Sage Advice from the Monks

One must take the approach that today’s task is practice for tomorrow’s triumph.

-Sharpening Monk Proverb

It has been quite a while since I devoted an evening to practice.  Tonight I felt I would do some and get myself ready for a weekend of router table work.  I am close enough to getting it finished that I can almost smell it, and it smells, well like sawdust.  I think that is probably pretty typical with woodworking.  The smell of success would seem out of place if it was the odor of cinnamon buns or a bacon cheeseburger.  But I digress.

I set my sights on some hand cut dovetail practice.  After I marked the practice piece for pins and made the cuts I grabbed my 3/8 Irwin chisel.  A close inspection revealed that it was dull and a little bit dinged up.  The dings looked rather severe and I didn’t relish trying to grind them down on the 1000 grit stone.  While it is true that I have a bevy of grinders in the garage, they are old and scary, and would most likely do more damage than good.

I learned several things today, while I was sharpening.  The first pearl of wisdom which made itself known to me, was that sharpening is not terribly complex.  Step one, flatten the back, not too hard, just move the back of the chisel across the wet tone to and fro, fro and to.  I did this for a few minutes.  Step 2, put the chisel into a sharpening guide, and then run it back and forth across the whetstone.  The second step is the one I dreaded, as I knew that a normal person would have ground out the dings before starting, thus saving them considerable time.

I was reminded of the old saying, “A watched chisel, never sharpens.”  It seemed that every time I flipped the chisel over, wiped off the edge and looked at it, there was a disheartening amount of progress.  So I stopped looking and got into a bit of a rhythm.  Occasionally I would change hands and go the other direction.  I remember reading that it is important to try to use the whole whetstone, to keep it even.  Back and forth I went and before long I had my second wonderful sharpening wisdom pop into my head, “It is something that can be done while one thinks about other stuff and this helps the time pass.”  I started to wonder if the reason that many people find sharpening to be a challenge is that they don’t reach this state of Zen sharpening.  I thought about how I hadn’t especially enjoyed the first five minutes, but now that my mind was wondering I didn’t find it too bad at all.  This went on for quite a while, when the thought of those two dings popped back into my head.

“Ugh I thought to myself.  I wish I had a nice grinder.  Maybe that purchase should be moved up on my list of priorities?  I wonder if I should just break down and buy another Irwin chisel and start over, they aren’t that expensive.  I don’t know.  I am a little hungry.  I need a snack.  I don’t want to stop though.  When will you check the blade again?  Oh it doesn’t matter, I am sure I will still have a long way to go.  I wonder if my girlfriend from my freshman year will read today’s post?  She does sometimes.  There is one cookie in the cookie jar, I could probably eat it with one hand and carefully continue sharpening with the other.”

This went on in my head for a while.  Finally I needed the cookie, so I took a break, washed my hands, and ate it.  It was delightful.  I was ready to get back to the chisel and decided to see how much further I had to go.  I flipped it over and was shocked, the dings were gone.  They were gone!  Had they snuck out while I was getting the cookie?  I couldn’t be sure.  Everything I had read made me believe that I would have to spend approximately 3 weeks, 9 hours, 27 minutes on the whetstone to get out the dings from the chisel.  This is why everyone grinds it down first.  It seems that one can indeed grind down a chisel manually; the trick is to think about other things and let time eat away the minutes and the steel.

I had been at it for about 30 minutes, and now was extremely enthused for sharpening.  I grabbed my 1 inch chisel and honed its edge.  Next I got one of my practice chisels and went at it.  I have a couple of really old chisels that are in need of serious work to get them into shape.  I grabbed one and flipped it over and looked at the back.  It was ugly and brown.  The steel was likely under all the age and gunk, I just had to find it.  So I put my brain into random thoughts mode and 30 minutes later it was looking much improved, though still not perfect.  I picked up another old practice chisel and spend another 30 minutes on it.  Ninety minutes of practice chiseling and I feel I am getting better at it.

When I was done with the sharpening I looked at my whetstone, I held it up and realized that I had failed in my attempt to keep it flat.  The stone was visibly shallower in the center.  It was a nice day so I hopped into the car and went to Ace Hardware for a cinder block.  It seems that one can use them to flatten a whetstone.  I am not sure if buying a cinder block counts as a tool purchase, so I picked up a file, just to be safe.   Tomorrow I will try out my brand new whetstone flattening device.

I went back to the dovetails and my newly sharpened 3/8th inch Irwin made quick work of the waste.  Ok, it wasn’t quick work, as I still lack confidence with dovetails, but it was much quicker than if I hadn’t sharpened it.

I then set about making some tails, when looked awful.  The pins were brilliant, but the tails looked like the dove had been suffering from some terrible disease.  Naturally after I got them together, I broke one of the beautiful pins off, as I tried to pull it apart.  Oh well, it was just practice, and if one is to believe the wise sharpening monks, this will lead to a triumph tomorrow.

