Much has been written about the angle(s) that we should be sharpening plane irons, chisels, etc. A truly sharp edge is defined as two surfaces meeting at an exact point, the crisper if you will that those surfaces meet the sharper that that edge becomes. There are different angles for different tasks that one does. For instance, a paring chisel used in truing up tenon cheeks should have a shallower angle of let’s say 20 degrees, while a mortise chisel should have a steep angle of 30-35 degrees so when subjected to chopping out mortises one doesn’t ‘roll over’ the edge. All of this depends in part to what sort of wood we are working with.
That all said now there are secondary bevels to the primary bevel. There are micro bevels done on the back of the plane iron, chisel etc. All ways that when ones skill level increases so can one experiment with these different approaches to sharpening.
Because of the volume of sharpening that I do for clients, for the initial sharpening I use a Work Sharp. This allows me not only to create the perfect angle but also to back flatten whatever I’m sharpening. My goal when I sharpen is to create a mirror surface working to 1000 grit then honing with a leather stropping board and chromium oxide compound.
I used to try and cater to each individuals needs by putting together edge angles that they preferred. I no longer do that, instead I sharpen straight primary bevels of 25 degrees. Now this is for general sharpening when I’m doing a batch of plane irons for instance. If a client sends me a new set of mortise chisels or a set of paring chisels I will set up and do different primary bevels. I will however leave the secondary beveling and micro beveling to the client.
The purpose of this blog entry is to help out those folks that are stumped or think there is a mystery to sharpening. This article is in no way meant to be final treatise on sharpening, rather just some thoughts that I have. Since we have at our hands (or fingertips) literally hundreds of books and so forth on all aspects of woodworking it is easy to get mired in facts, figures what have you. Somewhere along the line we need to step back and see that it’s the joy of creating and working with wood that should be our goal…the true fun of making something with our own hands.
All for now, good luck, play safe and God Bless!
Yours in Shavings,
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