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Today I Sharpen Up for Tomorrow

PICT0066Today a new week started and my bench was cleared of all traces of last week’s work completed. The remaining task after a week’s work like that is sharpening all my planes, my tenon saws and my chisels. I keep four smoothing planes close by, two #4s and two 4 1/2s. By them I keep two jacks, a #5 and a #5 1/2. I use about ten chisels and sharpen them at the end of a job no matter their condition when the job is done. I may sharpen these chisels 60 times by the close of any given week, more if I work in pine than oak and other hardwoods.

PICT0215The planes go quickly because I never let them deteriorate too much. Three minutes a plane max, I think. I charge the strop once for four planes and recharge for my chisels. I leave the flat faces untouched and work only the bevels. It’s never necessary to work the flat faces. Reloading the planes and setting the irons goes quickly and in a few strokes I find incomparable satisfaction. The chisels are neat now. Clean-edged, restored and ready in rest to work tomorrow. I like to look and see them in their trays, end for end and side by side in sequence just for now. I check them one by one, each in its size up to 1 1/4”. Marples, the old pre-60’s name in black against the creamy yellow boxwood handle, was once a proud name among the makers of old Sheffield as we once knew it. When I was a young I saw the men’s tools like mine and so admired what I could never afford. I had no avarice back then for I knew I would never afford such tools.

The saws hang to my bench apron away from me but near to hand on screws cushioned by plastic tubes so that the threads never touch the smooth insides of the handles.


DSC_0298They are all R Groves saws. The best saws in the world I think. Like the old Philadelphia Disstons would be to the the Americans. I love these saws too. As my file traced the gullets I felt thankful for steel that holds an edge yet yields to the file just rightly. I like the sound the file makes in the wooden jaws of my saw vise. It sounds absorbing with each stroke. Solid. I look for the light that disappears within that final stroke and stop exactly at that crucial point. The gullet is clean, bright, shining. I move to the next gullet and then the next in quick successive strokes and rarely take more than half a stroke to renew the steel to task. I have 14 teeth to the inch on my 12” and 14” saws and 16 teeth to the inch on my 8” and 10”. This is perfect for me to sharpen. DSC_0056I shape all of the teeth slightly different with each saw length. I sharpen each with a rip cut but work the rake according to my use of each saw. It would and is too easy to say this is the way to sharpen a saw, or that is the way to sharpen a saw. DSC_0017There are a dozen ways a man must learn to sharpen a saw for his use. Just as there are  dozen ways to sharpen a chisel and plane’s cutting edge if you know your work. You start with one and then discover another and add that to your skill and insight. As I said, it’s all too easy to say this or that is right, but the discovery is so critical to the craftsman who knows his wood. The wood also determines how you sharpen a tool’s cutting edge. I look at my wood, feel it with my hand and fingertips and then I touch the teeth with the file and my fingertips. How do you teach these things to someone who wants everything right now? How do you teach these things to people who think that they already have it? How do you teach anything to people who are unteachable? How do you teach something to someone who thinks they deserve it? These things do not come by mere observation but by relational immersion at the bench in the working of the tools and the feel of the wood by splits and cuts of different types and sounds no tape records and sights uncaught beyond the human eye. These things I like to think all woodworkers can discover for themselves as they grow to know wood and the simple tools we work the wood with.


  1. Ron Kanter on 3 February 2014 at 11:32 pm

    You are a craftsman, a teacher, and a poet.

  2. kevin o'connell on 4 February 2014 at 3:18 am

    Agreed I am coming back into the fold after years away and the joy of learning is as strong as ever . Thanks for all your help

  3. Matt Hess on 4 February 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Paul I appreciate this blog. Even after watching and learning your sharpening techniques, I still tend to resist sharpening because I feel that for some reason my tools should just stay sharp! I know it’s just a mental hang up, so I appreciate both the reminder and encouragement that sharpening is a good thing, part of the work process, and not something to be avoided. You’re a great inspiration in all aspects of your work, blog and videos. Thanks for taking the time to prepare these so often, it makes a world of difference to amateur craftsmen like myself who are excited to learn from you.

  4. Jason on 6 February 2014 at 2:57 am

    Can you blog about how hold your saws to your bench?

  5. Steve Massie on 6 February 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Paul thanks for the Blog, I like to sharpen myself even though I am still learning how to sharpen my saws. I find sharpening sometimes at least for me relaxing which helps clear the mind, I use Sigma Power Waterstones for my chisels and plane irons but do want to try your Diamond Plate method one day.

    Saw sharpening I haven’t built up my confidence yet but hope to get there before long, and also stock up on saw good files.


  6. Sandy on 7 February 2014 at 1:48 am

    Saw sharpening is an art within itself. I’ve screwed up a couple of pretty good saws but with the help of your teaching they are finally to where they will cut again…

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