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Books on Blade Sharpening: the Good and the Bad

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Review by dfdye posted 1405 days ago 3836 views 2 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Books on Blade Sharpening:  the Good and the Bad Books on Blade Sharpening:  the Good and the Bad Books on Blade Sharpening:  the Good and the Bad Click the pictures to enlarge them

Summary: I recently read a bunch of books on tool sharpening, and wanted to share the ones I would recommend to friends. There are a lot of bad books out there, but there are three I have read that stand head an shoulders above the rest. They are, in the order that I would recommend them:

“The Perfect Edge, the Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers” Ron Hock—5 Stars
“The Complete Guide to Sharpening” Leonard Lee—5 Stars
“Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Sharpening” Thomas Lie-Nielsen—4 stars

The whole story:
For a few years now I have relied on sandpaper for sharpening my planes and chisels, but I have always had problems burning blades when I worked with a grinder, and I knew there were things I could improve regarding sharpening other tools in my shop. As a result, I broke down and bought Ron Hock’s “The Perfect Edge, the Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers” and immediately read it from cover to cover. He offers a fantastic explanation of the metallurgy of tool steels, tips on making your own blades (if you are so bold!), analysis of the composition and applications of assorted abrasives, and just about everything I could ever hope for regarding technique and tips for sharpening every shop tool I could ever think of using. The one area he intentionally skips is sharpening carbide table saw blades, which I think is a judicious choice considering the difficulty of accurately sharpening carbide blade tips, and the extreme danger posed by improperly balanced or damaged carbide table saw blades.

For anyone using hand tools, I would HIGHLY recommend this book as a great reference for sharpening shop tools. Even if you already have a sharpening routine you are comfortable with, the theory, history, and background offered in the book is still worth the read. The production quality is excellent—the pictures and illustrations are top notch, and the book is well printed and bound. It should make a great addition to anyone’s woodworking reference section.

Of course, after I read this book, I had to check out all of the books at my local library dealing with sharpening to see if there was anything I would add to Hock’s excellent book. Long story short, I read through a LOT of really bad books with terrible information that were essentially pamphlets describing what most of us already know. Disturbingly, many of them recommended sharpening techniques that would ruin most good tools. Boo.

There were two exceptions that I could recommend: “Taunton’s complete illustrated guide to sharpening” by Thomas Lie-Nielsen and “The Complete Guide to Sharpening” by Leonard Lee. As most of the readers of this forum obviously know, Thomas Lie-Nielsen is the head honcho over at Lie-Nielsen tools, and he most certainly know a thing or two about building and maintaining tools! As with every Taunton book I have ever read, the production is excellent, and the figures and pictures are fantastic. This book is a pleasure to read, it looks nice, and the information is very well organized and referenced. His book does not provide as much theory and background as Hock does, but his tips for sharpening are quite good, and overall this is what the title says it is—a solid illustrated guide to sharpening. If this were the only book I ever read on tool sharpening, I would not be disappointed, but it falls a step below Hock’s and Lee’s books, in my opinion.

Leonard Lee was not familiar to me, but during reading this book I found out that he is the “Lee” of Lee Valley tools—you know, those guys who are responsible for the Veritas tools? So suffice it to say that he has a few bona-fides too, but even before I realized this, I was quite impressed by the quality of his “Complete Guide to Sharpening.” There is some information regarding steels (not as informative as Hock’s, IMHO), and of course an excellent analysis of sharpening tools, including a few different techniques that Hock omits. This alone puts his book along Lie-Nielsen’s in terms of utility, but the section that makes this book excel is an excellent analysis of abrasives and how the affect your tool’s sharpness. This section has a series of scanning electron microscope images of blades sharpened with various abrasives that alone justifies reading the book! The one minor gripe some may have with this book is that it is primarily in black and white (I don’t remember if it actually had any color in it at all—I already dropped it back off at the library!). Despite this, the illustrations and photographs were quite clear and easy to interpret, and the overall production quality was first rate. I, personally, didn’t really mind the lack of color, but I did think it was important enough to point out for others for whom this might be an annoyance.

