The Evolution of Sharpening

When I started woodworking six or seven years ago, all my tools were usually dull.  I sharpened them will a mill file.  Yes a mill file.  I clamped the tool in my metal working vise and went at it.  Maybe that was a blessing because I learned to sharpen with a steady hand.  Anyhow, the file produced a sharp edge good enough to cut adequately.

Then I acquired a 4″ bench grinder.  It removed metal faster than the file, and with due care, didn’t ruin the temper and created a good edge.

At school, the shop teacher used to touch up chisels on the belt sander.  That produced a workable edge in a couple seconds.  Just mind the heat build up.  While he used the 6×48″ stationary horizontal belt sander, a 1×42″ belt vertical belt sander is a better choice, in my opinion.  They have nice adjustable tool rests as well as an unsupported area to sharpen gouges.

Digging though my dad’s stuff, I found a sharpening stone (oil, I think).  I bought an Eclipse-style honing guide and spent an hour going back and forth on the stone.  My chisels were sharper, but also cambered because the stone was dished.  To flatten it, I stuck a piece of 60-grit sandpaper on a scrap of laminate flooring and rubbed the stone on it, which lead to…

The scary sharp sandpaper on glass system.  Wet-dry automotive sandpaper on plate glass or other flat surface becomes the sharpening medium.  The beauty of the system is that it never needs sharpening and starting-up costs are comparatively little.  However, the ongoing purchasing of sandpaper got tiresome.

So I got a diamond stone.  Fast cutting, long-lasting, but expensive.  It put a nice keen edge on my tools.  I was happy.

But then I had a desire (maybe more external than internal) to put a finer edge on my tools.  My diamond stone was the finest grit available at 600x/1200x.  So I bought a Norton 4000x/8000x water stone.  And it cuts quickly and leaves a nice finish and a super sharp edge.  Water stones wear quickly too, but I stay on top of that and keep it flat with the diamond stone.

Then I got into carving.  Most carving tools are not flat, rendering my wonderful stones suddenly lacking.  It was then that I was introduced to the strop and honing compound.  Wow, a simple piece of leather and a green “crayon” sure put a keen edge on a tool.  This is the sharpening method I use for all my carving tools.  They cut so the end grain of pine so cleanly.