As a beginner woodworker, I’m always gathering knowledge about the craft. While books have been insightful, and the Internet has been decent, nothing has taught me more than the couple of hours I spent with an old master this week.
Frank Tashiro, an American of Japanese descent, runs a small retail web site and showroom from his home in Seattle. Tashiro Hardware is a place where one can find a good selection of Japanese-style kataba and dozuki saws. This 90-year-old retired blacksmith made chisels, plane blades, knives and chains, among other things. When it comes to steel, you could say he’s got a handle on things.
With its door surrounded by bamboo, you could almost walk by his home/office without noticing the little doorstep, with “Frank Tashiro” lettered on the mailbox. He greeted me at the door and brought me in to see his wares. The front room is his showroom; the back room, his office. His full line of his saws and handles are on display boards, with merchandise organized in racks. He directed me to sit in a chair, and we small-talked for a moment. I told him I was looking for a dovetail saw. He was quick to locate a suitable specimen, then he asked me how much time I had. Because I was a stranger in town with nowhere to go that evening, my night was free.
He posed me a question, “How do you sharpen?” I responded that I used a pair of ceramic stones and free-handed things. He followed up with a, “But do you know how to sharpen things?” Indeed, I thought I knew how to sharpen, but had a feeling he would soon show me the error of my ways. Inside I was giggling like a little girl. “Sit here, in front of the workbench,” he beckoned, as he stooped to grab an old pail filled with tools. “Would you like to see how I sharpen?”
“What does it mean when we cut something?” I did my best to fumble through what I thought was correct, as he grabbed a small chalkboard to illustrate. He drew a row of dime-sized circles, and asked me to think on a molecular level about this.
“Does not the edge of the tool enter and divide the material?” He pushed a wooden wedge through his row of chalk molecules. A light came on in my mind. “Even if it is water or oil, at the moment the tool enters, it has divided the material, no?”
He explained tool edges this way: They all can be illustrated by drawing a mountain with its top lopped off, which is the tip of the tool. He drew this on his little chalkboard on the bench. Some have longer, shallow sloping sides. They are tough and last long before sharpening, but they may not cut the material as easily. (Enter and divide….) Other edges are steep and can cut well, but they may roll over or crumble at the edge.
He then demonstrated how to hold a tool at the correct angle to sharpen using simple handmade jigs. I would illustrate, but will simply say that none of his jigs have moving parts. “The most accurate method is to have no moving parts,” he emphasized. “Nobody can sharpen this better because it is based on a principle.” Another light came on for me.
On sharpening stones: He said it didn’t matter what one used. As long as you can get an edge that is too narrow to reflect light, you are sharp. His stone looked to be an ordinary oilstone. He said a great edge comes together at maybe three-ten-thousandths of an inch (.0003”), if we could measure that.
I also learned how to find square to a surface, using nothing more than a mirror. “You can even set your table saw blade or drill press square this way.” Light bulb.
He challenged me every step of the way, asking questions to make me think. I spent almost two hours mesmerized, feasting on his knowledge. What originally began as a trip to look at dovetail saws turned into a life-building experience. I was able to feel, maybe for a couple of short hours, like an apprentice learning from a dedicated master.
I asked if it would be OK if I made a recording of some of his teachings so I could refer to them later. He said that was unnecessary.
“Once you have been taught, you will know this forever.”
— Randy Clements, Rexburg, ID