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Clean Cuts

Sharpening tips for your woodworking tools


Benchstone Basics
Sharp tools not only make cleaner cuts that dull tools, they're also safer and easier to use, as well. So, how do you keep your tools sharp - I mean Really Sharp? Believe it or not, it really isn't that complicated. So, relax! You'll find lots of useful information in this column...with loads more to come in the next four issues of Hands-On.

When I was a carpenter's apprentice, I always felt that sharpening my tools was a lot like eating healthy food - I knew it was supposed to be good for me, but I just didn't like the taste of it! To this day, I still don't like everything that's labeled as ?healthy food?, but I have discovered that I actually enjoy sharpening my tools. Why? Because I finally learned the basics of how to go about getting the sharpest edges with the least amount of work.

Why have sharp tools?
Sharp tools will save you a lot of time and effort - besides being a source of pride as they peel off those long, paper-thin shavings. Plus, they're a heck of a lot safer to use, as well. That's because you're not having to apply excessive amounts of pressure to make your cuts - a practice that can easily lead to slips that will invariably result in serious damage to both your project...and your self!

Cartoon 1My brother, the engineer, explained it best. ?The anatomy of a cutting edge is simple,? he said. ?A sharp, thin edge of steel offers less bulk as it enters the wood and requires far less pressure to work it into the cut. The less pressure it takes, the more control you have. As a result, a sharp tool is safer because you're not tiring your muscles, so you're less likely to lose control, jamming it out of the wood and into your body somewhere. It's just more likely to shave the wood cleanly, rather than split it like a wedge and jump out at you.?

Getting started
To sharpen your tools, you'll need sharpening tools. Duh! Pretty obvious, right? But which sharpening tools should you buy? A grinding wheel? A Strip Sander? A set of files? One of several Benchstones? They all sharpen - that is, they all ?cut? steel - but which of these is basic to every shop tool kit?

Most will agree that the common benchstone is probably your best buy. They can be used to sharpen many different kinds of tools, they're relatively inexpensive and they're very safe to use. When I set out to buy one, I found myself intimidated by what seemed like a vast array of benchstone types. But aside from a whole lot of shapes and sizes, there are really only a few basic benchstones.

Silicon-Carbide: Classified as man-made oil stones - ?oil? because that's what's used to keep them clean. They're also often called ?carborundum?, are usually gray in color and are most often sold in double-grit (coarse/fine - 100/280-grit) configurations. The Norton Company sells this kind of stone under the trade name ?Crystolon?.


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