Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 144, August 2017 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
Thoughts on Sharpening
By Jeff Fleisher

Last month I reviewed the DMT Dia-Sharp Diamond Sharpening Plate and made the comment that there is a revolution going on in how we sharpen our hand tools. This month I'd like to expand on that statement and provide a glimpse on how I have evolved my own sharpening approach.

Why a revolution? If you follow the hand tool forums you are seeing more and more people say they are reducing the amount of time they spend on grinding and honing and spending more and more time stropping their edges. The idea is that if you don't let your edge get 'dull' then repeated, frequent stropping will let you keep working for longer periods of time before you have to go back to your stones and spend time reforming your edge.

In my previous article, I discussed the speed at which you could create an extremely sharp edge using Diamond Stones . I started with a very bad chisel as shown below.

Within minutes I was able to flatten the back of the blade and create both a primary and micro bevel on the reverse side.

The DMT Dia-Sharp Diamond Stones remove a lot of metal very quickly either by hand or with a Honing Jig . Do this once and you're done! You'll see a little later that if you are diligent about stropping then you dramatically reduce the need to go back to the diamond plate to reform the micro-bevel. AND, if you reduce how often you need to hone the micro-bevel then you will almost never have to go back and reform the primary bevel!

Last month, I mentioned that I learned how to sharpen by hand but I switched to using a honing jig so I could repeat the same cut at the same angle every time. There are many types of honing jigs available and Highland carries a wide variety . At the 'low' end is a side clamping honing guide based on the classic Eclipse design and is an excellent introductory jig.
At the high end is the Lie-Nielsen Side Clamp Honing Guide , which is available with a set of replaceable jaws to hold chisel, plane and skewed blade shapes.
The narrow wheel in these guides makes it very easy to put a radius on the edges of your plane blades by simply putting more pressure on one side of the jig or the other. The simple design also lets you quickly insert a blade and set it to the proper setting before increasing the clamping pressure. Sure, this may take slightly longer than simply honing by hand, but I think the few seconds to set it up is worth the repeated accuracy.

If you do use one of these jigs, I highly recommend you build an angle setting jig so you can quickly and easily set the protrusion of the blade from the front of the jig. Here is a picture of mine:

The angle setting jig is based upon the fact that the distance that the blade protrudes from the front edge determines the angle created on the bevel. The honing jigs come with this distance information so you can make a board with little blocks set at these distances. The little piece of wood on the string is used to set a micro-bevel.

How does it work? Simply put your blade loosely in the honing jig and press the front of the jig against the base of the setting guide and move the blade up until it touches one of the blocks for the angle that you want.

For this chisel I used the jig to create a primary bevel of 25 degrees. In the picture, I've inserted a small piece of wood about an 1/8" thick between the chisel blade and the 25 degree block. This slides the chisel back, slightly increases the bevel angle and creates a micro-bevel. Once you get the hang of this you can set the chisel or plane blade very quickly.

I finish the initial sharpening process by stropping the micro-bevel, still using the jig, on a leather strop covered with honing compound .

Ron Hock in The Perfect Edge , says that "...stropping does provide a last, super-fine polish and burr removal." This super-fine polished edge is what makes your chisels and plane blades a pleasure to use. There is nothing like the sound of a finely tuned plane shaving a piece of wood or watching a finely tuned chisel slice a very thin shaving off a dovetail!

The key now is to keep this finely tuned edge by repeated stropping before it becomes dull. The strop removes a very small bit of metal (you can see the honing compound turn black) which can keep an edge keen but cannot resharpen it. Once it gets dull, the micro-bevel will need to be resharpened on your stones.

How do you keep the edge in that extra fine condition? By having plenty of strops available for use. How many do you have? If you said one then that is not enough. If you have to walk to your sharpening station or pull it out of a drawer then you will not use it enough or in time. You need one at your sharpening station, another on your bench and anywhere you will be using your blades. You may want to have an extra honing jig or two near each strop as well. The key here is to hone frequently.

Highland has a variety of strops available . You can get a double-sided leather strop mounted on a wooden base with a handle that is about 2" wide.
You can also get a Leather Strop Belt-Style , which is about 2-1/2" wide. This is a good one to leave laying on your workbench.
For wider blades you can even make your own strops by purchasing pieces of leather and either gluing them to wooden blocks like the one shown here or leaving them loose.

A nice piece of horse butt leather makes a wonderful strop! All of these strops need a honing compound such as Highland's Green Honing Compound .

In the picture above, I'm stropping a chisel while it's in the honing guide. I only hone the micro-bevel but I do it very frequently. If I'm cutting dovetails, for example, I'll have my boards on my bench and after I've cut 2-3 dovetails I'll stop and re-strop my chisel as shown below.

If I have my honing jig, angle setting guide and strop all within easy reach I can do a few quick swipes on the strop in less than a minute. Then I'm back to work. This method keeps a very keen edge on my chisels and reduces the amount of effort I'm putting into the cuts and increases the quality of my cuts. I'm also not having to go back to my sharpening stones (plates) nearly as often. I am very happy with this new approach to sharpening. Since I'm not over-working the edge it seems like the edge stays sharper longer but in actuality, I'm keeping it keen with my strop and not noticing the time it takes to keep it in this condition. I am also less frustrated because I am always working with a very sharp blade and not allowing my cuts to degrade because of a dull edge. I recommend you give this approach a try in your own shop.

Find out more and purchase Sharpening tools
at Highland Woodworking

Jeffrey Fleisher has been a woodworker for approximately 20 years and a professional woodworker for the past 6 years. He is the president of his local woodturning club, the Woodturners of the Virginias and past president of the Northern Virginia Carvers. You can see some of the furniture he has made at www.jeffswooddesigns.com . He can be reached by email at furnmkr@gmail.com

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