Monday, August 15, 2016

Sharpening old tools

If you thought, based on the title of this post, that I'd be discussing refreshing some previously learned skills, you may be disappointed.  Instead I'll actually be showing off how I sharpened some vintage woodworking tools.

I've recently been re-discovering my woodworking hobby, while learning to use hand tools in place of the power tools I've previously used.  There are many reasons I've decided to use less electricity to make wooden objects, but I'll save all of that for another post.  I'll just focus on sharpening for now.

Rough Grinding
Usually you start sharpening by rough grinding the bevel angle on the blade.  This step is only required if you are setting a new bevel angle or if the blade is otherwise damaged.  You can do the rough grinding by hand but I opted to use a power grinder with a 40 grit grinding wheel.  So I lose some hand tool merit points for using electricity here.  All of the blades I sharpened were to 25 degrees, which is pretty standard.

Honing Methods
There are tons of ways to sharpen metal blades: oil stones, water stones, diamond plates, etc.  I'll be using a lesser-known method: sand paper.  I learned about using sand paper from the Naked Woodworker, but there are many people that prefer this method, often known by the name Scary Sharp.

The basic requirements are three or four grits of sand paper going from around 150 grit up to 800 or 1000.  Spray adhesive (or similar) is used to attach the sand paper to a flat surface like plate glass.  When I went to the Home Depot to get supplies they only had very thin window glass, and I wanted something thicker.  I was impatient so rather than waiting to go to a glass shop, I looked around in the tile section and found a large floor tile that was dead flat (I checked it with a straight edge).  I haven't heard of anyone using floor tiles before but I can't think of a reason it shouldn't work.

With any of these methods it's common to use a honing guide to keep the angle, though some people like to freehand the bevel angle once it's been rough ground.  I used two different honing guides, an Eclipse and a Veritas.

The Block Plane
The first thing I tried to sharpen was an old Craftsman block plane (circa 1920). It was the first time I've use a grinder and I had a little trouble getting the tool rest set to the right angle.  The end result is that the blade has two bevel angles as you can see in the photo below.  Functionally it works fine, even if it's a little ugly, and after honing I can shave with it.

I tested the plane out by cutting some end grain bevels (something a block plane is ideal for).  It seemed to perform pretty well even while taking a pretty aggressive cut.

The Smoothing Plane and Chisels
Next up was a nice Millers Falls Smoothing Plane.  This one was straight-forward except that whoever had previously sharpened it had kind of messed it up and put quite a bit of skew on the blade (maybe it was intentional).  I ground off the skew and made it straight across again.  I also knocked down the corners of the blade a little to reduce tear out.  After honing I was able to take paper-thin shavings which is what you need in a smoothing plane.

I also sharpened some chisels, but they were brand new and factory ground to 25 degrees to they just required a quick honing.  I didn't even get any pictures of the chisels.

The Jack Plane
I left the most difficult one for last.  A jack plane is usually used for taking off lots of wood quickly.  To optimize for this the blade geometry needs a little curve, which is called camber.  Although the curvature is slight this allows the plane to scoop the wood out and take off much larger chips.  This is really useful if the wood is twisted or cupped and you need to take off an eighth of inch or so.

I wanted to take about a sixteenth of an inch off of each corner, and beyond that I just planned on free-handing it on the grinder. I got a tip from watching some YouTube videos that it easiest to take the corners off by putting the blade into the wheel at 90 degrees and then once the curve is ground the same 25 degrees bevel is established all the way across.  It took a while but I eventually got the camber you can see below.

Honing a cambered blade was a little trickier than a straight blade, since you need to sort of lean the blade back and forth as you hone.  For this I used the eclipse guide since it has a small wheel that lets you lean the guide much easier than the Veritas guide.

To test I took a fairly conservative cut, and although it may be hard to see in the photo below, it took some quite thick chips.  It was interesting that I could feel the camber of the blade in the chips, in that they were quick thick in the middle but got paper thin at the edges.

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