Sharpening Part 3 – Philosophy

A wild boar was sharpening his tusks upon the trunk of a tree in the forest when a fox came by and asked, Why are you doing that, pray? The huntsmen are not out today and there are no other dangers at hand that I can see. True, my friend, replied the Boar, but the instant my life is in danger, I shall need to use my tusks. There will be no time to sharpen them then.”

Aesop (621~565 BC)
Always ready for battle

It’s nice to have a philosophy on a subject because it helps one distill random thoughts down to the essentials.

Allow me to explain my philosophy about sharpening woodworking tools, not because it is charming and unique, and not because you should emulate it, but because it will provide insight into the things I have written and will write about sharpening on this blog and elsewhere. Use it to calibrate your BS meter. It is often neck-deep when people talk about sharpening stuff.

My philosophy regarding sharpening was shaped by my experience as a carpenter, contractor, commercial cabinetmaker, and joiner working under pressure, against a clock, sometimes with a boss watching with eagle eye, and often in front of customers, not as a hobbyist fiddling around in a garage workshop. Married young with a growing family to support, I quickly discovered that children eat constantly and in ever-increasing quantities, so efficiency was and is important to me. 

Efficiency was also important to the Clients who hired me. Sharpening and maintaining tools was indeed part of the job, but from the Client’s viewpoint, it was wasted time, so it was important to minimize time spent fiddling with tools during the work day. I followed the example of craftsmen I respected and started the day with sharp tools in good working order, and kept spare planes and chisels sharpened and ready to go as backup.

Self-employment hammered into me the monetary value of time. It also taught me quality sharpening stones and tools are expensive and wear out, and that to feed wife and babies every day I had to work efficiently to minimize time and money expended on maintaining tools, while maximizing the amount of work I accomplished between sharpening sessions. 

I developed a strong dislike, nay hatred, for blades that fail, dull quickly, or take too much time and effort to sharpen. I loathe them not just because they are irritating, but because they waste my time and money. Even considering the higher initial cash outlay, the cost-effectiveness of handmade, professional-grade tools in helping my mind and hands feed the family became as obvious as a road flare in a candlestand.

You, Gentle Reader, may not feel the time and financial pressures that professionals do, but learning how to sharpen your tools more efficiently will make woodworking less frustrating, more profitable, and more enjoyable.

What is your philosophy?

Sharpening a chisel at the jobsite, then back to work, jiggety-jog.

The journey will continue in Part 4 with wisdom from a celebrity and pictures of pretty swords.

YMHOS

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3 thoughts on “Sharpening Part 3 – Philosophy

  1. OK, here’s my philosophy. Two planes, meeting at a line. As quickly and accurately as possible.

    I’ve never had to make a living with my tools, but I still lean toward quickly on most days so that I can get on with the woodworking. But I’m retired, and I have the luxury of more time to do things more accurately, and I appreciate fine craftsmanship and doing things right.

    Looking forward to seeing how you do it, and how and where you draw the line between fussing and getting on with it.

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    1. Gary, Thanks for the insight. sounds like we have a similar mindset. The nitty gritty is a few weeks away since there is a lot to cover before I start turning steel and stones into mud. I could write a book and get it out all at once, but that’s too much like work and I would have to charge for it. That’s no fun (ツ)

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  2. Efficiency is an oft-misunderstood dimension in lifestyle woodworking, especially if you romanticise the hand-tool-based process. Perhaps we mistake it (consciously or not) for cutting corners or putting up with sub-optimal results.

    I am driven by continuous improvement and find I am constantly looking for ways to streamline. Setting targets is helpful. Understanding of the whole process and knowing your tools is absolute key. So is planning ahead and backup.

    You mention tool choice and I think that’s possibly where the biggest time- and money-wasting dragon’s lair lies. Bad choices based on misinformation and backed by considerable investment can be seriously dispiriting. If I knew when I was starting out what I know now…

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