Aug 062018
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People are of two minds about sharpening, I believe. Some hate sharpening. They despise having to stop working, even though they realize that sharp tools are safer and easier to use. Like other necessary things we wish we didn’t have to do, we recognize the value, even as we’re wishing.

Others might not mind sharpening, but I don’t think anyone loves it.

I’ll go one step further: I believe the former group struggles with getting a good edge and the latter is good at sharpening.

Sadly, I’m in the first group.

For a long time, I was looking for a way to sharpen that wasn’t just easy, it was automatic. I got some really good advice from my friends Steve Johnson and M. Scott Morton. It can be summarized with an old saw: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

We conversed about machines that might help, and they encouraged me to just concentrate on hand sharpening with stones. And, to practice, practice and practice some more.

Not long after that I was watching a Matt Cremona video, and noticed he had one of those little blocks some folks use that sets the distance from the front edge of one’s chisel to the sharpening jig. Having that jig allows perfect repeatability for the sharpening angle. I made a block like that for 25i and I was off to the proverbial races. It seemed I could do no wrong in sharpening my chisels.

Then, one day, something happened. I sharpened a chisel I’d put an edge on with that same technique, and it wouldn’t cut worth a hoot. I figured I’d just gotten in too big a hurry, overconfident, and messed up the edge. So, I went back and honed it up from 1000 to 8000 and tried again.

Dang! Still won’t cut!

Some people just have it. I took a class at Arrowmont College once, and the instructor was working with one of my chisels and said, “I just can’t use this. Do you mind if I sharpen it?” What was I going to say, “No, I like it like that way?” She took it to a high-speed grinder and shaped it the way she wanted it. No, she did not blue the edge. She spent a few minutes on a wet stone and the chisel cut like she’d been honing for hours. I asked her to sharpen two other chisels, which she pleasantly did, spending about the same amount of time on each one.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I didn’t need to sharpen one of those chisels again for a year!

After Steve Johnson did a video review on the Tormek T-4, I thought it might be just the breakthrough that I needed, a machine to get a good shape on my chisels and plane irons that would allow me to just fine-tune on stones.

It might still be my sharpening salvation, but I’ve been so busy since it arrived that I’ve only had time to unbox and assemble it, and there hasn’t been time to do anything else with it.

It didn’t take long to figure out the Tormek Sharpening System can’t be up as high as sharpening stones. I found this desk up the street when some folks moved out in the middle of the night and left a lot of their stuff for the garbage man. With a top and some wheels, I hope its height will be ideal.

Maybe I can become one of those people who is good at sharpening and doesn’t dread it.

I’ll let you know when I do my review of the new Tormek.

Jim Randolph is a veterinarian in Long Beach, Mississippi. His earlier careers as lawn mower, dairy farmer, automobile mechanic, microwave communications electronics instructor and journeyman carpenter all influence his approach to woodworking. His favorite projects are furniture built for his wife, Brenda, and for their children and grandchildren. His and Brenda’s home, nicknamed Sticks-In-The-Mud, is built on pilings (sticks) near the wetlands (mud) on a bayou off Jourdan River. His shop is in the lower level of their home.Questions and comments on woodworking may be written below in the comments section. Questions about pet care should be directed to his blog on pet care, We regret that, because of high volume, not all inquiries can be answered personally.

  13 Responses to “August Woodworking Poll: How Do You Make Yourself Stop To Sharpen Your Tools?”

  1. I will say I do not mind sharpening at all. I sharpen for the task at hand. I do not usually go to the high value grits as a 1K grit and a strop usually will suffice. I will say I am more likely to use 3 different strops (successively finer paste grits) than I am to use all 3 diamond stones. The Paul Sellers youtube video on sharpening was probably the key to my overcoming my aversion to sharpening. Best of luck.

  2. Tell the minions at polldaddy to allocate more space to the “Other” response. If you don’t want to pay for the scoring of open-end responses, don’t put them in as an option!

