Madmartigan

New woodworker questions: cheap way to sharpen my own tools? Or send them to a pro?

Recommended Posts

Hi everyone, I thought I would give some background up-top but the actual question I have stuck at the bottom in bold, so feel free to just skip to that.

I have some limited experience of woodworking from my high school days and doing some projects with my father as a kid. Now being the new father of a child of my own I have wanted to get into woodworking to make some furniture etc. for my son (and someday have some skills worth passing on). I am living in an apartment with no space for any kind of workshop (though I have used the balcony occasionally), though I am fortunate to have in-laws who have let me use their garage as a workshop while they are on vacation. Last year I made some simple furniture for my son's nursery (converted an old picture frame into a glass-less "shadowbox" with a set of shelves inside for toys). This year I have more ambitious plans to make a toybox and possibly some more small pieces of furniture.

Where possible I am trying to use only wooden joints (with glue), avoiding nails and screws. Last year's projects were made out of pine and constructed using finger-joints. This year I am planning to use maple (I found a local sawmill where I think I can buy it surfaced four-sides), and am hoping to use dovetail joints. I've been watching Paul Sellers' videos and become aware of just how useful a very sharp set of chisels is going to be for these projects. I bought a decent (I hope) set and will be getting started in about a month (basically taking a week's "staycation" from work to do this). Beyond the chisels, I have only a small saw which came with a mitre box. I am hoping to also get a bench plane (though my father-in-law does have some inherited tools from his late father in which there may be a bench plane somewhere). The temptation to splurge on half the Lee Valley catalogue is high, but I am trying to build up my collection slowly.

My question is: The Irwin chisels I bought (six-piece set in wooden box) claim they are sold "sharp" and ready to use, but I always read that chisels do not tend to come sharp enough for serious work. Once I get started with this project I am on a time-limit, so is there a good way of checking for sharpness beforehand? I had found a local "sharpening service" who say they sharpen woodworking tools, but I do not know how that would compare with my cheapest option for trying to sharpen these myself. How often do chisels tend to need "resharpening"? If I am likely to want to resharpen them during the project anyway, then I guess it makes sense to learn how to sharpen them myself? Any suggestions or advice would be very welcome, thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I send out anything carbide to be sharpened. If it's tool steel of HSS I'd sharpen it myself. Steel is better to stay on top of and keep the edge razor sharp. If you don't damage the edges and stay on top of things a 1,000 & 6,000 grit stone is all you'd need with a strop for that final edge. There are a lot of schools of thought on sharpening and none of them are wrong.

There are a lot of jigs for sharpening out there. Most of them work great. Depending on where you are located, it's possible there are woodworking groups that will put on presentations and hands on how-to classes. Sharpening is usually covered a few times a year around here.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sharpening and finishing are an integral part of the woodworking hobby. You will need to cope with them sooner or later. That doesn't mean you need to sharpen everything yourself, just chisels and hand plane irons. Paul Sellers free hand method is great but not the easiest way to start. A good honing jig will make things easier. Diamond stones are also great for a beginner because they require no maintenance.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Absolutely, you need to be able to sharpen as you work. It doesn't have to be a large investment. A usable jig can be had for $15, and wet/dry sandpaper on a marble tile can get you through a few projects. I suggest reading as much as possible to understand what makes an edge sharp, and how the various systems work to achieve that. Understanding is 95% of getting it right. The rest is practice and attention to detail.

The back saw that came with your miter box can certainly cut dovetails, but without a solid workbench to hold your parts, it will be a frustrating experience. I suggest buying a japanese style saw that cuts on the pull stroke. They allow the user's body weight to work as a clamp to hold the work. And they can be had at very little cost.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The biggest reason I sharpen everything myself is the more often I resharpen the less time it takes to sharpen, less metal you remove making tools last longer and cut a whole lot better. You will have to use less pressure, they will cut better (cleaner) and be safer.

(See my post from this morning {Stupid Idiot})

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been thinking about this.  Yes, absolutely, you'll want to learn to sharpen, and keep the blades sharp as you work.  I also understand your desire for economics, especially with a young one, and the fact that you are just starting out and are not sure exactly how this is going to go.

