As vintage tool restorers with many thousands of hours developing ways to revitalise these old tools, it’s fair to say we have learnt a few things in that time. Much of what we have learnt is to undertake many tasks effectively with production at the forefront of everything we do, so that the work undertaken can be done viably. As you can appreciate we have sharpened pretty much most makers of tools through history and can say this experience offers a different insight to their qualities and the decline in quality through time of some makers. This also helps to us assess modern tool makers products, I won’t go too much into the details in this article but will cover fundamentals and practices that every woodworker should consider when maintaining their tools, with little cost.
Over the past few years it has become apparent there are many dying skills in crafts and although there is a resurgence in many areas. It’s quite clear tool maintenance is one area that rarely gets discussed by used tool specialists, as many have yet to venture into undertaking all the necessary tasks to correct precision and usability on such a wide range.
In the ever growing trend of disposable tools which are of poor quality compared to those used by our forefathers, they have eradicated the need for many to learn how to maintain them. It’s so easy to throw money at the failings of a tool by simply replacing it. We also know first hand many old tools require a significant amount of effort and time as well as a good range of equipment and materials to make this happen. But what is noticeable is many never gain the knowledge of how the tools work and subsequently their choice of tools become more limited. The right tool for the job has always been an important factor when it comes to working efficiently.
As you can appreciate with clearing out so many old workshops and handling so many old tools this also gives us an insight into working practices and the original condition of used tools. We also see how keeping up with this, in the later stages in life can become harder due to less energy and poorer eyesight. However over the years one thing that stands out and strikes me as strange is the lack of a known flat reference surfaces used. This is an essential part of maintaining woodworking tools and keeping up their performance, it’s simply part of the job.
Many old planes are cleaned time and time again with the use of rotary wheels and sanding materials. I’ve even seen a few that have had the disc grinder treatment. It’s no wonder few old planes are suitable for fine woodworking, without the additional use of cabinet scrapers and reams of sandpaper. It’s clear many don’t understand or have the equipment that’s needed to determine what is truly flat, let alone knowing what the chip-breaker does or how pitting on the back of the iron affects the capabilities of a planes use. Both these components require precise fettling and the use of true flatness to achieve it. Many will not understand how sharpening can affect this, even Norris planes had a leaflet pointing out the importance of practices used. It’s important not to affect a good connection between both parts once one has been established it is important to retain it.
Poorly set up planes add work and cause inefficiency, whilst they will work against each other if they all have different references to flatness. A user can be left or right handed, each with their own action and type of work undertaken which alters the plane sole over time. If you have bought two different planes from different users, it’s easy to understand why one doesn’t like following the other. Working Plumb, true and square is infinitely easier than working otherwise and why we have always emphasised on doing this work to true our planes.
New planes also have the same issues with flatness due to the way they are manufactured and what seems to be a lack of understanding by manufacturers today, to what is required to make good tools for regular use.
We have tested the very best of Diamond sharpening stones here, the initial appeal being their flatness for certain jobs, we also tried the scary sharp system but both proved to be uneconomical and short lived, however it confirmed our suspicions that the only reason for not using carborundum and India stones must be due to them becoming uneven. Natural stones are easy to lap flat using a good aluminium oxide sandpaper on a float glass, however the man made stones have always been less obvious to fix. The answer is by using loose silicone carbide on that float glass base working mixed with a little thin oil. If you have a flat stone just simply maintain it this way, the trick is to maintain tools like this little and often.
Yes i’ll say it again, learn how to sharpen a saw, you haven’t got to become a master to get a saw resharpened unless you intend to do it for others. The fact you gain so much insight into understanding tooth geometry and their uses, whilst also developing a steady hand action needed with so many aspects of woodworking it really does have hidden benefits. Your concentration will improve and you will find ways to see the teeth in close detail, whilst learning the importance of how lighting is essential for detailed work.
I know there are millions of video’s online for sharpening, but I always tell my lads that a tool should do the work. If you are forcing the tool it usually needs sharpening or you are using the wrong tool for the job. With a sharpened blade that will take the hairs of the back of your hand everything is going to be easier resulting in a much cleaner job. Don’t get me wrong if you are using jello tools made in China, this is not possible for more than 5 minutes and why they always need replacing. Sharpening is such an important and frequent task, so making it simpler to set up using a consistent position and height needs to have thought put into it. Using the correct lubrication also helps with the effectiveness of sharpening stones whilst also learning to do it freehand adds to the speed it can be done at.
Last but not least.
Find what works for you and take time to keep what tools you do have organised and easy to find. You will be amazed how good organisation of your tools and materials saves you time. Sharpen and clean your tools ready for next time they will be used, there is nothing worse than starting a new job only to find you have tool maintenance to do first.