Full Chisel Blog

May 5, 2010

On the Importance of Proper Sharpening


I do not want in any way to suggest that the proper sharpening of tools is not of fundamental importance.  My point of an earlier post Over Grinding and Over Sharpening was meant to bring to people’s attention of the over emphasis of grinding and sharpening.

Early on in my apprenticeship I was given a book How to Sharpening Anything, given personal instruction and schooled in the proper sharpening of tools.  I do when necessary actually grind and sharpen tools, but I don’t put much time into the process.  I know what it takes to make a keen cutting edge, I once sharpened a knife for a friend and he said he would never have me do that again, because every time he used the knife it cut him three ways; long, deep and frequent.

I was taught to keep the flat back of a tool ‘flat’ and the bevel one plane and not use any tricks or shortcuts as these wasted the tool and was a bad habit to start, because once they are started these can be difficult to quit.  Secondary and back bevels were never brought up. 

If I get a small chip or ding on a chisel blade or plane iron, I don’t immediately stop and sharpen it out, unless it will show which it usually doesn’t or flat surfaces are scraped or sanded so a small mark isn’t critical.  I continue using the tools until I have some down time to sharpen, usually after a glue up or some process that stops the normal work.  I also have several chisels, so I can grab another if one has a problem and the end results will show.  I can also use another hand plane for the same reason.

There are many good sources for sharpening, there are books written and information on the internet that can be valuable.  I would just avoid any shortcuts or procedures that waste the steel in the tools or contributes to bad practices.  Once you learn good sharpening habits just don’t let it turn into an addiction.



  1. I noticed the renaissance woodworker mentions your sharpening post in his video of the wheelwrights shop at Colonial Williamsburg.

    Shay Lelegren

    Comment by Shay — May 10, 2010 @ 10:02 pm

  2. Stephen,
    I faithfully read your blog because you continually put out quality information. I asked several questions about making raw linseed oil more usable on a previous post. You seemed to think boiling raw linseed oil is a bad idea. May I ask why? Because of the flammability factor? What if it was done in a “double boiler” pot to limit the temperature? Do you have any idea how much heating is needed to shorten the drying time to a usable length? I remember you once posted something about “sun thickened” linseed oil but I didn’t see that post under “finishing” in the archives. Is the drying time reduced by letting it thicken in the sun?

    I ask because raw linseed oil is cheap and available locally.

    If this is not an appropriate use of you blog space, feel free to delete.

    -Harlan Barnhart

    Comment by Harlan Barnhart — May 11, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

  3. Shay,
    Thank you for pointing out this post: Williamsburg Wheelwright.


    My cautions are for the flammability of raw linseed oil when you heat it up that hot. A double boiler will not get the oil hot enough. I just found a local source for raw linseed oil so I am going to ‘kettle boil’ a small batch. I will heat it up to 225 degrees F and then let it cool. At that temperature it is still dangerous so use caution as I will. I am also going to make some ‘blown’ oil which I think is much safer. I will ‘boil’ some other samples with some old recipes I have. I don’t wan’t to reveal too much here as it is all in my next book. If you want further information send me an email or give me a call.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — May 12, 2010 @ 6:21 am

  4. Stephen,
    Aha! An impending book on finishing. This is welcome news. I’ll be looking for it.
    Harlan Barnhart

    Comment by Harlan Barnhart — May 13, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

  5. Harlan,

    The book is tentatively titled ‘Shellac, Linseed Oil & Paint’ and covers nineteenth century woodworking finishes including boiling oil, making Varnish, French Polish [the most simple explanation ever], Gilding, Painting and Graining, Stencil and Line work, &c., &c.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — May 14, 2010 @ 8:11 am

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