Keeping Your Tools Sharp

At the most fundamental level, woodshop tool maintenance simply means keeping your tools operating as well as they did when you took them out of the box. That’s a minimum requirement for running a safe, successful shop. But a good tool maintenance regimen can take you even further. Taking a few extra steps in caring for work surfaces, cutting edges, alignment mechanisms and moving parts can work wonders for the performance of your tools. Add in a few affordable power tool upgrades and you can improve the performance of your woodworking machinery beyond like-new condition. Below, we’ll show you how easy it can be to go beyond the basics in keeping the tools in your shop sharp, true, clean, and running smooth.

Most of the tools in a woodshop are designed to do one thing – cut wood. Naturally, one of the most important aspects of tool maintenance is keeping cutting edges as sharp as possible. In fact, your safety and the quality of your woodworking depends on doing a good job here. From sharpening systems for hand tools to simply outfitting your tools with the best bits and blades, there’s a lot that you can do to give yourself the “edge” when it comes to cutting and machining parts.

Circular Saw Blades

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Most woodworkers who’ve been at it for a while shop for bits and blades from manufacturers they trust. Circular saw blades from Freud and Forrest are manufactured from the highest quality carbide and tool steel, and designed to keep an edge through continued use. These manufacturers also produce blades designed to stand up to applications that can be very rough on cutting edges, like cutting man-made substrates and laminates. There’s really no better alternative to paying a professional sharpening service to put a new edge on a circular saw blade – it’s actually cheaper in the long run to spend a little extra on blades that can go a long time between sharpenings.

Router Bits

Six piece set of router bits

Router bits usually need to be replaced when they become very dull or damaged. That’s a good reason to stay away from discount bits and bit sets. Rockler’s own line of router bits, and those from reputable manufacturers like Amana and Freud, are manufactured using the highest quality carbide and tool steel, meaning that they can be kept in service for years without needing to be replaced. There are some options, however, if you want to sharpen bits with a diamond hone.

Band Saw Blades

Jet 116 band saw blade coiled

Band saw blades are another cutting tool that are almost always replaced rather than sharpened. Make replacing your band saw blade with a premium blade a standard part of your maintenance schedule. You’ll be money and time ahead in the long run.

Drill Bits

HSS brad point imperial drill bit set

What about drill bits? Once again, buying the best set of bits you can afford to begin with is the best solution for a dull drill bit problem. A good set of Forstner bits, if used correctly, will stand up to a lot of use before they lose their edge. But even the best drill bits get dull after a certain amount of sustained use, and a dull drill bit can cause ragged hole-edges and burning. If you’re the type who likes to speed through drilling operations, leaving nothing but crisp, clean-edged holes in your wake, a sharpening system that works for most popular drill bit types, like the Drill Doctor, would be a sound tool maintenance investment.

Hand Tools

Using a plate glass hand tool sharpening system

Hand tools – planes, chisels, gouges and the like – absolutely require an adequate sharpening system. A good sharpening system for the delicate cutting edges of fine hand tools will allow you to do two things: grind the tool to the correct shape, and hone it to a near-perfect edge. Here you have a few options. Perfectly acceptable results can be achieved using a grinder outfitted with a cool-running white aluminum oxide grinding wheel and a fairly simple honing system, like Rockler’s Plate Glass Sharpening System.

If hand tools figure prominently in your woodworking, consider investing in a more advanced sharpening system. If you want the top of the line, it doesn’t get any better than the Tormek Sharpening System.

Sharpening hand tools is really an art form in itself, and it would be impossible to do it justice here, but hopefully this gives you a good head start on keeping your tools sharp and your cuts clean.

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