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Thread: There's nothing wrong with A2

  1. #1

    There's nothing wrong with A2

    I frequently hear that A2 is difficult to sharpen with a wire edge which hangs on.

    My sharpening method is very simple. Get a small wire edge at 30 or 33 degrees .

    An Eclipse honing guide is used, with an 800 grit man made Waterstone.

    The angle is then raised by about 2-3 degrees

    Now 4 gentle strokes will complete the bevel and polish the cutting edge.

    This is done on a 15000 Shapton stone. Could just as well be 10,000 or 8,000.

    The chisel back is then given 20 or so very short strokes (15 mm) across the stone. (Keeping it flat) The blade edge travels off and onto the stone.

    If the wire edge is hanging on after a wipe on a sponge cloth and a dry on a towel, something has gone wrong.

    This hardly ever happens.

    35 degrees for chopping and 32 for paring, work very well for me in the harder woods that I use.

    When I do my planing exercise with students, all six faces of a 20" by 5" board, they frequently need to resharpen before I do. Old Clifton blades seemed to be one of the worst.

    I think the preparation of the back and the flatness of the polish stone , dictate whether the wire edge will be correctly honed away (or not).
    Best wishes,
    David Charlesworth

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Longview WA
    Blog Entries
    A2 is for many a fine steel to use for edged tools. The problem for some is when using shallower angles there can be a tendency to chip.

    It could also be that some A2 steels are better than others. This is seen in other steels when the heat treatment may have suffered a variance.

    My three LN planes have A2 blades and perform in a satisfactory manner for my needs. Though it doesn't bother me to stop work for a sharpening session as much as it might some folks.

    My biggest problem is remembering to touch up all the A2 blades before the freezing weather sets in. There is usually a month or two during the winter when water will not remain liquid in my unheated shop. It was kind of odd last week grinding on a piece of steel and using a large chunk of ice to quench.

    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    It's like chocolate and vanilla to me. Both ice cream both taste good. I don't like chocolate with my apple pie. I don't like chipping at low angles. It's me not the steel.

  4. I've never liked A2 and I never will. I prefer a well forged white steel tool.

    As for the sharpening routine described in the first post, you say you're going from an 800 grit stone to a 15000 grit stone. The 800 grit stone leaves a very serrated edge. The 4 following gentle strokes on the 15000 grit stone only gently polish the tips of the serrations. The goal with sharpening, at least my goal, is to get the tip of the edge as close to zero as possible. In other words, make the serrations as small as possible. This makes the edge smooth and long lasting. You can only get there by going through successively higher grits.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2015
    New England area
    32* for paring? This must be a typographical error. If not, thanks for the laugh.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Lake Gaston, Henrico, NC
    To each his/her own. I don't have any trouble sharpening it. I just have trouble liking it.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    Northern California
    Seems to me too many people worry about the tool's steel type than using the tool to get 'er done.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Rosenthal View Post
    Seems to me too many people worry about the tool's steel type than using the tool to get 'er done.
    We all enjoy the craft in different ways. Some folks love to talk about the minutia of metallurgy. sharpening angles, chip breaker positions and the like. Others enjoy organizing and reorganizing their shop. I am guilty of being a bit of a jig-freak. Hopefully somewhere during all this some actual woodworking gets done as well
    "The Danish government believes that if we train 5,000 designers, and produce
    one Hans Wegner, the money is very well spent." - Ole Gjerlov-Knudsen

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    South West Ontario
    Many years ago I read a scientific review of sharpening methods, complete with electron microscope photographs. There was also an evaluation of loss of sharpness during use. They clearly demonstrated the importance of the step process and reaching an homogenous surface before progressing to the next step.
    During use any blade imperfections were the start of progressive degradations. The more perfect the edge starts the longer it lasts.
    No real surprises but the pictures brought home how hard it is to achieve perfection.
    My own experience with A2 is that it keeps an almost sharp edge for a long time and sharpening takes longer.
    ​You can do a lot with very little! You can do a little more with a lot!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Stone Mountain, GA
    Yeah I have to agree with the detractors here, based on my experience with two different blades. I've never found it terribly difficult to sharpen, I can even manage to do it with oil stones. But in use it doesn't wear gracefully- it rather quickly develops tiny chips that leave tiny lines in the surface. Usually the edge is actually still sharp in the sense that it will take controllable shavings, and will keep doing so for quite a while after the micro chips develop. So I can see how it might do well in a test where the winner is judged on the greatest linear footage of shavings taken or something. But in the real world I end up stopping to sharpen long before it would stop cutting.

