Take Time to Sharpen Your Tools

Abraham Lincoln once famously said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." If you're like me, sharpening your tools is one of those things that is pretty low on your list of things you like to do in the shop. However, if you take time to sharpen your woodworking tools, it does end up saving time in the long run.

Keeping your woodworking tools sharp has many benefits. It makes things more enjoyable, since you don't have to force your tools to work as hard. You'll make cleaner cuts, with less chance for tear-out. In addition, it's safer. The more force you put on that chisel, for example, the more likely it will slip and hurt you, the workpiece or both.

Keeping the blades, bits and cutters for your power tools is also important. A dull saw blade or router bit is more likely to burn the workpiece. The motor has to work harder, shortening the life of the tool. Finally, you are more likely to have to force the tool to do it's job, increasing the potential for a disastrous slip.

Sharpening is one of those things that, if you let it get away from you, will make it harder to catch up with when you really need to do it. Instead, if you sharpen a few tools from time to time, before they get too dull, it actually ends up taking less time. Spending a few minutes to touch up the edge of your block plane blade is much easier than grinding out a bunch of nicks and re-establishing the bevel because you let it go too long.

Here are a few strategies for keeping up with your sharpening chores

  • If you have room, try to set aside some space in your shop dedicated to sharpening. If everything is already set up and ready to go, it's much easier to touch up an edge and get back to working on your project.
  • Try to find those natural lulls in the process of building a project. The time spent waiting for glue to dry or finish to cure is a good opportunity to freshen the cutting edges of your plane blades and chisels.
  • Dedicate a shop session to sharpening. If you only have a little bit of time to be in the shop (i.e. not enough time to make any progress on your current project), consider spending the entire time sharpening some of your most commonly used tools.
  • Pick a sharpening system and stick with it for a while. By staying with the same system for a period of time, you'll become more practiced and faster at sharpening your tools.

What strategies do you use to keep your tools sharp?

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