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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sharpening rant

I just want to rant about sharpening for a minute. When I first started out in this hobby (which is about 3 years ago, so you could say I'm still in the beginner's stage), one of the first lessons I learned was the false economy of the so-called "scary sharp" method of sharpening.
(the reason for this rant is a comment someone made about having the "right" tools to do the job, and told the other person to buy more sandpaper...c'mon)
The idea is that you stick sand paper down to a flat surface, say granite or plate glass, and go through progressive grits of paper to get your edge. It sounds good, in fact it sounds great. Some woodworking stores even sell kits to get you started. Ironically, the store that markets that kit hardly caters to hand tool workers. (I won't name them, but their initials are R.O.C.K.L.E.R., a place I now refuse to shop at because of the arrogant staff that look down on beginners and anyone that isn't dropping $5k on the latest laser guided nuclear powered chop saw, seriously it's an effin' chop saw)

So, you get your adhesive or adhesive backed paper and stick it down, grab your honing guide and hone away. You notice that your edge is good enough, and you're happy. Sandpaper isn't that expensive (so you think) in small quantities. As you use up sandpaper, you buy a little more and keep going. All the time you think, "heck, this is a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a grinder and some waterstones."
You wear out some paper, buy some more, gouge a piece of that trick PSA honing film, buy some more. All the while, you think about all the money you're saving.
Did you really save money? I don't think so. I used this method for only a short period of time before I realized that investing in a couple of quality stones was the way to go.
Look at the price of sandpaper over a year or two of sharpening. Now look at the price of three waterstones, and a bench grinder. You'll notice that the stones and the grinder will cost a bit more. Hence, why you think you're saving money. Take notice of the fact that the stones and grinder will last years, not weeks. In fact, you should buy the grinder no matter which method of sharpening you use. Do you really want to sand a primary bevel on sand paper? I don't care how good you tell me the sandpaper is, it cannot beat a grinding wheel. I have an antique hand crank grinder, and the belt driven suicide grinder. There's not a piece of sandpaper on the planet that can out perform either of them. Minimal investment too. My advice (take it or leave it, I'm no pro) is to spend a few bucks on three stones: 1000 grit, 4000 grit, 8000 grit, and a bench grinder. You'll need a flattening stone too. You'll make the salesperson at Woodcraft smile, and you'll smile knowing that your sharpening is being done right. You'll smile even more when you see that you're not being nickel and dimed to death trying to get a good edge.
Rant over.


  1. I agree with the sharpening rant. I went down a lot of side streets before I settled into what I use now. And I also agree with the initialed one too. ROCKLER reminds me about how Sears fell from being #1 by being arrogant and indiferrent - I now buy from Lee Valley

  2. Many thanks for your post. I just today posted on the Paul Sellers Forum asking about budget Sharpening Stones to get me started and was directed to your post. Thanks for answering many of the queries I had :) Cheers

  3. I am a pro and here's what I have to say: suite yourself. Not one method works for me for every situation. Hard stones for carving chisels, water stones and micro abrasive papers for other applications. It's worth going down those "side streets" and getting different takes on the process of removing metal to create a keen edge.

  4. I also agree - never understood the scary sharp system for any long term solution. I too have developed Paul Sellers method and love it. Not only does it take a fraction of the time, it gives a convex edge which we always thought was Taboo. Additionally, you almost never need to grind anymore.


  5. Tico-I agree with what you say. It is best to find what works for you and go with it. As a pro, you're more experienced than I, and have probably traveled a few more of these roads than I have. I suppose it sounds like I was saying that waterstones are the only way to sharpen. I should have mentioned Arkansas and India stones. I have an idea in the "hopper" right now for a different way to sharpen my chisels, but I'll keep it mum for now.
    The ultimate point was that I believe that "scary sharp" is false economy. As Don says above, it's not a good "long term solution." I tried the sandpaper method, and found it to be tons more trouble than it is worth. I like my waterstones.
    I need to look at this convex sharpening method, it definitely has a loyal following.
    Thanks all for the comments, I never expect anyone to actually be reading, so I'm surprised to see several comments in a single morning.

  6. You see, you have an idea and want to go with it. Good on you. No harm in trying.

    Concerning the economy of using sandpaper, I'll mention two well known people in woodworking who don't feel that way: Bob Van Dyke, who runs the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, and Michael Dunbar, of the Windsor Institute.They are no nonsense woodworkers
    who see a lot of edge tools throughout the year.

    Bob and I both concur on hating the time and elbow grease involved in flattening water stones. That time has to be factored in when discussing economy.

    Are we really that concerned about the economy of sharpening media? I truly doubt it. What percentage of readers of blogs like those on Unplugged Shop are pros?
    How much stuff are they going to turn out each year?

    I think it's most important to find an effective way to end up with a well honed edge using a process that you're comfortable with and thus won't avoid doing.

  7. That is interesting, Tico. The time I spent trying sandpaper sharpening lead me to believe that it was the most inefficient means of sharpening. I never mind being proved wrong, or being shown that the way I interpret something isn't exactly correct.
    In my mind, I have always figured that people who did this for a living were using diamond or another type of media that stayed flat and wasn't quite as putzy as waterstones. Whenever I tried sandpaper, I'd get crap underneath it, or some other problem. I never got the edge I wanted in a reasonable amount of time. It seemed like more time and work than using stones, so I made a full switch (when I was using sandpaper, I had a waterstone for part of the process).
    Woodwork is third on my hobby list (after motorcycles and baking), so my time is definitely not money. I do work with my hands for a living, so I bring at least a certain skill set to the table. That hopefully shows how I drew my conclusion.
    Thanks for your comments, you "straightened" me out, so to say. That happens a lot when I rant.
    The last comment you made, is probably the most important when it comes to sharpening (or most anything else, for that matter). I don't even remotely enjoy sharpening, so finding a method that didn't make it feel too much like a chore was important.