A Guide to Tool Sharpening Basics

A guide to tool sharpening basics. This vital set of sharpening skills includes proper methods of sharpening, rough work with a file, sharpening a shovel, hoe, spade, knife and tool sharpening diagrams.

| November/December 1987

MOTHER's Handbook: Let's cut the mystery away from this vital tool sharpening skill. Coaxing an edge onto a trusted tool can be a peace-bringing and fulfilling process. (See the slideshow for tool sharpening figures 1 to 19.)

A Guide to Tool Sharpening Basics

I've been a tool sharpener for so long my pocketknife blade can trim a tick's toenails. My kitchen knives can slice a potato too thin to taste. And long ago I stopped performing the so-called expert's trick of shaving my beard with an ax. No sir, I use that tool's edge to floss between my teeth!

None of the above boasts are a bit true. Actually, I've always found tool sharpening to be very intimidating, partly because everybody else seemed to be an expert at it. Still, I knew it was an important skill to master. You simply can't do many jobs with dull tools, and you can perform any cutting task much better and more easily with a sharp one.

I finally decided it was time for me to get a handle on the subject. So I visited local tool sharpeners Roger Korning (who uses sophisticated Foley Belsaw machinery) and Collier Davis (a file-and-grindstone man). I got a two hour personal honing lesson from professional knifemaker Robert Parrish, who's famed among the gun and-blade set for his exquisite RP survival knives. I collected tips from Hollen Orr, a retired craftsman who's built a grandfather's clock and a set of violins by hand. I spent hours in the shop with MOTHER'S own workshop wizard, Dennis Burkholder. I even called up public TV's renowned woodwright, Roy Underhill, for advice!

The result? I'm not ready to trim my face fuzz with an ax, but I can now put a decent working edge on most of the tools my family uses. And here's betting I can tell other novice edge-keeners how to do so, as well.

"Do the job right, and you'll get a good edge in five minutes."  

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