Overcoming My Fear of Sharpening (Thank You Ron Hock)
Sharp tools are essential to doing good work, but when I was getting into woodworking, I didn’t really know where to start. And I was scared of ruining chisels and planes. But I didn’t use chisels and planes much, because they were doing more harm than good (because they never were sharp enough). That fear went away once I read The Perfect Edge.
In hindsight, it really was a fear of the unknown. I was just beginning to understand wood – how it moves, how to read grain direction, why I loved working with black walnut (despite my tree nut allergy). Plus there were all of the power tools I was learning to use, and their blades were just dropped off at a sharpening service when they got dull. I hadn’t even considered how metal works – I just had a vague feeling of when something was no longer sharp.
The Perfect Edge takes you through sharpening from the beginning, making no assumptions about what you already know (very helpful for beginners). The book covers everything from basic metallurgy to sharpening a basic hand tool kit and everything in between. It seems I learn something new every time I open the book. My biggest takeaway, though, is that sharpening is skill, just like cutting dovetails or applying finish. Use the sharpening supplies you have and practice until you’re able to sharpen consistently. You’ll learn the difference between sharp enough and not sharp as you go.
A few years back, Popular Woodworking shot a video with Ron that shows a lot of the info in the book on camera, and it’s fascinating – like a Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye for woodworkers. Seeing precisely how he tempers steel (with a torch and peanut oil!) to demonstrating different sharpening abrasives to getting a glimpse of his very skilled hands sharpening – it really made the book come to life. Of course, though, the video can’t go quite as in-depth as the book does. And the book is a bit easier to reference at the bench.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the video, now is the time to pick up both. We’re running a special over at Shop Woodworking where you get the video download free when you buy the book. Stay sharp!