Nicholson on Grinding and Sharpening

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D_W

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When it counted - as in to do it well and quickly so you could eat.

the passage in #6 under joinery, keeping in mind that the discussion is in regard to a rotating sandstone wheel. the text first talks about "reducing the convexity of the edge" and then goes on to say that if done properly, the bevel won't be overly long and it will be hollow when done. The smaller the wheel, the more hollow it will be.

I don't want to just copy the text verbatim and print it here as I don't know what rights are in the UK in terms of texts, but archive.org here shows the book as public domain, so that would probably be OK.

https://archive.org/details/mechanicscompan01nichgoog/page/n123/mode/1up
If that link works, it's page 93.

The language is unique as the text refers to the resulting edge as gritty (no concern for burning if the wheel isn't moving fast or if it is temporarily wetted). They mean the condition of the edge, and not that there's grit on it.

following that, the text mentions moving the iron closer to vertical off of the grind angle and then rubbing it on a turkish stone. I have one of those, it's wonderful and can really follow a grind stone by itself if grinding is done well and shallower than the honing.

By "closer to vertical", the text doesn't mean near vertical, just a higher angle.

the turkish stone is intended to be sprinkled with "sweet oil". The language that nicholson uses to clue you in that the angle of honing should be markedly different than the angle of grinding is "the basil is generally ground longer than what the iron would stand for quick despatch of whetting". meaning, it's long enough that it would be cumbersome to try to hone a long primary bevel of the type and the edge wouldn't stand up in work. This is true.

for the honing at a steeper angle, "having done it to your mind, it may be fixed". Not sure, but I'm guessing that this means you'll get a sense for the angle and it should be fairly controlled. This occurs in real life. I measured my secondary angle at one point on the request of someone else, and it does not vary by a degree for typical work, or perhaps the widest variance was one degree. About 33 in my case if not buffing as that's where damage stops.

For subsequent sharpenings the iron is done on a rub stone and then the turkish stone (introducing a second stone to refresh the secondary angle before polishing it to extend time between grinds.

It should be returned to the same angle (the secondary bevel) each time.

When this process gets difficult because the edge becomes thick, then "recourse must be had again to the grind stone".
 
This is remarkably like a lot of modern sharpening advice for fine work, isn't it? it absolutely avoids the convexity that the gurus like sellers may advocate, because that convexity is inefficient.

There is no attempt to avoid the grinder, it's an important part of the cycle, and the separation of its work and the final honing angle is mentioned because it's also important.

This advice is almost identical to holtzapffel, except I don't recall holtzappfel introducing a second stone in the secondary bevel maintenance once it gains some size. You can do either if you want to grind more often, and the grinding here is freehand as the very start of the passage describes the hold with two hands get a decent angle.

Texts one, two and three (nicholson, hasluck and holtzapffel) all discuss the importance of separating grinding angle and the hasluck (the latest of the three) goes into a discussion of how excruciating it is to allow convexity to creep in on the grinding and how it robs a craftsman of sharpness and efficiency.

David Charlesworth taught this method, but with a guide and the last two angles separated. It works well, but takes additional time.

I have over the years tried about every type of stone and powered solution and flat bevels, and even at one point the whole convex rotation thing that sellers tried (I tried that for about 1/4th of a morning - it's evident that it will rob you of edge life - and hasluck lays into it over that). it looked good on youtube, but it works like rubbish for someone with experience with a better method.

I have done one and two stone methods over time -one stone, washita is dominant. it's the currently available stone that's somewhat similar to the turkish. A little faster, a little less fine, but with a lot of range. And two (india followed by some kind of arkansas stone).

it won't please newbies to see me gloat, but I'm heartened that the two methods that I found to work best (one or two stones set steeper from a grind, with a precise grind and the honing done freehand and never to be much steel before going back to the grinding) are method one and another in nicholson and holtzapffel.

there are too absolutely terrible pieces of advice that I see here with regularity:
1) nobody sharpened separate angles in the past (for bench work, it appears until or unless we get into carving tools, everyone did)
2) fine stones are a make believe thing with modern sharpening

A turkish oilstone is generally finer with low pressure than an 8k waterstone.

hasluck later says in a carving book that if your pockets aren't deep, you can get something like a washita or soft arkansas and follow it with loose emery.

