Saving some electrons

So I got a little motivated reading Schwarz – it sounds so easy, all this hand planing etc.

Got out the hand planes, and my DMT diamond whetstones, and sharpened my plane irons.  I used the camber roller on the Veritas Mk II to produce a slightly rounded front edge (according to Chris, this is good for Jack Planes for heavy stock removal).

DMT Diamond Stones

From left to right, the plates are the Extra-extra coarse, the extra coarse/coarse (double sided), the fine/extra fine (double sided) and the Extra-extra fine DMT whetstones.

The extra-extra coarse is a ripper – the rate of metal removal is impressive, and it takes next to no time to get the blade to the shape you want, even when it has been used for other purposes (opening paintcans is a pretty typical activity for an abused chisel!)

The extra-extra fine gives that mirror finish.  The other four grades allow you to work through each, as is good sharpening practice.  As much as I don’t mind the double-sided concept, I would really prefer to have each grade the same physical size as the larger two I have, and ideally single sided.  The cost is really in the diamonds, not the base material.

The larger size is ideal for something like the Veritas Honing Jig, especially with the larger plane blades I sharpen.

The other secret about diamond plates is they actually get better with use.  Yeah, weird, but it is a fact never the less.  DMT plates have very consistent diamond size – nothing like a rogue diamond to scratch the hell out of your otherwise finished blade edge, so a quality plate avoids that danger.

Camber Roller

You can’t see it in this photo (didn’t have the right lens with me) but there is now a very mild camber to this blade, stopping the corners from digging in while ripping off massive amounts of the surface of the timber.

I needed to clamp up the piece of Camphor Laurel I had chosen for the exercise, and needed some more dog holes.  While marking these up, I discovered just how warped the surface of my workbench was.  That might explain a few things I’d been experiencing.  Not sure what I will do about it (if anything).  Problem will be solved by making my own workbench (one day).

I chose the Camphor Laurel as it had been resawn with the chainsaw jig on the Torque Workcentre, and had quite significant ridging – a perfect candidate for a Jack Plane.


Ignoring the step (this being the other side of the board fwiw), these were the ridges I wanted to see disappear.

Started off with the Jack Plane, and really couldn’t get anything happening.  Just isn’t right – something not working.  Then I remembered reading something in the Anarchist’s Tool Chest about Chris talking about using the Jack Plane across grain – the fibres being weaker in that direction.  Sure enough, that worked a treat, and great swaths of timber came flying off.


From there, I moved onto the trying plane to create a flat surface.  With the long bed, it rides on top of the ridges so they get cut down until such time as you get full-length shavings. (These were performed with the grain, rather than across)

It was about this point that I was really discovering that hand tools are:

1. lubricated with perspiration (it is quite labour-intensive!)

2. more involved that you’d expect – a powered tool that takes 1000 cuts/minute (or more correctly 16000 – 40000 (2 flutes on a router bit running at 20000 RPM) is quite different to a blade skimming along the surface at a fixed attack angle.  You can get away (easily) with a (comparatively) blunt blade on a powered tool, whereas a hand tool needs to be razor-sharp.  Imagine how impressive a powered tool would be with the sharpness of a handtool.  Required motor power would be so much less, finish significantly high.

3.  slow, and take a lot of physical effort.  And quiet.  Power tools are noisy, and produce a lot of wood dust along with fine wood shavings (the result of thousands of tiny cuts, rather than one long cut).

Smoothing cuts

Then moved onto the smoothing plane.  This is quite a bit shorter, and is designed to take fine shaving cuts, leaving a smooth finish.  When properly tuned, the finish can be shiny, providing a mirror finish.

So I got a semblance of a result.  A bit too scalloped out of the middle – must have concentrated a bit much effort there.  Not sure whether it was harder than expected, but it does go to show that even if you are very proficient with powered tools, that knowledge does not readily transfer.  Gives one a real respect for those who live with handtools (or had no choice through the ages).

Need another woodshow so I can pick Terry Gordon’s brain about the basics again!  Using handtools to prepare a board – one of the new show demos for TWWWS 2013!  I’d sit in for that 🙂

Diamonds are a Tool’s Best Friend


Pure carbon, but not something that is going to upset the greenies, or the skeptics.

The hardest natural element known, it can only be scratched by other diamonds (a simplification, but good enough for our application).  It is not the toughest substance known – good compared to other gemstones, but not as good compared to many engineering materials.  However, it is this hardness that we are particularly interested in for tools – when sharpening, you are scratching the surface (which is where diamonds excel) with increasing finer grades, until a mirror polish is achieved.  If a diamond does fracture, it reveals another facet, and continues to do what it does best.