So, as I stated in the summary, as a book to buy and put on my shop library shelf, I would be very happy with Hock’s or Lee’s offerings. Though I feel it is not as well rounded of a book as the first two, I would not hesitate to also recommend Lie-Nielsen’s book as an excellent practical guide to sharpening woodworking tools.

-- David from Indiana --




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dfdye

372 posts in 1636 days



14 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8476 posts in 2248 days


#1 posted 1405 days ago

I agree, ‘the perfect edge’ was a good read, and covered anything metal/cutter related from the mfg. to hardnesses, and sharpening different types of cutters in any available procedure available today in full depth, including close up shots of finished honed edges with different stones etc which I found very interesting. I have not read the other 2, but anything from Leonard Lee, or LV in general is a good source (veritas related at least).

That said, although I found the book interesting and informative, I didn’t find anything NEW in it that I was not already aware of from some simple research on the net. the nice thing with the book though is that it’s all concentrated into 1 book which is easier to follow and reference off of.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View dfdye's profile

dfdye

372 posts in 1636 days


#2 posted 1405 days ago

PurpLev,

You are certainly right—there are a myriad of sources for sharpening information and most of the information in Hock’s book is readily available elsewhere, but you highlight an important distinction between intarweb sources and a good reference book: a coherent book complies all of the pertinent information in one place where it is permanently documented and is easy to reference when needed (or to take to the shop!). I, personally, found this to be quite useful and worth the cost of the book, but YMMV, of course!

Thanks, though, for pointing out that folks can find good sharpening information elsewhere!

-- David from Indiana --

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PurpLev

8476 posts in 2248 days


#3 posted 1405 days ago

dont get me wrong – I find that the book is most definitely worth it’s price, and I highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in sharpening, or in the processes that take place from raw material to the finished blade. however, if you already done your research, you may not find any revelations in it thats all.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View dfdye's profile

dfdye

372 posts in 1636 days


#4 posted 1404 days ago

Ah. I see! You are, of course, 100% correct! (BTW, I was in that “no revelations” camp, but I did still find it useful, and there were definitely some subtle things that I did not know. :) )

-- David from Indiana --

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Thomas Keefe

131 posts in 2008 days


#5 posted 1404 days ago

Thanks for the very thoughtful review.

Tom

View Jon_Banquer's profile

Jon_Banquer

69 posts in 1408 days


#6 posted 1404 days ago

Reading The Perfect Edge, the Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers by Ron Hock and The Complete Guide to Sharpening by Leonard Lee made me wish that there was a less messy and faster way to grind and sharpen / hone and that there was a better / more complete machine available for sharpening. To me a better setup would consist of a grinder, which in my opinion is the only practical way to remove a lot of material fast and series of slow turning wet stones. If a series of slow turning wet stones isn’t possible than make the wheels easy to change out in seconds.

I’m really not very impressed with the sharpening systems that are currently available as they seem to be much too limited and they don’t have an easy / quick way to change wheels or complete fixturing.

-- Jon Banquer San Diego, CA CAD / CAM programmer, CNC Machinist

View mnguy's profile

mnguy

159 posts in 1997 days


#7 posted 1403 days ago

I have Leonard Lee’s book and I can add my recommendation. I have not read the other books; I had blind faith that Lee’s book would be good, and I wasn’t disappointed. I agree that there isn’t information in this book that can’t be found online, but it is nice to have it all in one spot, on the shelf, for reference. Plus, you don’t have to spend all that time searching :) I would say that sandpaper is one area that Lee doesn’t give as much space to as he could.

View dfdye's profile

dfdye

372 posts in 1636 days


#8 posted 1403 days ago

Jon,

One expensive solution would be to buy multiple machines if changing stones takes too much time for you. Granted, it isn’t really cost effective, but it would cut down on your time needed to sharpen.

