There are a few golden rules in woodworking: You can never measure it too many times. You can never have too many clamps. Never spill your beer on the table saw. And it’s never, ever… sharp enough.
If you only use power tools, you’re missing out, buddy! For the love of everything holy, go buy at least one hand plane! I guarantee, when you use it for that first project, you will be hooked forever! There is nothing in this world, I kid you not, like the feel of razor sharp steel cutting smoothly through wood.
But there’s a problem, one that has turned countless new woodworkers away from hand tools, forever to live on the dark side with its power saws and random orbit sanders. It’s a problem that manifests itself the very first time they put steel to wood. You know what I’m talking about… the plane clogs, tears at the fibers, and makes a mess of things, and it often leads to a chunk of cast iron and rosewood crashing into the wall across the shop.
The very first time I picked up a hand plane I encountered this problem. It was a brand spankin’ new plane. I was certain it was a good one because I’d spent a whole $20 on it at Walmart, and the polyurethaned wood handles glistened like the morning sun. I grabbed a chunk of 2X4 and set the blade deep, because I thought a good plane should remove a lot of wood. Let me edit this story for the PG audience and just say that it didn’t work out so great. No matter how I set the blade, I ended up with a clogged mouth (on the plane, not my face) and a mess.
I was one of the lucky ones. I had read about the frustration that most new hand tool users can experience, and I resolved to never give up. Like a lone soldier fighting for the freedom of future generations, I kept at it until I had unlocked the secrets of this strange and wonderful tool.
Actually, there was just one fundamental secret that changes everything. It’s a secret so valuable, so precious, so vital to life itself that it has been carefully guarded by a handful of craftsman and passed down from one generation to the next for centuries. And I am going to share it with you for free. (Actually, you can mail me fiver if you feel so inclined. I won’t turn in down.)
Sharpen the stinking thing! Sharpen it, and then sharpen in again. Then sharpen it some more, and when you think you’re done, sharpen it again. The most expensive plane is nothing but a paperweight unless it is properly sharpened. And by sharpened, I mean honed to an edge that will scare the hair off your arm at the very thought of shaving it. This type of sharpening is not possible with hardware store sandpaper. You need the good stuff: honing film, stones, or my personal favorite, polishing compound.
If you are new to hand tools, do yourself a favor that will literally change your life. Dedicate yourself to learning the craft of sharpening. Then get ready to enjoy the world of hand planes in ways you never dreamed of!
While you’re at it, check out the only woodworking show that is worth it’s weight in sawdust: free episodes of Blue Collar Woodworking are at Stumpynubs.com!
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And in case you missed it a wile back, here’s our episode about my favorite way to sharpen. It takes the Worksharp 3000, ditches the expensive paper and glass discs, and turns it into a super-duper sharpening dream machine!
A lot of people have been asking me to make these plans available. It is the designs for the Worksharp 3000 setup I did in Blue Collar Woodworking episode #6=. It is a holder for the system with a drawer for accessories, plus a platform to sharpen wide blades, a holder for a full range of MDF discs with less expensive sandpaper and buffing compounds instead of the pricey honing films. It also has an attachment to use Tormek and Jet jigs.
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