Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Thoughts On The Shop and Sharpening

Small changes to the shop can make big differences in functionality. One of the greatest has been lowering the secondary bench and moving it off the wall into a central location in front of the main work bench. Several other changes have helped as well, the major one was moving the Moxon vise off what is now my planing and assembly bench to the back side of the main bench. All the changes effectively give much more room to work and things are set up for minimum monkey motion.

Here is a photo of the current set up:

Click it to big it.

That is a new pine box on the assembly bench, this has been the first use of pine in ages. I had forgotten how pleasant it is to work. 

The sharpening bench is off the left end of the main bench, convenient to both benches. Speaking of sharpening, Ralph over at "The Accidental Woodworker" has been exploring some sharpening issues and I have been  kibitzing from the sidelines. That of course has me thinking about sharpening, it doesn't take much because I'm one of those weird ducks that enjoys the process and sharpens to relax and for enjoyment. It takes all kinds, what can I say. 

First I think what got Ralph started was watching the sharpening series The English Woodworker is publishing. If you have any interest in having sharp tools the videos are some of the best I've seen. That could be because Richard validates all the things I've learned and/or suspected over many years and lots of money spent on stones and gear. 

For what is worth here are my thoughts: If you are physically able, freehand sharpening is easier, quicker and better than using a jig. If you must use a jig a grinder to set the primary bevel is a near necessity and then the jig can set the secondary bevel. All of this is unnecessary work for an edge that is not as strong nor as flexible in use as free handing and requires frequent returns to the grinder. 

Free hand is so quick and easy my irons are never dull, a short step to the sharpening bench a couple or three strokes on the stones and/or the strop and I'm back to work. There is never a backlog of irons that need sharpening.

Any stone that removes metal can give a sharp edge but the quality of that sharp edge depends greatly on the scratch pattern....how deep and how random. Shine doesn't mean shit, you can have an iron that will blind you with shine and it can't cut warm butter.

Natural stones, Arkansas oil or Japanese water will give superior scratch patterns, random and with rounded walls while man made and diamond stones leave steep walls and ordered scratch patterns. 

A strop will strengthen the edge as well as leave a polish.

I currently use a two stone system for day to day sharpening. A course (med. India or Washita) and a fine Arkansas (Translucent or Hard Black) along with a leather strop. It doesn't happen often but if I want the best edge possible I will go to the Japanese natural water stones.  

And last for now: There is no need to test an edge, if it feels sharp and looks sharp it is sharp. All testing does is begin the dulling of the iron that you worked to sharpen.  

As always with anything wood, YMMV.

See y'all on down the road,




  1. I am truly perplexed that you enjoy sharpening for relaxation.

  2. I am truly perplexed that you enjoy sharpening for relaxation.

  3. Andy,

    What can I say other than some folks are weird :-). One of my biggest problems in the shop when my shop time is limited for what ever reason is finding something to sharpen. I hate to waste iron sharpening an already sharp iron but sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do.