A diamond whetstone then is a powerful sharpening tool in the workshop.  Unlike other sharpening surfaces, a diamond whetstone actually gets better with use.  Cool huh!

DMT are my preferred diamond product company – they have some innovative products, and use a serious manufacturing process which binds a quality diamond in a high concentration, with a very consistent diamond size – important in sharpening situations (you don’t want deep random scratches from a rogue diamond).

Interestingly, it seems they have not continued with their fine ceramic stone – that always confused me from a diamond specialist company. (Or perhaps it just wasn’t listed on the handout included with my latest shop addition)

So their line up of grades is now:

Extra-extra coarse 120 micron

Extra coarse 60 micron

Coarse 45 micron

Fine 25 micron

Extra fine 9 micron

Extra-extra fine 3 micron

From there, you get into the pastes (and not something I’ve tried), which comes in a 6 micron, 3 micron and 1 micron grade.

They have DiaSharp stones, folding whetstones (plastic covers), Wavy plates (used to match the internal and external radius of curved tools, such as gouges, and the Aligner for kitchen and pocket knives (including serrated blades).

Not everyone wants to use diamond for sharpening, and that is a perfectly acceptable perspective.  I personally like the very soft, yielding surface of the japanese waterstone.  Others are fans of oil stones, or Arkansas stones, or ceramics.  All of these will wear unevenly because of what they are made from, and to get the sharpest surface, you need a flat sharpening surface.

You might use the sandpaper technique – a piece mounted on a sheet of plate glass to produce a flat surface and rub the stone on that.  Or another technique is to rub two stones together.  But there is another solution, and it will be of no surprise, it is a DMT diamond solution.

The latest product from DMT is the Dia-Flat Lapping Plate.  Each plate is hand checked and certified as being flat to +/- 0.0005″ (+/- 0.01mm).  It is the same as an extra-extra coarse stone, but with extra focus on its flatness, and a stripped back to fundamental design to come up with a bonding process to ensure the stone is durable enough to cope with the torture of flattening other stones (oil and water stones).  That inflicts some serious punishment, and this is a stone that laps that sort of punishment up (yeah, a very intended pun!)

At 10″ x 4″, it is an uncompromising size – taking your entire favourite whetstone, and flattening the entire surface in one go.

Check out this video by Stan Watson, the Technical Director for DMT on using the Dia-Flat to flatten a waterstone.

Mine will be subjected to the ultimate flattening process shortly (most likely over the coming weekend)  No more hollow sharpening stones for me!


Diamond Knife Sharpening

With Christmas approaching, you can pick up a Tormek at quite a good price at the moment, particularly care of parity of the Australian and US dollars.  Latest price I’ve seen is $899 for the T7 from Carbatec, and $599 for the T3.  That will obviously produce exceptional edges on all your sharp tools (with the right jigs), but for small knives I’ve also come across this product from DMT (which also has an excellent name in their chosen field) which is surprisingly (or not such a surprise given it is DMT) effective.

Deluxe Aligner Sharpening Kit

The Deluxe Aligner (strange name) has a knife holder, guide bar, stone holder and 3 DMT diamond stones (45 micron, 25 micron, 9 micron).  It also has a round file for serrated blades and a storage bag.

Sharpening Edges

When you first see it/set it up, its plastic feel and seemingly loose tolerances don’t fill you with the confidence that it can do the job, but I was again surprised how effective it was, particularly on a small blade like my Leatherman, and small kitchen knives (4″ & 6″).  The knife is secure, and using the height adjustment you set the angle for the grind/hone.  It is double sided so you can flip it over to do the other side as well.  After working with the first stone, it is easily changed out without affecting the settings so you can work through the three stone grades.

Sharpening Serrated Edges

For once, serrated edges are not forgotten either, and a tapered (cone) sharpener is provided which uses the same guide to achieve the repeated and repeatable angle to sharpen inside the serrations.  Again very beneficial for my Leatherman which has both a straight blade and a serrated one.

So an excellent little sharpening jig – useful for kitchens and sheds alike.  Available from Maxis Tools (and presumably therefore Carbatec, either now or in the near future)

Fighting the Mess Gremlins

Now approaching 2 years since the shed upgrade, and I’m still dealing with some of the after effects.  But I’m getting there slowly.

Was out at the shed last night to almost 3am, watching episodes of “The Wire” on the TV, and going through boxes of stuff that hadn’t been unpacked since the crazy hazy days of the deliberate shed implosion.


