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Thread: Where are you with the unicorn sharpening method?

  1. #1
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    Where are you with the unicorn sharpening method?

    A while back I was intrigued by the "unicorn sharpening method" advocated by David Weaver and and discussed/described here on SMC by various posters. In brief, for me this means grinding primary bevel at ~15 degrees on slow speed wheel, free handing on coarser stone slightly higher secondary bevel (~20-25 degrees?), And then removing the wire edge on slow speed buffing wheel with green compound.

    I started using this method with paring chisels, gradually moved to standard bench chisels and finally plane irons, both bevel up and bevel down. I'm probably successful about 80% of the time, sometimes requires a do over. I'm very pleased with the results; it's superfast, requires no jigs, only needs two stones (superfine for flattening the back and 800 grit for raising wire edge on the secondary bevel), and best of all I typically get a very sharp edge that last at least as long as is standard 25į primary and 30į secondary bevel. Granted most my work is in hand tool friendly domestic hardwoods. Running my finger along the edge it doesn't always feel razor-sharp but results on the would have been more than satisfactory for me.

    I probably end up grinding often and my sharpening station is covered with green compound and buffing wheel debris, but overall I love the speed of resharpening and the quality of the edge. Admittedly I'm not a metallurgist, don't apply any sophisticated scientific method to evaluate "sharpness" and do believe there's a little bit of voodoo in finding/applying the best sharpening technique for various types of steel. That said, I'm definitely a fan. I'm interested in the thoughts and experience of my fellow Creekers?

    All the best, Mike

  2. #2
    I never liked the Unicorn method because it meant keeping my bench grinder out. It also meant taking the blade back to the stone frequently. Call me crazy, but thatís too inconvenient for me. But I was intrigued by everyone claiming it was the best thing since sliced bread. So, I came up with what I call the ďhalf-a-cornĒ method. Itís for people who like unicorns, but are afraid of getting stabbed by the actual horn.

    My previous sharpening method was once in a blue moon take the chisel/iron to the stone to 1000grit (ďextra-fineĒ in DMT) and then strop with green compound. Generally speaking, after that they only get stropped for at least a few months before I touch them up on the extra-fine stone. I keep my strop hanging from my bench, so all the stropping doesnít even require moving my feet. So all I did was give the edge an extra 10 or so swipes tipped up a few degrees. Think of it as a micro secondary bevel, except only done with the strop. I can only see it if I get the edge EXACTLY right in the light, and even then itís darn hard to see requiring a good 30 minutes of squinting. But the result? My 25 deg chisels and irons now last TWICE as long. Seriously.

    So this brings up a huge question for me about the unicorn method. Is it overkill? This is certainly easier and faster than the official unicorn method. Yet it seems to get just as good of a result and does so little to the edge that you donít need to keep going back to the stone so frequently Ė and you donít have to walk over to the grinder either. I wonder if the Unicorn method is like using vise-grips to open a soda bottle that you can just open with your fingers??

    I did this on one chisel just goofing around. After two months being thrilled with that chisel, I proceeded to do it on every chisel/iron as soon as it came time to strop it. Now everything lasts significantly longer. The only chisel that doesnít have it is my 2Ē chisel because it also serves as my planing chisel when turning on my pole lathe as I think it might screw it up for that task.

  3. #3
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    Iíve been using the Unicorn method since Winston Chang posted his video on this forum. Also read Weaverís treatise on it. After getting past the learning curve I can honestly say I love it! I havenít examined the edges under an electron microscope or even a 10x power loupe, but my old plastic handle Stanley and Buck Bros. chisels perform as well as my Lie Nielsens and, unlike the LNs, I can bang the hell out of them and they keep coming back for more. Puts all the gobbledygook about the ability to sharpen different steels and the various sharpening methods to rest. At least in my opinion.

    Now, comparing plane blades is slightly different due to the thickness of the blade, chipbreaker, overall quality of the manufacturing, etc. Although I get my Stanley blades very sharp, Iíd rate the performance of my LN and Veritas planes to be better. Again, not a product of the method but rather improvements in the overall quality of the tool.

    With the exception of a couple of woodies, all my spokeshaves are Stanley. I havenít tried the Unicorn method on them yet.

  4. #4
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    It was tried and it can produce a sharp edge.

    I probably end up grinding often
    My main reason for sticking to my stones and strop since they can also produce a very sharp edge.

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

  5. #5
    Mike glad you started this thread. I luv it for chisels. Quick and very fast as I always have my grinder out on my sharpening station. I'm wondering about your success with bevel down plane irons. Sometimes it works great for me, and sometimes not at all, and I have to start over.

    Chris - I think Bill Tindall at wood central said he also went from the grinder to using a strop and gets the same effect.

