In the world of woodworking, and all things sharp, few things are as important as your cutting tools. With the advent of a lot more automation, such as routers and planers some of the more traditional methods of subsided, and so have the tools. However unfortunate, there is still a vast population of woodworkers that choose to wield chisels, hand planes, spokeshaves, and drawn knives. It's refreshing to know, especially since I’m one of them! But with that choice comes a frequent, and sometimes difficult task – sharpening. In today's article all about tool information, we take a deeper look in How to Keep Cutting Tools Razor Sharp.
How to Keep Cutting Tools Razor Sharp – Overview
There are many products on the market nowadays that can sharpen your knives and machetes, but unfortunately, those just won’t do the job when it comes to your fine cutting instruments. Hand sharpening, the most effective type of sharpening, is any more a lost art. Freehand sharpening woodworking tools can also be intimidating, but it's not all that difficult!
Below we'll outline how to take care of two very prominent woodworking hand tools, the chisel, and plane iron. Also, we'll take you through a general knife sharpening methods using the Trend Essential Sharpening Kit. Trend has been on the cutting edge (no pun intended) with sharpening tools specifically for the professional woodworking industry. Eric took a look at the Trend Airshield Pro a while back, and their innovations don't stop there. They also have a wide variety of things like power tools, blades, and router bits! Thanks again to our friends at Trend for providing their acclaimed Essential Sharpening Kit!
How to Keep Cutting Tools Razor Sharp – The Chisel and Plane Iron
The most important part to remember when Sharpening an iron or chisel is that you’re dealing with very hard steel. Typically, these will be made of high carbon steel but hardened at the cutting edge for a more reliable and long-lasting cutting edge.
With that being said, if I have just come off of some hard use with the tool, I'll begin by taking it to a rougher grit stone. This will allow me to work out any extreme dullness, or minor chips in the chisel blade. With the Trend Essential Sharpening Kit, the stone I have on hand is a high-quality diamond stone. This double-sided stone features a coarse 300 grit side, a and a fine 1000 grit side.
First, apply a liberal amount of lapping fluid to the stone, specifically I'm using the Trend Diamond Abrasive Lapping fluid. This will assist in lubricating the stone while reducing the risk of rusting the stone like most water-based fluids often do. Trend advises not to use water on the stone as a lubricant just for this reason. Personally, I prefer actually lapping fluids like Trend's as well, due to the increased viscosity.
After lubricating, place the back of the blade (opposite of bevel side) level on the stone. Slowly work the stone back and forth in order to even out, and in some cases, repair the back edge of the bevel. After the coarse grit side is complete, move to the fine edge for finishing the back of the chisel.
Next, we'll take care of the cutting edge. As you place the beveled edge on the stone, try to tip the tool back and forth. This will assist in finding the angle in which the tool must be held to achieve a fine edge. Once the angle is established a few “back and forth” passes can be taken to get the hang of keeping the angle while moving the tool. After this, you are fully able to begin the figure 8 pattern that will ultimately sharpen the cutting edge on a chisel.
For a plane iron, simply continue the back and forth method, keeping both hands on the iron. As shown, this may be difficult on small irons. It's important to have a secure and steady path in order to keep the beveled edge level. After spending a few minutes on the 300 grit side, simply flip to the 1000 grit side and repeat the back side, and cutting edge. Spend a bit more time on the fine side in order to hone the edge to maximum sharpness.
After use, be sure to clean the stone properly, removing all abrasive lubricant. Trend includes a cleaning block that will remove all excess lapping fluid and small debris from the blade. It's also advised to store the stone in the included case to minimize the risk of any rust or damage.
How to Keep Cutting Tools Razor Sharp – Stropping and Finishing
In order to remove any microscopic burrs that might reside on either side of the cutting edge, a leather strop can be used. This leather strop, also included in the kit has a rough side and a smooth side. Apply stropping compound to the leather to prepare for finishing. Make sure to place the strop on a hard surface to ensure that you're getting appropriate pressure when stropping.
There are two ways to apply stropping compound, either dry or with heat. In order for the compound to really get into the grain, I use heat. You won't need much, but make sure there is enough to cover your working area. If the compound flakes off easily, you’ve either applied too much, or it is not working into the grain.
Once it is applied, simply pull the blade away in a swift motion, while alternating directions in order to smooth out the edge. Start with the rough side of the leather first, and finish on the smooth side.
Lastly, if you are desiring an ultra sharp edge, with a shiny aesthetic look, Trend has included the Mirror Paste. Apply just a bit to the strop, and polish the edges of the blade. This will leave you with a razor-sharp, and “mirror” edge.
How to Keep Cutting Tools Razor Sharp – Pocket Knives
For general use, all trades rely on the pocket knife. Since it appears in most everyone's “every day carry”, these tools do tend to dull rather quickly no matter what the steel type. When using the Essential Sharpening Kit, for softer steels, I would often start off on the fine stone unless some serious repair was needed. I used a Southwire EDGEFORCE Knife here, which we went into detail on in the review, and in Pocket Knife 101.
For harder steels, I would resort directly to the 300 grit coarse side, just to establish a good starting edge. Hand sharpening a pocket knife is a bit harder than a chisel or plane iron, as the angle is not as easily identified. Only with practice can one truly get the hang of finding and executing a proper angle of between 21-25 degrees.
As far as the method goes, I personally favor the swiping method. Start with the full blade on the stone, and swipe towards the end, gradually removing the blade from the stone. On the back pass, perform the same motion, but toward yourself. Be swift, use minimal pressure, and always keep safety in mind.
In terms of finishing, the same methods can be used as shown above. Pocket knives may be a bit easier to sharpen in terms of time, due to softer steels that are used, in comparison to chisels and plane irons.
How to Keep Cutting Tools Razor Sharp – Final Thoughts
To recap, even though there are several factors that go into making a cutting-edge razor sharp, it’s quite simple! There is definitely a learning curve, but one that can be overcome with practice. Learning just the right angle, or just the right speed can ease the process more than one could imagine. In addition to being effective, hand sharpening is a fun skill to learn and master.
Using the Trend Essential Sharpening Kit certainly makes learning and mastering easy as well. With the kit, included are various learning and instructional materials that provide in-depth insight into perfecting your cutting provisions. A huge thank you again to our good friends at Trend for providing the Essential Sharpening Kit, available through various retailers for around $200 dollars on Amazon.