It won’t mean too much to you – the boxes here don’t look all that different from other times they’ve been seen, but this time there is a lot more organisation than chaos represented.

From left to right, top to bottom, there are the sharpening items – Alisam sled, DMT stones, Japanese waterstones.  (I still have another article on diamond stones to do, but and still hanging out for the Extra-Extra coarse DMT stone that was sent over 6 months ago by DMT for me to include, but unfortunately didn’t quite manage to arrive….yet).  (Every shelf tells a story, but if I told them all, we’d never get to the bottom!)

Under the Japanese Waterstones is the granite reference slab.  To the right is the Kreg Pockethole stuff (clamps, bits etc)
The next shelf are liquids, saws (still homeless), T&T sanders
3rd shelf – rags, safety gear,chaos and tapes
4th shelf – chaos, chaos, sand papers (sheet and roll) and steel wool

So obviously lots still to do.  Looking at sheds that really have it all together, and I can’t begin to imagine how many hours, weeks, even years of work have gone into creating the havens they are.

While in a clean-up phase of mind, I also had a look at my sharpening jigs, and decided to wall-mount them.  The T7 came with the wall mount for the original jigs, and given I still have the boxes the other jigs came in that were designed to be hung, thought that might be as good a way as any to continue to display them for ready access.

Tormek Jigs

I might have to chase up with Promac to see if any of the other wall mount blocks are available separately – they seem a good way to store, and make available the various jigs.  I still have a few Scheppach jigs there as well that I hope to upgrade over time to what I’d regard as the superior Tormek jigs.  Even the basic square edge jig demonstrates the difference – one is folded metal, the other cast.  One can easily cause a chisel to skew while sharpening, the other has well-planned reference planes.  Your experiences may vary of course.  I have achieved mirror polish finishes before with the Scheppach/Triton, but the Tormek…well…

Below my jig wall, I’ve taken a spare support arm I had from the Triton/Scheppach sharpener and drilled a couple of holes for it.  It is there because some of the jigs don’t fit back into their original box when assembled, so I thought they could be stored on this arm instead.  I have done the same for the Scheppach planer blade sharpening jig, if only to store it.  As someone pointed out, it doesn’t fit the Tormek because there is a different distance between centres of the support arm.

With the right jig, these machines can sharpen most tools in the shop.

Woodworking on Holiday

I’ve actually been down at Phillip Island the past 4 days, having a bit of a family holiday (seeing the penguins etc). Did you miss me? 😉

A while back I was interviewed by Tool Crib, and one of the questions was:

If you could only have 5 tools for all your woodworking for one year what would they be?
Dovetail Saw
HNT Gordon smoothing plane
good set of chisels
Colen Clenton Square
Chris Vesper Marking Knife

Hope that would be enough to really get to the roots of woodworking again. (And if I could add one more, the Triton Superjaws so I could clamp the pieces as I work!)

Well I’m not sure if that influenced me or not, but for this trip away I decided that for some of my downtime I was going to do a bit of woodwork, so what I took along for the ride was:

Rockwell JawHorse
Set of Hamlet Chisels
Veritas Dovetail Saw
Veritas Dovetail Markers
Chris Vesper Marking Knife
DMT Diamond Stones (Ex Coarse through to Ex Ex Fine)
Alisam Sharpening Sled
and Tasmanian Oak from Misan Timbers & Craftwood

Didn’t get a lot of time to play, but did get to spend some time one day on a large sharpening session, getting the various chisels up to a decent working condition.  It also gave me a chance to break the DMT Diamond stones in – they apparently work better after some use (and I observed that as well)

The set I have runs from Extra Coarse, Coarse, Fine, Extra Fine and Extra Extra Fine (there is also an Extra Extra Coarse stone on its way, but it has had a slight….uh….delay).  The diamond stones are an impressive way of sharpening.  I have used a number of different methods and they all have advantages and disadvantages, including scary sharp (sandpaper), waterstones and slow speed watercooled grinding wheel.

Photographic Evidence

Photographic Evidence

The DMT Diamond Stones are flat, and unlike waterstones remain flat irrespective of grinding technique.  They cut extremely well – unlike sandpaper they continue cutting as long as you need, without the sandpaper wearing out.  It was quite surprising using the finest 2 stones, particularly the extra extra fine (8000 grit) – to look at it you can hardly pick which side has diamonds and which doesn’t – they are that fine.  So it was quite impressive seeing the river of black that was generated – the finest particles being removed from the surface of the chisel leaving a near mirror finish.  In time, when the stone is broken in properly, it would not be surprising to get a fully mirrored finish off this stone – quite impressive.

