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The Editors Mailbox

A sure-fire sharpening method

comments (12) October 1st, 2009 in blogs

AsaC AsaC, Contributor
thumbs up 62 users recommend

Hand tools are usually the last things that woodworkers master. Power tools are just easier, and the main reason is that bits and blades arrive sharp and ready for action. But plane blades and chisels need to be sharpened, and often, and a light touch on a grinding wheel doesn't do the trick. They simply won't work well until they are honed to razor sharpness.

But when you use a handplane with a truly sharp iron in it, you'll finally see what all the fuss is about. It is like a magic wand, turning almost any surface into a flat, glassy thing of beauty, ready for finish, in just a few strokes!

At Fine Woodworking, I've seen every sharpening jig and method under the sun, and I've settled what I think is the fastest and most foolproof, for everyone from beginners to veterans. I presented it recently in our Getting Started in Woodworking series. You'll need a bench grinder, a good honing jig, and a couple of waterstones, but then you'll be set for life. Check out this free video where I walk you through it.

Sharpening Tool Kit Equipment:
Follow the links below for more information about the tools and supplies featured in this episode:

- Any model bench grinder - slow-speed (approx. 1,725 rpm) recommended
- 60-Grit Aluminum Oxide Grinding Wheel, White
- Veritas MK-II Honing Guide
- Any synthetic water stones
- Standard household glass (tip: use a piece of scratch-free glass from an old picture frame)
- Sandpaper (220 and 320 grit wet/dry abrasives available at any hardware store)
- Spray adhesive

posted in: blogs, sharpening, chisels, hand planes

Comments (12)

twotone twotone writes: I am obsessed with sharpening and I am always interested in reading or watching 'anything' related to sharpening. Sometimes it ends up in a big headache though since inevitably everyone has their own opinion and preferences whereas as I am still in search of the best sharpening technique (not necessarily the fastest). So two quick points that I'd like to get some feedback on...

1. The video seems to combine two techniques that don't necessarily go together. Why use a grinding wheel which gives you a hollow (and which is great for freehand sharpening since the chisel registers easily on the sharpening abrasive) but then only sharpen the edge which is being referred to as a microbevel. Why not just use a belt sander or coarse stone to achieve the desired angle and then hone the edge at a steeper angle (a microbevel)?

2. Am I the only one who thinks that using a wheel and hollowing the chisel actually weakens the chisel since you are removing material? The wheel seems like a short cut method but not necessarily the best. Does anyone sharpen their chisels with a completely flat side (no hollows, no microbevels)?
Posted: 8:52 pm on November 7th

JSZens JSZens writes: As a professional woodworker and a frequent tool sharpening instructor at Gary Rogowski's Northwest Woodworking Studio in Portland, OR., I'd like to offer a personal observation or two.

I think Mr. Christiana might have an easier time controlling the chisel while flattening the back if both hands were down on the steel. No need to grab the handle, since no work is being done down on that end of the tool, Concentrate all the effort down on the steel.

Second, a bench hook might be a better choice to hold the stone still during honing.

Finally, sharpening can be done every bit as accurately without the jig. While I think jigs might be useful for a beginner, it really isn't hard to learn honing free-hand. It is faster (no setup) less expensive (no jig) and the tool is no less sharp when honing is complete. After grinding that nice hollow, Mr. Christiana has everything necessary for accurate, jig-free honing built in to the chisel already!

For a more complete discussion of freehand honing, I have a series of posts on my blog ( that walk woodworkers through the process.

As with so many other aspects of woodworking, none of us are born knowing how to sharpen. It takes patience and a bit of practice. Mr. Christiana is absolutely correct in his introductory remarks: sharpening is an essential skill, and our woodworking lives change for the better once we develop the skills.
Posted: 1:03 am on October 30th

LawrenceofPA LawrenceofPA writes: I really enjoyed this video, since it validates the way I've been doing it. Before I switched to waterstones, however, I spent a lot of money on Klingspor wet/dry adhesive-backed sandpaper. It works, too, but the waterstones ultimately cost less to use, and I like the result better.