I personally don’t find sharpening to be very time consuming. I grind on a bench grinder if needed and go to sandpaper with an eclipse style guide to hone, building a micro-bevel with 5 and 0.3 micron 3M PSA abrasives. Once I get a good grind, I only need about 10 strokes on each grit, and then about 10 strokes on the 5 and 0.5 to get a razor edge. I am quickly coming to recognize that I would like a set of of the DMT duosharp “stones” to replace my coarse sandpapers since I tend to destroy them with my A2 Cryo plane blades, but I think that the 5 and 0.3 micron papers are as good as it gets for putting a razor edge on tools with minimum effort, so I will keep those in the routine regardless.

Total time from start to finish for sharpening a plane blade, assuming I don’t have to have a major re-grind, is about 3 minutes. I am not sure how I could ask for something to go much more quickly than that!

Granted, I built this routine from lots of sources in addition to Hock’s and Lee’s books, but the basic techniques and theory behind why I do what I do was all in there! Besides, now I know how to sharpen an adze. :)

-- David from Indiana --

View mcase's profile

mcase

438 posts in 1728 days


#9 posted 1403 days ago

dfdye,

Thanks for such a thorough post. I certainly want to get a look at this book

View Geedubs's profile

Geedubs

143 posts in 1829 days


#10 posted 1403 days ago

I am just at the front-end of learning about sharpening. Thanks for the insights/reviews…and related comments. I will check out one or more of the above and dig in!

-- Todos los dias aprendemos algo nuevo.

View Jon_Banquer's profile

Jon_Banquer

69 posts in 1408 days


#11 posted 1403 days ago

David,

Thanks for you thoughts and sharing your experience.

I think what I missed in what I initially wrote above is that getting a wheel as flat as a stone isn’t possible and that being as flat as possible is a critical factor.

Perhaps the best justification for a wet wheel, slow speed grinder is that it can do a better job than a bench grinder that has a much smaller diameter wheel, spins too fast and isn’t wet. By better job I mean quality of grind as obviously it’s not anywhere near as fast at removing material as a bench grinder is.

I’m now up to three devices and I wasn’t happy with two! ;>)

-- Jon Banquer San Diego, CA CAD / CAM programmer, CNC Machinist

View mafe's profile

mafe

9456 posts in 1688 days


#12 posted 1402 days ago

I love that book!
And I love my Sheppach water sharpener (would buy Tormek if I could efford it).
He opened my eyes for shapening, and a perfect edge is what it’s all about!
Best thoughts,
MaFe

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

View dfdye's profile

dfdye

372 posts in 1636 days


#13 posted 1402 days ago

Jon,

Got it! I personally don’t mind the hollow grind that a bench grinder gives since that just means less material for me to remove during honing. Also, the flatness of a grinding wheel has never been an issue for me—even if there are high points in my wheel after I dress it, I use a grinding jig, so the highest point on the wheel is always the deepest cut in the blade since I pass the entire width of the blade along the entire width of the wheel (not sure if this makes sense or not, but it does work). I also completely understand the draw of wet wheels to avoid over-heating blades, but with modern cool grinding wheels (IE not the cheap grey wheels), I haven’t had any issues burning blades.

As for your technique, it sounds like you hone the entire surface of your bevel. I know that Japanese blades are traditionally honed/polished along the entire bevel at all grits, but I personally find this extremely time consuming, and I can’t tell a difference in edge retention—but it sure does look purty! I can completely understand the draw of having a horizontal wet-stone system to aid in this process since it definitely takes forever by hand!

If you are rocking three grinders, then you obviously have a nice little system worked out. You should post some pics and describe the process a little more in depth if you get a chance. I always love seeing different approaches to solving the same problem. Also, I would love to hear how you keep your horizontal stones flat. I have never used rotating stones, but I always thought they would be a pain to flatten since I would expect to need a flat abrasive surface at least as large as the wheel face. The only thing I have that would do that easily would be sandpaper on my table saw face, but that would get messy in a hurry! I would love to hear some insight on this if you could share.

-- David from Indiana --

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