If a students shows me a tool during class and asks: “Should I s….”
I cut them off. “Yes.”
I have found that when you ask yourself if a tool is dull, the poor pathetic thing is way past being dull and is on its way to getting chipped and trashed. I think you need to sharpen an edge before it actually occurs to you to sharpen that edge. Sounds impossible, but it’s not.
I sharpen a lot, and it is part of the rhythm of my day. As I finishing planing up panels with a jointer plane, I stop to sharpen the tool before I take on the parts for the lid – even if the plane is performing well.
When I chop dovetails, I touch up the tool between each corner of a carcase – even if the chisel is keen and cutting well.
This is the opposite of the way I was taught to evaluate edges. I was told: “The surface of the wood will tell you how your edge is performing. If the wood looks bad, it’s time to sharpen.”
While that makes sense on one level, I don’t want the wood to ever look bruised or scraped or chunked out. So I sharpen the smoothing plane several times a day if this is the day I’m smoothing things.
This approach not only ensures my parts will look their best, it also removes most concerns about what steel your tool is made of. If you keep an edge wicked sharp (and nothing less) then it really doesn’t matter if A4 steel holds an edge longer than Q4.
So shut up and sharpen.
— Christopher Schwarz