Stones River Woodworkers Club Murfreesboro, TN

Jay’s Ramblings

March 2014

In January we had a presentation on sharpening and it got me to thinking. My goal has always been for the club to share tips amongst ourselves to make our hobby easier and cheaper. Most of us are tied to a fixed income and the "Latest & Greatest" is not a common expression in our vocabulary except in jest. Another term mentioned was "In a lifetime" which has a different meaning to each of us depending on our age.

After attending a seminar on old style hand tools taught by Alf Sharp, I absorbed a little bit about sharpening since it goes hand in hand with using hand tools. I have read that the Japanese woodworkers who built the Samurai forts would spend the first half of their day sharpening their tools while they meditated. I bet they would have loved HSS tools. We on the other hand are a bunch of old Americans who are too lazy to spend that much time sharpening and it’s hard to meditate while concentrating on keeping our fingers out of all the power gizmos we sharpen with. Alf made a statement that has stuck with me -- If a tool edge is properly sharpened, you can shave with it - but - if you can shave with it, it may or may not be properly sharpened.

I have found that if you hold the tool vertical with the edge resting on the back of your fingernail and the edge slides rather than bites in - it is dull. If it bites - then it is sharp, at least for 98% of the kind of woodworking that most of us do. I use the tool until it no longer bites then I hone it on leather with honing compound. I purchased a small stationary belt sander (1" x 30") and purchased the leather honing belt from Lee Valley and compound and I am able to bring the edge back 4 or 5 times before I drag out the stones again -- no I don’t have a dedicated sharpening station! I don’t care if the leather is soft and rolls up and rounds the edge as long as the edge bites my fingernail, then I’m back to work. my hobby is woodworking --- not sharpening!! I’m a hobbyist woodworker, not a professional making copy’s of antique furniture and worried about power tool marks to give it away that I just made a fake. Sharper is always better but not always necessary.

Speaking of stones, Lee Valley sells a Norton "Truing Stone for Water Stones" for $29. It may not be the best that you can buy but I see it used in most of the magazine sharpening articles. I personally use a piece of glass or the marble plate I bought from WoodCraft when David finished his last sharpening presentation a few years back. I feel like my woodworking "Hobby" will be waning in the next few years as I am aging rapidly and physical disabilities are on the horizon so buying a few extra sheets of sandpaper to sharpen on glass won’t break the bank, not like buying all that bird feed is doing.

Alf said that he uses power tools until he reaches that crossover point where is easier to just grab a hand tool and get the job done. Jigs are great until you find you’re spending more time making a jig and setting up a tool than just grabbing a "sharp" hand tool. If you feel that power tools are cheating and you’re not a "real" craftsman unless you only use old fashioned hand tools, then have at it --- make sharpening your new hobby. If you think all the old craftsmen from century’s ago would have scorned the use of modern power tools had they been available that's fine, but I really don’t think so ---BUT--- some knowledge of basic hand tools and how to sharpen them won’t hurt you a bit. If you get good at sharpening and using old tools, it could take your "Hobby" in a new direction.

Lots of magazines have excellent articles on upgrading that old plane you bought at a garage sale. This knowldege can also be applied to other "edged" tools. Speaking of magazines, I am still hoarding magazines that are 20 years old. I store them on shelves and generally pull one off the bottom of the stack and reread it before I fall to sleep. This allows me to cycle through all of them continually. When I find an article, tip or instructions that I am interested in, I scan them into my computer along with the magazine cover where I can search and find them much quicker that riffling through a lot of magazines. Also over the years my interests change and articles that I passed over in the past, I find interesting now, so this is an on going process. Also a refresher trip through the tips never hurts because a seldom used tip is usually forgotten so it helps to refresh and perhaps increase the chances that I’ll remember it when needed, not after the fact.