Something you might want to consider is that this sounds like a good opportunity to try the "scary sharp" system.  A glass plate and some sandpaper is inexpensive, and if you make it through this project and decide to stick with it, you will not have a huge sunk cost when considering an upgrade.

 

An inexpensive Japanese pull saw would be a good compliment.  Your chosen chisels will be fine, but I would not assume they are "sharp enough" when they arrive.  The bevel may be OK, and they won't be chipped, so you won't have to start from zero, but some light sharpening and then honing will make a world of difference.  You may even consider some diamond paste on leather; again, not a huge investment.  A few light strokes on that as you go will have obvious benefits.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Check out the "Stumpy Nubs" website he talks about the scary sharp method. It's VERY effective. I can't remember but I bet Mark S. does too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/27/2019 at 9:13 AM, Madmartigan said:

 

 If I am likely to want to resharpen them during the project anyway, then I guess it makes sense to learn how to sharpen them myself? Any suggestions or advice would be very welcome, thanks.

Welcome to the forum. I was in your position when I first started my venture into woodworking. It takes a good budget to just get started and after acquiring the big dollar equipment, I was left with very little capital to spend on  hand tool sharpening systems. So I went to the big box store and purchased three panes of window glass and glued them together to make a somewhat flat surface. I would put  blue painters tape at the corners and a dot of super glue to secure a 1/3 sheet of 9x11 sand paper to the glass.

I didn’t have the funds for a good honing guide, so I used one of those $12 POS guides. This setup will make just about everyone here cringe, but you can get a fairly sharp edge this way in a bind. Beware, your edge will not be square, the back of your irons and chisels will not be flat, but it’s better than working with dull tools or waiting for the outside sharpening.

Just a bit of advise, save up for a Verites MK II honing guide system and some good quality diamond or water stones. You will then realize how easy it is to get a professional quality edge on your tools.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you very much for all of your great replies.

On 6/27/2019 at 10:53 AM, RichardA said:

I know the cost, but sharpening your tools as they need it while you are in a project is paramount.  Sending them out will only delay what you can do in a matter of minutes.  Diamond stones and a jig to hold the chisels, will make your life so much easier. And you will have to hone those blades in the middle of a project.    Chisels are sold sharp, yes! But only if you plan to use a mallet to work with them, but you'll still have to bring them back up to "sharp" while you're working. Hone them the first time, flatten the backs and your work will be much easier.

Thank you, I will go with your advice and look into options for getting these chisels sharp. I do have some scrap wood around my apartment so hopefully I can try to get this done before I begin the project.

On 6/27/2019 at 11:10 AM, Chestnut said:

...

There are a lot of jigs for sharpening out there. Most of them work great. Depending on where you are located, it's possible there are woodworking groups that will put on presentations and hands on how-to classes. Sharpening is usually covered a few times a year around here.

Unfortunately my location (west of Montreal) seems to be a bit of a "black hole" for woodworking groups (at least from the online lists I found). There is a woodturners club somewhere around here, but by my understanding their needs are different?

On 6/27/2019 at 1:25 PM, Immortan D said:

Sharpening and finishing are an integral part of the woodworking hobby. You will need to cope with them sooner or later. That doesn't mean you need to sharpen everything yourself, just chisels and hand plane irons. Paul Sellers free hand method is great but not the easiest way to start. A good honing jig will make things easier. Diamond stones are also great for a beginner because they require no maintenance.

I had wondered whether I could get away without a honing guide if the back is already decently flat and the bevel seems good (i.e. only sharpening the tip). On the other hand, if I am hoping to find a hand-plane somewhere in my father-in-laws boxes of old tools then I would probably want to sharpen that completely. Also, how about sharpening saws? Is that something that also needs to be done frequently? I have a book that describes the process and it looks to be very "involved".

On 6/27/2019 at 10:40 PM, wtnhighlander said:

Absolutely, you need to be able to sharpen as you work. It doesn't have to be a large investment. A usable jig can be had for $15, and wet/dry sandpaper on a marble tile can get you through a few projects. I suggest reading as much as possible to understand what makes an edge sharp, and how the various systems work to achieve that. Understanding is 95% of getting it right. The rest is practice and attention to detail.

