Aug 20 2014

On Sharpening Better.

If we read and follow what is written on sharpening, we learn there have been debates. It’s all good, we all understand what we understand. It’s a developed perception, and those perceptions reflect what we understand at the point we’re at.

I am not here to debate. But I am here to share some thoughts I feel are worth considering if we want to become better at sharpening.

Depending on where one finds themselves on the sharpening learning curve, our current place on that curve is influential to our thinking on the matter. True, no matter if we are novice, proficient or between.

People are different. Some roll with the first thing that works for them and settle in. At the other end of the spectrum, are the adventurous who push the envelope, always. There is value in both types, and both can offer valuable advice and opinion. I’ve learned it is good to understand that there is always a mix, it is good to be willing to adapt, and more we can learn if we keep an open beginner’s mind.

In my career as a tradesman, I’ve seen more than one professional off into their retirement, and many offered mentoring advice, because they cared about the trade and coworkers they were leaving behind. The advice offered most often was “Remember to learn something new everyday.”

Technology marches on, right? We all know this. We are still learning something new… It isn’t all planned obsolescence. Change can be good if we are wise with the changes that will come, and change will come anyway, so why not have a seat at the table?

There is an adage that says: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Another says:”Doing the same thing in repetition and expecting change to result is a recipe for insanity.”

Woodworkers have lamented for ages that sharpening, the steels, the abrasives the process… All would be nicer if they could be made easier.

I’ve listened to this ongoing conversation, and so have others. Companies are developing new steels and abrasives, to improve finish quality and productivity while requiring less effort and maintenance. Some of these emerging technologies are in new forms such as powdered metallurgy, super tough abrasives mixed in sprays compounds and pastes. There is also attention being paid to methods, jigs, stations, and the applications of sharpening.

The why of it is simple. To attain this requires us to think or rethink the circle of steels, abrasives and sharpening from the beginning. The a priori of the process that enables this work. Steels with the ability to attain and retain sharpness require better abrasives to grind and hone them. It isn’t easy for any of these things to be all things, but it is what we are attempting to find and improve so we can improve the outcomes we desire. If we want this, it isn’t just one thing we must adopt, we have to adopt the ensemble.

To be certain, respect is being paid to the infrastructure that is the built environment of sharpening, so that backward compatibility is addressed. No one wants to alienate or be alienated. No technology left behind if you will, but without adopting some of what is new, one’s own sharpening world cannot move forward. This is particularly true where new steel formulations are concerned. We can also choose not to evolve anything, and yet, this too is still a choice. We also have to accept what comes with that choice if it limits us.

I believe there are a couple of understandings about sharpening our tools that are worthy of adoption. One is a wise saying that states, “Keeping the edge sharp takes very little work”. Two, is that for the best sharpening, a kit is truly an ensemble of the best methods, abrasives and jigs that enable the highest levels of sharpness in the least effort and time.

This does mean that a mixed method sharpening kit is likely going to optimize the process for what works best for each stage of the grinding and honing process. An improvement over using just one technology by far. Augmenting the kit is good. Sharpening our tooling has a lot of needs to address.

For our part in helping improve the built sharpening environment, I have developed our Magstrop™ sharpening station system that offers quick change interchangable sharpening surfaces in a small footprint that is easy to fixture on the bench. It allows you to keep the knife sharp, quickly, with very little mess, and get back to working wood.

This is an effort to address (in part) what people say they want from sharpness and sharpening. This is about paying attention to optimizing the process. Magstrop stations optimize, and can combine the best sharpening methodologies in ensemble, accommodating the built sharpening environment and what evolving sharpening technologies. They also remove a lot of barriers, so we can just sharpen our tools and do it easily.

I can address the details further, and will in the coming time. For now if we can get our mind around the idea that coarse grinding and messy hard sharpening work is very rarely required if we adopt getting them sharp initially and then maintaining our edges to a high degree of sharpness while we work with the tools. If we apply ourselves to making a solid habit of sharpening as we work, then as an example, investing in and maintaining a lot of coarse grinding infrastructure, that wears out quickly isn’t as necessary beyond our initial tooling set up. Money and time savings are in the balance.

Coincidently, I have tooling and method workarounds that address and can minimize the heavy effort part of coarse grinding work in the sharpening kit which we’ll share later. Sound interesting?

The ability to sharpen harder steels and with less time, and perhaps even lower cash investment is closer to right now than many are aware, but we have to be willing to change and adapt away from traditionally held thought in order to get there. Some things must be ventured in order to be gained. Yes?

Too, sharpening is just means to the end result. Transparently enabling quality in your finished product, while allowing the freedom of craftsmanship and creativity shine through. There will be a series of further considerations on sharpening forthcoming. Stay tuned.

Magstrop Sharpening Stations

The Magstrop™ Sharpening Stations are custom made to order. They are helpful and adaptable to most sharpening methods in use and can be ordered today.

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