We spent the day sharpening plane blades and chisels.
Evan had received a couple of Norton combination synthetic water stones from Highland Hardware, and we needed to try them out. In spite of glowing reviews from the leading magazines, I’m not impressed. The 220/800 stone appears to be made of silicon carbide, it is soft and smudgy and wears hollow quickly leaving a gray sludge on everything. How am I supposed to flatten the back of a blade when the stone hollows out while I’m working it. I really prefer using 220 silicon carbide paper on a piece of plate glass. Messy, yeah, but at least it’s a dry mess and it stays flat.
The Norton 4000/8000 is a bit more agreeable to work with. Apparently, Norton grades abrasive on a different scale, the 4000 cuts fast and leaves a deeper scratch pattern than an 800 grit aluminum oxide stone. The 8000 is OK for finishing off, but like most fine synthetic stones it glazes over quickly. The other stones that I have been using are an 800 King Brand aluminum oxide stone and a 1000/6000 combination stone.
Sitting here in northwest Arkansas, just south of W-M world headquarters, I can count on my fingers (still have 10, and it doesn’t take all of them to count the skilled woodworkers here) the number of people who even know that a chisel can be sharpened, much less how to do it and get consistent results. Not that there are any substantial rewards for having that skill (as David Bowman used to say: “Writing a good editorial is like peeing your pants while wearing a dark suit; you get a warm feeling but nobody notices.”)
Because it’s on my dashboard, I logged in with “The Carpentry Way” and read a multi-page dialogue about the intricacies of sharpening with natural Japanese water stones; which went off on a tangent about how you can’t possibly understand Japanese woodworking unless you make a genuine effort to become fluent in the Japanese language, and you can’t possibly become fluent in Japanese language without immersion in Japanese culture.
WTF? I just needed to get my tools sharp. The few bona-fide Japanese-speaking people who live here are either university academics or corporate lackeys, and they aren’t likely to bother parsing verbs and vowels with an autodidactic old-hippy pseudo-intellectual college-dropout bewhiskered curmudgeon like me. Besides, what’re the odds that a typical Japanese knows any more about the intricacies of traditional carpentry than the average American?
Why does woodworking have to be so damned esoteric, anyway? There’s a cacophony of dubious information out there: books, blogs, TV and magazine articles, from the oh-so elitist to the ingenuously banal. Many of them trying to sell something that you probably don’t even need. I’m fed up with sales pitches, self-absorbed sophomoric pedantry, defensiveness, condescending snarky responses. Knowing how to sharpen a chisel properly is a significant accomplishment, but it is only a beginning, a rudimentary and fundamental part of a much larger whole. However you choose to sharpen, every system will have its advantages and its weaknesses; you will get results and there will always be swarf.