Oct 28 2015
Sharpening. To many, it’s do or dread and do anyway. Listen, it doesn’t have to be the chore that it can be, you just have to change the approach. We did and we offer the tools we developed to help make it easier for everyone.
Many of us have used the approach of working a tool until it is good and dull. The reason why is that it can be a lot of work to sharpen, so we hold out till we have to. There are two downsides to this. It is a lot of work to resharpen once you let tools get this dull, you sometimes have to rebuild the edges over again, and the other is that the indicators that we are this dull are that the tool is pushing hard, doing a poor job, or even starting to damage our work.
Why do we wait so long to sharpen?
Because steels are hard and difficult to abrade, and sharpening media can be a messy endeavor that we can’t really afford to have contaminate our woodworking projects. So since sharpening commonly requires special attention, we tend to put it off until we have to.
But listen, a dull tool is worse than a stopped clock. A stopped clock can be right twice a day, but dull edge tools are nothing but a wrecking ball that keeps swinging until you stop them. Think about that.
This is why stropping your tools as you work is important. Stropping is a dry sharpening method that when used with abrasives can keep your edges sharp with little or no messy residue on the tool. It is a dry method that means no muddy slurry, no oily mess, no water. Just work some emulsified abrasives into the strop and you can maintain the edges as you work.
Some tips and tricks.
Emulsified abrasives embedded in a strop will often exceed the sharpening capability of many stones. If you are using a stone to 8000 grit, great, but the strop can keep you there and exceed it because there are many emulsified abrasives available that are finer than most stones. The green Chromium Oxide is but one compound, and I like it for most carbon, O1 and A2 steels. There are also other polishing compounds that can help you sharpen such as Simichrome and Tripoli. There are also Diamond and CBN Emulsions that are not only harder than the abrasives found in stones, they are available in nearly any micron grade you could possibly want, and these will deal with ANY steel no matter how hard, so you can target your stropping/sharpening at the quality outcomes you want.
Several benefits at once.
Because it is a leather strop, you are still getting the benefits from a strop which is about removing the wire edge, but with the abrasives, you are actually removing metal that is part of the dullness at the same time. In addition, you can get away with stropping the bevel side several times before you have to strop the back of the tool, because the strop still inherently acts upon the wire removal, and the abrasives are so fine that the wire isn’t really forming much if at all anyway.
Another benefit from stropping with fine compounds is that you are actually polishing the bevels and backs of your tools. Over time you’ll polish away any deep scratches left in the edges which are one of the likely places that cause edge failures. With these scratches polished out, the edge is actually stronger at the same time it is smoother.
An added benefit for plane irons is that you will not need to separate the chipbreaker and iron every time you strop. That’s right, just pop the double iron assembly out of your plane and strop the bevel. It’s dry sharpening so there is no liquid to wick up between the blade and chipbreaker. When you finish stropping, just wipe off the iron to remove any compound and confirm you still like the cap iron alignment then replace it on the frog of the plane and set the levercap. You may even find that final adjustments are minimal and you are back to work.
Are there more benefits? Yes! Size matters but we’ll get to that in a few minutes.
How do you know when to strop?
Easy! The tool pushes easy and accurately when sharp. You can make it do what you want within the design limits of the tool. You will become attuned to how this feels. When you feel it starting to push hard and/or you get a sense of less accuracy, it’s time to strop. The surface quality of your work is dependent on this sharpness. The stropping only takes 30 seconds to a minute to refresh the edge. Yes, if you do this frequently and routinely it will only take about a minute most of the time.
Will you need to rebuild your edges anymore?
It depends on your evaluations. Maybe, but rarely, or if you do it will be to remove steel that has become misshaped due to wear, or damage to the edges that the strop can’t repair. Continually observe and evaluate edges as you work them. If you are like me, you’ll strive to keep them sharp and well shaped because the work comes out better, and you’ll want to avoid having to do major work on any edges. It never hurts to maintain the shape of edges on stones from time to time, but then again, it is usually only required with fine stones and infrequently.
