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Improve Your Hand Tool Skills with One Thing

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Regarding hand tools, I field a lot of queries.

Once you go past the queries of “should I buy this or that” or “what should I get first” and address use issues such as a woodworker having trouble using a tool or receiving inconsistent results, the answers are almost always the same:

GO SHARPEN YOUR BLADE


Indeed, there might be more factors involved, and the kind and understanding people who devote their time to fixing outdated equipment could have many issues going on. Ole Stinky Pete, the finest plane used by mine carpenters, may have a broken handle, a flat sole, and tar and feathers hanging off the rear, but I’ll wager it still functions with a recently sharpened blade.

So your new, sophisticated smoothing plane isn’t producing any shavings? Try sharpening the blade and see the amazing results. Getting a rip out of your tight-lipped, 10-pound infill aircraft with an integrated atomic clock and a GPS-positioned bed at 55.467 degrees? Proceed to sharpen the edge. There isn’t much power needed to cause the fibers to desire to rip or crumble away when the blade is so sharp that it easily cuts through the wood.

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Is it difficult for you to cut a straight line with that rip saw? Now that the blade is sharp, you won’t be driving the teeth into the wood and creating deviation along the tooth line. Go sharpen the blade and see how straight it slices.

Do gaps exist in your dovetails? Get your chisels sharpened, and you’ll be astounded at how the tool slices precisely on a line without shattering fibers.

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Indeed, until the existing blade has been sharpened, any inquiry having to do with after-market adjustments to a tool or guide to guarantee accuracy should be put on hold.

The truth is that we are fortunate to live in a time where exquisite hand tools are produced with greater care and attention to detail than possibly in the past. We live in a civilization that is also replete with amazingly inventive devices, gadgets, and solutions.

We really feel that if we had additional features, our woodwork would be superior. We concentrate on features! The geometry of saw teeth is similar to a mysterious alchemy that, when it is discovered, would produce a Midas sawyer with gold lining every cut.

All your sawing fantasies, however, will come true if you enhance that geometry with a bespoke handle and a hang determined with a sextant on a Tuesday in August during a harvest moon while standing on your dominant leg and holding a strip of Schwarz’ woobie firmly in your palm.

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I’m clearly being glib here, but I do possess some gorgeous saws, planes, and chisels with a lot of extra features and “bling.” However, what’s the deal? Many of these extra features serve just as a mask for when it’s time to sharpen a blade.

Yes, you can control tear out using a tight mouth on a plane and a closely spaced chip breaker, but doing so will also weaken the blade’s cutting ability since they will break the shaving and stop the wood fibers from tearing away. When a rake angle or ideal hang angle can make up for the extra effort needed to push that less-than-sharp tooth through the wood, a dulling saw will still cut true and cleanly.

The extra features trick us into believing they are the key to our success and that we collaborate with them more effectively. Paradoxically, we have even discovered characteristics that can deceive us using chisels.

A piece of steel that has been simply beveled—what could possible go wrong? It cuts either smoothly or not at all. Of course, the steel itself. Manufacturers hurry to claim that new steel varieties would cut longer, cleaner, and with less morning after regret when they are introduced to the market. Given how good certain current steels are at maintaining their edge for extended periods of time, it’s possible that this is partially accurate. The idea that we can dovetail a whole chest of drawers without having to polish our tools also encourages laziness.

Which leads me back to what I was saying before. Sharpening your blade can solve any issue you may be experiencing.


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