One day when I was about 20 or 21, I
innocently woke up one morning and realized I didn't really know
The working details of plumbing might
as well be physics. Electricity, hydraulics, I was 90 weight
bullshitting my way around cars. Nothing of stone work or
metal work or anything but rudimentary woodwork I determined on that
day, it was time in life to find out how the world actually worked.
Fortunately I had always been a yard
sale hound so began corralling text books, and old magazines,
Popular Mechanics, Mechanics Illustrated, Popular Science,
Scientific American. Some going back to the early part of the
century and all the way up to the then present (of which the newest
ones were pitiful, btw.).
I spent the
next several years studying, all alone in my pursuit. The
everyday mechanics of life, and the skills and tools it took to make
it work. Woodworking was always lurking just
under the surface though. I began to hunt and assemble old tools.
Hand woodworking tools were nearly free since nobody wanted them at
any price. So the junk places were full of them. Since I
didn't have electricity anyway, hand tools were a natural.
Sharpening I learned from books. Old
books, there wasn't anything else. I didn't think I was ever going to "get
it". I could sharpen sort of geometrically out to an edge,
bring the steel to the required shape, but the results were lousy at
best. I didn't know or could look for the burr I kept reading
about. Even when I did finally stumble across a decent edge, I
didn't know why. Part of the way I am the way I am, is
that there were no jigs or fancy stones or practically anything
available where and when I started.
A poor mountain hippie in the late 60's
I had a choice between sumpthin and nuthin. And the something
was sparse. None of my friends had any idea working wood was a
possible thing beyond a chain saw. Every knife in the valley
was dull. So I got no other opinions than what I came up with
alone. I had a rudimentary introduction to a hand planes in jr.
high school and liked it more than the other kids. So I got
one and started with what much much later I found out to be a
pre-lateral # 4 1/2. Just my plane, at the beginning.
I started to make a few projects.
They were rough and crude of course, but compared to the other
hippies it was high style. Brilliantly pretty girls in long
flowered dresses and 8 pound army boots are a different audience.
:-) The local town folks began to have me
build simple shelves and ordinary interior work too. By the
time Garret Wade (or whoever it was in the emerging mail order
woodworking market I was beyond thrilled to see happening) offered
the first plane and chisel honing jig I had ever seen, I bought one,
thinking it was going to be a great deal.
Well, it certainly worked and my planes
and chisels had never been sharper. The drawbacks were, I was
futzing around sharpening for way, way, way too much time. If
sharpening edges was what I was being paid for, and the sharpness
counted more than anything, and the time it took was fine because it
was an hourly rate and all paid the same, this would have been
groovy. Unfortunately nobody was paying me all that much in
the first place, and sharpening tools they weren't paying anything
at all for.
(Not like the "exhibition" seminar or
single see-through shaving contest edges we see today. People
have time galore in advance to refine the edge for these events and
hopefully, they will be paid enough money in the end to justify this
time.) Nobody was going to pay for anything
but results on their wood project, in my valley.
Plus the jigged blade and it's little
rollers was hollowing out my stone bad, because it wasn't exactly
conducive to paying attention to wearing my stone in the usual
overall even manner I try to maintain because I hate re-flattening a
hard stone. More time wasted. So, I ditched it. Went back to
freehand and teaching myself some - body language - instead. Yeah you heard it, body language, and
getting a feel for where the edge is and what it wants.
After what seemed like a million
failures, the day came when I finally "got it". I built an
edge -on purpose- knowing what was happening along the way and
promptly sliced a finger straight to the bone by accident.
Literally fell through me. I still remember it to this day.
It's a dance really. It's
gripping the floor securely with your feet and if you can lean a hip
or a knee against something solid, all the better. It's
registering yourself into a familiar rock solid position and
stroking boldly and confidently. It's feeling through your
hands since you cannot see, where you are working on the bevel and
which part is getting the more pressure.
Tiny details - no one
could describe them all. It's the reason I keep saying lamely,
practice... practice. I can even stand behind you and hold your
hands in the proper orientation, but I can't feel it for you.
Only you can gain the feeling of where you are at on a blade.
Only you can really know where the burr has turned now and what you
intend to do with it.
Except the back, which is practically
considered untouchable in the modern science, what with all the
tormeks and contraptions and fancy stones etc. etc. The main
focus seems to be on the bevel. But the back is where the
action really is. You do have to bring the bevel to where it
needs to be, but the back is the PAYOFF.
Lapping is what I do. Lap until
the whole lower portion of the blade comes into line. It is not
accurate as to surface gauge standards. I am hand lapping
after all. It is accurate to me and my sharpening stroke. It's repeatable to my personal style.
Once it's done the first time, it becomes fast to maintain it.
It's where the legends of the old Japanese men who jealously held
onto and cherished their blades was born. It wasn't the bevel they were saving.
It is not optically flat that you are after, it's personal style,
repeatable flat you want.
The camber thing came pretty quick on
the heels of this period. I think maybe it was Jim Krenov in
the first year of FWW? that mentioned a micro cambered edge.
It made a lot of sense to me, thinking on the old-timers.
Grinding a straight edge was what they all did for most tools.
But they did it freehand in as little time as possible to obtain a
good result and it better be damn fast or you were heading "down the
road". Hardly time to set up and adjust a grinding rest, just
take the blade in your hand and go. Perfect straight edge was
the unobtainable goal, in other words. Something you always
shot for, but no way are you futzing around wasting time with it.
So I started to let it happen on it's
own. "Allowing" the slightest camber and I found something
out. It's easier to freehand a barely curved edge because your
body wants you to do it anyway. I don't mean the scrub or
rough jack big curve edge. This is maybe less than your eye
can easily discern unless you get up in the hard light and really
squint, but the camber is there all the same.
By not trying so hard to avoid camber,
you can give your full attention to the angle of the edge you are
honing. With such a tiny micro camber I couldn't tell any
difference in the work, at all. It was so much faster to make
and my tools were so much sharper because of it, I couldn't see any
reason to worry about perfect straight edges, ever again.
Just trying, one more time, to help. If you need it, you can save some tiny kernel from my ramblings.
Happy Camp, CA