I don't follow with a strop because I don't have a very clean shop sometimes. I use a buffer instead, and use the corner of the wheel if not wanting to round much over. The effect is similar, except the buffer is *really* good at treating the edge without ever introducing it to anything that damages it. it's like stropping a hundred times in 5 seconds with a magic fairy who flicks away anything that would scratch an edge.

The method of this type is worth trying if you are stuck in a honing guide, and certainly if you are wasting your time following sellers or any of the other gurus who ....i don't know what it is they're attempting to accomplish.

the fact that some of these guys claim to be doing anything traditional, but they never refer to any of this literature which surrounded a class of work that they cannot do....I don't really get it.
 
Summary of the method in short for anyone curious about what's really "the traditional way".
* grind the bevel, primary, eliminating convexity and at an angle shallower than you will hone. do it neatly and avoid doing ugly work
* on the first hone, use a fine stone and teach yourself an angle that works well, fix it in your mind by feel and sight - it takes very little time and you don't need a training wheel that will let you check it.
* subsequent honings, work the secondary bevel with a slightly coarser stone and then the finish stone

Once the third bullet point becomes arduous, regrind.
 
it cannot be simpler than that and actually be good.

this is a shaving taken from a process similar to this that takes about one minute, including working the back of a plane iron to truly freshen the edge. I'm on the fence about how much back work really needs to be done if you're taking off about a thousandth of the length with each hone (which we do). it does improve things a little bit, but I wonder if doing it more than needed to remove the burr really does actually return suitably for the effort.

if you ever have chance to observe the back of a plane iron from someone who is a novice, and they're using something really fine, you'll find that they aren't actually ever finishing the edge on the back. there's polishing going on and stray scratches still left. if you use something very fine, like a shapton 16k or a sigma power 13k, even in the most ideal situations, it will take a solid 30 seconds of very vigorous accurate rubbing to get most of the wear out.
 
I ran into this example of metalcraft from the late 1400s in case anybody needed a reminder that those guys knew what they were doing. Nicholson talking about grinding plane irons seems beyond quaint by comparison (not that it's not valuable information):

Gauntlets.PNG
 
some of the work from (hundreds of years) before the 1800s or late 1700s certainly seems much more complicated and elaborate.

maybe they were widening the market around 1780 so that a larger group of church officials could afford the wares.
 
* grind the bevel, primary, eliminating convexity and at an angle shallower than you will hone. do it neatly and avoid doing ugly work
* on the first hone, use a fine stone and teach yourself an angle that works well, fix it in your mind by feel and sight - it takes very little time and you don't need a training wheel that will let you check it.
* subsequent honings, work the secondary bevel with a slightly coarser stone and then the finish stone

Nicely put!
 
* grind the bevel, primary, eliminating convexity and at an angle shallower than you will hone. do it neatly and avoid doing ugly work
* on the first hone, use a fine stone and teach yourself an angle that works well, fix it in your mind by feel and sight - it takes very little time and you don't need a training wheel that will let you check it.
* subsequent honings, work the secondary bevel with a slightly coarser stone and then the finish stone

Nicely put!
Just about the universal advice for beginners, given in every book, probably since the stone age!
"eliminating convexity" usually stated as "avoid rounding over"
 
Just about the universal advice for beginners, given in every book, probably since the stone age!
"eliminating convexity" usually stated as "avoid rounding over"

Eliminating convexity means flat bevel grind on the primary bevel, or slightly concave (discussed by instruction on how to affix hands so as to accurately install the primary).

The discussion of the follow up is to use a fine stone (not an india stone), and then use a second stone to prep for the fine stone when the steel below the grind is more than a sharpen or two.

this bears no resemblance to your advice, nor paul sellers.

it's far closer to david charlesworth's advice, though david freely admitted he needed to teach beginners, so the method used a guide to start.

I don't much care for guides, but I'd far sooner see someone start with a fine edge and get used to what it should be like so they can learn to create the same thing freehand later.
 
Eliminating convexity means flat bevel grind on the primary bevel, or slightly concave (discussed by instruction on how to affix hands so as to accurately install the primary).

