Thoughts from the saw shop: Sharpening brand new tools and knives.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

Back in the old days, when the folks selling tools, knives, and other bladed instruments actually cared about what they were selling, you could buy an edged tool or knife from the store and know that it was actually all ready for you to take home and use. Unfortunately, that’s not the way things work today.

There’s a great trend for everyone from the neighborhood hardware store to the massive big box stores to sell tools and knives that are basically unusable right from the start. We all know about the low quality of the “made in China” junk, but I’m talking about tools that are not only not sharp, but purposefully blunted. Anyone taking this stuff home is going to be terribly surprised when they try to use it.

I was wandering through the local hardware store to buy a couple of replacement axe handles (Made in USA!) when I stopped by the axe display and picked one off the shelf to look at it. Aside from being the usual crappy Chinese made stuff, every single axe was not only dull, they had been ground flat across the bit. Not a one of them was usable without a full sharpening job.

I had a customer stop in with a brand new machete, purchased at a local big box store who shall remain nameless to avoid the shame (Tr*ctor S*pply), and he couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t cut. Brand new machete, in the packaging from the store, ground right flat across the edge. Great for making sure that you don’t hurt yourself with it, useless for doing anything with it.

Saw blades aren’t immune to it either. I’ve had a number of customers bring me in expensive Dewalt carbide saw blades to be sharpened. Every single one had the carbides covered with yellow paint. Get the paint off, finish hone the carbides, and away they go. The blades looked pretty but a totally bonehead thing to do.

It’s not just tools either. I had a customer bring me in a nice and expensive set of Chicago Cutlery kitchen knives with the edges totally rounded over. It was ridiculous, you couldn’t tell the edge from the back of the blade. Of course, they had tried to use these, expecting them to work right out of the package.

So, what’s the takeaway from this? Buy tools and knives where you know the edges are clean and sharp to start with or factor in the cost of a sharpening with the purchase price (you might find the Chinese stuff isn’t such a good deal after all). Either way, you’ll avoid the disappointment of being stuck with a tool or knife you can’t use.

Visit me at any of the following locations:

Elm Plaza, Waterville, ME (Mondays)
Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)
298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services and restored antique tool sales across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

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