Sep 13 2014

On Sharpening Better – Part 3

Using materials in the sharpening process that cut fast, while retaining a flat sharpening surface is good criteria. This is why powered sharpening gear uses a platen beneath the abrasives, otherwise we would have no reference for our work, and desired results would be difficult to achieve with repeatability. While messy aspects of sharpening can not be completely eliminated, what if we could minimize them?

The mess and clutter of the ensemble that is sharpening gear, along with the associated set up and clean up of the process, so it works well is also in the equation. There is only so much space to begin with, and the mess becomes part of the inertia that causes us to wait longer than we should to sharpen in the first place.

Or we have precious little space to begin with, so we would have to stop and set a process aside in order to make space for sharpening, then do that, clean up and stow before resuming the woodworking process.

It isn’t any wonder why we avoid sharpening until the last minute, even as that makes the task as difficult to accomplish as any can be.

I don’t think it really has to be that way. I’ve developed some different ways of thinking about the sharpening process and some tools that help fit them. They reduce sharpening effort with no cost to edge quality.

Remember in my first post on sharpening I shared: “Keeping the edge sharp takes very little work”? It”s true. What this means is once you have a sharp tool and you begin work, keep it sharp while you work. It’s a change of thinking process.

We plane or chisel for a short while, say 3-5 minutes and begin to notice the pushing of the tool is offering more resistance. Now it is time to restore the tool!

The process to restore doesn’t take long or an abundance of gear or effort, just the right gear, and the right evaluation of the edge and application of sharpening process.

I have found that using a dry honing process is best for use during woodworking. The mess is minimized. Stropping with a compound that matches the steel of the tool and the required level of sharpness in the strop is the best fit.

Strops when mounted on a flat substrate will provide sharp, accurate edges. the right leather matched to the right compound can easily exceed the 8000 grit, 2 micron tipping point required for pairing end grain pine. We generally accept the 8000 grit, 2 Micron sharpness at the sharpness minimally required for working soft woods, while many hardwoods will work fine with a lesser degree of sharpness.

It is also worth noting that sharpening to 16,000 grit or 1 micron can help us retain sharpness longer, if the time spent working to 1 micron does not exceed the benefit while working wood. If it takes longer to accomplish than it takes to dull then the benefit is lost. It is another evaluation we each must make from experience. Our tools, sharpening gear, and the wood varieties we work all play a part in this decision.

There is another benefit from stropping, and that is edge retention due to less failure. Failures when examined with microscopy have shown edges with a groove cut from coarse abrasives, that has not been adequately polished out is often where a failure often occurs. The constant stropping with fine abrasives effectively polishes these deep cuts from grinding away, leaving a very uniform edge. Remember the edge is formed by two planes that intersect, and smoother surfaces are stronger.

This begs the question, though we can jump from 1000 grit or 16 micron to 8000 grit or 2 microns, should we? Would there be a benefit to retaining edges if while working up to our final target sharpness, if a little time spent at some intermediate grits be beneficial? My observations tell me there is, but it is quick and easy, as well as clean and less expensive to do some of these steps on a strop.

For abrasives to help us get there while stropping Chromium oxide’s green crayon is just a start. CBN and Diamond pastes, emulsions and sprays can be used through the full spectrum of sharpening from grinding, honing and polishing and on a number of substrates.

Here we are focused on the sharpness maintenance needed for our best work, so the realm from 4 to 16K grit or 4 to 1 micron is key. (we can even hone much finer if we like) At the middle to high end of this realm, a wire edge is not formed during the hone or polishing process, this is fine work and not much material is being affected en masse. It is worn off as we strop. So using this as a dry process at the bench means we do not even need to disassemble a chipbreaker from an iron every time we strop.

We can work with our chisel or plane for a while until we begin to notice the dullness begin to mount on the tools. They will offer us resistance as feedback. That is the indication to go to the strop and hone the edge for say 15 to 30 quick strokes before returning to work. it doesn’t take long or much, and if we keep our promise with that process, it’s promise to us is that we will not have long rebuilding sessions to sharpen our tools.

I found that if I could create a sharpening station that allowed the woodworker to use the best, optimum sharpening media at every level of the sharpening process, and the gear they already have, it could help them do sharpening easier now and even better later as they develop their kit.

If the sharpening station could be small enough to be versatile yet not overwhelming in size or difficulty to use, then they could just use it as much as they needed with ease. It could be brought to the bench without taking too much space for just long enough to perform it’s work, then moved off the bench so that woodworking could continue.

I found that by honing and polishing with dry abrasives, the woodworking process suffers the least amount of interruption.

Pop the levercap, remove the blade or blade and chipbreaker assembly. The assembly does not need to be disassembled. Hone and polish, then replace the assembly into the plane. Replace the levercap and test your shaving. Adjust as required and return to work. Simple enough.

If the sharpening station needed reconfigured to go to a medium or coarse grit, this could be a quick change situation so they could just get on with it without too much extra to overcome. Magnetic work holding allows this to take just a few seconds. So we make different styles of “top”, which holds a sharpening substrate that we call Strop tops, though not all are strops, to help manage that, and we have some more goodies in development we’ll be bringing out soon.

So in a relatively small footprint, in our smallest model, almost as small as a single average sized bench stone, we offer a sharpening station which can offer quick change sharpening media, with flat accurate surfaces that stay that way, so the honing can be quickly performed and the woodworking can be the main focus.

With the ability to remain fully configured and be removed to a place nearby so it can be quickly brought back to the bench for another quick honing session. Staying sharp is now really pretty painless and easy, and reduces the need to perform the grinding and rebuilding sessions to the point where it is easier to do them on sandpaper and glass that to resort to coarse stones.

In my personal experience, while working with edge tools as I do daily, I have stropped without using any stone at all for well over a month or two at a time, and usually only resort to coarse grinding when an inadvertent edge damage needs repair. I have some edge tools that have not seen anything other than a strop in a few years.

Maintaining sharpness is key. Quicker, easier, less mess. Removing the barriers to sharpening: No moisture, no constant flattening, less mess, less effort, less time consuming, handy to do where you are.

Don’t be fooled. It still takes active effort with efficient sharpening strata and good technique to maintain your edge, but if we develop good analytical skills in regard to sharpness, and focus on using what works best for the sharpening situation we are in, we can benefit from a maximized sharpness from the least effort. We just have to commit to sharpening frequently as we use our tools.

Magstrop Four Combo

“Keeping the edge sharp takes very little work”.

Magstrop One

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