Aug 24 2014
In my last post, I discussed sharpening and how changing our thinking about it as well as some of the gear used to perform it could be improved.
We covered steels and their improvements, Abrasives and their evolving improvements as well. I also touched on the learning process of sharpening, and how a lot of what we know about it comes through trial and error. When we find a sub process of sharpening that works for us, we stick with that, and usually that is good, and other times it can limit us so that we stop pushing to find better.
It is true, the sharpening process is a series of smaller processes, that depend on a lot of material factors, and the user’s experience of knowing which factor is being observed so the right process for that factor can be applied at the right time. This is an evaluative matrix of solutions that come from knowledge and experience. It can save us time, but if we miscalculate, we can spend more time. It is developed practice to be sure.
Still, sharpness is simple enough. Two surfaces on a piece of steel brought together at an angle that forms an edge. Then those surfaces are polished to such a fine degree that the edge itself will not reflect light.
The fine-ness of our woodworking is a direct reflection of the sharpness of our sharpening skills and tools. It is a symbiotic relationship where one depends on the other. Getting sharp is one thing, call it half the battle if you like. Staying sharp is another.
I have spoken with a number of woodworkers who have shared that they have tried different abrasives and tooling to minimize the sharpening process. Depending on the steel or tool, incremental improvements were possible and noted, still the overall sharpening experience was still leaving them wanting.
The biggest issue noted was that working their edge tools to the point of complete dullness required the tool edges be reworked from course grinding and re-honing up through fine polishing. This is a complete rebuild of the cutting edge(s) which causes the sharpening sessions to require a large chunk of time. How much time? Full time furniture makers doing a lot of hand work were relating that they were doing 30-45 minute sharpening sessions on their most used tools, twice daily. More frequently if edge failures occurred.
Thinking about time spent sharpening is important. Sharpening isn’t as creative as it is redundant, and it’s methods require that we pay rapt attention to something pretty exact in order for it to be successful. It also requires more attention as based on the level of sharpness we require from the process. Dubbing an edge can set the process back a step or two, really easy. At the same time, good sharpening is absolutely necessary if we are to experience the creativity we desire from what our tools can help us produce.
Tool cutting edge dullness is the roadblock to creativity, productivity and quality, while taking considerable time to overcome. This circle is made worse the longer we put off correcting it. That sounds like something we should avoid! Let’s consider why we wait too long to sharpen.
So how do we improve our sharpening regime? It is a couple things in ensemble actually. It helps if we have the right evaluative experiential knowledge and productive sharpening gear that matches the steel in our tools to do the job. It helps even more if we never allow our tools to get very dull in the first place.
If sharpening could be easier, we would not be so reluctant to do it. If the gear had the ability to remove dullness in the fastest way and optimized the honing/polishing process using what worked fastest and best, that would remove some of the roadblocks to sharpening, and we might not delay the process so much, or at all.
That’s food for thought and worth considering. Part 3 in this series is next.
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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