Chris Schwarz's Blog

Do You Sharpen Too Much?

When I teach people to sharpen I notice a bad habit that many of them have: They think that rubbing the tool against a stone is sharpening. The more they rub, the sharper it gets, no?

Well, no.

I think that sharpening is more about seeing and feeling than it is about rubbing. (Snakes alive I am going to catch crap for that line.)

It’s subtle. And I know it’s Monday. But allow me to be subtle.

When I sharpen a tool, the goal is to remove as little metal as possible and get the best edge possible. Why do I care about the amount of metal I’m removing? Well the less metal I remove when honing the longer I can go between grinding sessions. And if I’m removing less metal then I’m probably going to get back to work faster.

Here’s how I remove as little metal as possible:

1. I sharpen with a honing guide so I can always hit the right angle. If I’m bang on at 30° or whatever, then it will be only a few strokes to remove the old edge. If I miss the angle (even by a degree or two), I’m might have to remove a lot of metal to get a fresh edge.

2. On the coarse stone (#1,000 in this case), I stop stroking the second that I can feel a burr on the unbeveled face of the tool. Once you’ve cut a fresh edge, you are wasting your time and effort. Move up to the polishing stones.

In the video above, I’m sharpening a chisel on my Shapton waterstones. I use #1,000, #4,000 and #8,000. The #8,000 is probably overkill for a chisel. I like me some overkill. Also, it takes me 30 strokes or so to cut a fresh edge on the #1,000 stone. That’s more than usual. Typically, it’s 10 or 20 strokes — then I move up to the polishing stones.

All in all, this little video shows what the sharpening process looks like for me for chisels and handplane irons. Though this isn’t a race, I’m happy with a 2:30 interruption in my workflow.

 — Christopher Schwarz

I like Ron Hock’s Book “The Perfect Edge”
And I think you will, too. Ron is everything you want in a sharpening instructor. He has spent a lifetime in the sharpening and tool business and he’s a funny writer (sharpening can be boring). It’s a $29.99 investment in better sharpening. Get your copy here.

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