All woodworking tools need to be kept razor sharp. It really does make a difference. Not only is woodworking easier when cutting tools are sharp, the outcomes are better with less tear-out, less fuzzy edges and sharper cleaner cuts. All of which often means less sanding (at least for some things).
I have always found chisels to be the one tool in the shop that you can instantly tell if they are sharp or not, just by how they work. If you are a carver, you will really know the meaning of sharp tools because to carvers, trying to work with tools that are dull is exceedingly frustrating. I know carvers, and woodturners as always sharpening their chisels. They very quickly get to know the condition of the sharpness of their tools and are constantly "tuning them up" which really means adding the fine razor edge sharpness to what many of us would consider a sharp tool.
There are a few different methods, jigs and tools for sharpening, either by hand or with some sort of a machine. One of the sharpening machines is called a Tormek Grinder and is produced by a Swedish Company.
The Tormek Grinder development started around 1973, but long before that, around the world, large grinding machines were quite common. Often the wheels were 24" in diameter and were driven by a foot pedal or a crank, and some of them even had water cooling troughs attached to them. What Tormek did was bring this old concept and adapt it to more modern electric motors and make an amazingly accurate and efficient sharpening tool.
Here is an example of the what the original sharpening wheels looked like. Notice it even has the cooling trough designed to maintain the temper of the blade it was sharpening.
These old grindstones worked well for axes and ploughing blades, and even for general purpose knives but for fine work like carving tools and woodturning chisels, these were just too rough, and it was difficult to flatten the wheels.
The Tormek design solves all those problems and even provides a place to really put that fine edge on tools by providing a leather stropping wheel. The stropping wheel is what takes the "burr" off the edge of the sharpened chisel and puts a fine, fine edge on it. Not unlike what you would get on a razor ... it is that sharp.
Anyone who has watched movies or old westerns of cowboys getting a shaved at a barber will remember watching the barber looked like he was trying to sharpen his straight razor on an old belt. Actually ... he was. Barbers regularly put a fine, fine edge on their razors by "stropping" them which was in effect puling the blade back and forth on a leather strap. And it worked. Made the straight razors sharp enough to shave with.
Copyright - Colin Knecht