Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sharpen Like A Painter

As an art major, I learned:
1. The only thing a group of fledgling artists requires for amusement is a camera.
2. It's best to keep classroom blinds closed if your live nude drawing class happens to line up with the windows of the frat house.
3. Start with broad brush strokes, work the entire canvas, and leave the details until last.

So now I have an axe, or rather hatchet, to grind.

Apparently, a quarter century later, I forgot all about lesson #3 and immediately set to polishing the cutting edge of the hewing hatchet I recently purchased on ebay for $25. I did this without first working the entire blade with coarse grit stones in order to establish the correct bevels.

Focus on the details first, and it will take you forever to finish your project. What if Michelangelo instead of first establishing the painting's overall structure with broad strokes, decided to start with God's eyelashes and continue his masterpiece with that level of detail throughout? He'd have been lucky to finish his beard, let alone the entire painting.

Hewing hatchets should have a flat side and a beveled side. The flat side cuts against the workpiece and the beveled side slices the offcut away.

I had noticed a slight back bevel on the flat side and ground some of it away, but not enough to keep the blade from deflecting off the piece of wood I was chopping.

According to Peter Follansbee, who I consulted when my polished, but incorrectly sharpened blade wasn't working well, the back bevel needs to be completely removed. Also, the front bevel should not be rounded as it is on my hatchet; it should either be flat or hollow ground. Peter flattens his with a coarse, diamond grit sharpening plate he bought from Drew Langsner at Country Workshops, and then sharpens the edge with oilstones.

An interesting discovery on my hatchet is the original price found on the bottom of the handle. At just 29 cents, the original owner got a heck of a return on investment.

Given the current state of the economy, maybe investing in hatchets will enable me to retire early. Now that paints a lovely picture, doesn't it?