My Evolution In Sharpening My Tools: Evolution #1

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Robert Sfeir

This is such an emotionally charged subject that I don’t think (m)any of us are capable of holding a normal conversation around it. The purpose of this entry is simple: To discuss sharpening stones as I learned their benefits and drawbacks through my beginner woodworking journey, and how I came to my preferred stones and way to sharpen.

Things I’m not going to discuss: The sharpening jigs I used, or the free handing techniques I tried, and how I feel about all of that stuff. Not going to go into primary, secondary and tertiary bevels. Again choose your religion and purpose. Not going to discuss automated tools, or get into details about the different types of grinders. I use one. I like it. You like yours. Moving on.

Though I am not a fan of squelching opinions, if you’re rude, I’ll delete you and your comment. Argue the concepts and ideas, don’t attack the people making them.

Double Sided Water stone

Double Sided Water stone

The rough beginning of a journey.

Like many new woodworkers, I fell for the usual fanfare of sharpening stones. It all started with wet stones, even though my shop had no running water. That was OK and realized I needed to flatten them. That led me to buy a cheap Norton lapping stone. That lapping stone turned out to not be flat, who knew I was supposed to check the flatness of a brand new lapping stone? That made my life even worse, but it taught me a few lessons about flattening and maintaining my stones. Not only was I struggling with learning the tools and the craft, but struggling with poor quality sharpening accessories.

Evolution #1: Ohishi Water Stones.

A few months into this god-awful messy adventure that left stone residue and sharpening slur all over my sharpening area, I discovered Ohishi tones sold at Lie-Nielsen. Those stones didn’t require a dip in the bath. Just some water squirt, and get sharpening. Like (still) most new woodworkers who really still don’t understand the different grits necessary to go through the sharpening process, because there are a billion opinions on the web about it, I bought 1000, 3000, 6000, 8000, 10000 grits… because why not? After all aren’t you supposed to make the edge finer and finer and finer until it’s super shiny?

I went about my business sharpening my tools and feeling a big improvement over the first water stones. The Ohishi stones were harder than the ones I’d been using and wore down less quickly. Every time I flatted them, I used some sandpaper on a flat surface and rubbed the stone into a massive mess. Thankfully I discovered the DMT lapping plate. Flattening the stones was much faster and reliable from there, but required me to go to a sink to do it. Not effective, but I could live with it.

I stayed in Evolution #1 for a year. When it came to my tool’s sharpness I was a happy camper. When it came to the mess I had in the shop, not so much. That year in water world mess, allowed me to focus on what was making things sharp, and what was yielding a longer lasting edge that didn’t require me to go back to the sharpening station as often.

Skipping Stones

I experimented with skipping stones, only used the 1000 stone to reshape the bevel and reset the edge, and started at 3000 and jumped to 8000 then 10000. Stopping at 8000 felt unsatisfying in how the secondary bevel looked. But I had this whole thing down to 3 stones. I was sharp, but something still didn’t feel right because I wasn’t getting the consistency in sharpness. Sometimes a hand plane would feel amazing, sometimes I’d feel like I’d be making too much of an effort. Sometimes a chisel would slice through the waste of a dovetail beautifully, sometimes it would crack the wood instead.

In the end, I was getting pretty sick of the mess and the up and down to the kitchen to flatten the dang stones.

Evolution #2

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