My Evolution In Sharpening My Tools: Evolution #3 & 4 – Reintroducing An Ohishi Water Stone.

Evolution #3: Reintroducing An Ohishi Water Stone.

Diamond stones are fine, but I continue to reach for that shiny edge, because after all if the edge is shiny, it lasts much longer (or so I think). The finest available diamond stone doesn’t get me to shiny, and I still don’t like stropping. So I bring out the 8k Ohishi water stone and add it to my routine. Now I have 4 stones to go through to get to sharp again. The 8k, however, doesn’t always produce that shiny edge, but my tools are sharp, and the edge seems to hold up well while I work. Still not satisfied with how things look, instead of how the tool feels, I swap the 8k for the 10k stone. Now I’m getting shiny, and the tool feels great too. That reintroduces an old problem: I have to flatten the stone, it requires water, and it makes a mess everywhere with the slurry created when sharpening. I feel like I am at Evolution #1 all over again. Depression sets in. I can’t win. I stuck to this approach for 3 months, after which I’d had enough abuse and am again looking for something else.

Evolution #4: Swapping Ohishi For Diamond Paste.

Through research and discussion with friends, I am pointed to 1-micron diamond paste by DMT. That material is approximately the equivalent of an 8-10k stone. You apply it to a piece of flat wood, like Hard Maple or MDF, and you rub the edge of the iron on it to burnish the end. This is not a cheap substance by any means. A small syringe of it will set you back $17.00, though it can last for a month or two. I also notice that the MDF doesn’t last very long and tends to bubble up from the paste’s moisture. Changing to a hard maple block solves the problem. The resulting edge is sure shiny! The blades are cutting really really well too. The time the edge stays sharp is better, and messy water stones are a thing of the past. Did I reach final success? To refresh the edge I have to get the iron into the sharpening jig to rub the bevel into the paste quickly to burnish it. That is just not convenient, and right now that is what I, unfortunately, have to do anyway since I don’t sharpen freehand. I am just not happy with it. Sharpening cuts into my workflow, and I know I can do better, and I grow annoyed. I sharpen less again, it affects my work because my tools don’t perform as expected. I stick to this approach for a month and give up.

Next Evolution

Evolution 1

My Evolution In Sharpening My Tools: Evolution #2 – Diamond Stone, Understanding Sharp.

DMT Diamond Stones.

By this point, I know woodworking is the thing I love to do. My routine is to now spend 3 hours a night in the shop creating things, learning, building, sharpening, going through tutorials, and documenting all this work on my log at the Hand Tool School. Shannon Rogers is filling my head with more and more info, questioning my approach to everything, and pushing me to think outside the box at many levels, including sharpening. Then I see it: his video on sharpening that uses a diamond stone. WHOA! Wait a minute! No flattening? Just Windex? Cuts an edge faster? DUDE I’m THERE! Wait, what’s this thing that looks like teachers use to spank kids with at school? A strop you say? Even though Shannon only uses one two-sided stone, I order a Coarse, Fine, Extra Fine, and Extra Extra Fine diamond stone, along with horse butt leather from Tools For Working Wood, and off I go into my new adventure. I put the water stones aside and focus on just using this evolution. It definitely takes a bit of getting used to. Edges get reset much more quickly, almost too aggressively, and sharp was really sharp. I use the strop to finish off the edge and work. My edges last fine and I focus to remember to strop as I’m working. This evolution is not only a change in how I sharpen but also a change in how I keep the edges of my tools sharp while working. It is, therefore, a change in flow.

The revelation that I suck at sharp.

After about 4-5 months of this approach, I grow annoyed with the strop. I strop constantly because my edges are not holding long enough; and it is, to me, too much of an interruption in my flow. I have to think about the strop, as opposed to my work. Thankfully Christopher Schwartz takes the time to write a series of amazing articles, 10 of them in fact, on the concepts of sharpening. If you haven’t read them, you owe it to yourself to do so. Those articles get me thinking about my edge more specifically and force me to study exactly what I am doing, as well as examine the edge’s polish. I now realize that the XX-Fine of the diamond stone left the edge in a less than ideal state. When I strop I don’t improve that edge much because I am doing things wrong.

Understanding the finer points of sharp.