The discussion of the follow up is to use a fine stone (not an india stone), and then use a second stone to prep for the fine stone when the steel below the grind is more than a sharpen or two.

this bears no resemblance to your advice, nor paul sellers.

it's far closer to david charlesworth's advice, though david freely admitted he needed to teach beginners, so the method used a guide to start.

I don't much care for guides, but I'd far sooner see someone start with a fine edge and get used to what it should be like so they can learn to create the same thing freehand later.
It seem there is more than one way to skin a cat.
 
Is this the start of a Christmas-Holidays-Sharpening-Angle-Bevel-Epic?

Only 5 days to go!
Don't worry I've got D_W on ignore. :ROFLMAO: :ROFLMAO:
He gets a bit hysterical and needs a Christmas break I reckon
 
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It all depends on what you do and how you do it.

Avoid 'convexity' on bevels?

A broad statement but frankly, as a carver, the last thing that I want on any gouge used for scooping or excavating deeply is a flat or beveled edge, whether it is primary, secondary or even tertiary.
I need the whole thing rounded over at the heel, with much of the side 'ears' gone as I can to preserve the shape.
Thus I can cut deep without the fear of the shape splitting the wood.

Again, I can see new-made heavy 'mortise chisels' on sale, usually plastic-handled, with exact and flatly uniform-ground bevels.

Now, I don't do any big framing and make gates by hand any more but the selection of well-used, pre-war 'pig-stickers' that I've accumulated all came with ancient owners stamps and nicely rounded bevels. Not one was flat. From that fact I deduce that generations of journeymen were not wrong and had better things to do with their valuable time than competitive sharpening.

Having said that, I was taught to sharpen smaller chisels on an old carborundum stone by a forward action, and very slightly, dropping the hand at the top of the stroke.
I now do the same thing, (but I now use diamond plates), producing an excellent cutting edge and a bevel that appears to the naked eye and to all intents and purposes, to be a flat bevel until you hold a straight edge to it........ but the whole point is that the edge cuts.
Whatever it looks like, it cuts wood - until it gets blunt again - and I haven't spent an age fiddling about with appearances.
 
........

Avoid 'convexity' on bevels?
OK if this means avoid rounding over - as beginners tend to do in pursuit of a burr
A broad statement but frankly, as a carver, the last thing that I want on any gouge used for scooping or excavating deeply is a flat or beveled edge, whether it is primary, secondary or even tertiary.
I need the whole thing rounded over at the heel,
You could call that rounding under! Edge stays at chosen angle which falls away up the bevel
......

Now, I don't do any big framing and make gates by hand any more but the selection of well-used, pre-war 'pig-stickers' that I've accumulated all came with ancient owners stamps and nicely rounded bevels. Not one was flat. From that fact I deduce that generations of journeymen were not wrong and had better things to do with their valuable time than competitive sharpening.
:ROFLMAO: The rounded bevel has a function - it lets you get into the corner of a blind mortice with the bevel against the side, and lever out waste from the bottom. Other than that it doesn't matter a jot, except it's easier to sharpen that way.
Having said that, I was taught to sharpen smaller chisels on an old carborundum stone by a forward action, and very slightly, dropping the hand at the top of the stroke.
I found that out for myself in a Eureka moment! Felt as though I'd finally discovered how to sharpen. It also means you can put more power into it as you drop the handle. Faster.
I now do the same thing, (but I now use diamond plates), producing an excellent cutting edge and a bevel that appears to the naked eye and to all intents and purposes, to be a flat bevel until you hold a straight edge to it........ but the whole point is that the edge cuts.
Whatever it looks like, it cuts wood - until it gets blunt again - and I haven't spent an age fiddling about with appearances.
 
Avoid 'convexity' on bevels?

I don't know if you're a trade carver or a hobby carver. The person who mentioned a flat bevel to me apparently works in an area where most of the carvers prep edges the same. He's never brought his carving tools here, so I haven't been able to see if he generally makes a flat bevel and removes the heel. I sharpen with a method that's a lot like nicholson describes, and I know he doesn't care for it, but I only carve the odd element here or there, never anything elaborate like relief carving.

Point I'm getting at is carving is a bit different than plane irons and chisels as how you carve is going to have a lot of influence on how you sharpen and the converse. And I'm not sure I've ever met two carvers from different places who do exactly the same thing. At least two I know of who are professionals here maintain their tools almost entirely with buffers, which means there's going to be some rounding.

