My Evolution In Sharpening My Tools: Evolution #7 & 8 - Oil Stones and Freehand
by Robert Sfeir
Evolution #7: Two Oil Stones and a Strop.
At his point, I want to get closer to what Maguire does. When I look at the Soft Arkansas Stone it is not as expensive as the Black Stone, and I order one. I fully vest into oil stones and sell the diamond stones. Selling the diamond stones covers for the cost of the soft oil stone and leaves me with a chunk of cash for future tool investments - Because in woodworking, we all have a Tool Acquisition Disorder (TAD). To my big surprise, the soft stone cuts faster and more consistently than my diamond stone. People may argue that it's a style issue, maybe I didn't use the diamond stones right, or perhaps use a different liquid, or freehand, or voodoo dolls. Look... I know that diamond stones don't work as well for me. Let's just leave it at that. The soft stone reset the small secondary bevel quickly. I move to the black stone, 5-6 strokes and I have my burr. Hit the strop and go to work. No mess, and no fuss, only a smooth super fast sharpening workflow.
Still getting jig-y with it.
To me, this is as close to super sharp, efficient, and mess-free as I am going to get. Or is it? I was still using a jig. I know I need to figure out a way to get comfortable with freehand sharpening to see what kind of results I get. To this point, I am still leaning heavily on the jig, and various posts I read from experts differ in the benefit (or lack thereof) of using a jig. One school of thought professes that the precision of the secondary bevel in sharpening is so important to precision in woodworking, that preparing it any other way is foolish and would yield sloppy work. The second school of thought professes that sharpening freehand is faster, produces just as much precision in woodworking, wastes a lot less iron during sharpening, and using a jig merely gets in the way of the flow of the work. Off I go back to the Maguire's videos because to this point his simple logic proves to be right and easy to follow.
Evolution #8: Hello Freehand Sharpening.Maguire is right. Period. I'm not going to argue with you if you don't agree. Don't really care to be honest, but here is what I learned: Getting rid of the jig, is like getting rid of a crutch. Sharpening with the freehand 'Maguire Method', not worrying about how flat a bevel is, or how precise a secondary bevel is will create just as sharp a tool. It generates an edge that lasts just as long as anything else I've tried. It encourages me to sharpen more regularly, instead of waiting until the edge is not performing - because I didn't want to stop to get back into the jig to sharpen. Since the oil doesn't leave a mess everywhere, and certainly no water to risk rusting your tools, it means that I can leave my stones on my bench, and the moment I stop in my flow to think or go to the next step in my work, I just hit the black stone a couple of times, strop lightly 5-6 times, and get back to work. Freedom!
- I have sharp tools.
- I have two stones and a strop. (see blog post picture)
- I use oil over water (or windex, or honerite or... you choose your poison).
- It takes me 30 seconds to a fresh edge.
- It takes me 10 seconds to a refreshed secondary bevel.
- I don't use a jig unless I want to refresh the whole bevel.
- I use a grinder to reset the iron's primary bevel from scratch.
- And most importantly: I sharpen often.
So what's the point of this journey?
The point is not to have a really pretty shiny edge that lasts forever. It is not about sandpaper, water, diamond, or oil stones being better or worse, or the level of grit those accessories are. The point is not to use the highest possible stone grit to show all your friends how shiny the edge of your tool is, nor is the point that you must use a jig to create primary, secondary and tertiary bevels (sorry, Mr. Charlesworth), to be a precise and awesome woodworker. The point is to sharpen regularly as you work. Find the flow that works for you and your stones. Most importantly, give your edges a consistency that is predictable over time, all the time. The point is to never let the edge get anywhere near dull, regardless of the method. The point is that the harder we make it on ourselves to sharpen, the less we sharpen, the more our work quality suffers, and the more we get tense and frustrated in a craft that is supposed to free our minds. Sharpen more often and your tools are always really sharp. That, my friends, is the point of sharpening while woodworking. Not the stones, or the pretty shiny edge.