Sharpening awareness

The frame is fair, the backbone is in place, and the beveling nearly complete.  Let the planking commence!  Except that my current count of sharp chisels and plane irons is 1 and 0 respectively... and that doesn't include the spokeshaves that should be sharpened for work on the stem.

After a hard year of on-board maintenance, I am long-past due to recondition my edges, and perhaps recondition my attitude about keeping them sharp.  Using the 1.5 inch slick I brought back from Japan a couple years back reminded me of the pleasure of perfect sharpness, and how critical it is to achieving the desired result.   I've sharpened well in the past, and I can do it again, so I have declared a building moratorium until I have a sharpening station in place, and have restored the edges on my hand cutting tools.

Lie Nielsen is one of the great hand-tool makers in the world, and I've acquired a few of their wonderful products over the years.  They are also a major exhibitor at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, and I make a point of watching their sharpening demonstrations each year.  They distribute a downloadable brochure on sharpening, and they have many videos on their site (and on YouTube) on sharpening and other topics.  So, I'm watching them, and i am collecting the materials necessary to put such a sharpening station together.

I snuck down to the shop for an hour or two (its Thanksgiving!) to get a start on this and discovered (re-discovered, actually) that the inexpensive honing guide that I have had for years (and which Lie Nielsen recommends for their sharpening jig) will not work for Japanese chisels.  I went through the entire process of sharpening one of these chisels, using the Veritas honing guide (about 1:30 in the photo above).  This tool is versatile and fiddly -- way less convenient than the simple guide (grey, 2:00) in the photo), but I got the chisel wicked sharp using it.  Between the two honing guides, I should be able to get the jobs done.

At one or another sharpening demo I saw at the boat festival, a presenter said something both daunting and self-evidently true:  The key to having sharp tools is committing to never leaving them dull.  Sharpen your edges AFTER you use them, not before, and you'll never pick up a dull edge.  I'm not sure I can live up to this maxim, but I have no doubt that it is the way to do it.

The links:

By the way, I had some difficulty finding the latter two links on their site, though I knew I had found them there before (they didn't show up in searches I tried).  I sent Lie Nielsen an email query the day before Thanksgiving (afternoon, Maine time).  I had a reply in an hour or so.  Just great. 

Technique videos are often painful to sit through, but Deneb Pulchalski, the presenter for several of the sharpening videos, is terrific.  He should be on TV.

Oh... and one last comment.  I vaguely recall the maxim promulgated by the cub scouts in my childhood... Its the dull knife that cuts you.  Utter bullshit.  Most of the blood I've shed in 30 years of woodworking was from very sharp chisels.  Worth every drop.


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