Quick Sharpening Guide for Woodworking Tools

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Match the Bevel

The easiest way to sharpen a tool is to match the bevel on the tool. Most manufacturers sharpen to a set bevel based on the steel used to make the tool, the steel’s hardness and what the tool is expected to cut.

Flat Grind  

Most, if not all, woodworking tools are flat ground. The bevel is consistent from heel to edge. Sharpening is a process of matching the bevel using the most appropriate coarse grit to start and then using progressively finer abrasive grits until the edge is sharp. It’s important to keep the entire bevel of the tool flat against the abrasive, thus matching the bevel in its entirety. Any rocking motion will round the face and potentially the edge, creating a duller tool than intended. 

Hollow Grind

Machine sharpening can be done on a belt sander or spinning disc to match the flat ground bevel or a machine with a grinding wheel. Grinding wheels are round, which removes metal from the tool leaving what is known as a hollow grind that is the reverse of the circumference of the wheel. Hollow ground tools have less metal backing the edge, which reduces the force necessary to actually make the tool cut. Hollow grinds can also be less durable, meaning the edge could require more frequent sharpening, as well as be more susceptible to breaking.

Microbevels (Also Known as Secondary Bevels)

A microbevel is a very small, steeper bevel at the tool’s edge that increases the cutting angle of the tool. This new steeper angle ever so slightly increases the force necessary to make the tool cut, but it adds durability to the edge by increasing the amount of metal directly behind the edge. It also makes the edge easier to maintain in the short run because you are only maintaining the microbevel instead of the entire bevel when you re-sharpen the tool.

Rule of Thumb for Creating Microbevels:

Microbevels

Honing/Stropping

The sharpening process scratches the tool’s bevel all the way out to the edge, plus a burr is created on every edge during the sharpening process. Under magnification, the edge of the tool is not smooth at all but serrated due to these scratches, and that metal dangling from the edge is the burr. Honing – utilizing micro-abrasive pastes or dressings on a piece of leather or MDF – further refines the edge and removes the burr, creating a sharper edge. Think of a straight razor being stropped or honed prior to shaving – there is a reason you don’t want to shave with a razor fresh off a sharpening stone. Today waterstones and abrasive papers in 6000 grit, 8000 grit, and 10,000 grit and above make honing with a strop and dressing somewhat a thing of the past, but these stones of exceedingly fine grit are expensive and require care in use. Stropping is a less expensive alternative to achieve the same result.

Grinders & Sharpening Machines

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