Summer Internship #3: Sharp is Sharp

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My final internship for the summer took me to Vermont for a week and half with Garret Hack. I met Garret years ago while taking a weeklong class of his at Kelly Mehler’s and he played an important role in helping me secure some of this summer’s internship possibilities. His farm in Vermont is fantastic, and the interaction that he has with his work, his family, his land and animals, his friends, and colleagues is an inspiration to anyone looking for a role model of how to do what you love and love what you do. Thank you Garret for the opportunity.

Garret’s project for me was the preparation of lumber for a bookshelf he wanted to build in his workshop. The lumber was white pine he had harvested, cut into 6/4 slabs and then air dried. Up to this point I have been a combination woodworker, meaning I have used both machines and hand tools with the majority of my lumber preparation being heavily machine based. For this project though, the slabs were wider than any machines available so it was my first opportunity to hand flatten and thickness boards by hand. Naturally, this took me awhile to figure out. Along the way I was able to hone my skills with handplanes, and who better to teach me than someone who has written a book on the subject.

I planed, I sharpened, I planed some more, then I sharpened. Did I mention I sharpened? Now sharpening has always been something I have struggled with. I understand the concept of what sharp is and theoretically how to get there, but in practice I have never been consistent with my results. That changed with Garret simply because of the amount of sharpening necessary. Every time I honed a blade I was able to ask questions and that helped immensely in my understanding of what I was doing wrong. Garret knows what sharp is, and even though I probably annoyed him to no end with my experiments and questions, I finally got it! There are many ways to achieve sharp and the methods are not as important as the results. With just a 1000, a 5000, and an 8000 stone you can hone a razor sharp edge on almost all of your tools in very little time. For a really rough edge you will need something coarser and for that Garret uses a 600 grit DMT diamond plate. I am still experimenting with my coarse stone preference and I’ll let you know once I figure that out, you’ll hear a bit more on sharpening in later posts!

The take home message is this: Sharpen more often! Most of us don’t sharpen often enough. Once you figure out how, you’ll get better results if you sharpen more often. Garret, in putting a final finish on a small table, sharpened his plane blade three times. He doesn’t sand; his surface off the plane is followed by an application of shellac. I would have probably only sharpened at the beginning, made due, then sanded the whole thing at the end, then applied shellac. Time is money, and a sharp tool will save you time!

So, by flattening a bunch of boards by hand I learned a valuable lesson, one that will serve me well as I progress in my woodworking career. In my opinion, that is what internships and apprenticeships are about, gaining knowledge through the practical application of skills. The tasks may seem mundane, but you can’t expect to progress unless you’ve first mastered the basics. Thanks again to all my instructors for the time to learn and the opportunity to ask questions!

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