Working with sharp tool blades is a MUST in the workshop. Not only is is safer, it is much easier on the woodworker who not only doesn't have to work so hard, but it also makes woodworking much more fun. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to plane a board, or carve out a mortise when you have a dull tool.
Sometimes we think our tool or blade is sharp but really it isn't. When you take a blade that you thought was sharp, then really sharpen it, you will not believe the difference in how easy it cuts and how much less work it is. For years I struggled with what I thought were plane blades that were - sharp enough - . I knew they weren't the sharpest, but I never bothered to take the time to sharpen them properly and always assumed that they were ok.

One day, while visiting another woodworker, who had just sharpened his plane blade, I asked him if I could try it out. I was completely astounded what a difference a really sharp blade was like. It wasn't long after I encountered a more mature woodworker, who I knew was an expert in sharpening, and asked him if he would sharpen my blades for me ... and I would pay him. A week later he called to have me come and pick up the blades and while I was at his shop, I asked if he would give be a lesson in how I could get good results, with the least fuss, and this is what this video is about.

What he showed me is the same thing I am going to show here, what I think is one of the easiest and cost effective ways of sharpening chisel and plane blades and similar blades. This is the best way that works for me, but other people will have many other ways that are also just as good and maybe even easier and I am confident they will all be sharing their expertise with us. There are MANY MANY different ways to sharpen chisels and plane blades, and some people make a real art out of sharpening. It becomes - their thing - in woodworking, and so this article details what I learned that afternoon. The first thing you need to do is ...

... make sure your plane blade or chisel BACK is absolutely flat. This is more critical with plane blades, and you can imagine if the blade has a dip or cove across it's cutting surface, it will never sharpen or cut properly. To flatten the blade it needs to be worked over an abrasive stone or paper until the back is flat, smooth and shines like a mirror.

The next thing that needs to be checked for planes, is the sole or bottom of the plane where it contacts the wood. The soul of a plane also needs to be absolutely flat. This can be a BIG job, especially if the soul has warped quite a bit. The good news is there are special soul grinding, diamond stones to assist in this tedious job such as the one shown below. Only after the soul and the backs of the blades are flat, is it time to really start doing the blade sharpening.

The next step in sharpening the blades is to determine what angle the blade needs to be sharpened at. Both plane blades and chisels, depending on the types of planes or chisels they are, can have different angles that the blades need to be sharpened at. If you don't know, you will need to measure that angle, and unless you have a very good reason to change it, it's often best to stick with what the manufactures have set. (and it will be the easiest too). In general terms, many chisels are sharpened to 25 degrees, and many plane blades are also sharpened at this angle, but they could be slightly steeper or shallower. You can use a digital divider or some other tool to figure out the exact angle of your tool or blade.

Now to get down to the actual sharpening process, the tool that I prefer to use, is the Veritas Mark II Honing Guide as sold by Lee Valley and Highland Woodworking Tools.  There is another tool sold by Trend Woodworking in the UK. The Veritas units come with very good instructions, so I am not going to spend time telling how they work, except to say, in my experience the Veritas Honing unit works exceptionally well. I have not had a chance to try out the Trend, but generally I have been happy with their products.


Once you have the tool you now need to decide on abrasives. Most woodworkers have and use special sharpening stones called water stones or oil stones. All this means is that these stones are use either with water or oil to help move the minute iron filings away from the sharpening area of the stone so that the stones work better. There are also a variety of diamond stones on the market, which I have not had a chance to use, and finally there are a variety of abrasive sheets, like fine sand papers that can be used.

I use the abrasive sheets because it is easier for me. If you use the abrasive sheets, you will need to find a medium to stick them on to. Some of these abrasive sheets have sticky backs, others you need to spray the backs with a spray adhesive then stick them to a flat surface. Glass is preferred - and make sure the sides are ground, otherwise you WILL cut yourself - OR some people are using granite off cuts such as those from granite kitchen tops, I think even  a smooth arborite off-cut would work fine. anything as long as it is flat and can stand a bit of water on it.

From here, the process is pretty simple, you need to start off with a coarser abrasive sheet until you get the angle of the cutting edge fine tuned and are getting edge to edge surface contact. From there you need to move to finer and finer grits until you are basically down to a polishing grit.

This process should not take all that long. The first time you sharpen any blade should be the longest time you spend on that blade. After that it should only be a matter of fine sharpening with much finer grits.

When you think you have your blade sharpened, the final step is to turn the blade over give the back blade a bit of a polish. This will take away any metal back edge that may form on the blade as you are sharpening it.

This article is meant as a starting point to help those people who don't know where to start when it comes to sharpening these kinds of tools. Once you gain some confidence in sharpening you may well move to different systems and methods.

In the end, all that really matters to me is that my tools are VERY sharp, without me having to do a lot of work to keep them that way. I like this system, it works for me and may also work for you.

Copyright - Colin Knecht


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