Remember, one of the big deterrents to sharpening is that it often requires time, a dedicated space, and it’s messy. Particularly longer periods of time and messy, because if we wait too long we must return to the coarse/messy stones that remove steel the fastest. The big game changer really is that we can avoid many coarse sharpening chores if we stay on top of maintaining a higher level of sharpness as we work with our tools , and a strop is a great fit for this task.
For our part in the stropping equation, we have developed a couple different stropping systems that make it easier to strop while you are working. They are cleaner, dry-based and they are both compact in size. One is about the same size as a typical sharpening stone for woodworking, and they are easy to put on and off the bench while you are working a project, organizing everything you need to help keep the tools sharp.
If you strop frequently you’ll get nicer looking work from your tools, and you’ll spend less time with your tools on the stones rebuilding edges.
Remember how size matters?
Having enough room for a sharpening station is a concern for many woodworkers, but we have kept this in mind. The StropTops that fit all our bases and are themselves targeted at being sharpening stone size, only a bit longer. This works out to 3 inches wide by 11-3/8ths inch long. Longer than a stone so you have more usable room with a honing guide. Any woodworking tool or iron will fit on our StropTop.
The Magstrop One base is 3-1/8th x11-1/2 inches, just a little bigger than a stone, and it can fixture to the bench over a raised bench dog in one of three different positions, or optionally be used with rubber feet. It takes just a second to raise a bench dog. No clamping required. Just slip the Magstrop One over the dog and your ready to strop. The stropTops are purchased individually and can be mixed and matched any way you like. You can actually use it with both as well, but the feet are optional.
The Magstrop 4 base is 14-3/4 inches square and holds four StropTops which you can mix and match. Everything is quick-change, you can swap the position of any strop top in seconds. It is a bench hook style device so you can clamp it in the vise, use it and set it aside so the full bench is back to work. We offer the Magstrop 4 in three different configurations, All Leather, All Glass and the Leather/Glass Combo. You can purchase Strop Tops separately so you can configure the station your way. The Magstrop 4 even comes with a built in cutter for sizing sandpaper for the glass StropTops.
Our sharpening surfaces are not loose pieces of leather or glass. All Magstrop StropTops are mounted on accurate platen surfaces that are 0.001 inch flat and stay flat. They are ready to go to work. All of them magnetically quick change from station to station in seconds.
We offer glass for use with sandpaper sharpening, otherwise referred to as “Scary Sharp” which is a great option for the occasional coarse work, and glass is a flat reference to assure the edge is becoming what you planned. It takes just a light application of spray adhesive to fixture the sandpaper, and you can use any type or grade of sandpaper grit available. We recommend Silicon Carbide, and Ceramics are great too! You won’t be going through a lot of sandpaper once you get your edges sharp and keep them that way.
For stropping with compounds, we offer Horse Butt Leather which we mount in either Smooth Face Up or Rough Face Up, your choice, and Cowhide Suede Leather as well. All the StropTops (any style) quickly interchange on any station location magnetically, providing a very stable location for the work of sharpening.
In my shop, my tools get used every day. I strop a lot, but I rarely use my stones very often anymore, because the tools are rarely allowed to get very dull. I only occasionally go to the stones to make geometry corrections to edges and keep bevels in tune. Not having the long sharpening sessions has been really nice! Simply put, it is much easier to keep a sharp tool sharp. It’s productive and a lot more fun. I have several tools I use pretty frequently that I can’t remember putting to a stone in over a couple years. This method of sharpening really changed my feelings about sharpening, because it doesn’t take long, and I love the way my tools cut. A definite upside to sharpening.
As always, please feel free to look at the Magstrop Sharpening Stations and their options, and place an order in our Online Store. We believe we have a way to help you sharpen easier and with less time, will work with any steel by selecting the appropriate compounds to strop with, as well as any sharpening jigs you may already have. It all comes down to saving your time so you can do what you want or really need to, and if you really want to have tools that are ready to work on projects, rather than having tools that are the projects. We all appreciate sharp tools!
Will Sharpening ever be Utopia? I don’t know, but I think we can move closer. We’re working on that!
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