The next day I got another window to play, so tried again at a handcut dovetail. The pins went reasonably well – better than last time at least, but the tails were still a bit ordinary  – getting the outline of the pins transferred accurately, so the tails are the right size is still eluding me.  However the resulting joint, as ugly as it is, is still better than the first – the joint went together after some fine-tuning, and as tight as anything.  An improvement, and as much as it is interesting handcutting the dovetails, it is still frustratingly slow compared to router methods (which also look so much neater, at least when I do them and compare to my handcut methods!)

I’ll keep trying, but I’m still finding it hard to justify the time involved!

Riding the Wave

Looking like a model for a proposed youth skateboard park, the new DMT Diamond Wave was released about a month or so ago, and has since surfed its way down under to Stu’s Shed.

DMT Diamond Wave

DMT Diamond Wave

Comes in both a Fine and Extra Fine version (a 600 grit/25 micron diamond and a 1200 grit/9 micron diamond) (but still, divide by 3 to get the exposed diamond size!)

At 10″ long, and a continuously changing diameter surface at some point many gouges etc will get a match. I can almost imagine one mounted to the side of the lathe, and as you are turning, you can take a couple of swipes on either side to get a perfect edge.

Obviously perfect for carving chisels (and perhaps more suited – wood turners (real ones as opposed to my pretending) use a couple of quick wipes on a fast spinning AlOx wheel)

However, I may not be much of a wood tuner, but I see the future, and it contains amazingly sharp turning chisels and gouges. I might turn poorly, and take ages to produce something, but you’ll be able to shave with my tools (and check out your reflection in the edge of the next!)

Q&A with Stan Watson – Technical Director, DMT

I was recently contacted by Stan in response to some articles here that have been referring to DMT Diamond Whetstones, and he kindly offered to field any questions I might have.  Unfortunately I certainly did have some that I was very pleased to be able to put to a real expert in the field, and Stan has agreed to allow me to republish them here. (I have taken the liberty of adjusting the questions and responses a tiny amount (like using the Ex Ex Fine stone!) to fit this format, and open forum).  I found the answers quite fascinating, and they will take a bit to really assimilate them properly into my expanding understanding of sharpening processes.

So to the Q&A with Stan A Watson, Technical Director, Diamond Machining Technology.

Stu’s Shed:

Sharpening is obviously one of those topics that deserves a decent amount of coverage, which is how diamond stone sharpening became a topic.

In the first instance, I was wondering if I was indeed on the right track when comparing different sharpening media by converting all the different grading systems used to that of the actual abrasive particle size in microns, and if my hypothesis is then correct that you can step from one form to another and back again, so long as you are progressively moving from a larger abrasive to a smaller one?  In saying that, I understand that some abrasives work by breaking down and continuing to abrade as they get smaller so they cover a range of sizes, but the majority are treated as consistent in size from new to exhausted.

Stan A. Watson:

Abrasive particle sizing is at best a huge mix of systems. The single best way of comparing abrasive to abrasive is the micron system which is an actual measure of grain size in absolute terms. The other systems in use today; CAMI / UAMA (Coated Abrasives Manufacturers Institute / Unified Abrasives Manufacturers Institute) FEPA (Federation of European Producers of Abrasives) USS (United States Standard Sieve) JIS (Japanese International Standards) and “grit size” are all arbitrary size designations with no relevance to any true physical dimensional scale. As far as abrasives breaking down during use, you have touched on the vast difference between the action of loose and bonded abrasives and that abrasive which remains solid or which tends to be more friable during use. A loose rolling abrasive sharpening system (lapping, SiC paper and waterstones) tend to produce much different results that a true fixed bonded system such as DMT Diamond Whetstones.

Stu’s Shed:

With that in mind, does the measure of particle size of diamond abrasives fixed to a medium (where only a portion of the particle is actually exposed above the surface) compare with those where the particles are free to move (such as in diamond paste)?  I note from your website that only 1/3 of the diamond is exposed, so is the particle size the site provides the size of the actual diamond, or the size of the exposed portion of the diamond?  (In other words, when I have stated the Ex Fine DMT stone particle size is 9 microns, does it actually perform as one with a particle size of 3 microns)?

