What’s the best way to sharpen a chisel? Seems like a simple enough question, but if you’ve been doing your research, you know that there’s about a million ways to sharpen a tool, and just as many opinions as to which one is best. But that's not to say the subject doesn't deserve serious consideration. When you first start out woodworking, you may not even be aware that the tools you’re using are a little on the dull side. But most woodworker’s notice that as their skills develop, so too does their appreciation of an edge that slices through wood cleanly and effortlessly. And sooner or later, most discover a willingness to invest in keeping their tools sharp.
That’s really what it boils down to: How important is having sharp plane irons, chisels, gouges and the rest to you? And how much are you willing to invest to keep them that way? Whether the investment is in time spent hand sharpening tools, or money on expensive mechanical systems, many are willing shell out for the privilege of working sharp tools, but still can’t get over feeling like they’re paying through the nose. And that’s what has made the Work Sharp Sharpening systems such big news. The Work Sharp WS3000 and WS2000 “dry” mechanical sharpening systems go along way in giving sharp tool enthusiasts just what they want: accurate, hassle-free mechanized sharpening at a price that’s comparatively easy to swallow.
What is the Work Sharp Sharpening System? It’s common to describe the Work Sharp as a mechanized version of the “Scary Sharp (tm)” method – hand sharpening with wet sandpaper supported on plate glass or some other type of flat surface. The Work Sharp uses adhesive backed abrasive disks applied a rigid grinding wheel, which is spun by a more than adequate 1/5 HP motor. The arrangement provides an ample grinding surface that can be outfitted with abrasive grits ranging from coarse to extremely fine for grinding tools into shape on up to final honing.
On the face of it that might not sound terribly unique, but the Work Sharp is much more than big, flat disk sander. Through its thoughtful design, the system achieves a number of advantages over other mechanized sharpeners. For starters, the Work Sharp uses a combination of heat sinks and air flow to keep tools cool and tool steel safe from annealing (softening) during the sharpening process. It can’t leave you with a watery mess that a water-cooled system often will, and because there’s no tank to fill, it’s always more-or-less ready to go.
Both Work Sharp models have a unique angled sharpening port leading to the underside of the abrasive disk. The port makes it practically foolproof to sharpen straight chisels and plane irons at the proper bevel angle evenly and repeatably. To make matters even easier, the sharpening port has an integrated, patent-pending ceramic oxide lapping abrasive on its surface. With a few quick strokes, you both sharpen the tool and remove the resultant burr from the cutting edge.
If the angled sharpening port is clever and efficient, the system has yet another feature that’s just plain cool: The Work Sharp’s proprietary “Edge-Vision” sharpening method. Both Work Sharp models come with special slotted sharpening wheels and corresponding slotted abrasive disks which allow you to sharpen gouges and other non-straight edged tools on the underside of sharpening wheel while you watch the goings-on through the top of the wheel (in much the same way as you can “see through” the blades of a window fan when it’s running).
All in all, we think it’s pretty great. But you don’t have to take our word for it. While the WS2000 (out just last month) simply hasn’t been around long enough to generate many reports, if it’s anything like its elder sibling, it should receive a warm welcome. In its short history, the WS3000 has earned a remarkable reputation, winning special acclaim at the 2007 National Hardware Show and the honor of Popular Mechanics magazine’s 2007 Editor’s Choice Award. It’s also earned some very kind words from amateur and professional woodworker’s alike. Glen Huey, for example, gave it a glowing report in this month’s issue of Popular Woodworking. Woodworker’s Journal contributing editor Michael Dresdner seems to approve as well:
"Using the Work Sharp is just plain fun. I tried one and, before long, found myself looking around the shop to see what else I could sharpen after quickly tearing through chisels, plane irons, all my lathe tools and even my favorite scribe." *
Which Work Sharp is right for you? That depends on what you expect from a sharpening system. The WS3000 is the luxury model; it comes with all the capabilities described above and includes few appreciable refinements. The chisel and plane iron port is adjustable in five degree increments from 20 to 35 degrees, giving you more say in choosing a bevel angle, along with the ability put on a quick and easy to re-hone 5 degree micro-bevel. And not that you’ll need to worry about it much, the lapping abrasive is replaceable.
The WS3000 turns slower than the WS2000 and probably feels a little smoother to operate. It also comes with two tempered glass wheels - the traditional guaranteed-flat substrate for abrasive paper sharpening. The glass wheel are two sided, adding the advantage of being able to keep each of four grinding surfaces loaded up with a different grit for fast changeovers.
The Work Sharp WS2000 has one standout feature to separate it from the WS3000: the price. At around $100, we feel confident in saying that it’s the most sharpener for the money that you’re ever likely to get. If what you want mainly is a tool that quickly and repeatably grinds and hones straight chisels up to 1-5/8’’ at a perfect 25 degree bevel angle, this is a pretty good bet. And on top of that, you’ll get the handy “Edge-Vision” capability and plenty of tool rest-supported freehand grinding surface on top for larger tools.
As a matter of investment, we think that both the Work Sharp WS3000 and WS2000 represent a pretty sweet deal. And while we doubt that either will cause other sharpening systems and methods to disappear from the planet, all reports thus far suggest that both will take up permanent residence in the sharpening tool landscape.
* Read more from Michael Dresdner and Work Sharp Product Manager Kyle Crawford in issue 174 of the Woodworker's Journal eZine