my current sharpening set up.

Oilstones have been around a long time, they may not put the same polish on your tools that 3000 grit silicon carbide can, or do it as fast as a waterstone. But if you look at a lot of the furniture that was built in the last 300 years or so…you can bet the tools that built it were sharpened with a good ol oil stone. If it sounds like I am biased to these stones it’s because I am. I found the system that works for me and the flaws in the system are not even flaws. Sure they cut slow, no problem, that helps me conserve steel. They may glaze from time to time (rare) but they stay flat. They are ready to go as soon as I am. My tools get free rust prevention every single time I sharpen them. With a bit of attention in stropping, the edge is plenty sharp for any task I would throw at it. One safety tip here, get a metal container you can keep oily rags in (yes, that’s what the Altoids tin is for) so they don’t burn the shop down.

All three systems work. Pick one and get to work. Use it for a long enough time that you can understand what you are going to like in the long term.

Next up we will actually put an edge on a chisel…If I can convince my wife to help take pictures for me.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan



26 comments so far

View CharlesAuguste's profile

CharlesAuguste

126 posts in 1124 days


#1 posted 1040 days ago

Ah the sharpening debate!!!!!! sandpaper water oil!!!!!!!! and no mention of diamond!!!

-- "the future's uncertain and the end is always near" J. Morrison

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3299 posts in 1237 days


#2 posted 1040 days ago

I knew I would take crap for that. Diamond is a viable option as well (as are ceramics) but I left them out for the beginner class since I know less about them then I do waterstones. If you would like to go into your method I would appreciate it though is it will open another option.

No debate needed. Sharpen how you please.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Julio Alonso Diaz's profile

Julio Alonso Diaz

173 posts in 1463 days


#3 posted 1040 days ago

Good class Ryan, it is very true it dosnt matter which way you choose it matters you get the best result and most convinient to everyone. As you know I use japanese waterstones combined with diamond stones, if I can say a word I would like to recommend to someone who like to use my method (if they still havent watched my sharpening vids ;) Not to go crazy with too many stones, to start just a DMT 120 grit dia-stone, and 1000, 4000 and 8000 grit KIng Jap waterstones
I have also liked you say there is no perfect edge, it´s true and neccesary because the nature of sharpening is to wear down metal, this always causes scrachtes on the bevels even though they were microscopic

Keep it up my friend !

-- El hombre que amo la madera. http://aulaflamingo.wordpress.com/

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3299 posts in 1237 days


#4 posted 1040 days ago

It’s good to here from you Julio. I had hoped you would chime in. I expect to hear from you when we start talking saws since you are a bit more scientific than I am on the subject.

When we actually sharpen that chisel I plan to go into the mechanics of grinding vs honing, which really despite having all the same motions are two very different beasts in my shop. You flat grind your chisels using the DMT and move to the stones for honing if I remember right. That’s a good approach, when we get into it more it will be either that or hollow grinding (my preference…but I use both to be honest).

Hope all is well on your side of the world.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View CharlesAuguste's profile

CharlesAuguste

126 posts in 1124 days


#5 posted 1040 days ago

RGtools diamond are just a newer method i find that to renew an edge they cant be beat but please dont do like i did and end up with oil stones waterstones and diamond for woodworking pick one stick with it and its all good!!!!

-- "the future's uncertain and the end is always near" J. Morrison

View ksSlim's profile

ksSlim

948 posts in 1473 days


#6 posted 1040 days ago

Good session! I really enjoyed “there is no perfect edge” comment. Depending on the magnification, the best edges usually resemble a saw blade, somewhere between a hacksaw and a rip saw or maybe a two man crosscut.
I too use a combination of methods/stones, diamond and hard Arkansas with a charged strop during use to help maintain a smoother cut. Experience and manner of use will dictate angles. Somehere between a paring blade and a mortise pounder. Keep the info coming, I appreciate your efforts.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3299 posts in 1237 days


#7 posted 1040 days ago

No Charles. I am married to my system at this point.

