Sunday, February 18, 2007
Where to Start? Where to Stop?
I had a visit from a young man who is aspiring to be a chairmaker. He was trying to weed his way through all of the information that he's been compiling and figure outwhere he should focus his attention. I have great sympathy for this position, not only have I been there, but it is a place that I find myself in constantly. Where to begin?
In woodworking and with my students I have a simple answer, sharpening. There is a lot of information out there about sharpening, in fact, too much. This is where the question turns from Where to start? to Where to stop?
When is the tool sharp? I have a simple test that I like to use. Any tool that will shave the end grain of a soft pine board and leave a smooth waxy surface is sharp. The soft pine will tear up with anything remotely dull. Why this test? By cutting the pine, versus shaving hair etc.. I can see the condition of the entire edge, not just that it has sharp areas but is completely sharp. To me this is vital because much of the finish surfaces of my work is straight from the blade, no sanding. Also, a sharp tool is a joy to use and in many instances, the only one that works.
When I was trying to figure out Where to start?, I got some woodworking magazines and read that the handplane could take feathery shavings and leave a perfect surface. Great, so I went to the hardware store, bought a plane, went home, assembled it and pushed it across a beautiful piece of cherry. Of course I mangled the surface. My inspiration was as damaged as the cherry. What they don't tell you on the box is that planes, or any handtool, are sold as kits. It is up to you to tune and sharpen the tool. Some expensive tools need very little tuning while cheaper ones may require hours.
I now know that even a screwdriver can take feathery shavings and leave a perfect surface, if it's sharp.
So after watching me work in the shop for a couple of hours, my visitor left with a list of books and the notion that he needs to learn to sharpen. I am adding the list of books to the blog.