Nicholson's discussion about avoiding convexity has more to do with reducing effort and improving quality of the edge as part of that. Hasluck has a book that goes bonkers on describing it further, how it sets a workman behind like a poorly sharpened saw to have a convex primary bevel and shorten the duration of work that can be done between sharpenings as soon as an edge is resharpened (it does), and especially between grinding.

this advice doesn't cover a whole range of carving tools that well if someone relies on a certain shape, and unlike planing where you may go 20 minutes without sharpening and then sharpen when you have to add additional influence to a plane to get it to start a cut, most carvers I've run into sharpen (or buff sharpen) regularly in the process of work. the one here who does a variety of things entirely by hand (as he put it, is on his third iron in the smoothing plane that he uses) sharpens often and the process is sparing. he described sharpening his planes about 1/2-1/3rd of the way to the point where they would be noticeable in creating ripples by not entering a cut finish planing. I don't think most people do that, but I'd bet trade carvers don't let planes get as far into the wear cycle as most other people.
 
I don't know if you're a trade carver or a hobby carver.

Neither do I!
But, both If anyone will pay me..... which sometimes happens. Beer tokens are always welcome!

I took it up a bit late in life, I've only been carving for 35 years, so I'm definitely still learning.
In fact, I'm probably doing it all wrong according to a book I heard about, that some bloke wrote 150 years ago.

If you only concentrate on carving one thing, then you only need one set of tools.

Seriously, there are carving gouges for different styles and type of work, so I'll have a couple of sets used just for that, each gouge-shape being different to match the work...... one set in a roll for letter-carving, another set, shaped differently for the Mannerist stuff that I do occasionally. A few others for bigger, chunkier stuff.

Whatever, it is, I strop and cut frequently during carving and the true craft, to my reckoning, is in the results and the control of your implements and the management of your memory reflexes, rather than the inherent beauty of your bevels.

Conversely, the shape of the bevel of a plane iron that sits with said bevel dangling downwards in mid air is irrelevant to me.
The same with chisels. Does it cut? Does it sharpen? those are the important questions.

It's the pointed vee-shaped bit at the cutting end, together with the flat bit on top that I get polished to a fine mirror, that is important and it gets rubbed up and down on a bit of rough stony stuff and then lovingly slapped on a strop until it is very narrow and when the wiry bit has disintegrated - then, in the plane or in the hand, it is ready to make that swishing sound that we enjoy so much.

I don't use a magnifying glass or a microscope..... just a bit of sunlight through the window, glinting on the cutting edge to tell me if I have it sharp or not.

..........Been doing it that way for a bit longer than I've been carving.
 
I also look at the edge - you can see wear. In fact, you can actually see reflection of a leather only lightly stropped edge on a razor.

i use the scope from a toolmaker's perspective- to check my work, quality things that you can't see, and from time to time to grade sharpening stones to be a fair seller. I think beginners would benefit from a $15 version of same off of the internet because they will quickly find 99% of their suppositions about defective irons or "microchipping" or whatever else are solved when they find they didn't sharpen all the way to the edge. i started with charlesworth's method and thus didn't have this issue. what I did learn that could've been found later is that most assignment of chipping even for my own irons is really failure to remove prior chipping. And that a whole lot of statements about this steel or that steel and fineness and surfaces are not correct.

Whatever the case, the texts referenced are plane and chisel focused. Holtzapffel's actual chapter is "chisels and planes". I didn't go back and look at Nicholson's, but the process is generally described for gripping a plane iron.

The point of this post was to get rid of the absurd notion that something like Sellers or what Jacob often describes is "traditional, the way it was always done". it's literally unfound in any of the texts I've seen - they all look like this. someone new to the hobby would do well to learn from this type of source rather than forum pondering or english-texas bench cowboys.
 
(by the way, I asked about hobby carving vs. amateur as the professional carvers I've run into get much more rigid about what they're doing - and I don't know that too many hobby carvers other than bird guys who have a good grasp on their sharpening...

...everybody and their brother gets planes. Not too many people get serious and buy 100 carving tools early in the hobby. if they do, they don't seem to be online)
 
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