Fair Woodworking

June 8, 2012

Sharp right out of the box

Filed under: My early days of woodworking,Sharpening,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 6:20 pm

Without a proper apprenticeship program for hand tool woodworkers, it’s hard to really gauge what level of woodworker we are. I’ve been using hand tools for a number of years, but I still very much think of myself as a beginner.  In some woodworking circles, I’ve been regarded as a hand tool expert (snort!!!). We all know that’s preposterous, but it’s all relative to the viewer.

For now I can say without faking modesty that, I’m a hand tool woodworker with more tools than skills.

What got me thinking about this is some of the questions that first time beginners ask. I don’t want this to be mistaken as mockery, because I am for once trying to be sincere. The topic of sharp right out of the box has gotten me into more than one war of words. I may have discussed this before, but it’s what is on my mind right now.

Sharpness is just as relative as the idea of a beginner. Some will say that any well made plane or chisel is ready to use right out of the box. In the past I would argue this point, but who am I to poo poo someone else for where they are in their sharpening journey.

The first shavings I ever made were with a blade that I could still feel a heavy bur on the edge. I was thrilled with those chunky shavings that came out. I barely slept that night I was so excited to get back out there and make some more. At that point a new plane blade would have been far sharper than I had used. The first time I used my Narex chisels it was with the factory edge, I did see some limitations with them, but clearly I felt they were ready to use. In those days, there was no guarantee that sharpening a new blade would improve the edge, I was still getting the hang of it.

In time I improved to the point that with effort, I could get a better than factory edge, and so it went that one day I came to the point that a factory edge was duller than I would ever let a blade get before I would stop to resharpen.

Today, I couldn’t justify the effort to struggle with a factory edge, when I’m totally confident that I can sharpen it in a very short time.

So now “if” a new woodworker asked me if a plane was ready right out of the box, I would answer the question, with a question. Do you think you can make it sharper? If they think they can then they need get out the stones. If they don’t, they may as well have fun with it until they have dulled it to the point that they “can” improve the edge.

It’s also a great time to learn about grain direction and tear out…

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