I started with a piece of walnut, planed the edges and faces to perfection and marked three angled lines, about 23/128″ apart. It’s vital that the wood come from a tree that was felled with an ax and removed from the woods with draft horses before going to the pit saw. Not many people realize the benefits to the finished project of dragging the logs through the woods. The gentle motion is equivalent to a deep tissue massage to the fibers of the wood, and the inevitable dung rubbed over the bark imparts a distinct patina, visible to the wise – provided that the horses are Clydesdale, and fed a diet of organic oats and non GMO alfalfa. The harsh vibrations from chainsaws and log skidders negate that and introduce undetectable stresses into the wood.
I rubbed some chalk (imported directly from the cliffs of Dover) over the lines, to make them easier to see. After I had seen the lines I removed the chalk residue with a stiff badger brush. After rinsing the brush bristles in a mixture of spring water and gin, I wiped the excess off the wood with the same concoction on a clean piece of wool felt. I deepened the central knife line with a chisel to better guide my saw. When I make the saw cut, I prefer a loose grip that allows the grain of the tote to be seen in the photo, with my index finger extended to show that the back is brass. I stopped to measure the depth of my cut after each stroke and achieved the desired depth in 11.38975 strokes.
I then marked the outer lines a second time, deepening them as well as introducing the slightest of bevels in the lines. I reserve one adjustable bevel for use with the marking knife, and another for use with the beveled knife. I regularly polish the edges of the blades of the adjustable bevels, so as not to risk any possible damage to the blades of the knives. Some might see this as overdoing things, but better safe than sorry. If you’ve ever seen a marking knife that has been ruined by passing it over a nicked edge, you know exactly what I mean.
Next I used a chisel to cut on an angle from the outer lines down to the bottom of the saw kerf. I apologize for the photograph, it just wasn’t possible to show the action of making the cut while also showing how well the other side of the chisel is polished. It was so shiny, that the reflection of the north light streaming in through the shop windows overexposed the shot. I tried some different settings to compensate, but that left the two mallets, neither of which were needed, too dark to be seen. After resharpening my chisel, wiping it down with walrus oil (similar to whale oil, but from a more responsible source) and returning it to its hermetically sealed container at my local bank’s climate-controlled safety-deposit box, I was ready for the next step.
I reoriented the work so it was now aligned with the east/west axis, instead of the previous position that was pointed north. I should point out that this must be magnetic north, not true north. You’ll have to adjust this for your own longitude and latitude. I used my V-gouge to clean up the side walls and bottom of the angled trough. This extra step ensures that readers know I’m cool enough to have a V-gouge and using the saw and chisel first saves the edge from the premature dulling that would occur if I actually made a cut with it. I was tempted to have a special cutter forged for my router plane, but the only smith I trust for this kind of work has a three-year backlog. If it had been two years or less, I may have waited, but I was anxious to complete this project.
I then put a slight chamfer on all the sharp corners. My shoulder plane worked well to soften the edges at the top of the groove, and I used my block plane to chamfer the other edges. The next project on my list is to make a ladder from riven stock, so that I will at long last be able to properly use my block plane. I made do in this project by using only one hand while standing on my toes and shaking a bit to simulate the effect of being 8′ off the ground.
I temporarily attached the walnut to a piece of quartersawn white oak with shop-made double-sided tape. It’s easy to make this yourself, just find some antique linen (never cotton or wool) and cut it into strips. Soak the strips in some fish glue, then lay them out on a flat surface (I use one of my machinist’s granite reference plates) covered with waxed paper. Put another layer of waxed paper on top, followed by another piece of granite. Leave that in a cool, dry place over the winter to cure. Any residue can be removed with the proper soap (made the old fashioned way from ashes and lard). I’m not sure if I want to make the final connection with sliding dovetails, or with a drawbored, wedged through-tenon. I’m also on the fence about the final finish; should I use 20 coats of shellac rubbed out with pumice and rottenstone, or alternating coats of beeswax and flaxseed oil?
The completed sharpener works like a treat, and it yields the finest pencil point I have ever used. I lay each facet in the groove with the flat face up. I confirm with with a both a level and a surveyor’s transit, and take an equal number of strokes with the plane on each side until the point is perfect. The faceted surface makes it far easier to grip than an ordinary mechanically sharpened pencil, and it registers precisely against my rule when I draw a line. I’ve found that a quick return to freshen the point after drawing every inch or so yields more consistent and precise lines.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be experimenting with the angles of the grooves. I suspect that I may need to make a dedicated sharpener for #2, #3 and #4 lead pencils, because the optimal angles may increase based on the density of the lead. I’ll see if we can get an electron scanning microscope in here so we know for sure. I wouldn’t want to be wasting my time fiddling with the wrong angle. I’m also considering adding a ramp for the plane to ride on, as I can imagine undue wear occurring at a single point on the iron.
Every now and then I try to write something amusing, as in this post from 2011, and this one from 2012, the rest of the time I’m pretty serious. You can see a project from the serious side on the cover of the August 2012 issue, and in the new video about building that project.