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The Perfect Edge, by Ron Hock

by J. Norman Reid
Delaplane, VA

Ron Hock is, justifiably, a blade maker of renown. In this book, The Perfect Edge , he has given us a perfect introduction to the practice of sharpening the tools we woodworkers regularly employ. This well-crafted, clearly-written and sometimes humorous book answers many of the vexing questions woodworkers ask.

Hock opens with the question, "why sharpen"? The answer, as he states, may seem obvious–"sharp tools are better tools." More important is his conclusion that "the small investment in time spent sharpening your tools makes a huge difference in how they perform." For Hock, that is what sharpening is all about.

One of the most important chapters follows, answering "what is steel"? Given the different types of steels used in woodworking tools, it is important to understand the differences and what they mean for performance–for durability and ease of sharpening, in particular. Look here for clear explanations of oil hardened, air hardened and high-speed steels, among other types. Additionally, Hock explains heat treatment and even provides guidelines so do-it-yourselfers can heat treat their own tools. A final topic in this chapter is his discussion of steel's arch enemy, rust, and how it can be prevented and removed.

Confused by the variety of abrasives in the marketplace? Understand the differences in sandpaper? In other abrasives? In Chapter 3 Hock thoroughly describes abrasive types, including sandpaper, diamond plates, strops and stones. A valuable chart comparing grit sizes for various sharpening media appears on page 50 and will answer the questions of woodworkers who wonder, for example, how a hard Arkansas stone compares with a waterstone. Likewise, page 56 demystifies the differences in types of grinding wheels.

Chapter 4 takes a look at the edges we put on our tools and how they work to cut wood effectively. This clearly illustrated discussion is an important one for understanding the way blades interact with wood and why they are sharpened the way they are.

The following chapter, "The Fundamentals," first examines bevel angles, including microbevels and back bevels. If you wonder whether you can have too much of a microbevel on your plane or chisel blades, this chapter will provide an answer.

Chapter 5 also gives some valuable advice: keep your stones flat, keep them wet with water or oil, keep the surfaces clean, keep your tools cool, keep practicing (you'll get better as you do), and test your edges. Do waterstone users need a Nagura Stone to create a slurry on their finest stone? Hock answers this on page 73.

A major part of this chapter is a review of sharpening devices . Included are honing guides, sharpening kits, grinders, belt sanders, vertical grinders such as the Tormek T-7 and horizontal grinders like the Worksharp WS 3000 . Hock reviews specific brands for each type of device and assesses their usefulness for sharpening. While he leaves the ultimate choice to the reader, his advice will be valuable in selecting among alternatives. The section concludes with some pointers for setting up a basic sharpening kit, including the option of adopting the scary sharp system.

The remainder of the book is a series of chapters on individual tools and how they can best be sharpened. He begins with plane irons, first answering the question of why to establish a back bevel. Because plane irons occupy much of our attention as woodworkers, Hock goes into detail on bevel-down and bevel-up blades, the sharpening process, freehand honing, cambering, polishing and stropping, tapping out a Japanese plane blade, and treating the chip breaker, among other topics.

Succeeding chapters address spokeshaves, chisels, scrapers–and how to turn a burr–and scraper planes, handsaws, carving tools, drawknives, turning tools, axes and adzes, knives, marking gauges, scissors and drill bits. Though his focus is mainly on hand tool sharpening, he also discusses sharpening router and shaper cutters and chainsaws.

The book concludes with an interesting, if inconclusive, chapter on microscopy that includes magnified photos of edges sharpened with different media.

This book stands out for its clear descriptions, good illustrations and step-by-step instructions. A particular strong point is Hock's comparison of tool alternatives and what to expect from them. He does not shy away from offering his opinions about the relative merits of specific brands.

A few new developments, such as the new Veritas PM V-11 tool steel and Benchcrafted's Galbert Drawsharp for drawknives are not included in the book, having been released after the book was published. But this hardly blunts the value of this book, whose advice is, in general, timeless.

This book is an excellent resource for any woodworker who needs to sharpen his or her tools–and that includes all of us who use hand tools in our shops. Any woodworker who wants to understand better the types of steel and what they mean in the woodshop, any woodworker who wants a clear understanding of sharpness, any woodworker who has questions about grits (the kind you sharpen with, that is!) and any woodworker who is seeking to purchase sharpening equipment will benefit greatly from this book.

CLICK HERE to order your copy of The Perfect Edge

The reviewer is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living with his wife in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who believe they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He can be reached by email at .

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