What is the best tool to sharpen hand plane blades and chissels?
What is the best tool to sharpen hand plane blades and chissels?
Hi Brian, Welcome!
I'm a big fan of the Lee Valley Veritas MKII Honing Guide. It's quick and easy to put a blade/chisel in and set the angle exactly the same as the last time you sharpened/honed. Very repeatable and the micro bevel setting makes all the difference in the world.
Some will say it's best to learn to sharpen by hand and while i agree it noble skill to possess, i just never could get it right and the MKII really made a difference for me.
BTW, i prefer using abrasive sheets instead of stones, aka scary sharp, and if you're so inclined, Lee Valley sells some wonderful sheets.
........not all those that wander are lost
Welcome to FW and thanks for posting. Asking woodworkers about the best way to sharpen is about like most folks what the best religion is. I bet we get lots of interest in this thread.
So here's my two cents, and its gonna be long because sharpening is one of my hot buttons.
First bit of advice, take a class or spend some time with someone who is good at it. Its hard to learn sharpening from a book - that book can't really tell you how sharp something can be or whether your putting the right amount of pressure on the piece.
Secondly, there are three stages to sharpening - grinding, lapping, and honing. Grinding gets the basic angle down. Best to do it on some sort of grinder - a cheap crapsman will do if you are careful not to overheat the chisel (DAMHIKT). There are several versions of water cooled grinders out there, but they are pricey.
Lapping is getting the back of the plane iron or chisel (or the sole of the plane) flat. That is usually done with sandpaper on a dead flat surface, like a sheet of glass.
Honing is basically polishing the bevel. Can be done with paper or stones. In my opinion, you can get a better result with stones, but they need maintenance (cleaning and flattening). Sandpaper you can throw away.
Some hone by placing a dab of diamond paste on a flat piece of hardwood. A leather strop with the proper abrasive cream works too.
Personally, I use a wet grinder and high end Japanese stones. But thats just what works for me. My suggestion would be to start with paper. If you can, dedicate a place for sharpening. The more it takes to set up and get started, the less often you will sharpen, and sharp tools are a must to fine woodworking.
BTW, Brian is right about the Lee Valley MKII jig. Its the best I've seen. I can sharpen by hand, but most days I use the jig to take some of the suspense out.
Sorry this is so long. Enjoy the forum and welcome to the family.
Jesse's advice is great
Here's some additional perspective. I took a workshop at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. The instructor as fixated on learning how to sharpen without jigs.
I think that is a mistake for a beginner, use a jig and get sharp chisels so you can start making something and not wasting your time sharpening.
I will NEVER flatten another chisel back by hand, the repetitive motion just isn't good for my aging bones and ligaments.
So I have a combination of a mechanical approach to flatten and do the major sharpening. Then I use Norton stones for the final polishing and ongoing touch-up.
I am not going to say what mechanical approach I use, there are a lot of choices out there and you will find LOTS of different opinions.
When you ask what the best 'tool' is, you will get a lot of answers and perhaps a few questions as well.
Sharpening a chisel/plane iron can be broken down into at least 2 categories - grinding and honing (and some skip the honing) - or perhaps 4, if you include lapping and stropping.
Grinding can be done on wet or dry grinders or belt sanders. You can also approximate grinding with the "scary sharp" method using coarse sandpaper to rapidly remove metal. The goal for grinding operations is to establish a primary bevel on the blade or chisel.
Lapping, which means flattening the back of the blade. It's the intersection of the bevel and the back of the cutter that defines sharpness. If the back is not flat where it meets the bevel, or if the bevel is rounded over and poorly defined, you have no chance of getting a really sharp edge.
Lapping only needs to be done once (thankfully, because it's a major PITA) or once in a very long while. Lapping can be done with sandpaper on glass (scary sharp again) or on a well flattened stone - oilstone, water stone or diamond 'stones'. Some of the motorised grinding tools can also be used to lap your chisel/plane backs. Lapping can be done before or after grinding of the bevel.
Honing is the refining of the bevel you ground using progressively finer abrasives (grits). Each successive grit should remove the scratches left by the previous one. Bench stones, sandpaper or motorised machines that spin sandpaper or other abrasives can all be used. Honing can be done at the same angle as grinding bevel or just a small area near the end, at a somewhat higher angle (secondary or micro bevel). Motorised machines have clamps or guides to help you maintain the correct honing angle. Even if you hone by hand, there are honing guides to help you.
Opinions on abrasives are all over the map and some real battles have been fought over this subject in other forums. "How fine does the last grit need to be ?" is particularly contentious.
Stropping is considered essential by some, optional by others. There are power strops - felt, leather or wood/MDF wheels or discs are charged with very fine abrasives in wax or paste to remove any burr from the cutter's edge and to fine hone the bevel even further. Hand strops can be made of leather or wood (and probably other materials). The cutting edge is drawn along the strop, which may or may not be charged with abrasive paste.
So, there's no single machine that you can stick the chisel into and have it come out sharpened well enough for joinery or cabinetmaking. You have the option to go electrical or manual just about all the way through. I think most of us use a combination of both.
I use a high speed grinder with a white wheel and a Lee Valley/Veritas angle jig. I start lapping on a coarse, then medium diamond plate, then switch to water stones to finish the job. I've honed on water stones exclusively for many years, but I recently bought some good quality oilstones and I'm using them most of the time now. My stropping method is not something I recommend. I strop using the side of my hand for everything but the narrowest chisels.
Moral of this long story: sharpening is a huge area in woodworking. Entire books have been written on the subject. If I could start over, I'd find someone to teach me 1 on 1. As someone else said, touch plays a big part in the process.
I've tried to be as objective as I could. You have a few choices to make. People here will be glad to offer opinions. The one thing I believe most of us agree on is that you should choose 1 system and stick with it. There are many ways to get to that sharp edge.
All the best,
**Now holding auditions for a catchy new signature**
All of the above have given good advice. I was taught very early on by my dad to sharpen using stones by hand. Today I use scary sharp which is a progression of differant grits of sand paper on a very flat surface. I use a 12"x12"x2" piece of granite just because I have it otherwise a piece of glass is best. A jig is a must if you've not been taught how to do it wothout one and although I don't use one I'd recommend one.
"There’s a lot of work being done today that doesn’t have any soul in it. The technique may be the utmost perfection, yet it is lifeless. It doesn’t have a soul. I hope my furniture has a soul to it." - Sam Maloof
The Pessimist complains about the wind; The Optimist expects it to change;The Realist adjusts the sails.~ William Arthur Ward
I get a kick out of your question simply because there is no 'best' way. I started with the scary sharp and it does an excellent job. I could get mine razor sharp. But then I started having problem tearing the 1500 and 200 grit papers with the sharp blades. No idea what changed but it was probably me.
I wanted a way to sharpen my own jointer and planer blades. I found the Makita Knife sharpener and liked what I read. So I bought one and I am impressed with it. I use it sharpen my hand planes and chisels too. It's works good, but so do a dozen other methods.
As was said, find one that works for you and lean to us it as best you can.
brian, you have gotten lots of excellent advice.....that said i sharpen my antiques on oil stones freehand.......i sharpen my users on the belt-sander and a powerstrop
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The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
William Arthur Ward
I think to get started Jessie's advice is very good. I prefer the LV jig and scary sharp myself. I think once you get that down it is not a very long step to knowing how to do it by hand.