I try to stay away from politics on this blog and for the most part I succeed, but today I felt the need to write about something that’s been on my mind: Sharpening.
There are intractably polarizing aspects in every realm of life and among hand tool woodworkers few topics command the religious devotion of sharpening. It is harrowing to see how quickly and insensibly we begin to divide ourselves between wispy shavings and groats over a few microns.
And to strop, or not to strop…
The best advice that I have encountered about sharpening (and there is more than you can imagine) is a concept that Chris Schwarz refers to as sharpening monogamy: pick one system that works for you and stick to it.
More often than not, I think we read the first part of that sentence and then rush off to the internet to “pick” something new before reading the second half. I know I’ve filled virtual shopping carts with all manner of sharpening apparatus (which is why I have a self-imposed 24 hour waiting period before clicking “checkout”) in an attempt to fix a problem I didn’t have or achieve an edge that doesn’t exist.
A few months ago I was seriously thinking about going back to oil stones. My grandfather used them. I grew up sharpening pocket knives on them. Chris raved about them once on a blog post. All of a sudden I realized that I had a shopping cart full of black, white and translucent stones but my plane blades were no sharper in the meantime, so I shut my laptop and went out to the garage.
One beef with water stones is that they dish. They do. You can deal with this through regular maintenance. Get over it.
One beef with oilstones is that they’re messy. They are, sort of. You can deal with this with a rag. Get over it.
One beef with _____ is that they’re _______. They are. You can deal with this by ______. Get over it.
See a pattern? Here’s the thing. You never get to the dealing with it and getting over it stage until you’ve committed to stick with it.
Here’s the other thing. Not to sound pessimistic, but everything in life is going to disappoint you in some way, and you’re going to have to figure out what to do with that. There will always be a newer, better and different thing and guess what? That thing will have “problems” too. You need to live with it long enough to realize that the “problems” either are, or are not, irreconcilable differences.
Sometimes, you learn something in the process.
Over the past year of sticking with water stones I may not have achieved the “perfect” edge, but I’ve learned how to find a perfectly usable edge on them and get back to work. My process is simple. I hollow grind and hone a primary bevel at 25° and then I hone a micro-bevel at 30° and I’m good to go. The micro bevel is easy to touch up and gives me more time making shavings than swarf on the stones. I might not have found this if I had been more interested in learning the intricacies of a new system than overcoming the shortcomings of the current one.
When I wear my water stones out I might try something new, but I’ve got a while to go before that happens and at least I always know I can come back.