Today I taught my 8-year-old to sharpen. It took five minutes.
Instead of teaching her about abrasives and honing angles and all the other theory my head is filled with, I took a hands-off approach to this important hand skill.
I showed her how to secure the blade in a honing guide. I showed her the three waterstones (and the sheer delight of squirting water from the plant sprayer into your mouth. Then Katy decided to use the plant sprayer to pretend she was a boy… a story for another blog and perhaps Katy’s prom night.)
Then I gave her these instructions for sharpening: “Rub it back and forth until it is as shiny as you can get it. Then clean it and go to the next stone.”
I walked away and let her give it a whirl. In less than 10 minutes she showed me her edge. I could see myself in it. (In more ways than one, I suppose). Then I showed her how to back off the iron on the polishing stone.
We oiled the blade together and reassembled the block plane. Then she took the plane to work on pine and pulled up the same wispy shavings she always does. She didn’t have some sort of Zen-like koan-solving moment. The plane just worked like it should work. And sharpening it was no big deal.
Sometimes I think our heads are apt to stop our hands. We read too much, think too much and worry. Sometimes I think the best way to learn a task is to do it without reading anything about it. (Boy this sounds like a dumb argument from a magazine editor.) Just do the task – fail if you need to – but perform the task from beginning to end.
Then read like crazy to understand why the tools worked the way they did.
Last year we did a little experiment with a new employee, Drew Depenning. I told Senior Editor Glen Huey to have Drew cut dovetails during his first week at work. Drew had never cut a single joint by hand. He didn’t know to be afraid. So he cut his dovetails and they came out fine.
With that out of the way, Drew could get on with learning all the ins and outs of the craft.
This works great in woodworking. Probably not so well at a nuclear reactor.
— Christopher Schwarz