Why Sharpening is the Secret Ingredient

You can teach an old dog new tricks.  I did.

Megan Fitzpatrick tweeted this last night.  I have been following Graham Haydon’s series of articles about planemaking, and after reading the latest post Mathieson’s Stats , I knew I had to read on.

The comments were borderline hysterical in defense of the tool-readyness of the Lie-Nielsen planemakers float.  As Graham calmly and repeatedly attempted to reassure them, I was reminded of a time when I taught my foreman a better way to mortise a door.

He struck a line around the hinge and started to take shavings, working from the middle out, bevel down.  This method can be done well,  but only with a very sharp chisel.  His was not.  A lot of carpenters abuse their chisels, use them for prying or scraping. And joke about it all the while,  “Hand me my Chis-All, will you?”

I was a furniture maker before I was a carpenter, so I showed him the way I learned to chop out a mortise.



Even strikes ensure consistent depth


This works well even if your chisel isn’t very sharp, but only in a shallow mortise.  Instead of paring, you’re just breaking up little pieces.

Mortising a door with a dull chisel is like trying to cut beech end grain with a dull float. Sharpness is the secret to success in joinery.  The quality of your work is defined by the sharpness of your tools.  Trusting someone who says a tool is sharp enough is like trusting someone who says the gun is unloaded.  I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m going to have a look for myself.


About Kinderhook88

Remodeling Contractor | Woodworker
This entry was posted in Carpentry, door, Woodworking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why Sharpening is the Secret Ingredient

  1. Jeff Branch says:

    I couldn’t agree more. In search of sharpness – one reason I joined the Alabama Woodworker’s Guild was to learn better sharpening techniques. My first lesson with their mentor is in two weeks. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ellen Hawley says:

    Sigh. It’s like that with kitchen knives too, and mine are never as sharp as I’d like. I’m just sure this is someone else’s fault but I haven’t located them.


  3. Kinderhook88 says:

    You’ve touched a nerve, Ellen. Don’t get me started on kitchen knives… I don’t cook, so I am usually assigned to washing dishes. However, I occasionally am called upon to chop something up. Or carve a turkey. I do this in quiet frustration, lest sharpening all the kitchen knives becomes another line item on my to do list. Thanks for reading 🙂


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