Going against the gods – myth busting

Myth busting #1

Forget micro bevels and guides and get on to real woodworking.

Guides can be good as training wheels but I believe you should get on with the freehand practice asap.

For three decades now woodworkers have been duped into believing that the micro bevel is superior to a long, convex bevel. Back in the 70’s many books written as curriculum by school woodworking teachers taught that a bevel of 25-degrees was optimal, followed by a refinement micro- or secondary bevel at 30-degrees.  Of course it wasn’t true, but people believed it because it actually seemed sensible. The problem with the micro bevel was the weakness of the edge.

The elongated convex bevel on the other hand has many advantages obvious to any craftsmen that developed it, making chisels and planes far more effective and versatile. The micro bevel added no value to what already existed for centuries but it substituted for developing skill in sharpening. Adding the guides slowed down what only takes an hour or less to master.

 

The method I use is a non-machine method that creates a convex bevel edge like this in a matter of seconds and will do just about anything I want it to. The method? Oh, it’s around 200-300 years old.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it. I’ll be posting more on how I sharpen and hone my planes, chisels and so on shortly.

Myth busting #2

Forget flattening water stones – hollow stones give perfect convex bevels

No sharpening stone needs to be flat. For three decades woodworkers have been duped into believing that stones must be flat, but if you sharpen on an elongated convex camber the stone can hollow all it wants because you want the convex and the hollowed stone creates exactly what you want. Did you never stop to ask yourself why craftsmen’s stones of old were hollow? I mean all of them? They weren’t stupid for 200 years and then we came along with our better ways and threw out what was working perfectly because someone wrote an article. They only needed to sharpen and hone a convex bevel. I never understood why their seemed such an intent to keep flattening stones. All those gurus of woodworking (little more than salesmen really) out their selling honing water stones and then came the flattening stones and the whole ritual of sharpening and then the whole ritual of method.

You can use hollowed stones and flat stones to create a convex bevel easily in seconds. I use diamond plates and have done for nearly two decades and did so because they also stay dead flat. The main advantage is no water baths and mess.

 

Think about it.

19 comments

  1. Mark White says:

    How do you go about flattening the back of a chisel or plane iron on a hollow stone, seems to me you would have to flatten your Japanese stones for that.

    Mark white

    • Jeff says:

      Jacob, I thought of you and the opposing woodworking scientists over at UKworkshop as soon as I saw Paul’s first blog entry on this subject. I am with Paul, you have several hundred years of history on your side.

    • Robin says:

      Paul is evangelising about the convex bevel not similar to the evangelising for the secondary bevel you dislike? There are many different sharpening systems which work well not only one. Most woodworkers find one system that works for them then stick with it and defend it as the one, only, best and fastest method. Is it not better to help people understand the various pros and cons of different methods and let them experiment with them to find the one that suits them and their work? Sharpening does change over time, Walter Rose in “The Village Carpenter” describes in great detail the huge change in sharpening in typical woodworkers workshops in the late 19th century for instance. Japanese carpenters sharpening is radically different again but it works, it works well and it is very very fast. I am all in favour of myth busting but the myth we need to bust is that there is only one way. We need to empower people to experiment and find the best way for them.

      • Yep, sounds great to me and thanks for the response.
        What I am addressing though is the myth that micro or secondary bevels is a) Better or improves on what was, b) that it’s the only way, c) That what was was for centuries was no good, d)That micro bevels was an improvement. (There has been no substantive proof at all that they are)
        I also challenge the multiple myths of sharpening ethos without in any way telling anyone what to or not do in their own domain. I like people to spend as much or as little time sharpening what they want how they want and when they want and where they want. But when for three decades no one says anything except the only way to go is micro bevels, which actually produces a weak edge that fractures more easily, I feel its time to address the issue and help my fellow woodworkers consider a faster more efficient and less troublesome method. Also, as I said in my book and in the main body of the text on my blog, we woodworkers actually rely very heavily on a convex camber in all spheres of woodworking. I micro bevel is more useless than useful to violinmakers and timber framers and as a furniture maker I find it quite impractical too. I will probably never recommend Japanese methods because culturally I cannot address all the cultural methods used throughout the world. Because someone can take a mile-long shaving 1 1/2″ wide and and half a thou thick begs the question “What for?” If people want mystery then they can find it anything they choose to follow. There is much mysticism about sharpening that is nothing more than that. Spiritual wellbeing is possible by simply working and honouring life as a true gift. The way we work should be honouring and by that an acceptable form of worship. Bit that’s for me. I find rewards in the everyday of life because I don’t spend all of my time kicking against what works for me. I like new things like sharpening methods and new planes, but when people lie to other people, especially those new and trying to find their way through the maize of mass marketing, to gain an advantage then I will try to step in and say an oilstone will work just fine and so too a #4 plane will do everything most woodworkers need for about £5 or even less.
        Another thing too, Robin, I actually use a secondary bevel. It’s an ideal way of strengthening a weak edge situationally to cope with inconsistent grain as with some of the old growth longleaf pines and such.
        I noticed that one guru of woodworking recently switched methods from water stones to diamond plates when he started to derive extra income from selling diamond plates. That’s fine, the change is fine, but for a long time people were duped.

