Sharpening Supplies – A Case Study for the “Living Cheaply” Series

Honest Abe needed sharpening supplies, too.

Honest Abe needed sharpening supplies, too.

For the final installment in my short series on how woodworking can be one of your more inexpensive hobbies, I decided to write a case study on sharpening supplies. My reasoning is that the very broad range of all woodshop materials that woodworkers need is impossible to cover in one or two blog posts. I figured the case study format would at least provide a couple more ideas and insights, and allow me to wrap up the series efficiently. I plan to write more on the broader topic of “money-saving through woodworking” in the future, since there has been good interest and response from the community!

Options and Answers for Sharpening Supplies

Assuming you know a few basic concepts about tool sharpening, such as maintaining a bevel angle and moving from medium to finer grits, your first question is going to be where to find the best sharpening supplies for a good price. I was standing in my shop wondering exactly that just a few weeks ago. As always, my goal was to get my hands on the right stuff while saving as much money as possible.

My options were: (a) borrow supplies, (b) shop online, (c) shop at the home center or (d) shop at the specialty store a few miles beyond the home center. I tried borrowing first, but as is often the case with supplies and tools, woodworkers do not lend easily. My contact committed at first, then backed out.

That meant I needed to buy my supplies. If you have enough time to wait for shipping and you know exactly what’s needed, you may be able to save money by shopping online. I knew what was needed but did not have whole days to waste.

I did have an extra hour or two, so I decided to make the trip to the specialty store instead of going to the home center.

Wait a minute, you say. Aren’t prices higher at specialty stores than they are at home centers?

With many materials that answer is yes, but sharpening supplies are an exception to the rule. Home centers keep only heavy-duty sandpaper, down to 320-grit or so, and some small waterstones in stock. The small stones work pretty well for knife and chisel sharpening, but are not wide enough for plane blades. Specialty stores, on the other hand, give you the options of large stones as well as super-fine Norton papers. The large stones are a good long-term investment. The papers are very inexpensive and make great short-term solutions. Either way, you’re saving money. I went with the papers, at a cost of just a few dollars.

Key concepts from the sharpening supplies case study

1) Try borrowing first. It may or may not work out, but it’s free and it puts you in touch with other woodworkers, which is always a good thing.

2) Know what you need. (See more on this below.)

3) Know when it’s a good money-saving idea to get your supplies at the specialty store, as opposed to the home center.

But what if I don’t know what I’m looking for in terms of supplies or materials?

I was in this position just a few months ago. That’s why I know what sharpening supplies the home centers have in stock – I bought the small waterstones there before I had tackled the information piece.

No matter what stage you’re at with woodworking, you have to keep your knowledge and skills sharp. Knowledge is one of the biggest money-savers of all. Search the web, read books, watch videos and practice. Also, don’t be afraid to call or e-mail expert woodworkers and see if they can answer your remaining questions.

When it comes to buying your knowledge, here’s one last tip. Always look at our value pack of the month deals. We are putting a lot of thought into these, and we’re offering some great resources every month at a deep discount. December’s value pack is on woodshop resources. Buy it on December 1st if you need more knowledge in this area!

Dan Farnbach

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Dan Farnbach

About Dan Farnbach

Dan apprenticed and worked in two professional shops during the years after college. But sweeping shop floors only goes so far toward learning woodworking. These days Dan is online editor for Popular Woodworking, and is learning new skills every day. He divides his time between Boston and Maine.

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