Just finished an enjoyable 1 day knife and axe sharpening course. Sharp tools are essential for any woodworker and one of the things where we maybe don’t always put in the time we should. Well today we put the time in. We started by looking at the sharpening systems everyone was currently using mostly a combination of diamonds, wet and dry paper and waterstones. We discussed good working positions and set up sharpening stations on a sturdy bench. One of the most important things is a good workstation fairly high with good light and you must be able to splash lots of water about.
I like this set up with a waterstone set on top of a 6″x6″ beam offcut and a garden water squirter for slooshing the stone very regularly. A good broad stance helps keep the bevel flat on the stone. Fingers of the left hand on the back of the blade help feel it registering the bevel and also apply gently downward and forward pressure. The thing most folk fail on is not knowing when exactly they have created a single flat bevel all the way to the edge. If judging by the naked eye it is actually remarkably easy to leave a tiny bit of the old dull edge showing before moving on to the finer stones, close examination of the edge shows exactly what you are doing. Once the technique is learned you don’t need the microscope but it helps a lot whilst learning.
At the end of the day we had razor sharp knives but more important everyone felt they could achieve razor sharp knives entirely on their own with their own equipment at home. This is very empowering. We had been chatting about how many folk buy new tools and fear taking them to the stone the first time in case they make them worse. Once you have taken a clearly blunt and damaged knife into a state where it will produce a mirror polish on the wood it cuts you loose all that fear.
More about Japanese sharpening from my blog when I visited Japan and worked with traditional carpenters last year.