Stan A. Watson:

We designate the actual size of the diamond itself so for instance when we state that the Fine / 600 mesh / red / 25 micron grade of diamond, we are actually using a 25 micron size diamond where only about 8 to 9 microns is exposed above the metal bond. That being said, let me state that there is a size range about the mean particle size or a Gaussian distribution of particle sizes which would be from about 23 to 28 micron. But, rest assured that DMT takes advantage of a highly sophisticated system of fluidized bed micronized particle separation to ensure there are no oversized / undersized rogue diamond crystals in each diamond grade.

(Editor’s note: This feature cannot necessarily be said about all diamond stone manufacturers products, this technique ensures a dependable crystal size for DMT stones, but your mileage may vary with other manufacturers, and this can be assessed in part by observing the performance and surface finish obtained when using other manufacturer’s diamond stone products. The problem with a rogue stone in the matrix is it will cause gouge marks in the material being ground that will cause significant amount of additional work with the next stone grade to remove, if that is even possible.)

Stu’s Shed:

By looking at the particle sizes of the 4 sides of the DiaSharp stones I have, there seems to be a large step from the fine to the extra fine stone, and if I was dealing with silicon carbide sandpaper for example, I would use a few more grades in between before jumping to the extra fine particle size.  Is this actually valid, or have I headed off on a bit of a tangent there?  I would expect that DMT wouldn’t put out ‘fine’ and ‘extra fine’ grades without intermediate stones if you couldn’t go from one to the other, but it does seem quite a step.

Stan A. Watson:

The actual step from “Fine” to “Extra Fine” is from a 25 micron to a 9 micron (8-9 micron  to 3 micron exposure) and progresses nicely in the range of micron sizes we offer. You can control the surface finish quite nicely by controlling the applied force during sharpening so as to finish up each step in the progression of sharpening with lighter and lighter strokes. The comparison with diamond to SiC paper is not really an apples to apples comparison as the SiC paper while being a bonded abrasive is friable, looses the particle bond quite easily and could be of either “open coat” or “closed coat” type.

(Editor’s Note: There are two common patterns used when bonding the abrasive to the backing material, called “Open Coat” or “Closed Coat”.

An Open Coat pattern is when there is a lower density of abrasive particles, so the entire particle can dig deeply into the work, facilitating faster material removal, and less likelihood of waste particles clogging the abrasive material.  The particle size in this case – the working size of the particle as it were, is closer to the actual measured size of the particle.

A Closed Coat pattern is when the particles are tightly packed together on the backing material – a denser pattern. With the gap between particles being very small, the abrasive cannot bite in as deeply, resulting in a finer finish (or being realistic about what we are talking about here – a finer scratch pattern), and the effective size of the abrasive particles is much smaller than the actual particles themselves.  These materials tend to need some form of lubrication because of the increased heat buildup.)

Stu’s Shed:

In the article on the Alisam sled, one assumption I have made is the consistency of thickness of the DiaSharp stone (and in particular that the two sides are parallel).  Do you have a listed tolerance for the thickness, or should the stones be mounted in an adjustable holder to ensure the top surface is parallel with the base?  The Alisam sled obviously assumes the sharpening material is parallel with the surface their sled runs on.  I was reluctant to use the diamond stone on my precision granite block, because being double sided, I would expect the diamonds on the underside to cause some damage to the comparatively softer block.

Stan A. Watson:

The DiaSharp product is produced to a parallel,  thickness and flatness tolerance and you should be confident in your ability to step from stone to stone with out having to adjust the iron in the Alisam jig.  Yes the diamond on the bottom of the double sided stones would adversely affect your granite surface plate.

Stu’s Shed:

I am planning on doing a video feature on diamond sharpening (as I have with slow speed grinders, and will for Japanese waterstones and “Scary Sharp”). Do you have any particular advice about the use of these stones that are at the extreme ends of the diamond whetstone scale – the XX Fine and XX Coarse DMT Stones?

Stan A. Watson:

Remember that especially with the performance of the XX Fine there is a break in period and the stone will produce better and better results the more it is used. Also if you are using the XX Coarse to flatten waterstones, do so under running water to flush out the abrasive slurry as quickly as possible.

Stu’s Shed:

Sorry about the long list of questions – writing these articles often raises as many questions as they answer!

Stan A. Watson:

No problem, I am more that happy to correspond with you about anything that I may be able to contribute to.
Best Regard! Stan.

So a big thank you to Stan Watson for not only obliging me with very comprehensive answers to my questions, but also for allowing those responses to be published here.  There will be a video in the near future demonstrating the use of the DMT Diamond Whetstones in action, so keep an eye out for that in Stu’s Shed TV / iTunes.

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