My First Workbench #11: Day 11: Mortises, Tenons, Sharpening, oh my!

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Blog entry by RaggedKerf posted 08-23-2012 01:42 AM 1461 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 10: Day 10: Glue up finished, starting on joinery Part 11 of My First Workbench series Part 12: Day 12: More mortises. »

Please click here for the version with pictures.

After a few friendly reminders, I realize that it is indeed time to take a break and sharpen my chisels before I continue. I want to make sure the mortises are as sharp and clean as I can make them to ensure a good fit with the tenons. To do that, I need to get rid of the (gasp) factory edge that has so far lived on the tip of my chisels.

To do that I decided to make a little sharpening station, based off of something I saw in Dan’s Shop—-an awesome resource for an aspiring galoot like me. His version is just gorgeous—-and takes up a LOT more space than I have available. So, I decided to make a version of my own with cutoffs from the edge of the workbench 2×4s and a piece of cutoff 1/4” plywood. I use 3 6”x6” tiles for sharpening and while I’d love to have 12” beasties, when I bought them I was on less than a shoestring budget and for 60 cents a piece, I couldn’t lose. They are not granite or marble or glass (because I always love sticking my tongue out at purists….no, really just because that was too expensive at $5 a tile and I was still dipping my toes in the hand tool water so to speak and wasn’t ready to fully commit) but they get the job done (my planes seem to be sharp enough, at least!).

There’s not much to tell with this thing…just a slab of plywood 24” long, about 8” wide. I measured, cut and countersunk holes for #8 1/2” wood screws.

Once everything was screwed down tight, I took my block plane and put a slight chamfer for comfort along the edges (whcih also trimmed the uneven cut that was left on the plywood from a previous project) and used some sandpaper to smooth out the rest. All in all, I think it took me about 20 minutes, 10 of which were spent cutting wood.

Ready for duty. Well, almost, the coarse tile needs another sheet of sandpaper, but the other two are ready!
Now I’m all set for sharpening the chisels and can leave the whole set up together. Even better, when the bench is complete (well, even before that…when the legs are on…) I’ll be able to clamp this baby down and use it to finish the bench. I think it’s pretty solid for a scrap-together project. And the fit of the tiles is pefect—-nothing is needed other than friction. I can fold the sandpaper over the edge of the tile and when it’s wedged home, the sandpaper is nice and snug. The blue painter’s tape in the above photo is from the last time I sharpened my planes.

And let me tell you, this thing works great! I clamped it to the benchtop because my temporary bench was too wobbly when I tried moving the chisels over the sandpaper. Once it was locked down, I had the chisels sharp and shiny in about 30 minutes.

I had to spend some time with each of the 3 chisels I have to flatten and polish the back first. But once they were shiny, sharp and polished to a nearly mirror finish…(cue George Takei): Oh my!

I now had 3 wonderfully sharp chisels (waaaaay sharper than they were out of the box, which, to my inexperienced eyes was sharper than anything I’d used before to begin with).

That left me with just enough time to tackle another mortise and tenon—-this time the right rear leg and the other tenon on the rear stretcher. So I whipped out the trusty Black and Decker woodwrecker and set to work with a 5/8” paddle bit.

Thanks to a long career at an arts and crafts store, I now have the freakish ability to judge whether something is level and square just by looking at it—-almost never need to check if I’m drilling straight down. I eyeballed both mortises, for the record and they are good to go. Seriously! This photo is off slightly because I was trying to do it one handed and hold the camera too…

I followed the same procedure as yesterday, namely, slice the walls of the mortise with the chisels and creep up on the layout lines. When I got fairly close, I started dry fitting and shaving the mortise and the tenon to get things nice and snug. And may I say, holy crap those chisels are sharp—-they literally went through the wood like a hot knife through butter. I know that’s a tired old cliche, but I couldn’t think of a better cliche to use…it did not take hardly any pressure at all (unlike yesterday) and the blades just kind of slid down in the mortise on their own. It was amazing!!! Thanks to my fellow Lumberjock Brian for giving me the nudge to sharpen my tools. WOW was it effective. I’ll never use dull chisels again! This time it only took me 30 minutes to do what took an hour and a half yesterday!

And the picture says it all:

Tomorrow should be an interesting day. Those sharp chisels turned a sweaty, nerve wracking chore into a real pleasure. I can’t wait to tackle more mortises! Bring it, base!

-- Steve

2 comments so far

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2485 days

#1 posted 08-23-2012 03:41 PM

Nothing in the world like freshly honed steel, eh? Your response is exactly like mine when I first sharpened my tools, I was just looking for a reason to chisel out a mortise or make a board shine like glass with my smoothing plane.

-- Brian Timmons -

View RaggedKerf's profile


425 posts in 2120 days

#2 posted 08-23-2012 11:49 PM

I was having so much fun slicing through the mortise I didn’t even notice the sides of my paring chisel had been sharpened too! Sliced right through my finger (just a surface cut, no pain at all). Haven’t had this much fun with sharp metal since the last time I was caught running with scissors!

-- Steve

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