Woodworker's Guide to Sharpening
All you need to know to keep your tools sharp
by John English

215 x 280mm

Published by Fox Chapel Publishing Co. Inc., East Petersburg PA USA


ISBN 978-1-56523-309-6

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As reviewed in The Australian Woodworker Issue 164

Sharpening tools is a fundamental part of woodworking. Despite that, most woodworkers don't begin to really study sharpening until months or even years after tackling their first project.

Of course, it's rare to hear anyone actually admit that - and it's even more rare for someone to not only admit it, but then to write a book about sharpening!

John English has been a cabinetmaker and furniture builder since the early 1980's. He is also an accomplished writer, editor and teacher. In 2005, he enrolled in a weekend class at the Anderson Ranch Arts Centre in Snowgrass Village, Colorado (USA). The instructor was the legendary Sam Maloof.

Watching the then 89 year old woodworker, John English says he understood the meaning of the platitude: 'the key to finding joy in the use of hand tools is keeping them sharp'. Of course, he had heard it before a hundred times or more, but that weekend, he says, it finally registered.

On the back cover of his book, English remarks that: 'Woodworking with dull tools is like sailing with a dropped anchor; it's frustrating, unproductive, and potentially dangerous'.

Elsewhere, he says that his purpose in writing the book was to bring together all of the sharpening options with which the woodworker may be confronted, and to offer them is such a way that each individual might make a personal choice.

The book begins with a few comments on safety. They are brief but timely, recognising the changing attitude to dust, even the relatively small amount of dust that arises from the sharpening of tools.

Next there is a brief introduction to the steels used in woodworking tools, before the author plunges into a detailed discussion about Bench Stones. This includes a handy chart that provides notes on some 24 natural and manmade stones - what they are called, what they are made from and where they fit in the spectrum of grits from coarse to fine.

This general coverage of practically all of the commonly used bench stones is followed by chapters that go into more detail about Water Stones, Oilstones, Diamond and Ceramic Sharpeners. Sandpaper and Leather are also considered in the context of their use in tool sharpening.

The chapter on Angles and Jigs talks about preferred bevel angles for various woodworking tools and the way in which these angles might best be achieved.

The next chapter, titled Sharpening Machines, is an up-to-date survey of the market, describing the many machines now available (though some are yet to be seen in this region).

Sharpening Methods deals with the actual process of sharpening and includes more than a dozen step-by-step descriptions of the treatment of specific tools. Supported by photographs, they detail the work necessary to sharpen, for example, plane blades, firmer chisels, skew chisels, V-chisels, planer blades, even axes and router bits.

The final chapter is a gem. After making some brief suggestions regarding the setting up of a Sharpening Station, it describes how 17 professional woodworkers have set up sharpening stations in their workshops. The list includes luminaries such as Sam Maloof and James Krenov but it is not so much the reputation of the woodworkers as the diversity of their ideas that makes this chapter so rewarding.

While the subject of hand tool sharpening is as old as the craft itself, this book is a modern response, providing information on the latest machines, devices and methods used to accomplish this essential task.

Photos: Colour


The birth of this book

Chapter 1: Safety Overview

Chapter 2: Introduction to Steel

Chapter 3: Introduction to Bench Stones

Chapter 4: Water Stones

Chapter 5: Oilstones

Chapter 6: Diamond Sharpeners

Chapter 7: Ceramic Sharpeners

Chapter 8: Sandpaper and Leather

Chapter 9: Angles and Jigs

Chapter 10: Sharpening Machines

Chapter 11: Sharpening Methods

Chapter 12: Sharpening Stations
- Designing your sharpening station
- Chris Billman, woodworker
- James Krenov, cabinetmaker
- Cindy Drozda, woodturner
- Everett Ellenwood, carver
- Larry Heinonen, woodworker
- Norm Abram, woodworker
- David J. Marks, fumiture maker
- Ellis Hein, woodturner
- David Nittmann, woodturner
- Kevin Neelley, woodturner
- Raymond Lanham, woodturner
- Darrell Feltmate, woodturner
- David Reed Smith, woodtumer.
- Mark Koons, furniture maker
- John English, woodworker
- Sam Maloof, fumiture maker

Appendix 1: Glossary
Appendix 2: Supplier Websites
Appendix 3: John English Sharpening Center
Appendix 9: Index