Some things about sharpening everyone knows (it’s two metal surfaces, an abrasive and friction). Other things nobody knows (such as the best system ever). And there is a third category of sharpening facts: Things that everyone should know, but some people don’t.
I’ve been doing a lot of sharpening these last few weeks, both for my own work and for tool testing. And three things have struck me as belonging to that third category. All three things are little steps I take that speed up the sharpening process.
Quench this. When I was taught how to grind tools with a dry grinder I was told one simple thing: Do not quench your tools to cool them down. That will shatter the crystalline structure of the steel at the microscopic level and make the edge fragile.
So grinding was (for me) a grind. I never quenched. So when the edge got hot I would let it cool down au naturel. Or I would use a heat sink or a block of wood to help suck the heat from the steel so I could get back to grinding.
Then I asked the Rev. Ron Hock (of Hock Tools) about quenching and fracturing. He said that’s ridiculous. So I started quenching, which cools a tool really fast. Of course, it didn’t hurt the tools, and quenching has made grinding a lot more bearable.
A light touch. When I grind or hone I’ve found that if I begin with heavy pressure on a stone and end with light pressure, my results are considerably better. How? The scratches left behind by the light-pressure touches are smaller and easier to remove by the next finer grit.
So I start with firm pressure on a stone and remove the steel I want to remove. Then, as I think I’m ready to move to the next finer grit, I reduce my downward pressure until I’m using just enough to control the tool. The light pressure ensures that any big particles of abrasive on your sharpening medium don’t cut too deeply into your edge.
One direction. This next one is a mystery to me. But when I move the tool in one direction on the stone, lift to return and then stroke again, my results are better. The polish comes up much faster than when I stroke back and forth continuously.
When flattening the unbeveled face of a tool, stroking in one direction creates a distinctive scratch pattern that I remove at the next grit by choosing a slightly different angle.
When honing the bevel, I apply downward pressure as I pull the tool toward me; then I lift up on the return.
I use a cat analogy. You don’t pet a cat both back and forth (unless you are a nutjob sadist). You pet it in one direction from head to toe to get all the fur in one direction. The same seems to hold true with steel. Stroke it in one direction only and it will polish faster. You might not believe me, but I have found this to be true for many years now.
– Christopher Schwarz
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