Learning to Sharpen #1: Intro and Goals

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Blog entry by Mark Colan posted 08-11-2013 07:31 PM 1255 reads 2 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Learning to Sharpen series Part 2: PurpLev »


I have mainly been a power tool woodworker, but at some point chisels and planes begin to seem useful. In particular, I don’t want to buy a power planer.

I already had a small block plane and some chisels from my Dad, and one I bought, that need work. I never liked hand tools like these because they seem so difficult to use. Well, of course they are not, so long as they are properly sharpened, but I have never done that. I also own some nice kitchen knives that could be sharper and want to learn to sharpen them like a pro.

Obviously the time has come to learn to restore and sharpen blades. I have a Chinese dual-grit stone intended for kitchen knives, and no experience. So I started reading about various kinds of stones, the things you need to do to keep them flat, guides, and so on. Expensive, and inconvenient.

As I embark on tooling up for sharpening, and then actually trying to sharpen, I’ll write here about what I learn. I would welcome any comments from those of you who are experienced with sharpening. Keep in mind that I am starting as an absolute beginner on the subject, aside from knowing how to use a steel on a kitchen knife.


  • Come up with a system that allows me to have a quick, usable edge without spending a lot of time and effort, so that I am inclined to do it regularly.
  • Know how to achieve a much better edge for delicate work, with extra effort, when required.
  • Avoid spending a lot of money on equipment.
  • Ability to restore damaged edges, when practical.
  • Learn to enjoy it so that I am more inclined to use hand tools.
  • Targets: Used plane irons, chisels, marking knives, kitchen knives. Maybe touching up router bits.


  • Achieving the perfect edge. There is no such thing as perfection. The law of diminishing returns applies: I can put more and more effort into any work and get better, but at some point the improvements will not be worth the additional effort.
  • For now, I am not interested in sharpening saw blades of any kind or drill bits. When I need my table saw blade sharpened, I’ll have it professionally done.


I started something like this as an entry in hand-tools forum (right here). It had been awhile since I had written a blog entry, so I forgot to do it as a personal blog. Someone called me on this, and he’s right: I should be doing it as a blog instead.

This entry and a couple that followed were discussed on the previous pages. I can’t delete the old entries, but the blog will continue here.

Incidentally, my involvement with woodworking goes in ebbs and flows, owing to changing demands in my job. At the moment, it’s flowing!

-- Mark, hack amateur woodworker, Medford (greater Boston) MA

2 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3675 days

#1 posted 08-12-2013 01:04 PM

sorry I missed this… good writeup!

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3361 days

#2 posted 08-13-2013 12:54 PM

Sharpening should probably be the first thing every woodworker learns Mark, but of course it usually doesn’t work out that way. Anyway, I think you are wise to concentrate on this area. It will make your woodworking much more enjoyable and rewarding.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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