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AW Extra 6/28/12 - 12 Tips for Better Sharpening


12 Tips for Better Sharpening

Get better results in less time with these great tips.

By Ed Krause

Hand tools are a joy to use, but only when they’re sharp. Just as learning to walk is the prerequisite to running, successful sharpening is the key to “unplugged”woodworking.Try these tips and you’ll be surprised at the strides your sharpening skills take and by the quiet satisfaction you get from your hand tools.

Homemade Angle Checker

This angle checker, made from a plastic lid, is a simple (and free) way to check the bevel on your chisels and planes. It only takes a few minutes to make.

Simply cut a 4- to 6-in. diameter plastic lid in half. Then, using a protractor,mark the desired angles on a piece of paper. Cut out the triangles and use them as a template to mark the angles on the lid.Cut out the angles on the lid with a pair of scissors.Drill a hole at the top and hang it on the wall near your grinder.

Click any image to view a larger version.

No More Waterstone Mess

There’s no getting around it—waterstones are messy. Here’s a simple tip for keeping that mess contained: Pick up a heavy-gauge, 13 19-in. cookie sheet (about $7) at the grocery store, hardware store—wherever. It’s large enough to easily hold three stones. Use a 3/4-in. board pushed against the stones and clamp down the board and the cookie sheet on your bench.When you’re done, just wipe the cookie sheet dry and hang it on the wall.

Dress for Success

Ever lose your temper? I mean your chisel’s temper.Don’t get burned by a clogged, uneven grinding wheel.Dressing your grinder wheels periodically to keep them clean and flat helps prevent the excess heat that leads to bluing and loss of temper(s).

Single-point diamond wheel dressers do a great job but they’re difficult to use freehand. Try a flat-tip diamond dresser instead. It has 36-grit diamond stone particles imbedded in a 1/2-in.wide by 3/4-in.-long face. Simply place it on your grinder’s tool rest and make contact with the wheel.

Surefire Scraper Filing

You’ve probably heard other woodworkers talk about what a great tool the scraper is, but maybe you’ve never had much luck with one yourself.Using them is easy; getting a good edge on them is the tough part. The hardest step in sharpening a scraper is the first one—filing the edge square and flat. Start off right with this easy-to-make file holder:

Cut a kerf equal to the thickness of an 8-in.mill file in a 1-1/4-in. thick by 4-in. wide by 6-in.-long piece of wood.The kerf should be a little deeper than half the width of the file.This allows you to set the file at different depths to avoid dulling it in one spot. Clamp the scraper in a wood-jaw vise.Push the scraper firmly against the holder while filing for a perfectly square edge.

Custom Gouge Strop

Getting a mirror finish on the contoured profiles of carving gouges can be a real hassle. The curved surfaces don’t lend themselves to polishing on a flat stone or strop.Making a custom strop is easy.Use the chisel to cut its own contour in a piece of poplar or basswood. Rub chromium oxide polishing compound in the contour and you have a custom-made strop.

Easy Knife Sharpening

Don’t keep your sharpening skills confined to your shop tools. Why not tackle that dull set of kitchen knives you’ve been crushing tomatoes with? Here’s a great tip: Go to any office supply store and buy one of those looseleaf folders with a plastic spline (about 40 cents).Cut and trim the spline to fit over the back of the knife. The spline raises the back of the knife just enough to put a consistent bevel on the cutting edge.Now your knives will glide right through those tomatoes!

Spend Less Time Sharpening

Less time sharpening means more time woodworking. Isn’t that what we all want? Honing guides get the job done fast, but setting the blade in the guide to get the right bevel angle can be time consuming.

Here’s a quick trick:Mark the appropriate blade extension for each bevel angle on your benchtop,or a wood scrap, for convenient reference. Hold the edge of the blade to the desired bevel mark, butt the guide to the edge of the bench and tighten. The side-clamp honing guide, shown above, automatically squares the blade and prevents it from rocking or shifting in the jig.

The Right Angle Every Time

Chisels and planes have bevel angles from 25 to 35 degrees depending on their intended use.You can buy a jig for grinding these angles, or make your own angle blocks at no cost!

Make one block for each angle. Glue up a block 2-1/2 in.deep by 4-in.wide by 10-in. tall.Mark the desired angle on the top of one side.Drill a 1-in.hole through the side of the block at the halfway point of your angle mark. Then cut the angle on your tablesaw. The remaining groove makes an excellent guide for your fingers.Cut the block to length so the top is equal to the center height of your wheel.To secure the block, drill a 1-1/4-in.hole near the bottom of the block for a bar clamp.

Fine Edge On Your Scraper

The edge left after filing a scraper is a little rough for fine work. Use a piece of wood to align the scraper when moving it against the stone and you’ll retain the square edge you achieved with your file jig.

An extra-fine (1,200) diamond stone is a good choice for this because the scraper won’t wear a groove in the stone.

Keeping Waterstones Dead Flat

Waterstones are great for sharpening bench tools, but their soft binder makes them prone to dishing out and grooving. Fortunately, flattening them is no big deal.An 11 in. by 12-in.piece of 1/4-in.plate glass and a sheet of 180-grit wet/dry sandpaper provide a cheap, perfectly flat abrasive surface for flattening all your waterstones.The glass will cost you about six bucks (be sure to have the edges sanded) and the wet/dry sandpaper about 70 cents a sheet.Both are available at hardware stores.Use water to hold the paper on the glass and to flush away the slurry.

Flatten Blade Backs Fast

It would be great if chisels and planes came from the factory ready to use, but they don’t. A perfectly flat,mirrorlike finish on the back is essential for a truly sharp edge. Flattening always requires a large dose of elbow grease and patience. The fastest method is to use an extra-coarse diamond stone. It won’t dish out the way oilstones and waterstones do and it can easily be clamped in a vise. Once you have a flat surface, move on to finer stones until your chisels and planes shine like a mirror.

3 Ways to Test for Sharpness

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker October 2000, issue #82.

October 2000, issue #82

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christjuan wrote re: 12 Tips for Better Sharpening
on 03-14-2009 11:29 AM

Simple, practical sharpening tips

tom massie wrote re: 12 Tips for Better Sharpening
on 03-26-2009 9:46 PM

Tip #4 for the surefire scraper file sure makes it easy to set up a scraper and makes the scraper a joy to use.