    In response to your question, I demand sharp tools, even my pocket knife! If a tool requires me to touch-up an edge during a woodworking session, I have a dedicated sharpening station in my shop for exactly that purpose. I use diamond stones/paste, strops & jigs which greatly expedite the process. In fact, many tools simply require the strop for the required touch-up. Further, before I sweep-up, I sharpen every tool used during the session so that when I start the next time, everything is ready.

  3. I believe that many (if not most) people who avoid sharpening their tools have never experienced using a very sharp, well tuned tool. A week long class with Garrett Hack introduced me to just how wonderful it is use a nice shar,tuned plane and then the joy of he surface it generates. Now I ca’t imagine using a plane that’s out of adjustment or with a dull blade. The reward so outweighs the small effort of sharpening.

  4. Some day I will but a Tormek and everything will be razor sharp, but for now it’s the water stone and the strop and I admit I like to carve more than sharpening.

  5. I always touch up my edges whenever I go to use them on my projects I even stop when I use them when they aren’t preforming like I think they should. The sharper they are the better they work.

  6. I sharpen when tools need it. I have got a Tormek which I use to give a hollow ground edge initially, but find I get a better edge finishing with a fine carborundum stone followed by an aluminium oxide hone.

  7. As others pointed out, sharp is critical, whether cutting a potato, turning a spindle, routing the edge of something, scrapping a surface, mowing the lawn or any other project done using an edge.

    To that end, and thanks to craigslist bargains, I have a: 1) Variable speed (0-2500 RPM), reversible four wheel grinder; 2) An AirHandler, cabinet buffing station with built in dust collection; and, 3) A 1″x42″ Delta sander.

    The grinding station got two CBN wheels for high speed steel, and a Wolverine jig system.

    Between the grinding station and the sander, touching up edges is a relative snap. A stack of MDF blocks and wheels make honing a breeze too.

  8. Get a work sharp. I always hated grinding my plane irons and chisels. I was always careful and pretty good at grinding but occasionally, I would burn the edge. The work sharp removes the risk and makes the grind uniform across the edge. Sharping now takes almost no time at all.

  9. I struggled to reliably and quickly sharpen my tools until I came across Paul Sellers’ website. I have a dedicated place on my bench for three diamond stones and a strop, and I don’t use jigs or guides for plane irons or chisels. I can take a plane apart, sharpen the iron and have back together and adjusted in about 3 minutes, so it’s not an inconvenience. The delight of using a well sharpened tool is worth the time to to me. I use a guide for saws as I still struggle to reliably sharpen them without a guide.

  10. Thirty-five years ago I started off using water stones: 1200, 4000 & 6000. At some point I bought a Tormek T-7. When I started using a lathe, I turned to a slow-speed grinder with Wolverine attachments. I’ve never been confident about sharpening straight-edge tools on a grinder. The Tormek sat on a shelf for many years. Recently I have started using the Tormek again when an edge needs to be reshaped. Now my diamond plates sit on a shelf. For touch-up sharpening I use a Veritas Mark II honing guide and angle registration jig with water stones followed by a leather strop.
    In the past year I dedicated a bench for sharpening so nothing has to be cleared away before I can begin. Nothing else I have done has contributed so much toward keeping my tools sharp. .

  11. I am in the camp that loves to sharpen. I started my woodworking journey as mostly handtool oriented and this forced me to get adept at sharpening rather fast. Learning to sharpen plane blades and chisels eventually gave me the confidence to sharpen other edge tools like gouges, drawknives, spokeshaves, etc., tools that I may have never bought before because I was scared to sharpen them.
    Oh and I make myself stop to sharpen by having a dedicated station set up. If I have to drag the stuff out, I find I put sharpening off longer.
    Mike C.

  12. Treat sharpening as just another wood-working project; a stand-alone project, not one that interrupts a current project. How often you schedule this ‘sharpening project’ will depend on the frequency of cutting tool use, but use this project time to sharpen everything at once. That means some tools will go through a full sharpening routine while others will only need a quick touch-up. Hey; its not a chore, its a ‘project’!!

    And I totally agree with the first point made by Ronald Carl Dennis!

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