Fall will soon arrive, perhaps my favorite season, and it seemed like a good time to take on some tasks that are easier outside the shop rather than inside the shop.
The front steps of our house is a perfect place to flatten waterstones. I can enjoy a beautiful, sunny day and splash water without trying to avoid making a mess!
Flattening waterstones is a general maintenance task I need to do every few months. The stones become concave after a few weeks of sharpening, and though not a problem for honing an edge, a concave stone doesn’t lend itself to polishing the back of a blade very well.
It just takes a few minutes to flatten waterstones. I draw a few lines on the stones with a pencil, add water, and rub the waterstones against a hard, coarse, flat surface until all the pencil lines are gone.
For years I relied on a cinder block as the hard, coarse and flat surface and it worked well, but a few months ago I bought a stone made specifically for flattening waterstones and it does leave a nicer surface on the stones, though I don’t know if that really matters.
Now it’s time for coffee and a trip back into the dulcimer mine.
Each time I start a new dulcimer or group of dulcimers I take an hour or two and sharpen everything in sight. Occasional stropping keeps my tools sharp but starting a new project is a convenient time to do any necessary grinding and honing.
Since I work in a small shop almost everything happens on the bench. In the photograph above is the setup I use for honing. It is nothing more than a bench hook on which I place my sharpening stones. When not in use the bench hook, diamond stones, and fine water stones live on a shelf and when in use I move it to the bench. The coarse waterstones live in a container of water near by. I usually remember to feed them. I use the same spray bottle I use to mist sides during bending to spritz water on the stones.
I prefer using waterstones because I get a lot of feedback through my fingers while honing and quickly achieve a polished edge. I bought the diamond stones years ago. They are handy when honing a narrow tools that could easily gouge a waterstone but as I have gotten better at using waterstones I rarely need them. When the waterstones need flattening I lap the coarse stones on a cinder block with some water and lap the fine stones on the coarse stones.
On the other end of the bench and not in the photograph is a cherry dulcimer about to receive frets. As I said, everything happens on the bench.
A few days ago my finest waterstone shattered. I can’t complain; it had given me over ten years of service and was $30 well spent.
This afternoon a replacement waterstone came in the mail and I took it out for a spin.
I find honing an edge to be a relaxing experience and a form of active meditation. These days I do most of my honing freehand so there are no jigs and gizmos to deal with. I like waterstones because I get a lot of tactile feedback on what is going on between the steel and the stone.
I like feeling two surfaces gradually becoming a single, sharp edge.
A blade becomes sharper and I become more relaxed.
On the bench are three planes that have been getting quite the workout lately. They started complaining that they were overdue for a sharpening. I have come to trust their feedback so I took them seriously. Here they are minus their blades. They feel empty and lonely without their blades but this situation will not last long.
I move a few things around and the workbench becomes a sharpening station. If I still subscribed to woodworking magazines I would know I am supposed to have a dedicated sharpening station with running water and a bidet. I do the best I can with what I have. It works just fine.
When I turned my head for a moment a stinkbug decided to visit the stone in the center. I turned my head again and the stinkbug was gone. Few know that stinkbugs have developed teleportation. Now you too are among the few who know this.
After honing the blades on the stones they each get a few strokes on a strop and are once again ready to rejoin their planes. Everyone is happy. I assume the stinkbug is happy too.
A few years ago I had written about my adventures in sharpening.
Not much has changed since then. I have thankfully acquired enough sharpening paraphernalia to keep my tools sharp, shiny, and happy for many years to come.
This does not mean I am not occasionally tempted to get my hands on new sharpening toys but I really do not need anything else in order to keep all my tools sharp.
In the past few years I have learned the following:
1) Diamond bench stones may not be as flat as advertised. Check a diamond stone with a straight edge before assuming it is flat enough to flatten the back of a plane blade accurately. Yes, there is a painful story here.
2) Glass makes a wonderful flat substrate for abrasive papers but don’t drop it! There is a story here too but thankfully it was not physically painful.
3) Getting tools as sharp as possible can become an end unto itself. These days I get a tool sharp enough to work well and then get back to work!
I still use a grinder to hollow-grind some of my tools and I still hone my hollow-ground tools freehand. A few occasional seconds of stropping and I can go weeks before needing to hone the edge again.
Sometimes I will use a honing guide to reestablish the bevel on a blade rather than hollow grind it again. It usually depends on how much metal needs to be removed or the mood I am in.
For plane blades with high back bevels I usually use a honing guide. I used to think that after being able to sharpen freehand going back to using a honing guide was backsliding. I am over that bias now. I do what works.
I work in a small shop and everything happens on the bench. This old bench hook holds a fine grit and flat (I checked!) diamond stone, a 4000 grit waterstone, a nagura stone for creating a slurry on the waterstone, a spray bottle of water, one of the honing guides I sometimes use and some other sharpening paraphernalia. This is the stuff I reach for 90% of the time when the need arises to hone an edge.
When it is time to hone some tools I take this bench hook off the shelf and put it on the bench and I am ready to go.
For a strop i use a piece of an old leather guitar strap charged with compound. I lay the strop down on a flat surface for stropping straight edges and use my hand to hold the strop in various shapes as needed for gouges, etc..
If and when I need to create radically different bevel angle I usually go to the grinder or use a coarse diamond stone to save time
When an edge becomes so bad I that I am ready to give up i wait for this guy to come around.