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Wanna get sharp? Get a system.comments (10) March 28th, 2013 in blogs
I know plenty of woodworkers who struggle with sharpening. And because of that, I see lots of perfectly good hand tools gathering moss on the shelf. After all, if your tools aren't sharp, they're not going to perform well, so machines become "the only way."
But hand tools will improve your work exponentially. With them, you can incorporate details that could be done only with the kiss of a plane or by careful paring with a chisel. They're also the ideal helper for machine-cut joinery, allowing you to dial in the fit with perfection.
I tell these guys who are struggling that sharpening isn't hard. It's just a matter of finding a system, and sticking with it. Once you have a basic system of sharpening that works, you no longer will sweat it, or dread the process, because it will become second-nature.
And what's great about having a system is that you can always tweak it-perhaps playing with angles-knowing that if your change doesn't work you have a solid base to return to.
My system is a mish-mash of various techniques I've seen in the magazine and on the road, visiting our authors. Now it's no bother to sharpen, and my hand-tool skills have taken a huge jump. My system is simple, but it did take lots practice, and I still have room for improvement.
Start by Grinding the Bevel
I start by grinding the primary bevel. Grinding an expensive chisel or blade can be scary. I nailed my technique by practicing on a cheap beater chisel, purchased at The Home Depot. If you're struggling with this job, check out Joel Moskowitz's article in issue #198 ("Grind Perfect Edges Without Burning"). I got some great tips on setup and technique there. Practice, and you'll do great.
Next, Flatten the Back
I flatten the back next, working up through various grits. I learned the technique from Chris Gochnour. I use waterstones for the most part, but if I have a particularly stubborn blade back, I'll use coarser grits on a granite plate. This is the most time-consuming and labor-intensive step. But be patient, do it right, and remember that it only has to be done once. The key with this job is having a flat substrate to work on.
Hone the Secondary Bevel
Finally, I sharpen the secondary bevel. I use a basic honing guide that clamps the blade between jaws. To set it up, I use a jig with stops that let me set the blade protrusion at the right distance for common angles. I learned that from an article by Deneb Puchalski in issue #213 ("Get Sharp--Fast").
De-burr the Back
Honing leaves a burr on the back that has to be removed. I do that on the final grit stone. After that, the blade is ready to cut.
Sharpening doesn't have to be an obstable. Pick a method, practice and perfect it, and get back to making furniture.
posted in: blogs, sharpening, Chisel, honing, blade, plane blade
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