To this point, perhaps 5-6 months into this journey, I still don’t fully understand simple concepts of sharpening: Concept 1 – Sharp is simply the meeting of two surfaces, the top and bottom surfaces of the tool, to a 0 point. That point is where sharp is. It’s as simple as that. You can’t get sharper than 0. Concept 2 – Something a bit more nuanced: scratches on those two surfaces contribute to a weakness in the steel’s surface. Scratches yield a point that doesn’t stay at 0-sharp as long as one that is more polished. Nothing is ever scratch free, and there is a point of no return to the polishing that doesn’t benefit us in woodworking. The fact is that the edge of a tool is subjected to blunt forces. To expect it to hold up for a long time depends on so many factors, not the least of which is the wood you’re working with and it’s hardness. A blade’s sharpness will last much longer in pine than it would in hard maple, for example. Concept 3 – The type of tool steel your plane irons and tools are made of matters, and is a complicated concept. The steel can influence the type of sharpening stones you can use, and the extent to which your edge could stay sharp. Concept 4 – The back of a plane iron’s flatness is not as critical as the back of a chisel’s. You use a chisel’s back for flat reference when pairing, or cutting into a mortise, for example, the plane iron’s front edge (say 1/2″) matters in that it is required to have a sharp edge.

Next Evolution

Evolution 1

My evolution in sharpening my tools: Evolution #1

This is such an emotionally charged subject that I don’t think (m)any of us are capable of holding a normal conversation around it. The purpose of this entry is simple: To discuss sharpening stones as I learned their benefits and drawbacks through my beginner woodworking journey, and how I came to my preferred stones and way to sharpen. Things I’m not going to discuss: The sharpening jigs I used, or the free handing techniques I tried, and how I feel about all of that stuff. Not going to go into primary, secondary and tertiary bevels. Again choose your religion and purpose. Not going to discuss automated tools, or get into details about the different types of grinders. I use one. I like it. You like yours. Moving on. Though I am not a fan of squelching opinions, if you’re rude, I’ll delete you and your comment. Argue the concepts and ideas, don’t attack the people making them.

The rough beginning of a journey.

Like many new woodworkers, I fell for the usual fanfare of sharpening stones. It all started with wet stones, even though my shop had no running water. That was OK and realized I needed to flatten them. That led me to buy a cheap Norton lapping stone. That lapping stone turned out to not be flat, who knew I was supposed to check the flatness of a brand new lapping stone? That made my life even worse, but it taught me a few lessons about flattening and maintaining my stones. Not only was I struggling with learning the tools and the craft, but struggling with poor quality sharpening accessories.

Evolution #1: Ohishi Water Stones.

A few months into this god-awful messy adventure that left stone residue and sharpening slur all over my sharpening area, I discovered Ohishi tones sold at Lie-Nielsen. Those stones didn’t require a dip in the bath. Just some water squirt, and get sharpening. Like (still) most new woodworkers who really still don’t understand the different grits necessary to go through the sharpening process, because there are a billion opinions on the web about it, I bought 1000, 3000, 6000, 8000, 10000 grits… because why not? After all aren’t you supposed to make the edge finer and finer and finer until it’s super shiny? I went about my business sharpening my tools and feeling a big improvement over the first water stones. The Ohishi stones were harder than the ones I’d been using and wore down less quickly. Every time I flatted them, I used some sandpaper on a flat surface and rubbed the stone into a massive mess. Thankfully I discovered the DMT lapping plate. Flattening the stones was much faster and reliable from there, but required me to go to a sink to do it. Not effective, but I could live with it. I stayed in Evolution #1 for a year. When it came to my tool’s sharpness I was a happy camper. When it came to the mess I had in the shop, not so much. That year in water world mess, allowed me to focus on what was making things sharp, and what was yielding a longer lasting edge that didn’t require me to go back to the sharpening station as often.

Skipping Stones

I experimented with skipping stones, only used the 1000 stone to reshape the bevel and reset the edge, and started at 3000 and jumped to 8000 then 10000. Stopping at 8000 felt unsatisfying in how the secondary bevel looked. But I had this whole thing down to 3 stones. I was sharp, but something still didn’t feel right because I wasn’t getting the consistency in sharpness. Sometimes a hand plane would feel amazing, sometimes I’d feel like I’d be making too much of an effort. Sometimes a chisel would slice through the waste of a dovetail beautifully, sometimes it would crack the wood instead. In the end, I was getting pretty sick of the mess and the up and down to the kitchen to flatten the dang stones.

Next Evolution

I was a serial hobbyist, until I met woodworking.

I’m a creative person at heart. In fact, the whole side of my family is. When I was younger I got hooked on music, guitar specifically, and learned it, played and practiced it 3 hours a day, and even got kicked out of boarding school for playing after curfew one too many times.

When I got older, music was always with me, bands, writing, recording, I did all that, and frankly, I was not really awesome at most of it, but I did it for the sheer love of it.

