Ron Hock, renowned blade maker in Fort Bragg, CA. can now add “author” to his long list of credentials. His recently-published book on tool sharpening, The Perfect Edge The Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers (Popular Woodworking, $29.99 cover price) offers a lot of conventional thought on sharpening, with some updated sections on abrasives and a very good discussion about steel. A woodworker who doesn’t know how to sharpen tools won’t be any more proficient at the end of the read, but this book offers a nice overview of the theory, mechanics and technology available to today’s woodworker.
A Steel Primer
The Steel chapter is informative, but goes off track just a bit, in my opinion. I don’t think a woodworker can know too much about steel, considering how much we depend on it. Hock does a good job explaining the various steel formulations and quenching systems and offers good insight into the heat-treating process. Where I found it bit off subject began with the discussion of the chemical process of rusting. Hock follows this with a half-dozen pages of rust prevention and removal. I don’t think I’m selling woodworkers short by assuming that this brief prevention message would do: “Keep your tools dry. If they get wet, dry them off.”
In addition to the chapter on steel, there is a discussion of the how and why of cutting wood. Borrowing heavily from R. Bruce Hoadley’s definitive work Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology (right down to a striking similarity in the line drawings), this chapter covers some of the physics behind the interaction between tool and wood. Some readers might question the relevance of this information but the more a woodworker understands about the relationship, the better-prepared he or she will be when it’s time to step up to the sharpening station.
How Much Can You Spend?
There is no shortage of information in this book about the huge array of jigs, holders, accessories and machines of every stripe. Well-illustrated with photos and drawings, the assortment of sharpening “aids” in which to sink your money will make your head spin faster than a high-speed grinder. I don’t recall Mr. Hock making a strong statement about any of these, so I will. Put your money into a high quality set of stones, learn to grind your tools (and that doesn’t need to cost a fortune either) and save the rest of your cash to buy high-quality steel (like Hock irons, which are worth every penny you’ll spend) or lumber. All the rest of the doo-dads will probably end up gathering dust on your shelves.
The book runs 221 pages. At least half of it is devoted to subjects other than sharpening. Some of the “other” material – the discussion of steel, for instance – is very useful. Some of the rest of it I found less important. Mr. Hock does have a very nice writing style, and some of his conversions from English measurement to the metric system will make you laugh out loud. It’s a very readable book. Reading it won’t turn you into a proficient sharpener but he doesn’t claim that it will, either. This book is worth a look; you’ll probably find it on the shelves of your local Border’s or Barnes and Noble. Compare it to some of the other publications on the subject (Leonard Lee’s The Complete Guide to Sharpening and Thomas Lie-Nielsen’s Illustrated Guide to Sharpening are two) and base your purchasing decision on that comparison.
Is this book really the “ultimate” guide? Not in my opinion, but you be the judge. Look at it carefully and thoughtfully and make the comparisons described above. Then decide if it meets your personal needs for a sharpening reference book.
Get It Into – or From – Your Library
And finally, a suggestion for those of you who still visit your local library: if you look at the book in a bookstore and find it worthwhile, consider recommending it to your local librarian. I have found that the Woodworking section of most libraries is horribly out of date, and I don’t know many librarians who are also woodworkers. I’ve had great success making recommendations to my local library. In fact, I can’t recall a recommendation for an acquisition ever being turned down. Getting a recommendation from a patron can only improve the collection and make the librarian’s job that much easier. If there isn’t already a nice selection of books on tool sharpening, this book would help to fill that void.
Jeff Zens owns and operates Custom Built Furniture in Salem, Oregon. He is a frequent woodworking instructor and writer.