Episode #006 – Keeping your tools sharp to speed up your Woodworking

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The Avid Woodworker – Episode # 006 – Keeping your tools sharp to speed up your Woodworking

Knowing that I was getting ready to build my sharpening station in my shop, I though it might be helpful to take a class on hand sharpening.  I signed up for a class with Terry at my local Woodcraft store this weekend and it was great.  We spent three hours going over hand sharpening tools and techniques for chisels, hand planes, and card scrapers.

Why is sharpening so important to woodworking productivity?  Read the old Irish Legend of the Lumberjack:

 Story of the Lumberjack

 There is an old Irish legend, a story of two lumberjacks.  Both men were skilled woodsmen although the first was much bigger, welding a powerful axe.  He was so strong that he didn’t have to be as accurate for he still produced due to his sheer size.  He was known far and wide for his ability to produce great quantities of raw material.

In spite of his size, the second woodsman’s fame was spreading for his skill and accuracy.  There was very little waste in his efforts so his customers ended up with a better product for their money. Soon the word spread that his work was even better than his larger competition!

Upon hearing this, the larger man became concerned.  He wondered, “How could this be? I am so much bigger that I MUST be better!” He proposed that the two compete with a full day of chopping trees to see who was more productive.  The winner would be declared ”The Greatest Lumberjack in all the land.” The smaller man agreed and the date for the bout was set.          

The townspeople began talking.  They placed their bets.  The larger woodsman was the favorite to win with a 20 to 1 advantage.  After all, bigger is better!  The evening before the bout, both men sharpened their blades.

Morning broke with the entire town showing up to cheer on the lumberjacks.  The competition started with a the judge’s shout, “GO!” The first woodman, strong and broad, leaped into action.  He swung his axe vigorously and continuously without stopping knowing that every tree he felled brought him closer to his coveted title.

The second woodsman, wasting no time and jumped into action as well, attacking his trees with every intention of winning the distinguished title.  But unlike his larger competitor, this man stopped every hour and appeared to take a break.

The townspeople were baffled and worried (especially those that bet on the 2nd woodsman).  They murmured among themselves.  Surely, he could never win if he didn’t work longer and harder than his competitor.  His friends pleaded with him to increase his speed, to work harder but to no avail.  The larger woodsman knew the title was all his because he was not taking a break.  He was chopping down more trees every time the smaller woodsman took a break.  This pattern continued until the end of the day when both men heard the judge yell “TIME!”, signaling the end of the match.

The larger man stood, winded and exhausted but proudly by his pile of trees knowing he had given his best.  Surely, he was the winner! The smaller woodsman also stood by his pile of trees though, unlike his competitor, the smaller man was still fresh, ready to continue if necessary.  He also stood confident of his efforts having toiled mightily for the prize.

When all the trees were counted, it was announced that the second woodsman had indeed felled more trees and had won the title of “The Greatest Lumberjack in all the Land!”  He happily shook the judge’s hand gripping the new blade that signified the win. The larger man, and most of the townspeople, stood in stunned silence at the announcement for he was, after all, stronger with the larger axe!

Stunned, the larger man asked the smaller how was this possible.  He was consistently taking breaks.  What was he doing when he was taking a break?   To which the smaller woodsman responded, “Sharpening my axe.  My axe was smaller and therefore each swing must be more accurate in order to get more out of my swing.”

But I don’t use hand tools much, why should I worry about sharpening?

I don’t know where you are in your woodworking career.  If you have been woodworking for a long time, you probably know the value of a good chisel and hand plane.  If not, listen to those who have then.  They are fantastic.  I had been using sand paper for years before I learned about hand planes and how great they are.   This podcast is not going dive deeply into the about the merits of hand planes and card scrapers.  But I wanted to just wanted to briefly highlight two things:

–        Hand planes and card scrapers do not produce saw dust like sand paper does; and,

–        Hand planes and card scrapers cut the wood fibers.  Sandpaper lays them flat, which can really hide some of the beauty of the wood. (I learned this in class)

 So why would I spend money on a class when I can watch YouTube Videos?  

You can only get so much out of watching you tube videos.  The person in the video can’t tell you if you are doing it right.  For example, are stopping short on the number of strokes on a water stone (like I was).   Are you applying too much pressure?  Are you holding your wrist funny?

So, this is just a summary of some of the things I picked up.

1)     Why you want to avoid sand paper vs a water stone.  –  Problem with sand paper – series of peaks and valleys – you cannot get clean edge because you are only sharpening at peaks, not valleys because you start to track.  I use the below water stone set up.  The affiliate link I have below takes you to Amazon for more information. The one I picked up did not have an instructional video like this one appears to have.
Norton Waterstone Starter Kit: 220/1000 grit stone, 4000/8000 grit stone, SiC flattening stone

2)     Nagura Stone to rub on your 8000 grit stone.  It helps to remove particles and increases the grit on your stone so you can get more use out of it.

3)     Let the stone do the work – light and steady – don’t press harder – only damages the stone.  Can get more out of a 4000 by pressing even lighter

4)     Must have a flat back on your edge before start edge sharpening.

5)     Take out corners on smoothing/joining plane irons using sides of stones.

6)     Use diamond stones to sharpen router bits

7)     Wet is always better for sharpening than dry

8)     Turning tools should be sharpened every 30 minutes.

9)     Take a day 2 times per month to sharpen tools.

10) Flatten your water stone under running water

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Until next time, I hope everyone can get into their shop and build useful works of art.

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