Most videos about sharpening, including my own, focus on how to tune up an old tool or properly set a new one. Thankfully, once you do that process it isn’t likely you’ll have to do it again for a very long time. From that point on, you’ll be sharpening in maintenance mode. So while some sharpening systems lend themselves well to that initial setup process, the thing we should probably evaluate is how fast they allow you to sharpen a slightly dulled edge. After all, that’s the lion’s share of sharpening you’ll be doing throughout your woodworking career.
Fortunately, most systems that work well for the initial setup of an edge also work well for maintenance. If yours doesn’t, you might consider looking into other options. I know I’m not alone when I say that if the system isn’t fast and convenient, I won’t use it as frequently as I should. And it isn’t all about the gear either. Some techniques work better than others and your methodology can have even more impact than your sharpening medium.
Now I can’t claim my setup is the fastest one out there, but it certainly is fast enough for me. Most tools can be sharpened in 60 seconds or less. In order for this to work, the tool has to be set up properly in the first place with a flat back and a polished bevel of the appropriate angle. Also, the tool can’t be excessively dull. Well, it can be, but that just means taking more time to work with the lower grits.
My sharpening medium of choice is an 8000 grit Shapton Ceramic Stone. While expensive, this stone will likely outlast my career and the trait most pertinent to this discussion is the fact that it doesn’t require soaking like other water stones. Instead, a quick spritz from a spray bottle is all I need to prep the surface.
The importance of the secondary bevel can’t be overstated. The more metal you have to polish, the longer the process takes. So if we isolate our sharpening efforts to the very tip of the chisel, it doesn’t take nearly as long to establish a sharp edge. The real trick with a secondary bevel is being able to hit that exact same angle each and every time you sharpen.
Honing guides are one of those hotly debated topics in woodworking. I myself am an unapologetic honing guide user. I can get decent results going free-hand and some tools just won’t fit into a honing guide. So I will go sans honing guide when necessary, but for maintenance sharpening I really enjoy the accuracy and repeatability of a honing guide. The one I use is the Veritas Mk.II. The reason I like this one in particular is because it allows me to easily set the blade for micro-bevel sharpening, which is essential to this quick sharpening system.
I’ll do about 20 strokes on the bevel and then another 20 strokes on the back. That’s it. About half of the 60 seconds is spent messing with the jig and the other half is spent on actual sharpening.
With a grand total of one minute invested, you can see how this system allows you to develop a good habit of sharpening early and often. Dull tools are dangerous and the longer you put off sharpening, the more you put yourself at risk. Not to mention, your work benefits greatly from sharp tools. So get yourself a system that’s quick, easy, and convenient and you’ll never regret it!