Now -- I need a sharpening jig for a skew chisel! What a pain.
Posted: 12:29 pm on October 21st

dkerfoot dkerfoot writes: Very nice, but the last section regarding the "micro-bevel" muddies the term. The way you do it, it would be better referred to as a secondary bevel, or just bevel.

Ideally, a micro bevel is made with just two or three passes on the highest grit. It doesn't need to be any wider than a few microns. The whole point of a micro bevel is that you are honing as small an area as possible, so that when dull, a few laps on the highest grit will have you back to razor sharp.

I'd suggest following the steps just as outlined, then, after sharpening on the highest grit, rotate the jigs knob to add a micro-bevel of 3 degrees. Take two more strokes on the highest grit, lap the wire edge off the back and you are done. When it starts getting dull, two or three strokes on the highest grit (at the final micro-bevel angle) and you can get back to work.
Posted: 8:08 am on October 21st

Eireannach Eireannach writes: I use the granite cutouts from where the sink would go in a countertop. I just went to the local granite store & they gave me a couple for free - they aren't any good to them anyway. The surface is flat, polished, and the weight of the stone means I don't have to secure it to the table.
Posted: 1:33 pm on October 14th

Pete999 Pete999 writes: Interesting. I've never used water stones, but now it looks like I'll be getting some.

I've been using a scrap piece of Corian countertop material for backing the sandpaper. I've dropped it several times and it just bounces.

BTW, I don't glue the paper down, I just hold the ends with duct-tape.
Posted: 10:44 am on October 14th

dhaywood dhaywood writes: I have a question about something in your video. You show all of your water stones being left in water all the time. I read something from Norton about their 8000 grit stone that says it should be soaked before use to lubricate it but not left in water all the time. It had something to do with make up of the 8000 grit stone only. Can you comment?
Posted: 9:41 am on October 14th

berferdt berferdt writes: We no longer use any grinding wheels. We have switched to a 1" X 42" belt sander. They heat less quickly, are more consistent, and less expensive to refresh than round wheels. Unlike your belt sanders, the machines are made for use in machine shops - cutting metal. They cost about the same as a grinder of equal quality, and are considered safer than rotating stones. They don't, in standard use, give a hollow grind, but taking advantage of the hollow wasn't included as part of Asa's presentation.
Posted: 8:40 am on October 14th

BloxygenBoy BloxygenBoy writes: I use 12x12 granite floor tiles for this work instead of glass. They come polished to a perfectly flat, mirror finish. They don't have any sharp edges and if you drop it, it just breaks in two pieces instead of 2 million. They are about $2 at home depot. Enjoy.
Posted: 7:27 am on October 14th

BJHoliday BJHoliday writes: I found this extremely useful. It shows just how much preparatory sharpening work is necessary if you are to get effective use out of chisels and planes. This list of sharpening equipment is also very handy.

Derek from Perth's comments about removing the burr made good sense.

I'd very much enjoy a similar video lesson on setting up the iron in a hand plane.


Somerset U.K.
Posted: 5:30 am on October 14th

derekcohen derekcohen writes: Hi Asa

A very nicely put together piece. It should be a great help to those starting out.

One small modification I would suggestion is at the end when you are removing the wire edge.

I agree that it should be removed at the end of each waterstone. The advantage is that the wire edge is showing you that you have honed across the secondary bevel, and not simply polished up a section of it. (This is particularly important when adding a fine camber on a smoother blade since you thenm judge how much camber you have by the thickness of the wire edge).

My recommendation is that the wire edge is only removed by the final polishing stone (the 8000 as in your case)- otherwise you are removing all the previous polishing and having to redo it each time. Only let the polishing stone touch the back of the blade once it has been prepared.

Regards from Perth


Posted: 5:10 am on October 14th

daveph49 daveph49 writes: That demo makes it look like a breeze, less complicated than i thought. Thanks.
Posted: 1:52 pm on October 13th

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