Thanks KsSlim. I am glad you like the class.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Karson's profile

Karson

34841 posts in 2983 days


#8 posted 1040 days ago

I use diamond stones, diamond sandpaper (Used in the optical industry) The smallest is 0.1 Micron about 300,000 grit. I also hone with Chromium Oxide polishing on a piece of cherry wood as my strop.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Brit's profile

Brit

5102 posts in 1425 days


#9 posted 1039 days ago

Hey Ryan, just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write this great blog series. I don’t know how I missed it before, but I’ve just read all the way through from Part 1 (including the comments) whilst drinking my morning coffee. It only took 5 cups. :-) Can’t wait for the next installments.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View woodzy's profile

woodzy

413 posts in 1262 days


#10 posted 1039 days ago

This is an area i’m really lacking skill and dilligence. I use one combo oil stone . Which i think is the start of my issues. I started off really enjoying the whole process. I was getting decent results but it was taking me forever to get an edge i was happy with.

I have been changing my method and am in the process of moving over to sandpaper but i don’t trust my substrate. I can see you have sand paper adhered to MDF “stones”.
Do you then put those MDF “stones” on a flat substrate or is the MDF “stone” strong enough when placed in your sharpening jig?
Do you prefer a specific substrate? (Glass, Granite or another?)

Thanks for your work on these classes i’ve enjoyed them all and am looking forward to anymore that come our way.

-- Anthony

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3299 posts in 1237 days


#11 posted 1039 days ago

Holy heck Karson. That is some way to make a tool shiny.

Thanks Andy. I have enjoyed writing this series quite a bit so I am glad that you (who I often learn things from) have enjoyed reading it.

Woodzy. I place the MDF stones within a jig to hold them steady. The Idea came from Lie Nielsens sharpening jig. If I had a choice of substrate though it would be granite blocks cut to 3×8 stones, they would still be mountable in the jig and would be more resilient to the tool diving into the substrate and cutting up your sandpaper. I talked to a few guys in the granite business about this…they told me it would be VERY pricy. So MDF it was. Glass works for a lot of guys though.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View mafe's profile

mafe

9413 posts in 1672 days


#12 posted 1039 days ago

You are completely wrong!
A sharp edge is magic!!! Nothing more magic. Almost a miracle I feel.
But to make it sharp is not magic…
But I agree, the method is not so important, just choose one and learn it to perfection, the more you sharpen the better you get, just as with all the rest in woodworking.
What a wonderful little sharpening area you have made your self there.
Best thoughts,
Mads

-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3299 posts in 1237 days


#13 posted 1039 days ago

Mads. That’s basically what I meant. A sharp edge can perform miracles in your shop but their is nothing mystical, magical, or arcane about making steel sharp enough to defeat and enhance wood.

Wait until you see my next sharpening station. This one is just temporary. You told me that to draw is to sit on your ass and do it. Well, this is what happened.

Thanks for the nudge. My best to you and yours,

Ryan

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View mafe's profile

mafe

9413 posts in 1672 days


#14 posted 1039 days ago

Looking soooooo fine, a real dream station!
And yes you can draw also, so I was not all wrong – laugh.
Big smile,
Mads

-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3299 posts in 1237 days


#15 posted 1038 days ago

Gary thanks for that comment. The technique you use puts a very good knife edge on a tool, but I will say that on more figured woods I avoid it because the trade off for durability is more wedging action (more tearout) for the blade. But I will have to try it on my mortise chisel since I hate jigging it and I don’t want it hollow ground, and the edging action is actually desirable based on use…thanks for reminding me about this nice little trick.

I agree on the norton flattening stones (and most of the flattening gear out there), if it can be abraded out of true, it’s a paperweight. Sandpaper and glass (or granite), or diamond plate for flattening stones is what I prefer.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

showing 1 through 15 of 26 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

HomeRefurbers.com

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

GardenTenders.com :: gardening showcase