  6. #6
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    This yellow handled "Stanley" needed a new edge when I picked it at a sale....sides were still with a factory grind. Grinder to re-set the bevel at 25 degrees...
    A Rehab day, ready to test.JPG
    AFTER running it through the rest of my sharpening stuff...it was then "Unicorned" and then tested on some Ash...
    A Rehab day, sharpening center.JPG
    Sharpening Center...
    A Rehab day, test chops.JPG
    !/4" x 1/4" x 1/4" deep mortise....did just fine....
    A Rehab day, all cleaned up.JPG
    Spent a day at the Rehab Shop....Irwin screwdrivers. You can also see the mortise..
    A Rehab day, 1 chisel almost done.JPG
    Same routine with this ugly Stanley.....and, I did not need a mallet, to bevel that corner,,,,,of Ash....

    Bench is set up for rehab work....since the Projects are done, for a while.

  7. #7
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    Use of the buffing wheel from my perspective is ideal for carving chisels and gouges. For bench chisels and plane irons where I have a preference to work to a given value with the secondary bevel I use my honing stones.

    regards Stewie;

  8. #8
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    I see Davidís Unicorn method as a creative way of providing a longer edge on chisels (primarily) where the steel is of lesser steel quality. The higher edge angle gives them extra life. However, a Unicorned dulled edge now needs to be ground back (wheel or stones) to remove the worn area. Re-sharpening is an issue for me.

    Few if any of the chisels I use ďneedĒ this method. I do not wish to do this to my Japanese chisels, and to the Veritas PM-V11. Plus they hold an edge long enough for most.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  9. #9
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    I've never bothered with it. Back in the day I used a buffer to put a keen edge on lathe tools, and could see using the approach on my spoon gouges as Stewie suggests. THe method I use for my bench chisels and plane irons works just fine.
    Sharp solves all manner of problems.

  10. #10
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    I almost never use a grinder, unless there has been damage to an edge. I don't think any of my plane irons have touched a grinder in years. We're always set up in an old house, and won't sling metal chips in there, nor stuff off a buffer. I'm sure it works fine, but I'm good with my methods.

  11. #11
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    IF a chisel comes to the shop with a terrible edge....it will go see the grinder...as will a plane iron with one of these style of edges....~ (yes, I have seen a few like that)

    Now, IF the grinder with the buffer wheel and wire wheel just happen to be out on the bench......I will Unicorn any edge......otherwise, the belt strop gets laid on the bench top....

    The finest stone I use is a 600 grit Medium India oil stone.....then I will lay a sheet of wet-or-dry sandpaper into the oil on the stone....I go 1000, 1500, 2000, 2500...with and option of 3000 grit, then the leather belt strop....and maybe the cloth wheel.....

    ( should I go and pop the Popcorn? Salted? Buttered?)

  12. #12
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    A Planer? I'm the Planer, and this is what I use

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Derek Cohen View Post
    I see Davidís Unicorn method as a creative way of providing a longer edge on chisels (primarily) where the steel is of lesser steel quality. The higher edge angle gives them extra life. However, a Unicorned dulled edge now needs to be ground back (wheel or stones) to remove the worn area. Re-sharpening is an issue for me.

    Few if any of the chisels I use ďneedĒ this method. I do not wish to do this to my Japanese chisels, and to the Veritas PM-V11. Plus they hold an edge long enough for most.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek
    Thatís an interesting perspective Derek, and I think it is probably accurate. I always feel that I can trust what you post, and reading some of your earlier posts led me to research the method further, order a CBN wheel and buffer pad, and give the Unicorn method a shot.

    Iím very pleased with the results on my less than stellar Marples chisels, which always lost their edge quickly and got knicks in the edge far too often. Using my diamond stone for the primary bevel when needed, and a few strokes with my 6000 and 16000 grit Shaptons before buffing, the process goes quickly for me.

    I was planning on ordering a set of the Vertitas PM-V11 chisels once they were back in stock, but Iím now on the fence. Do you think there is a noticeable difference between the Veritas chisels and mid range chisels that are sharpened with the Unicorn method?

  14. #14
    Has anyone compared their edge sharpness using the Edge-on-up tester for unicorn versus other sharpening techniques. I get about 45 grams on my DMT diamond plus strop method. My method is fast. I use a Lie-Nielsen guide. If I just need the secondary bevel worked, then I do 20-30 strokes on Extra Fine at the secondary bevel angle and wipe off the wire edge on the Extra Extra Fine, do 20-30 strokes on the bevel with the Extra Extra Fine, wipe off the wire. I remove from blade from the guide and do 20-30 strokes on the strop with green compound and wipe off the back. The bevel is quite shiny and the edge tests out very sharp. Doing more strokes on stones or strop does not it get the edge measurably sharper. Stropping more eventually makes it duller.

  15. #15
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    I was planning on ordering a set of the Vertitas PM-V11 chisels once they were back in stock, but I’m now on the fence. Do you think there is a noticeable difference between the Veritas chisels and mid range chisels that are sharpened with the Unicorn method?
    I’ve had good results from Unicorning mediocre chisels. I cannot say whether they hold an edge better, worse or the same as PM-V11. There is more to using a chisel than just edge holding. Balance, finish, land size, comfort … The list goes on. Chisels are a very personal matter. I like the Veritas - great steel and balanced - and enjoy using them for dovetails. I do not feel the need to Unicorn them.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

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