Is it Possible to Oversharpen Woodworking Tools?

There are a few opinions on whether or not you can oversharpen a woodworking tool, so, I decided to take a look at a few of the tools and techniques that woodworkers use. I wanted to see if it was possible to actually over sharpen them. I discovered a few things that even I, as someone who has been working with wood for many years didn’t think about.

The thing is, it depends upon what you consider to be oversharp. Some of you may be thinking well, of course, it’s not possible to oversharpen the tools in woodworking, a sharp tool makes the job easier. While that is not a bad mindset, there are a few factors that you might want to take into consideration. From what I found, oversharpening will manifest in the removal of too much material. This will severely shorten the life of any tool. 

It is possible to oversharpen many of the tools that you use and of course, it is possible to sharpen them the wrong way.  If you starting a new shop, every tool has a specific way that it needs to be sharpened. If you want to make your tools effective, you need to learn these different techniques. What I’ve done is found a few of the best techniques and practices and put this article together in the hopes that it will help you and your shop. If you’re working with a dull tool or an oversharp one, either one can cause a problem for you and your project. So, let us take a look at a few of the techniques that I came across during my research.

A Better Way to Sharpen Chisels

When sharpening your woodworking chisels, there are a few different ways that people utilize. Most of the ways involve the use of a grinder and a quick sharpening of the blade. While this method is quick, it can remove much more material from the blade and you will need to replace the chisels sooner. If you’re like me, you have a good set of chisels that you would like to keep around for a while. I came across a technique that provides you with a very sharp chisel without having to grind on the tip. This technique uses three sharpening stones: a coarse sharpening stone, medium sharpening stone, and a fine sharpening stone. The final step involves a piece of coarse leather or horsehide to finish the sharpening. Many people will build a wooden block with slots in it to hold all of the pieces that were just mentioned.

If you notice that the chisel has more wear on one side or the other, focus your energy on the opposite side and the middle to try to equal out the blade. Keep a spray bottle of water handy when sharpening so you can wet the stones before honing the blade. While sharpening on the stones, keep the handle at about a 25-degree angle. If you’re trying to achieve an equal across the board sharpen, make sure you are applying an equal amount of pressure on both sides. This is important because any alteration in the pressure can cause more material to be removed from that side. This will ultimately cause an uneven cut. Once you have made 20 to 30 passes on each stone, move onto the next starting with the most coarse. At this point, any scratches or divots in the blade should be disappearing.

Stropping the Blade

Once you have sufficiently sharpened the blade using the stones, it is time to start finishing the sharpening process. On the course hide that I mentioned above, apply some sharpening compound. Make about 25-30 passes pulling the blade away from the grain. This particular process will finish sharpening the blade. Many people will argue that this is not as efficient as a grinder. It may not be as fast as grinding, but once you get the chisel sharpened, you don’t have to go back to the stones unless there is damage done to the blade.

By Dr.K. 15:35, 4 November 2007 (UTC) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3018530

I have a strap that I keep beside me and every 5 to 10 minutes, I will stop and sharpen the edge of the tool with that strop. This may seem a little excessive, but once you get used to the rhythm, it will keep your tool sharp. This will actually improve your accuracy and ultimately the quality of your work unless you run into an obstruction. A woodworker can never afford to let their tools get dull. This can cost time and productivity, not to mention the fact that it can make your work come out rougher. This will either cost you time to fix the problem or customers because your work is not up to par.

Sharpening Circular Saw Blades

When attempting to sharpen a circular saw blade there are few things that you need to consider. The age of the blade and wear on the blade are two of the main factors that can cause problems. While you can sharpen the older blades, typically they are not as efficient as just buying a new one. The blades that came out before they started using carbide tips are much more finicky when it comes to sharpening. That’s why most woodworkers simply stick to the newer style blades. When you have a carbide tip blade, you can sharpen it in two ways. If you want to try to sharpen the blade manually, you can use a good file to hone the edge. I would suggest no more than four maybe five strokes on each side of the point.

Make sure you apply even pressure on every point and that the angle is followed. If you take too much material off of any particular point, it can cause the saw blade to be out of balance. This is why small adjustments are important. You can also sharpen a circular saw blade with a diamond edge grinding blade. With this method, the angle is extremely important for the same reasons. You don’t want to remove too much material. Having said that, there are a few jigs on the market that are made to assist in this task. Some people however still prefer to sharpen them by eye. While this is not something I would recommend unless you are a seasoned veteran woodworker, it can be effective.

Sharpening Manual Hand Saws

By Sonty567 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57816275When you’re trying to sharpen a rip cut saw, you will need two files. One flat for planning the blade and one triangular for sharpening the peaks. You can buy a special jig to hold the saws in place while sharpening them but all you really need are two nice stiff boards and a clamp. Once you have the blade adjusted about ½ inch above the board all the way down the blade and secured, the first step is to plane all of the peaks until they’re the same level. Take the flat file and make sure it hits all of the peaks at a 90-degree angle. Some may have a bigger flat spot on the top than others, but that is to be expected. When you see that every peak has been touched, it is time to continue.

Once you have planed the blade, you need to start sharpening the points. Take the triangle file, making sure that the side closest to the handle is straight up and down and fallow the angles on the teeth.  This is normally about a 30° angle either away from or toward the handle. Sharpen that triangle until the flat spot on top is gone. On a crosscut saw, every other tooth needs to be filed the opposite direction. So, if you start on a tooth that is angled toward the handle 30° sharpen the next tooth at the forward 30°. Once you have sharpened every other peak in a different direction, it could optimize your saws cutting ability. Of course, there are different cuts on hand saws, so make you are following the process for that product.

