Beyond the cutting edge

There is of course an over-emphasis on sharpening edge tools that’s gone on now for over thirty years and it seems that many never seem to get beyond that, sadly. The magazines have little more to offer than regurgitated methods that underneath are all one and the same. Hybrids people think they invented so that they could become that ‘special someone’ placed on yet another pedestal to be admired. Fact is, whether you use diamonds or carborundum, Japanaese stone or ceramic, edges are all sharpened by abrasion abrasion. Trends cause shifts and occasionally, rarely, something better enters the market and we follow the trend for a season. Thick irons, thin irons, bevel ups and bevel downs, round cutting wheels and spikes in gauges and so on. There is nothing new under the sun it seems. Do you know that there has not been a a new joint in hundreds of years and that all the tools produced today were around three hundred years ago in some form or other. We change the steel alloy, add some plastic handles with rubber ergo-grips make them colourful and brand them, but beneath the facade of any electric drill or so called power saw are the same basic constituents there were six decades ago. For the main part a lithium ion, 18 volt battery-driven drill-driver simply made us capable of driving bigger screws twice as fast so that we become brutes rather than craftsmen and women. I try to counter trendiness and the ways established as fact what is painfully slow and non productive beyond establishing a sharp edge. It seems that more and more people want a sharp edge and shavings and are contented with those two things. In my view these are no illusive aspects of woodworking but simple and effective in reducing the wood to fit and smooth.

This past few days has been critical in the development of skills, which of course include preparing tools for work and this includes sharpening. But here is a fact. What would you say if I told you that it took a five minute lecture on sharpening edge tools for everyone on the course to be on the same page? That everyone sharpens their own tools now and I have nothing to do with it any more? What would you say if I also told you that the questions I now answer are about once an hour instead of once every minute, as it was when I first began the course? They’ve all grown in maturity in their craft. They who never made a tool chest or a coffee table or a rocking chair now can make them all. I think that that’s still an amazing thing even to me who has trained thousands of people to do such things. Think about it.

Sometimes we are on our knees, sometimes we lean on the bench to task and sometimes we stand and discuss, but we get results and these results thrive in people just like you. we work hard, extremely hard, to make what we do work and we do it with economy, directness and confidence because it’s all based on craftsmanship I have known now for 50 very full years. When you see the tightness of the joints, the failed joints, the corrected joints, the perfect joints and those we work extra hard to perfect, you will not criticise but understand that this took some serious investment of time and energy, care, love, patience, kindness. We share this investment with each other, carry it away with us and we progress this into the lives of others in the work we do, the methods we use and the way we do it. It is not what we make that matters so much but the way that we make it. This matters. We don’t procrastinate over issues such as sharpening, we just do it.

I think that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that sharpening is an iterant process, minute by minute and day by day. That buying a sharp saw is only a one off deal and that you must sharpen it after that. I sharpen every saw in my schools and have done so for twenty years. It’s not a big deal. The results are stunning and effective. You must master these skills for yourself. You can bring your saws to class and sharpen them as I watch if you want to. What you see here is the result of our closing month long workshop. We also build the rocker in six day classes too. How about that!

Looking forward to that last photograph on Saturday evening…

1 thought on “Beyond the cutting edge”

  1. You taught me to sharpen Paul.

    I had tried and failed for over 30 years to sharpen. I blamed myself. Then you taught me in your YouTube videos how to do it. I learned to accept meaningless imperfections (I don’t need a precise 25 degree base grind and a perfect 30 degree secondary bevel) and to embrace the convex edge.

    Yesterday my chisel wasn’t working properly. I thought “must be time to sharpen”. A few minutes later and I’m back at the task, chisel working properly.


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