The back saw that came with your miter box can certainly cut dovetails, but without a solid workbench to hold your parts, it will be a frustrating experience. I suggest buying a japanese style saw that cuts on the pull stroke. They allow the user's body weight to work as a clamp to hold the work. And they can be had at very little cost.

I have memories of using wet & dry paper in school (weirdly a lot of our "workshop" teaching was done with acrylic plastic, rather than wood as the material). I think I will have to go with this method in the first instance because of the relative expense and storage space of getting "proper" sharpening stones. I have been trying to resist buying too much new equipment without being regularly able to work on projects, but a Japanese saw is very appealing.

On 6/28/2019 at 7:00 AM, Goober said:

The biggest reason I sharpen everything myself is the more often I resharpen the less time it takes to sharpen, less metal you remove making tools last longer and cut a whole lot better. You will have to use less pressure, they will cut better (cleaner) and be safer.

(See my post from this morning {Stupid Idiot})

I read your post, what a terrible thing to happen. I hope you have a speedy recovery.

On 6/28/2019 at 12:45 PM, Don Z. said:

I've been thinking about this.  Yes, absolutely, you'll want to learn to sharpen, and keep the blades sharp as you work.  I also understand your desire for economics, especially with a young one, and the fact that you are just starting out and are not sure exactly how this is going to go.

Something you might want to consider is that this sounds like a good opportunity to try the "scary sharp" system.  A glass plate and some sandpaper is inexpensive, and if you make it through this project and decide to stick with it, you will not have a huge sunk cost when considering an upgrade.

An inexpensive Japanese pull saw would be a good compliment.  Your chosen chisels will be fine, but I would not assume they are "sharp enough" when they arrive.  The bevel may be OK, and they won't be chipped, so you won't have to start from zero, but some light sharpening and then honing will make a world of difference.  You may even consider some diamond paste on leather; again, not a huge investment.  A few light strokes on that as you go will have obvious benefits.

Thank you for the advice. For the Japanese saw, do you have any recommendations for brands etc? I am wary of buying tools on Amazon, but I can find Japanese saws for around $30 Canadian. On the other hand, for only $10 or so more I find this nice-looking one on Lee Valley: http://www.leevalley.com/en/wood/page.aspx?p=32936&cat=1,42884,42898 ... however if I were to drive to my nearest Lee Valley store I may end up picking up a few more items (along with a shovel for my wife to bury me with).

20 hours ago, Goober said:

Check out the "Stumpy Nubs" website he talks about the scary sharp method. It's VERY effective. I can't remember but I bet Mark S. does too.

That website looks like a fantastic resource, thanks!

19 hours ago, Steve B Anderson said:

Welcome to the forum. I was in your position when I first started my venture into woodworking. It takes a good budget to just get started and after acquiring the big dollar equipment, I was left with very little capital to spend on  hand tool sharpening systems. So I went to the big box store and purchased three panes of window glass and glued them together to make a somewhat flat surface. I would put  blue painters tape at the corners and a dot of super glue to secure a 1/3 sheet of 9x11 sand paper to the glass.

I didn’t have the funds for a good honing guide, so I used one of those $12 POS guides. This setup will make just about everyone here cringe, but you can get a fairly sharp edge this way in a bind. Beware, your edge will not be square, the back of your irons and chisels will not be flat, but it’s better than working with dull tools or waiting for the outside sharpening.

Just a bit of advise, save up for a Verites MK II honing guide system and some good quality diamond or water stones. You will then realize how easy it is to get a professional quality edge on your tools.

Part of my issue is that I know that I will also have to drop some money into actually getting the wood for this project. That's still a question mark in the budget. I have found a local sawmill, who I believe should be better for price than going to Home Depot. I have not planned out my work sufficiently yet to predict how much I am likely to pay for that wood.

I am excited to get a decent workshop setup once I have a house of my own with a garage. For the moment my limited opportunity to spend time woodworking means its hard to justify spending much on it.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If the turning club is all you can find in your area, then go to a meeting and check it out.  Most turners also do flat work and they may know of a club in the area that your research did not discover.  If not there may be one or two members near you that can give you some assistance.  