How Often Do I Need to Sharpen My Tools?

By Simon A. Eugster - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7764162While opinions may vary on this subject, making sure that your saw’s blade is good and sharp is an important aspect of woodworking. Not only does this depend on the type of wood you are cutting, it you can also depend on the frequency of use. As stated above with the chisels, to keep them sufficiently sharpened for carving, I use a strap to keep the edge honed once it has been sharpened on the stones. With saws, it tends to be a little different. Many saws, electric or manual will last anywhere from 5-7 days of moderate use.

If you don’t use the saw that often, it may last a lot longer. Having said that, this can also depend on how hard the metal is. Cheaper medals won’t stay sharp as long. As you gain experience with the process, it will come easier. You will start noticing when the sound or feel is different and you will know you need to sharpen them. This is the point that you will start scheduling days just for tool maintenance.

What Will Affect My Tools Staying Sharp?

The most common factor in how long the tool stays sharp is the amount of use. As you know, the more you use a tool the duller it will get. Another factor in how long it will stay sharp would be the humidity. If the area that you’re working in is not conditioned, it can cause a problem with your saws. The heat and damp can cause condensation to build upon your equipment. As you know water and electronics don’t mix. That is especially true when it comes to metals and saw blades. It can cause a buildup of corrosion and remove a tiny bit of material at a time. While most people may not see this as a problem, it can affect their saw’s and dull them. Make sure that the air in your workshop is conditioned and your tools are sharp, this will help prevent any problems.

What are the Effects Caused by Oversharpening?

While it may sound counter-intuitive that a tool can be too sharp, it’s really not. If you remove too much material from the tool, it can cause a problem. This is a really cool video of a Japanese bartender and he talks about how daily shapening of his knife has made the knife much smaller. Oversharpening the tool can actually weaken the material to the point where it will not hold an edge. There are guidelines in place for every tool when it comes to sharpening. Do a little research and make sure that you are sharpening said tools correctly. Because an oversharp tool can cause problems and possibly money, make sure you are getting as much use of your tools as you can. If you’re anything like me, you can’t keep affording to replace equipment. You need to make them last as long as possible. This will make your life and craft much easier and proficient.

I would definitely recommend learning how to properly sharpen any tool that you have. This is a skill that any good woodworker needs. The hope is that this will get you to take a look at your practices and procedures and make sure that they are the proper ones for the tools that you use. Once you have made sure that you are sharpening your tools properly, you will learn how they feel when they cut. At this point, when they start getting dull you can tell. They don’t leave as clean of a cut or the machine may have to labor more to get the job done. Sooner or later, you’ll pick up on this and be able to judge when your equipment needs to be sharpened.

What are the Dangers of a Sharp Tool?

By Laurence Facun - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3530346When working around sharp tools, the main thing you want to look out for are scrapes, cuts, and amputations. These are all situations that you want to avoid and remember that even the sharpener tool can harm you. One of the more important pieces of equipment in a woodworking shop is the first aid kit. A well-stocked first-aid kit can be worth its weight in gold. Let’s face it, just about every woodshop will have injuries. They are hard to avoid sometimes. So, make sure that you have a proper first-aid kit. This will allow you to take care of most injury that pops up. While scrapes are usually straightforward cuts, amputations are more serious injuries and will require professional medical care. Whichever happens, you should follow the guidelines for treatment.

With cuts that are more than an inch long or a 1/4 of an inch deep, it is recommended that you see a medical professional for treatment. This type of cut may require stitches. If a cut is not that severe, you may be able to treat from home using steri-strips. An amputation is different, however. You should always call emergency services and then try to stop the bleeding. If you are able to stop the bleeding, wrap the area with cotton gauze. Then find the amputated digit and wrap it as a well, making sure that it is kept on ice. A medical professional needs to look at the wound to make sure no major structures have been hit. At this point, they will be able to determine if the digit is viable for reattachment.

Where Can I Learn Other Techniques for Sharpening Tools?

Most manufacturers will provide information on how their tool should be sharpened. If you have an older tool and do not know the proper sharpening technique, you can usually find most things online. This will allow you to keep tools sharp and keep production up. If it is an older tool or a tool that you bought secondhand, it is imperative that you find the sharpening technique. This will ensure that you can use the tool efficiently and with as few injuries as possible. Personally, I find myself watching videos on how to sharpen certain tools before I go into the process. This may seem like a great deal of work, but in the long run, it will save you time.

In Conclusion

I know a lot of people that work with wood, think that you can just buy a new tool if the one they already have goes dull. While this is ok if your a part-timer or a do it yourself-er, it is not a good practice. There are certain sets of tools that are very expensive to replace, so taking care of them is a must. I have seen some woodworkers make the tools they use last for years. I’ve even seen some tools get passed down to new generations of the same family. That is one of the reasons I am writing this.

While doing research for this article, I came across many different techniques, not all of which I’ve listed because some were more dangerous than others. The hope is that this will allow you to learn a new skill to go along with woodworking. Doing this will make you more proficient at your craft. To those of you who are just getting into woodworking, learning the proper way to sharpen your tools is imperative. They can mean the difference between success and failure. Whatever you do, make sure that you keep your tools sharp, so that you can keep producing.

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