The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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So as far as excuses for not woodworking are concerned, I’ve had a good one.

I mentioned in my last post that old guy Bill has been having some back problems lately-mainly muscle spasms, not that I’m happy admitting the truth, but that’s what it is. I did not go to see a doctor, though I probably should have. Instead I stuck to my standard remedy:  a back brace, Aleve, and rest. Normally in these situations it is recommended to avoid heavy lifting, repetitive motion etc. and while I unfortunately cannot follow that advice while at work, I can at home, so that is exactly what I did. The fact that I was also preparing to participate in a charity run (another activity not recommended while having back issues) kept me from woodworking as much as I would like, and for once I didn’t mind.

Although I was injured, and busy on top of it, that still didn’t keep me away from my workbench completely. The first thing I (we) did was begin the construction of my daughter’s doll furniture. A while back I had prepped most of the wood and yesterday started some of the assembly along with my kid. The only thing that kept us from completing the table was running out of material, so we went to Lowe’s to pick up the missing piece. Hopefully we’ll finish the table this week and I’ll post some photos.

The other woodworking attempt did not go nearly as well.

Last summer I purchased a beautiful coffin-style smooth plane. I went through the cleaning/flattening/restoration pretty much without a hitch, but as per usual with old tools the iron needed some work. When I received the tool the iron wasn’t mangled, but it was poorly ground (very likely with a grinding wheel) that left an uneven hollow and gave it a slight skew. When I initially sharpened the iron I did not completely remove that skew. A few weeks back I used the coffin smoother to clean my workbench top, and I noticed that it had become “toothy” in the area of the skew. I guessed that the steel there lost its temper (or something to that effect) and will no longer stay sharp. So to make a long story short, I spent a good hour first straightening, them cambering, then polishing the plane iron.

First I would like to say that this operation was not good for my back. Second, I was very pleased with the results…until…I noticed the corrected area still had a few “toothy” spots. They were very minute, but enough to tell me that that area still had some tempering problems. At that point I had already had enough. This issue once again illustrates my absolute loathing of (anyone) using a grinding wheel to sharpen fine tool steel. Despite what most woodworkers will say, using a grinding wheel is not easy and takes more than hand to eye coordination; it takes a delicate touch. What I can’t seem to figure out is why the previous owner would attempt to grind a plane iron when he or she clearly had absolutely no ability to do it

. So the moral of this story, in particular to new woodworkers or woodworkers new to purchasing vintage tools, is be wary. Inspect vintage tools if you can, in particular the iron. Check for poor grinding, really shiny spots on the bevel etc. Also check the flatness, because if an iron can’t be reasonably flattened it can also lead to issues such as this. The iron on my plane happens to be fixable, but it is going to take a lot more work. I quite honestly do not want to spend another two hours regrinding this tool, but in order for it to work correctly that is what needs to be done.

If you enjoy sharpening then none of this an issue. But if you’re like me, and you do not enjoy spending hours fixing the mistakes of sharpening past, yet you still cannot resist the allure of vintage tools, my suggestion to you would be purchasing a Tormek T-7(and no, I’m not kidding)



  1. ausworkshop says:

    Yes, I hate it but I still end up doing it at least once a year. I have a cheaper version of a Tormek (GMC), it works the same, runs at the same speed and has a similar quality stone, it’s not that much quicker to tell you the truth. And by the time you mess around filling it with water and setting up on a bench somewhere I often wonder if it is any quicker than doing it on your diamond stones or with abrasive, and it’s boring standing there holding it! A grinder is much faster but you have to be careful not to overheat and keep dipping in water. For a major fix I would use the grinder, if it’s not too major then I’d just stick to doing it all by hand. If I owned a Tormek it would probably sit there gathering dust just like it’s cheaper version is.
    Personally I think the only reason people feel compelled to use them is because they spent so much money on them they feel guilty if they don’t.
    I’m glad I bought the cheaper one to find this out. I have one of the larger course DMT diamond plates, it cuts fast and is well worth it for the time saved. I also have a few Japanese water stones and some finer DMT’s, eventually when my water stones wear down I will probably by more diamonds, I might try the Eze Lap next time because sometimes the little dimples in the DMT annoy me and leave patterns, I think they should redesign the layout spacing of them or have fewer of them. More diamonds cutting the surface and less dimples would mean a faster cut in my opinion.

    • billlattpa says:

      Unless I came into a large amount of disposable money, or I planned on restoring tools for a living, I can’t imagine ever purchasing a Tormek sharpening system. That’s just too much money for a hobbyist like myself to dedicate. However, if I had one I would probably use it, at least some of the time.
      I use DMT coarse/fine stones, a 1000 and 8000 grit water stone, and a leather strop. I agree with you on the DMT, they don’t need half the dimples, I’m not sure why they designed it that way, but maybe it is less expensive? There I’m just guessing.

      • ausworkshop says:

        Yea, probably, I’ve just been looking at them and I think even if they turned the pattern 90 degrees it would work better and cost the same. Having them all in rows/colums like that, in the same basic direction you sharpen is what causes the ugly pattern, I think if they were in a diagonal pattern this wouldn’t occur as the diamond surfaces would be more random/diagonal as they cut instead of wearing a pattern. Hope that makes sense. I can’t understand why they laid them out like they did, if you put your eye down low and look in a straight line along the length you can clearly see why you get a pattern from these rows of concentrated diamond surfaces, sharpening across them would stop this if you ask me. They should rotate or make them diagonal in my opinion.

      • billlattpa says:

        Funny part about this whole thing is I found the “Roubo Tshirt” on ebay when I was seeing if anybody had grinders for sale (powered or hand cranked).
        I’ve found the DMT stones work great on my chisels but not so much on my plane irons. Obviously a plane iron will take longer to sharpen than a chisel (at least usually), but with the water stones I don’t really seem to notice much of a difference with either.
        Still, I like them, and for now they definitely do the job. But that doesn’t mean I’m not always on the look out for something else.

  2. Kees says:

    Normally I would suggest to grind back the edge a mm or two and grind a new bevel. Grinding on a bench grinder is the easiest and quickest way to remove a lot of steel. But it seems like you are dead set against grinders… Maybe try a little higher sharpening angle? That cures a lot of trouble with chipping or folding edges.

    Grinding really isn’t difficult. But to get good at it you probably need to go through a phase of sucking at it. So, better have some beater chisels nearby for practice. Get a very coarse wheel, preferably a soft one. Keep it clean with a diamond dresser. Keep moving the tool back and forth, don’t hold it stationary in one spot and indeed: a light touch! It really isn’t difficult and it is such a usefull tool when you are into vintage tools.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’m thinking of using a micro-bevel, which I generally don’t use on most of my plane irons-though I do on the smoothing plane. So in this case it would be fitting regardless.
      I have a grinder which is not a woodworking tool. I’ve had it for many years and at one time I used it for my previous job to grind down hardware. It’s just too fast for fine tool steel. I purchased a white wheel for it but it made little difference. I can get a speed regulator for it, but that would cost more than the grinder is worth.
      I sharpen almost exclusively freehanded, but I don’t consider the grinder a free hand tool, at least not when it is a powered grinder. There are too many variables, one being that the spinning is being done by a machine that doesn’t know anything but on and off. But as you are pointing out, I may have to just lose my inhibitions and keep trying it. Because I really don’t feel like spending hours upon hours sharpening.

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