Mundane minutiae and how my world is getting smaller

I am making something. That something requires steel. The steel requires holes. I have the steel and, Oh my God, do I have the drill bits. I got drill bits up the yin yang. Over the years I have acquired the equivalent of twenty pounds of drill bits. Maybe more. One of the reasons I have so many drill bits is that they get dull and I give ’em a sharpen but, of course, my sharpening skills are such that one might describe them as the dullest knife in my drawer. I am bad. So, I do what any privileged, white male does in the so-called first world. I buy more.

Yesterday, I ran out of sharp drill bits. So, I attempted a ‘comeback’ and sharpened a few. And failed again. I was at the miserable grinder sharpening and then over to the little Ryobi drill press (only strong enough to drill through stale bread) slowly trying to get a hole through 1/4 steel by what amounted to not much more than friction. To drill 32 holes took five hours.

Halfway through that embarrassing ordeal I came in and went on You Tube. Watched ‘How to sharpen drill bits’ for about forty minutes. I think you can see how I arrived at the title of this blog. I watched guys who have trouble speaking coherent sentences sharpen drill bits so that they could put holes in aircraft carriers or tanks! Each video is at least ten minutes. Each lesson could be delivered in 30 seconds, one minute if you count the usual safety warning and the ‘please subscribe and like’ entreaty. Sadly, they grunt the lesson and I was only learning a little. My world was getting smaller, shorter and mentally brutish.

The good news is that my first post-you-tube drill bit sharpening attempt was marginally better than the dull-as-rebar last drill bit I used. It was at least ten percent better than a blunt stone. By the third attempt, I could actually go back to the steel and try to push through it with a bit of a sharp edge to help me. It was not easy but some metal shavings were noticed. I think.

By the time I did the last drill bit (#12), it actually cut through the steel like it was supposed to. Kinda. NOT great but much quicker. I was ecstatic. I was exhausted but very pleased with myself despite having developed a cramp in my right wrist and arm while, at the same time, getting a corresponding pain in my left ankle. That is the price one pays twisting torque into your body while you try to press-drill without succeeding. Vibrating drill bits (from imperfect sharpening) also tends to add to the damage. So, I quit hurting myself (no steel was damaged in the doing of this story) and went in to drink wine. It was 5:17 pm. I began that ridiculous debacle at noon.

Real machinist types (Noncon) had to stop reading a few paragraphs back. Too painful. I understand.

I mention this not because drill bits, you-tube, winter, Covid and/or being antisocial are the only causes of my shrinking world. It is because that same dull-guy shows up when sharpening chainsaws, too. It seems I have some kind of genetic sharpening flaw. Neither my mother nor my father could sharpen chainsaws in their latter years either, poor handicapped parents (mind you, they lived in an apartment in the city that was heated by gas so they handled their shortcomings well).

The chainsaw is currently sharp. But that is mostly because it is new – practically just out of the box. I have dulled it with some recent cuts on the log pile described a few blogs back but then I sharpened it. This time I used Stihl’s new file-for-idiots system, a hybrid-file apparatus that thankfully takes all the thinking and the skill out of the equation. I am now good-to-go on the chainsaw front.

Yes, I know all about the Drill doctor for sharpening drill bits. I have two of them (for big bits and smaller ones). Suffice to say, the Drill Doctor was not designed for idiots. If Stihl makes something someday for those challenged by drill bits, I may give it a go.

Follow-up. I told my friend, S, about my inadequacies at sharpening last night and he came by this morning – gave me a few tips (literally and figuratively). The first literal tip cut through the steel like it was Canadian butter. So, this time I listened carefully and watched and damn! I can now drill through anything…..well….it turns out that at first I was still not doing all that well according to S. So he came over to the drill press. “Turning way too fast. You are burning out the bits. Let’s change the belt.” And that, dear reader, was the icing on the cake through which I began to drill. After S left, I went back out and put holes in everything!!!

What a great day in my little world! I just got richer, too. Twenty plus pounds of now USEFUL drill bits!!

11 thoughts on “Mundane minutiae and how my world is getting smaller

  1. That story almost brought me to tears laughing. I was shown how to restore drill bits when I was 10 on my neighbor’s farm. I later became a machinist because of that lesson,I think. I have witnessed many times all you described and the look of appreciation I got when I would show them why their bits would not cut and they understood.


  2. That proves again that you better have a good skillset OTG, because you can’t quickly go to the shop to buy new bits. Could have been a nice story for your book!


    • Well, I have a theory…..if you already have the skillsets (unlikely unless born on a farm) of say, framing, welding, mechanics, electrics, plumbing, drywalling and the list just goes on and on, you are likely NOT as intrigued about living OTG as a dreamer might be. You MIGHT keen be but I think part of the appeal (and MOST of the appeal for me) is learning those things and learning them in a very practical way (actually being out here) rather than just in a classroom. A good set of skills is not as important as a good attitude.
      But, well…….I have neither. Mind you, over the past 17 years both have improved somewhat and that’s good, too. I am now nowhere near as deterred or anxious when a machine stops working, for instance. Now, I know, “Oh, well, I am just gonna have to fix that”. I am still no good at it but I no longer have the fear and hesitation. Now I just try and fix it (a few times) and my success rate on that score is also improving.
      I am guessing that most folks knew how to sharpen drill bits and so the last blog was largely ignored. My bad. Ya never know which blog will be well-received and which will be ignored. I thought drill bit sharpening would have been BIG. “Oh, well, I am just gonna have to fix that!”


      • I think the majority of readers doesn’t have a clue how to sharpen a drill bit. Mind you, out here, we just throw it away and go to the shop to buy a new one! Maybe that’s why this blog didn’t trigger much reaction….there is less actual need on grid to have these skillsets, we are used to throwing things away that get dull and throw them away. Your blog actually should have been an eye opener for us!


  3. Thank you for that, Wim. I am now so far OTG, that wasting stuff is very hard for me. A 6″ drill bit can be sharpened and used for years. I knew that but, well, I wasn’t a good sharpener and I only remembered that when I needed one. So I’d buy another. But when actually living otg, buying one is not a practical option. Learning to sharpen is really the only way to go. For me an interesting lesson. More than a bit overdue.
    Thanks for understanding. I thought it must be a boring (pun) topic since no one but you and Nick commented.


    • There is very little risk of learning much of anything from my blog, JA. Your ‘drill bit’ ignorance is intact and will remain so with me. I am getting more relaxed about it, tho. Seems some of my senior all-round, jacks-of-all-trades share my lack of bit sharpening skills. I feel better. Ignorance loves company.


      • Sharing, I am….I have been telling my own silly tales on myself. “What a doofus! Couldn’t sharpen drill bits so I just kept buying new ones!” Hardly anyone (but Nick) laughed. They just looked sheepish.
        Quel surprise! Even older mechanics I know in the business said, “Well, I couldn’t get it right, either, so that is what I did. Just bought new ones. I got a gazillion old, rusty drill bits. Probably all beyond hope!”
        Readers, I have discovered a gold mine in drill bits – every old guy (almost) has been as dumb as me. Therefore, I have an endless supply of bits just for the asking.


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