Job-Site Sharpening Tips
The right tools and a few easily made jigs will give you an edge on your chisels, your planes and your competition.
Synopsis: The author shows how chisels, cabinet scrapers, paint scrapers and spade bits can be sharpened on the job quickly and effectively. A short companion article explains how to put a hollow grind on an edge tool with a bench grinder.
Fifteen years ago, I walked out of college with a music degree only to discover that there weren’t a lot of jobs for trombone players. I got my first exposure to the trades as a gofer doing old-house work. It was probably the worst job I ever had. Eager to learn finish carpentry, I apprenticed with a guitar maker and spent a couple of years sharpening and making tools. As glad as I finally was to get out on my own, that apprenticeship taught me that tool sharpening goes hand in hand with fine craftsmanship. Without sharp tools, I can’t do my job accurately or efficiently.
Bring ’em to work sharp
Job-site sharpening is basically sharpening in a pinch. Fine sharpening needs to be done in the shop. I keep a grinder and a couple of oilstones set up in my shop and use them to put precise edges on fine cutting tools such as chisels and plane irons. Colleagues of mine who can’t find the time or the patience to do it themselves send their tools out when they need sharpening.
I minimize the time I spend sharpening on the job site by backing up popular tools such as block-plane irons and my 1-in. chisel with spares. I’ve also set aside an older block plane and a few chisels for rough work such as heavily painted or nail-embedded wood. Despite my best intentions, though, whether due to accident, oversight or just heavy usage, tools often lose their edge and need to be touched up on the job.
Sharpening on the job site can be both accurate and efficient if you follow these rules:
- Hone cutting tools on flat surfaces.
- Maintain a constant sharpening angle.
- Use hollow-ground chisels and plane irons.
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