        I may appear self righteous in this and I hope that’s not the case. I am simply once again trying to address the fact that the mighty dollar and the mighty pound note dramatically impacts the information we get.

  2. Bruce Mack says:

    This is liberating. I’m going back to freehand side sharpening for a while, touching up the edges as they require and reassessing the need for jigs. Thank you.

  3. Jeremy says:

    I agree with Bruce. This is liberating and I cannot wait to hear the follow up post. I am newer to woodworking and I am 36 y/o. I feel a deep core fulfillment in learning this craft and learning fast effective ways that have been lost throughout the years is exciting to me. Thanks for your efforts Paul.

  4. KevinWilkinson says:

    I used Paul’s method recently to hone a 30 year old set of chisels. It works. It took about an hour and a half to put a polished convex bevel on four chisels. Bevel down the half inch chisel will shave a 1/4 inch curl of wood off of the edge of a kiln dried pine board with almost no effort and complete control.

  5. I realize I am absolutely, incredibly late getting in on this positively geriatric conversation, but I thought I’d pipe up with a useless but interesting historical tidbit.

    Japanese sword polishers have been putting convex double bevels on knives and swords for more than a thousand years. It’s why the edge can survive a 100-mph trip through a 4″ hunk of magnolia wood and still slice though an apple like a brand new paring knife.

    My only question for Paul is this: I have a few chisels and irons that I’ve kept hollow ground with microbevels for 20 years. I’ve always sharpened this way since I was taught in a cabinetmaking college class I took in the middle 90’s. How would you go about converting these over to a convex bevel? Just practice hand sharpening them until eventually the bevel looks like the picture above, through general sharpening and use?

    I ask because in the new shop I am setting up, I actually have no electricity. Everything MUST be done by hand, or I can’t do it. That will include sharpening ;)

    • Just sharpen and as long as you sharpen starting around thirty degrees the hollow will naturally change to a camber. It doesn’t need to come out all the way at once; two-three sharpenings and it will likely be gone.

      • Thanks, Paul. I just received a like-new Millers Falls iron for my jack plane (the old one is too pitted to flatten the back on), and it looks like most of the factory bevel is still there! It should be easy as pie on this one, even though the original owner seems to have tried to sharpen it with a file.

        • I’m replying to myself… I wonder if this is anything like muttering to yourself out loud while you’re in the shop?

          I just tried this method. I have only two stone grades (I dropped one this past weekend and one can only guess what happened to it) and a leather strop I just made and have not put any buffing compound into, so I didn’t get this as sharp as I’d like it. I will pick up the proper grit stones and put together a holder like you’ve done, Paul, and I’ll also make another one for my 12″x18″ glass lapping plate

          I can say that this method is FAST. I may not have got that iron as sharp as I’d normally like, but it was definitely sharp enough to remind me never to pass my thumb in front of it again. This is on an ebay iron I picked up for $8 that had been sharpened with a file it looked like. It doesn’t look like that anymore. I think I’m going to skip the microbevels from now on.

    • Terry Pullen says:

      Because the only part of the blade that counts is the very tip they will be convex after the first sharpening. They won’t look like Paul’s until after a few sharpenings but you will benefit from the convex edge right away. I don’t think convex edges are sharper then flat or hollow edges (the reverse may be true) but they stay functional longer. The edge dulls with use but it stays functional for an amazing length of time. I believe this durability is characteristic of all convex cutting edges. So you benefit twice it’s faster to sharpen and you sharpen less often. When I changed from a flat bevel to a convex bevel on my pocket knife which I use every day my knife begin to stay usefully sharp noticeably longer.

Leave a Reply