Monday, October 15, 2012

Bonus Tips on Sharpening

My last post feels to me like it was a bit of a rant.  I didn't really intend that.  If you can get your tools sharp with a grapefruit and an innertube, then you are doing it right.

So, if you are still with me, you get a trio of my practical tips on sharpening that help me, and may or may not help you.

First, my sharpening station.  My shop is in a 10' by 12' storage room, so needless to say, I don't have a dedicated sharpening station.  I would love one, and if you have room, I would go that way in a heartbeat.  I have to sharpen on my bench.

This has created a few problems over the years, as waterstones can be messy.  I have tried some shop-made solutions as well as several commercial products, and have settled on the following:

Fancy Sharpening Station
Simplicity is what makes this awesome.  This is just one of those flexible, plastic cutting boards (I got this one at IKEA) clamped to my bench.  I got tired of chasing my stone around while sharpening.  I needed something to protect the bench, and normally when you do that it defeats whatever you have to keep things put.  The clamp is all that is needed.  Any clamp will do, the nearer to hand, the better.

The second function of the clamp is it works as a stop for the stone.  I pull my blades toward me on the stone, whether I use a honing guide or not.  The stone bumps up against the clamp and moves no further.

Note also that the edge of the cutting board is right on the edge of the bench.  My experience is that water runs off the edge of the plastic here, and this helps keep your bench dry and clean.

The downside is that one must be mindful of the water on the plastic, as it can run off easily pouring all of that nice slurry on your clean bench top.  A) it's a bench and dirty is OK, and B) just wipe it up from the plastic on occasion.  This is easy enough to set up that you can do one blade and get back to work.

Next tip:  Don't get too fussy with your main bevel.
Un-hollow grind
Although I would really love to have a grinder, my shop just is not suited for one.  This leaves me doing all my grinding the old-fashioned way:  by hand.

Thick blades can take a long time to grind to a specific angle this way.  I think I'd rather re-saw by hand.  At least that is wood working.

What I discovered here, is that If I grind the main bevel to 25 degrees, and the microbevel to 30 degrees, there is quite a bit of play between those two angles.  What this photo shows is a second main bevel between the 25 and 30 degree bevels.  This was a LOT less metal to remove than if I had tried to re-establish that 25 degrees.  It took me about a minute to grind, hone and polish this blade when it last needed grinding.

Save the hollow grind for when you have access to a power tool.

Third tip: use an angle finder with your honing guide.

The specific angle is a lot less important than finding that same angle again.
This was a revelation when I saw Christopher Schwarz use it while demonstrating his method.  I used to use the Veritas angle finder, and found that repeating the exact angle was not so easy.

This finder is based on CS's, but is smaller and handier.  Plus, it gives you some great practice with your backsaw, polishing your lap-joint chops.
Good lap-joint practice

 I just used some appropriately sized scrap, in this case pine and oak.

I got extra fancy with this one and used a punch set to label it.  This one has (very) approximate angles of 25 degrees and 30 degrees when I use it on my thick Lee Valley plane blades.  I have another for my chisels with 30 and 35 degrees for those tools.  If I need another, it just takes a few minutes to make.

I used my old angle finder to determine the angles for these, but I wouldn't bet that they are exact.  Who cares?  They allow me to get back to whatever angle was there.  The microbevel is the important one.  When I need just a touch up, I can use the honing guide and line up the angle exactly where it was before with no messing around testing the angle.  Four or five swipes with my polishing stone, and I'm done!

Get back to woodworking!


  1. I like the handy gauge for setting the iron. It looks a little like the dovetail gauge that Paul Sellers made. I'm going to make a few in put them in my sharpening box.

    1. I find I use them every single time I sharpen.

  2. Resawing by hand can be fun so I fail to see the comparison :) One thing to remember is that if you are using a secondary bevel, the primary doesn't do any cutting so there is even less reason to worry about the angle as long as it isn't so low as to weaken the edge. Also think about a hand cranked grinder, takes up little space and speeds up things. I started like you using a coarse stone for grinding and no matter what you compare it to, it isn't fun

    1. Thanks, Shannon. You put it better than I did.

      I really could use a grinder of some kind. A hand cranked one might be a good answer.

      But, for the meantime, when I need to grind I'll use the grinder at another shop.

  3. Interesting, indeed. Even though I don't know what you are talking about it's still fun to see what you are learning, Brian! And teaching. I wonder if I should try some of this stuff? Nah!

    Love you - your Mom

    1. Haha, Thanks, Mom.

      I would probably be the hero of the woodworking universe if I could get my 76 year old mother started woodworking!