Sharpening jigs are useful not just for making the primary (or largest) bevel, but also for making the micro bevel, and for helping you do that repeatably.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Paul Seller has a youtube video on how to sharpen chisels. He demonstrates the technique and says you can do the same with sandpaper.

Harry,

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/29/2019 at 3:27 PM, Madmartigan said:

Thank you very much for all of your great replies.

Thank you, I will go with your advice and look into options for getting these chisels sharp. I do have some scrap wood around my apartment so hopefully I can try to get this done before I begin the project.

Unfortunately my location (west of Montreal) seems to be a bit of a "black hole" for woodworking groups (at least from the online lists I found). There is a woodturners club somewhere around here, but by my understanding their needs are different?

I had wondered whether I could get away without a honing guide if the back is already decently flat and the bevel seems good (i.e. only sharpening the tip). On the other hand, if I am hoping to find a hand-plane somewhere in my father-in-laws boxes of old tools then I would probably want to sharpen that completely. Also, how about sharpening saws? Is that something that also needs to be done frequently? I have a book that describes the process and it looks to be very "involved".

I have memories of using wet & dry paper in school (weirdly a lot of our "workshop" teaching was done with acrylic plastic, rather than wood as the material). I think I will have to go with this method in the first instance because of the relative expense and storage space of getting "proper" sharpening stones. I have been trying to resist buying too much new equipment without being regularly able to work on projects, but a Japanese saw is very appealing.

I read your post, what a terrible thing to happen. I hope you have a speedy recovery.

Thank you for the advice. For the Japanese saw, do you have any recommendations for brands etc? I am wary of buying tools on Amazon, but I can find Japanese saws for around $30 Canadian. On the other hand, for only $10 or so more I find this nice-looking one on Lee Valley: http://www.leevalley.com/en/wood/page.aspx?p=32936&cat=1,42884,42898 ... however if I were to drive to my nearest Lee Valley store I may end up picking up a few more items (along with a shovel for my wife to bury me with).

That website looks like a fantastic resource, thanks!

Part of my issue is that I know that I will also have to drop some money into actually getting the wood for this project. That's still a question mark in the budget. I have found a local sawmill, who I believe should be better for price than going to Home Depot. I have not planned out my work sufficiently yet to predict how much I am likely to pay for that wood.

I am excited to get a decent workshop setup once I have a house of my own with a garage. For the moment my limited opportunity to spend time woodworking means its hard to justify spending much on it.

I'm going to try and explain that wood from a local sawmill may not be as good as the big box store.   Generally, a sawmill doesn't have a kiln to dry wood. So if you buy wood that isn't dry, it may be a year or two before you can actually use it in making a piece of furniture. You would be better served to look for a lumber yard and ask them where you can find "dry" wood of the species that you want to build with.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, RichardA said:

I'm going to try and explain that wood from a local sawmill may not be as good as the big box store.   Generally, a sawmill doesn't have a kiln to dry wood. So if you buy wood that isn't dry, it may be a year or two before you can actually use it in making a piece of furniture. You would be better served to look for a lumber yard and ask them where you can find "dry" wood of the species that you want to build with.

Thanks Richard. I have contacted the sawmill in-question to ask and they told me they do have kiln-dried soft and hardwoods. I am trying to work out the budget for the wood in the project at the moment, but I think I might end up having to call or visit them. There seems to be a huge variance in how much sawmills charge for dressing (surfacing four-sides) their lumber. I have found locations in the US that add around a dollar to the rough lumber cost of each board foot, whereas somewhere I found in Ontario with a public price list seems to instead multiply the rough-lumber price by four! I am thinking of making a journal thread for this project so I can make my plans there.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My reply for this is regarding wood turning. I have the Wolverine system which I use before I start turning . A couple of seconds and I'm ready to go.  As I turn, I'll stop and hit the edge of HSS tools with the blue (coarse) DMT diamond file.

As I Turn? Sounds like a soap opera title.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.