Sharpening
Last Updated: 11/9/2008

There's a lot of ways to sharpen edge tools. An amazing collection of technologies and materials. I've tried more than a few and they all seem to work, in one way or another. 

Personally, for grinding, I use a Tormek. And for honing, a combination of diamond, artificial (Shapton) and Japanese natural stones.

My blades are very sharp.

I take a lot of time sharpening because, for me, it's therapeutic. I have no desire to do it faster, to "get back to the work" quickly. Why would I want to do that? The truth is, when I'm thinking about a box, and the way I'd like it to look, and why it doesn't look that way, and how I can make it look that way, or whether I should make it look that way, confusion and frustration set in to such a degree that I take refuge in sharpening. It's like a relaxing vacation, a holiday, just getting the steel flat, and smooth, and polished and then whatever's beyond polished, and then whatever's beyond that....

I used to do all my grinding on a high speed wheel, very little in the way of holding or indexing devices (just the basic toolrest that came with the old grinders), sparks streaming, knuckles tracking against the edge of the holder, setting angles by eye and the position of my fingers, quenching when necessary, freehand. More than one edge has been "blued" this way, and the resulting grind wouldn't be called exactly perfect, but, once it becomes obvious that grinding is essentially self-jigging (in the pursuit of accuracy, not doing is sometimes more important than doing), it's pretty simple to get at least adequate results.

However, the thought of screwing up those pristine Japanese chisels, which are very costly, set me on a different course.

Hence, the Tormek. Which has lots of holding devices sold as add-ons.Which have been purchased. But the thing I can't do, for the life of me, is freehand on that machine. So when there's a tool for which there is no holder, it's back to the high-speed wheel.

Maybe it's because the Tormek is slow. It's obviously not as aggressive a cut as a high speed machine, which means the self-jigging aspect isn't as immediately apparent. You have more time to get in your own way, so to speak.

Don't get me wrong, it's definitely a good machine. I use mine all the time. The attachments are great, studies in engineering. It's just that it's so softspoken it's hard to hear, sometimes.

As for honing, and bevels and micro-bevels and back-bevels, etc., I use one big old bevel, usually at 30°, sometimes less, sometimes more, which is redone at each sharpening. Supposedly, this takes longer. But if you can make it really flat you don't have to work much to make it sharp. Or maybe this is self-delusion. Very possible.

Anyway, I can usually get a decent edge. And that means the wood is usually agreeable.

But not always. Sometimes there's a piece that won't behave, where no matter the geometry of the edge, the fortitude of the steel, the exacting concordance of mouth, blade depth, included angle and carefully committed stroke, its headstrong fibers tear out, tear up. Your orchestrated surface now ragged and frayed.

Wood's like that. And completely innocent.

What can you do? Get whatever scraping implement you use and push it through, sacrificing polish for uniformity? Beat it silly with sandpaper? Resolve to tweak your sharpening routine to arrive at a finer edge, improve your planes' fettle, further investigate the dynamics at that infinitesimal fulcrum where metal infiltrates wood?

I don't know. I like to sharpen things, that's all.

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Last Updated: 11/9/2008