The best sharpener of hand tools I know is – hands down – Harrelson Stanley of JapaneseTools.com.
The last time I worked a woodworking show with Stanley we were in Ontario, Calif., a few years ago as he was preparing to launch the U.S. line of Shapton GlassStones. As he was showing off the stones he stopped for a moment and looked me in the eye.
“Do you think,” he asked, “if sharpening could ever become a hobby unto itself. Like golf? Where people sharpened merely for the pleasure of getting a perfect edge?”
Stanley was serious, so I paused and gave it some thought.
No, I said, I don’t think it could be a hobby for more than a few people. For me, sharpening is like changing the oil in my cars. It’s messy and time-consuming, but you must do it regularly or disaster will befall you eventually.
And besides, if sharpening alone were a hobby that would seriously downsize my job responsibilities (half of my time is showing people how to make their tools sharp; the other half is showing people how to make them dull). Dulling the tools is more fun than sharpening them.
So I’m not a sharpening fascist. I’m a good sharpener, but I don’t take more than five to 10 minutes to renew a micro-bevel (grinding a new primary bevel adds another 10 to 15 minutes to the process). But I firmly believe that a sharp iron is the second best way to reduce tear-out when handplaning a board.
This belief guides me when I sharpen my tools and regulates the attention I pay to each tool’s edge. Here is what my typical sharpening chores look like in my shop at work and home.
For me, sharpening begins at the end of a project.
With the piece of furniture complete and the deadline pressure off, I take a few hours to sharpen my tools. I always sharpen the iron of my jointer, smoothing and block planes. Then I move through any chisels that I used during the project. If I used them for more than a quick pare, I hone them as well. Then I move through the rest of the tool box. Any joinery planes (such as router, shoulder, fillister, plow and dado planes) and moulding planes that I used get sharpened. I’ll also take a look at my marking knives, jack plane, auger bits and marking gauges. If they’re dull, I’ll touch them up.
I do this at the end of the project so that when I start a new piece of furniture, everything is set up and ready to go. Anal-retentive? Perhaps. But as I build the next project I don’t sharpen my tools as I’m working unless one of two things happen: I damage a tool by dropping it or hitting a nail, or my smoothing plane leaves tear-out.
If the other tools give me tear-out, I can usually wait it out. But tear-out at the smoothing stage of a project is one of the most frustrating battles to fight. You can try a bunch of different strategies to eliminate the tear-out, but the first one should be to hone up your smoothing plane’s iron and try again.
About half the time, this break in the action fixes the problem. If it doesn’t help, it’s time to try strategy No. 3 (next week’s topic).
— Christopher Schwarz