In college I discovered photography. I studied Ansel Adams, among other things. I bought myself a large format camera, the type that looks like an accordion, and uses 4″x5″ negatives you have to expose, develop and print one by one. I lugged 60 pounds of gear on my back hiking Yosemite. I spent hours in the darkroom printing and creating. Over time digital photography became the norm. I jumped both feet in. Developing the film was too cumbersome, and required a dedicated space, a dark room that took over a whole room to itself. Over time my interest in photography waned. Shooting digital was fine, I could create and modify images on my Mac. I would rarely print them, and I had no control over that process. I bounced back to music and setup a recording studio at home, recorded myself, as well as come friends and symphony orchestras, and mixed them. I worked on a few songs for bands and mixed them. I enjoyed the process. My connection to my art though was purely digital. There was nothing to show. Nothing to touch. To see or hear something you’d have to look at my computer or play an mp3 in your car. It didn’t matter whether my mixing job was great or not, most people can’t tell the difference, and the emotional association to this digital world was dry and often uninspiring to me. The process became more about learning the tools on my screen and how to harness that, and less about creating. I was living my day job, working in software development, at home.

When we moved to GA, we had a basement, and I could have a shop, and I built a bench, got a circular saw, and had a shop. I’d always wanted a shop. family friend had one, and I’d always thought the tools were so cool. Growing up a family friend, who was a cabinet maker, took me to his shop. Old style. Power tools but lots of hand tools. I found it all fascinating but forgot about that experience. I added a table saw, learned how to use it. We moved. My new shop had more space, and I’d learned about the different methods of learning woodworking on line. I took on a first project, a picture frame with mortise and tenon joinery and some rabbets, and learned how to build it. When I was done, I could touch it. I could take it to my wife and kids and show them. It was something I could put in the house and look at it. People who came over could see it without being prompted. It was like magic. I was hooked. I sold all my music equipment, except for my guitars – that’ll never happen, and converted the return into hand tools. Great hand tools, and I started building my first project: The Pekovich toolbox. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was going to learn. I made every mistake under the sun, including buying hard maple for the wood – is there a more painful local wood to work with? But I had fun. Hours in the shop. Hours learning. My family was inspired. My daughter asked for a nightstand, I made one. It’s beautiful! I took pride that she used it. I take pride that it’s still standing and looks amazing. That was the beginning of a journey that allowed me to completely disconnect from the digital world, and step into the past, when people worked with their hands, when people created, it connected me to my family roots in a deeper way, and my family and friend’s reaction to it is palatable… because they too can see it and touch it, and appreciate it for what it is.

Finishing the Interior of the Cabinet.

I’ve been working and not posting. I am sanding the whole interior and applying finish before I glue this thing together. Having experienced the pain of finishing the liquor cabinet after glueup nope not again.

I generally follow Chris Becksvoort’s method. I don’t alter it or even consider to. I’m not a master. He is, so… I just do.

I start with 120 and 220 on my orbital sander. He uses a belt sanded but what ever. (Wait I altered it, shame on me) I then do 320,400, and 600 by hand followed by steel wool rub. If I see little imperfections while sanding at 320 or 400 I stop and fix with a card scraper. You can see the imperfections because at that high a grit the dust fills them up and leaves these white dots behind. After card scraping back to 320,400,600.

Once all the surfaces are finished I put on some Tried and True Danish oil. Wait two or more hours. Wipe the boards down with a clean towel then apply a 3:1 mix of Tried and True varnish oil and Epiphane spar varnish.

I start with a thick coat and wait 15 minutes then rub it down with a paper towel. I change paper towels and keep rubbing until I get no residue on the paper. Now I let sit for 48 hours and do another coat. Before the second coat I’ll sand with 600.

Here’s what I go so far.

state of the shop

Colors and details are lovely.

Color of the cherry is due to the proper sanding regimen

The details are lovely too.

Details of the cherry is due to the proper sanding regimen
Up next letting it dry for 48 hours, then sand down with 600 and apply another very thin coat.

An Experiment In Ebonizing Wood.

There are many ways to ebonize wood, which is the process of turning something like oak into a pitch black stained wood using the tannins and reaction to iron oxide like in this article by Popular Woodworking

I started making the solution. Vinegar and steel wool that I washed in soap to make sure the oil and grime is gone.

Steel wool and vinegar in a jar

Let it sit for a week, any shorter and I don’t think the solution is strong enough.

After a week you end up with this fine looking mess

Vinegar and steel wool a week later

You’ll need to strain it using a coffee filter to remove any sediments. You end up with a fairly clean solution.

Strained iron oxide solution.

Then it’s a matter of rubbing the wine tannins (you can get those at any wine store) into the wood, letting it dry before you apply the iron oxide or it won’t react as well.

Testing different wood types

As you can see oak (left stick) had the most immediate reaction after one application. Maple (middle) was more blueish on the initial rub, and cherry (right) just looked washed out. But with further layers, you will get a dark finish from all 3, but there will be a color variation because of the wood’s natural reaction to the chemicals.

In the end you can have quite a nice effect like on this serving tray I made. It was finished with French polished shellac, and that really deepened the resulting black tone on the oak.

Serving tray

A close up of the details

A closeup of the ebonized handle