By this point, I know woodworking is the thing I love to do. My routine is to now spend 3 hours a night in the shop creating things, learning, building, sharpening, going through tutorials, and documenting all this work on my log at the Hand Tool School. Shannon Rogers is filling my head with more and more info, questioning my approach to everything, and pushing me to think outside the box at many levels, including sharpening. Then I see it: his video on sharpening that uses a diamond stone. WHOA! Wait a minute! No flattening? Just Windex? Cuts an edge faster? DUDE I’m THERE! Wait, what’s this thing that looks like teachers use to spank kids with at school? A strop you say?
Even though Shannon only uses one two-sided stone, I order a Coarse, Fine, Extra Fine, and Extra Extra Fine diamond stone, along with horse butt leather from Tools For Working Wood, and off I go into my new adventure. I put the water stones aside and focus on just using this evolution. It definitely takes a bit of getting used to. Edges get reset much more quickly, almost too aggressively, and sharp was really sharp. I use the strop to finish off the edge and work. My edges last fine and I focus to remember to strop as I’m working. This evolution is not only a change in how I sharpen but also a change in how I keep the edges of my tools sharp while working. It is, therefore, a change in flow.
After about 4-5 months of this approach, I grow annoyed with the strop. I strop constantly because my edges are not holding long enough; and it is, to me, too much of an interruption in my flow. I have to think about the strop, as opposed to my work.
Thankfully Christopher Schwartz takes the time to write a series of amazing articles, 10 of them in fact, on the concepts of sharpening. If you haven’t read them, you owe it to yourself to do so. Those articles get me thinking about my edge more specifically and force me to study exactly what I am doing, as well as examine the edge’s polish. I now realize that the XX-Fine of the diamond stone left the edge in a less than ideal state. When I strop I don’t improve that edge much because I am doing things wrong.
To this point, perhaps 5-6 months into this journey, I still don’t fully understand simple concepts of sharpening:
Concept 1 – Sharp is simply the meeting of two surfaces, the top and bottom surfaces of the tool, to a 0 point. That point is where sharp is. It’s as simple as that. You can’t get sharper than 0.
Concept 2 – Something a bit more nuanced: scratches on those two surfaces contribute to a weakness in the steel’s surface. Scratches yield a point that doesn’t stay at 0-sharp as long as one that is more polished. Nothing is ever scratch free, and there is a point of no return to the polishing that doesn’t benefit us in woodworking. The fact is that the edge of a tool is subjected to blunt forces. To expect it to hold up for a long time depends on so many factors, not the least of which is the wood you’re working with and it’s hardness. A blade’s sharpness will last much longer in pine than it would in hard maple, for example.
Concept 3 – The type of tool steel your plane irons and tools are made of matters, and is a complicated concept. The steel can influence the type of sharpening stones you can use, and the extent to which your edge could stay sharp.
Concept 4 – The back of a plane iron’s flatness is not as critical as the back of a chisel’s. You use a chisel’s back for flat reference when pairing, or cutting into a mortise, for example, the plane iron’s front edge (say 1/2″) matters in that it is required to have a sharp edge.
Read: Evolution 3 and 4