9 comments
rtb
rtb

Brian I have the narex and love them. personaly, I prefer european steal. Go to highland.com. You might want to subscribe to thier monthly news letter. they have an index, click on chisels, then bench. There is a tab that refers to a review of chisels done by fine woodworking, read it theres good infromation there. These are far superior to your chinese chisels. (only the old ones were made in England) Robt. Sorbey (eng) makes very good steel tools as well. I have about 15-18 of his lathe and won't buy anything else, but is primarly into lathe chisels but is pricey. note when you look at the narex, if you degide to buy a set also price them individualy . Believe me these are very high quality for thier price. note they are sized in metric which dosen't mean a thing since you don't reaky select a chisel by size but rather what fits the area that you wish. If you use a chisel with a hammer make yourself a maul, as I once suggested (mine is posted and you can see it, if you wish by click on my projects list) I believe that you only strike wood with wood. Any questions you have my e-mail addy or pm me. I only get computer time 2-3 times a week now but will definatly reply. ralph

rtb
rtb

Brian I have the narex and love them. personaly, I prefer european steal. Go to highland.com. You might want to subscribe to thier monthly news letter. they have an index, click on chisels, then bench. There is a tab that refers to a review of chisels done by fine woodworking, read it theres good infromation there. These are far superior to your chinese chisels. (only the old ones were made in England) Robt. Sorbey (eng) makes very good steel tools as well. I have about 15-18 of his lathe and won't buy anything else, but is primarly into lathe chisels but is pricey. note when you look at the narex, if you degide to buy a set also price them individualy . Believe me these are very high quality for thier price. note they are sized in metric which dosen't mean a thing since you don't reaky select a chisel by size but rather what fits the area that you wish. If you use a chisel with a hammer make yourself a maul, as I once suggested (mine is posted and you can see it, if you wish by click on my projects list) I believe that you only strike wood with wood. Any questions you have my e-mail addy or pm me. I only get computer time 2-3 times a week now but will definatly reply. ralph

Brian Meeks
Brian Meeks

Minimoose,

My whetstone doesn't have 10 years of wear, just about 4 months, but I have done a lot of practicing. I really like your suggestions regarding a sharpening system. I have read other similar ideas. I have plans to build a sharpening station after I get my router table finished.

Bob and Minimoose,

I am not familiar with Narex or Sorby bench chisels. I am planning on buying as set of Lie Nielson, but I will go give those a look too, before I make my decision. I agree that the Irwin is really not great.

Brian

Brian Meeks
Brian Meeks

Minimoose,

My whetstone doesn't have 10 years of wear, just about 4 months, but I have done a lot of practicing. I really like your suggestions regarding a sharpening system. I have read other similar ideas. I have plans to build a sharpening station after I get my router table finished.

Bob and Minimoose,

I am not familiar with Narex or Sorby bench chisels. I am planning on buying as set of Lie Nielson, but I will go give those a look too, before I make my decision. I agree that the Irwin is really not great.

Brian

Bob Easton
Bob Easton

The 3rd pearl of sharpening wisdom is that there MUST be a cookie (or Milky Way bar).

I 2nd the advice about Narex bench chisels. They are only slightly more expensive, but many times better, than the Irwins.

MiniMoose
MiniMoose

Oh yeah, do yourself a HUGE favor and get a set of Narex or Sorby bench chisels or better. You will love them.

MiniMoose
MiniMoose

Oh yeah, do yourself a HUGE favor and get a set of Narex or Sorby bench chisels or better. You will love them.

MiniMoose
MiniMoose

That 1000/6000 waterstone of yours looks like it has about a decade of wear on the 1000 side
I shall tell you of sharpening, Grasshopper. Firstly get yourself a Norton 220/1000 grit stone, which is more like a 180/600 if you ask me, but I digress. Then you go out to Home Despot and pick up a nice flat granite tile or get fancy and get a machinists plate. Pick up some autobody wet/dry abrasives in 400, 600, 800, 1200, 2000. . So as to procedure, as that is the important bit, if you have nicked up your chisel give it a treatment on each grit until the scratches from the previous grit are gone. If it is just dull then you can go from the 1000 (waterstone) on up. There really is no way to sharpen properly on a single fine grit.

Now you may ask why the Norton and not just paper? I use the 220 as a good aggressive starter and save the Norton 1000 side to true up my Japanese waterstone. It really shouldn't take you more than a few minutes total. Save you a bundle on nice waterstones too. I find it to be a good balance between using just paper or just stones. If I were to go all one route though, it would be a full set of waterstones. Just that they are expensive and bulky.

Hope this summary is not too brief to be understood.

MiniMoose
MiniMoose

That 1000/6000 waterstone of yours looks like it has about a decade of wear on the 1000 side
I shall tell you of sharpening, Grasshopper. Firstly get yourself a Norton 220/1000 grit stone, which is more like a 180/600 if you ask me, but I digress. Then you go out to Home Despot and pick up a nice flat granite tile or get fancy and get a machinists plate. Pick up some autobody wet/dry abrasives in 400, 600, 800, 1200, 2000. . So as to procedure, as that is the important bit, if you have nicked up your chisel give it a treatment on each grit until the scratches from the previous grit are gone. If it is just dull then you can go from the 1000 (waterstone) on up. There really is no way to sharpen properly on a single fine grit.

Now you may ask why the Norton and not just paper? I use the 220 as a good aggressive starter and save the Norton 1000 side to true up my Japanese waterstone. It really shouldn't take you more than a few minutes total. Save you a bundle on nice waterstones too. I find it to be a good balance between using just paper or just stones. If I were to go all one route though, it would be a full set of waterstones. Just that they are expensive and bulky.

Hope this summary is not too brief to be understood.

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