Tools & Workshop

Some Sharpening Shortcuts

As the saying goes, sharp tools are safer tools. So here are a couple of hints for keeping your cutting tools sharp.

Use a Honing Guide. No, in truth, if you have a steady hand you don't have to have one. But a honing guide assures that the bevel on your chisel or plane iron is maintained at a constant angle to the stone - and saves you the time and trouble of worrying about the pitch with every stroke. Set it once, and hone to your heart's content.

Invest in a Natural Stone. The man-made stones are less ex-pensive, but the natural stones have some significant advan-tages. Natural stone is better for honing a fine edge, be-cause of the density of its stone and the fineness of the grit. (Ironically, man-made stones are actually harder, but I guess that's just one of life's little sur-prises.) Arkansas stones (that's right, abrasive stones mined in the home state of our forty-second president) are the favor-ite of many in the honing and sharpening crowd. An Arkan-sas or any other natural stone won't make you a honing ex-pert, but it won't hurt either.

A Refresher Course in Sharpening. Position the chisel, plane iron, or other edge so that the bevel is flat to the stone. Use both hands to steady the chisel (even if it's mounted in a honing guide), and slide it backwards and for-wards on the surface of the stone. Be careful to maintain the proper angle to the stone at all times. Vary the area you cover as you hone, perhaps even zigzagging slightly, in or-der to prevent uneven wear on the surface of the stone. Perform the whetting process first on a medium surface; then, repeat on a fine surface.

Making a Microbevel. The sharpest of chisels actually has two bevels, the second one cut at the tip of the blade at an angle about five degrees steeper than the first. Just a few strokes on the finest stone are required at a pitch just lightly steeper than the initial sharpening.

Flattening the Burr. The sharpening of the bevel (and the microbevel) will produce a burr, a tiny ridge that extends out from the tip at the back of the chisel. You can feel it with your thumb, stroking along the length of the back of the blade (be sure to stroke away from the handle).

To remove the burr, turn the chisel onto its back (bevel side up) and hold it flush to the sur-face of the fine stone. Rub the blade in a circular motion on the stone's surface; be careful to keep the chisel's back flat on the stone.