I’m probably going to rile a few folks with this blog simply because talking about sharpening often borders on talking about religion or politics; everyone has an opinion and firmly believes the discipline they have chosen is the best. While I’m an advocate of using sandpaper on granite for sharpening, I’m also a firm believer that nearly every sharpening system is valid. Whether you are using waterstones, oilstones, diamond hones, sandpaper, powered disks, or grinding wheels, they all can make chisels and irons scalpel-sharp—with practice.
An overly complex sharpening regimen that requires multiple setups or complex jigs can lead to frustration and offers too many chances to wreck an edge rather than enhance it. Keeping the process simple is the best way to achieve a quick, keen edge.
Familiarity with any process is essential and the only way to become comfortably familiar is with practice. Practice sharpening and then practice some more. Like any discipline, you can’t understand and perform good sharpening by simply buying the “right” equipment and reading a book or watching YouTube videos. It takes hours of dedicated practice to understand what works for you with your system. When I want to spend some quiet time in my shop and don’t feel like working on a project, I sharpen stuff. Sharpening is a pretty low-stress task and requires enough concentration that you can get lost in the process for hours. Sharpening can be both meditative and productive, and you get consistently better at it.
One of the best things I’ve done for my sharpening system is to make it mobile. When I had a big shop, it seemed I was always far away from my sharpening station. So I would push a slightly dull edge until it was truly dull—with the resulting catastrophes that a bad edge can cause—before I’d take the long walk across the shop to my sharpening equipment. To cut down on the mileage and maintain my edge, I bought a three-drawer roll-around tool cabinet for $60 and turned it into a mobile sharpening system. I can hear it now: “You’re a woodworker and you BOUGHT a cabinet?” Yes, for less than the price of a good set of casters and three sets of drawer guides I bought a very serviceable solution, but I DID add a white ash and cherry top for holding my granite blocks!
I have four stones on the cabinet, so it allows me to have eight different grits at hand (both sides of the stones have abrasive paper attached). The stones are the size of a full sheet of sandpaper (9 in. by 11 in.) for adequate room to use my honing guide or flatten and polish chisel or blade backs. The drawers hold all my sharpening jigs, camellia oil, sandpaper, adhesive, and other necessities. I also keep all of my card scrapers, cabinet scrapers, and the equipment needed to keep them sharp in the cabinet.
I move the cabinet to where I’m working and my tools stay sharper. When I have all my sharpening stuff at arm’s reach, I find that I am frequently honing and refining edges. I don’t have to interrupt my work process to put that sharp edge back on a chisel or plane blade.
If your sharpening system consists of just a couple of stones and a jug of water, having a dedicated space that can be close at hand will result in better sharpening habits. And the drawers will be useful for storing bench hooks, shooting boards, and all the little tidbits that always seem to be in the way on the bench.
For those interested in sandpaper on granite (or glass), here’s how I use my system. The sandpaper is glued to the granite with 3M #77 spray adhesive. Apply the adhesive to the back of the sandpaper, place it on the granite, and use camellia oil as a lubricant on the paper when sharpening. Camellia oil is vegetable oil, won’t cause finishing problems, won’t rust your tools, and helps keep the sandpaper clean and cutting for a long time. When the paper finally wears out, pull up a corner and use a hair dryer to soften the exposed glueline. It takes just a few seconds to remove the sheet. Clean the glue residue off the granite with naphtha or acetone and put fresh paper on the stone. It takes less than a minute to replace the paper. I use 3M or Mirka paper but any high-quality paper will work fine. And I always use a honing guide. It keeps my stuff sharpened at consistent angles with sharp, square corners, and it’s fast (with a little practice).
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