WOODWORKING: TOP SHARPENING SECRETS

DECEMBER 14,2021

👋 If you are serious about woodworking then you are serious about sharpening too. You can compare a chef’s knives with a woodworker chisel and planes. If the chef’s knife is dull its impossible to cut thin pieces of food and make it look delicious and yummy. Same goes for a woodworker. Its impossible to be a precise thin good looking cut with dull blades.

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  • "Keeping tools sharp throughout the year is pretty straightforward, it's usually only a lack of routine that interferes."



"Keeping tools sharp throughout the year is pretty straightforward, it's usually only a lack of routine that interferes."


1. HOW TO TELL IF YOUR TOOL IS SHARP?

A sharp tool is essential for safe and enjoyable woodworking and woodturning. Sharp tools enable you to create clean cuts and watch in satisfaction as long shaving of wood are removed. Whether the tool is a chisel, knife, or gouge, a sharp cutting edge is only temporary. Eventually all tools will become dull. So learning how to sharpen your tools is a necessary and beneficial skill. The first step in sharpening is learning how to test or determine a sharp tool from a dull tool. Once you can identify a sharp tool, you are ready to move on to sharpening.

5 Ways to Determine if Your Tools Are Sharp:

👉 Fingernail Test : Gently drag the edge of the tool over your fingernail. A sharp cutting edge will “stick” or bring up shavings as you pull it across the fingernail.

👉 Thumb test : Run your thumb over the burr. If your scraper is sharp, you will feel a significant burr and your thumb will catch as you try to slide it.

👉 End grain Test : Try slicing off a piece of end grain. If the tool is sharp, the cutting edge will cleanly cut the end grain.

👉 Light Test : Hold the tool under a strong light and examine the cutting edge. If you see any glimmer of light on the cutting edge, the tool is not sharp.

👉 Paper Test : Try slicing or cutting a piece of paper. A sharp cutting edge will cleanly slice the paper with minimal effort.

2. SELECT THE RIGHT STONE

Once you’ve determined your tools are not sharped you need to select the right stone for sharpening them.


With so many types of stones for sharpening, it can be difficult to determine what the best stone is for your woodworking needs. Fortunately, the variety of stone materials will allow you to select a material that will meet your needs and stay within your budget.


The three main types of bench stones are oilstones, waterstones and diamond stones. Since every woodworker’s needs and preferences are different, understanding the advantages of each stone will allow you to be a more informed purchaser of sharpening stones. 

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#1 - OILSTONES


Oil sharpening stones are natural stones that are quarried and cut to size. As the name suggests, oilstones use oil as a lubricant and to remove the swarf to keep the stone from getting glazed. The oil used is generally a light mineral oil. Oil stones are convenient because they can be used right on your workbench without water as they are typically lubricated with oil. Lubrication ensures that the abraded steel particles float off the stone instead of clogging the stone. The big advantage of oilstones is that they are hard and stay pretty flat over the years. However, this hardness means that the media doesn’t break down as easily, and doesn’t cut the metal as quickly as waterstones. This is especially useful for carving tools, since gouges and V tools can gouge a stone. 

#2 - WATERSTONES


Modern waterstones are almost always artificial, and offer huge differences in size, cost, and performance. Natural waterstones are still available on the market, but are so expensive compared to artificial stones. Waterstones have become very popular among woodworkers because they cut faster than oilstones and they provide a mirror polish. Waterstones cut faster than comparable oil stones because the binding material that holds the stone together is softer. The softness of the stone allows the stone to cut faster because sharp new material is constantly being uncovered. However, the softness is also the biggest disadvantage of the waterstone because it must be flattened regularly. Waterstones, even hard ones, are friable, which means that as you use them, the binder that holds the stones together lets go, releasing the old grit particles and exposing fresh, sharp, fast cutting ones. So waterstones work quickly, but periodically you will need to flatten them. Some people don’t like waterstones because they can be messy and certainly require more maintenance than oilstones. 

#3 - DIAMOND STONES


About 30 or so years ago, manufacturers began taking fine diamond grit, sprinkling it on a steel back, and electroplating a nickel coating over them create a diamond stone. Over the years these have gotten better and better. Nowadays many woodworkers are catching on to the advantages of diamond stones for some good reasons. Unlike oil and water stones, diamond stones are all man-made. These industrial diamonds are applied to a metal backing to create an abrasive surface. The sharp diamond particles cut faster than any other abrasive of the same grit. They also stay flat and require no real maintenance. The diamond stone can be extremely versatile. It can be used to sharpen any woodworking tool. It can even sharpen carbide tipped router bits that both oil and water stones can’t touch. Diamond stones do not wear unevenly because the diamond surface is so hard. Because of this diamond stones can be used to flatten oil and water stones. Like the water stone, diamond stones use water to remove the swarf. 

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3. WHAT’S THE BEST SHARPENING ANGLE?

What is the right bevel angle for sharpening my plane or chisel blades? This is a question you might ask yourself quite often in your workshops. The only angle that really counts when determining a sharp cutting edge is the angle at the edge of the blade. This takes us to the critical definition of what is sharp? The line of intersection where these two planar surfaces meet is called the “cutting edge”. A blade is perfectly sharp when the two planar surfaces of the blade intersect with each other exactly along the last atom of space.

Sharpening angles are a balancing act. Lower angles are sharper and cut more cleanly with less effort. Higher angles are more durable, but don't cut as cleanly and take more effort. Lower angles are less durable and degrade faster. The angle is a balance between cutting ability and durability. The quality of the steel and the materials being cut factor in when deciding the angle to use. 

4. HOW FREQUENTLY SHOULD I SHARPEN?

Sharpening is not a once and done proposition, it is ongoing maintenance. No matter how sharp you make an edge it will degrade with use, so you will need to sharpen again. You can wait until your edge no longer cuts, but the best time to sharpen is before you notice loss of cutting ability. On average, you should hone your wood carving tools every 30 minutes when using them and sharpen them at least once every 2 hours. The frequency of sharpening your wood carving tools depends on the quality of the steel, the density of wood you are carving, and of course, how much you use the tool.

Taking care of your tools is important and can save you time and money. So don’t forget to use these tips next time you use them on your project!  

Josh J. Gur - CEO

CEO of Sanrico

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