    One of the my A2 blades was in a LN #4, and it really hamstrung that tool. I had to sharpen at 35 degrees to get reasonable performance, compared to 30 for everything else. Losing 5 degrees of clearance means it will tolerate less wear before needing sharpening. And even at 35 degrees it would still tend to leave lines (very tiny, but I could see them). Unacceptable in a smoothing plane. I replaced that blade with a Hock O1 which has been excellent, and now that LN #4 is my favorite plane (at least, my favorite metal one).

    My other A2 is in a LN 60-1/2. I sharpen this at 25 degrees, and while it does micro chip a little it is somehow less bad than the #4 blade was at 30 degrees. I think the bevel orientation and bedding angle help. And for what I'm doing with a block plane the tiny lines left in the work aren't a big deal, so I have resisted replacing the blade. I would consider it adequate but not impressive- I haven't seen any advantage that would make up for the chipping.

    Anyways, the point is that for some reason A2 seems to fail by microchipping instead of gradually by wear. It is a common complaint, even with knife makers and users. It seems to have more benefits for the manufacturer (mainly in remaining flat during heat treatment) than for the user.

  11. #11
    David: Thanks for sharing your chisel sharpening routine with us. I have also found that A2 holds a nice edge for a decent amount of work. I have compared LN O1 chisels to their A2 chisels, and edge retention is clearly better with the A2, all the while keeping a keen edge. I use 3M micro-finishing film to sharpen, and using the same routine you use, I get excellent results at the angles you suggest with chopping and paring. My favorite paring chisel is a Blue Spruce 1" paring chisel with the long paring handle. A2 steel. It seems to hold an edge forever.
    By the way folks: trying to tell David how to sharpen is a little like trying to tell Frank Sinatra how to sing. Keep sharing your knowledge David: many (dare I say the vast majority of us really appreciate your wisdom. Phil

  12. #12
    When I went to Woodworking in America a decade ago, A2 irons and Shapton stones, 15000 or 16000, were the rage. Unfortunately none of the A2 irons performed like what I was used to. Planes costing 10, 20 times what mine cost and more were just not leaving as fine a surface. One guy had planes 100 times what mine cost and later wrote that he sharpened everything Friday night in his hotel room. I was the first one to visit his stand the next morning, but his planes did not leave a slick surface. He subsequently abandoned A2.

    One time when I went to a Lie Nielsen event I took a loupe and looked at the edges of chisels. Every last one had small chips in the edge.

    I don't think A2 was even developed with chisels and plane irons in mind.

  13. #13
    There seems to be no shortage of negative opinions about A2 steel here.

    So my question - then why do high end tool purveyors use it? Lie Nielsen, Blue Spruce, Lee Valley, they all offer tools in A2. In some cases only A2.

    Not disagreeing with anyone, just wanting to understand this conundrum.


  14. #14
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Silicon Valley, CA
    Quote Originally Posted by Edwin Santos View Post
    There seems to be no shortage of negative opinions about A2 steel here.

    So my question - then why do high end tool purveyors use it? Lie Nielsen, Blue Spruce, Lee Valley, they all offer tools in A2. In some cases only A2.

    Not disagreeing with anyone, just wanting to understand this conundrum.

    Can't speak for Blue Spruce.

    Thomas Lie-Nielsen was ask that at a plane making panel discussion I attended. His answer was basically, we out source heat treatment and our O1 guy shut down. The best source available for high quality heat treatment specializes in A2. (Which goes to what a lot of the knife guys admit, it's less about what you start with and more about how well you process it.)

    As far as LV, they still offer O1 and developed PM-V11. With PM-V11 they have said their goal was a longer lasting edge that can be sharpened in all the same ways O1 is sharpened. I deduce they were trying to find something that solved many of the complaints made about A2 and O1. (Complaints, I suspect, not made by the same users. )

    Heck, if you look at all the different tasks chisels are used for, it probably shouldn't be surprising different folk make different value judgements. I enjoyed Joel (@TFWW) explaining (on his blog?) how he and Ray Iles came to use D2 on their mortise chisels. Joel wanted something that isn't readily available in Sheffield where, globally more expensive, D2 was readily available and therefore cheaper to Ray. And while D2 is terrible for most chiseling uses, (they say) it is ideal for chopping mortises because you need "not dull" for a very long time while you bang out them out, but you never really need "truly sharp" (which is so hard to get in D2.)

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    twomiles from the "peak of Ohio
    haven't a clue as to what steel is in any of my tools....and really not too concerned....all I ask of any tool is for it to do it's job, nothing more, nothing less..beyond that....

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