My Low-Budget Builds #2: MDF and Granite Sharpening Station: Materials needed and basic design

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Blog entry by Kenny posted 03-01-2012 06:01 AM 2592 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: MDF and Granite Sharpening Station: Overview and Why You Need a Dedicated Sharpening Station Part 2 of My Low-Budget Builds series Part 3: Just a quick update »

Now, it’s time to go over what you will need for material to make your own sharpening station.
But first, a few things to think about before we get too involved.

I plan to make mine to be used atop an existing bench in my shop. If you don’t have an existing bench or a good place to put this, you will want to factor in the materials for a simple stand. Remember, this is just a sharpening station, not a piece of fine furniture. If you so choose, you can make it really nice, but a solid 2×4 base will work just fine.

My current sharpening bench is set just below my elbow with my arms resting at my sides. This is good for me, but do your homework now to find what height suits you and it will pay off big time later. You may find lower is better for you. If it is, by all means build what suits you best. Make it what you want, just be sure it is a height that is suitable for the activity at hand.
And remember, cutting legs shorter is far easier than stretching them to be taller!

If anyone would like me to design them a simple stand for this sharpening station, just let me know. I’m more than willing to give you a design that can be easily modified to different heights.

Now, on to the materials for the sharpening station itself. I will also leave a simple list at the bottom in addition to the list and description of material choice below.
The main part of the station will be a torsion box made of 3/4” MDF. You will need a half sheet for this project (48” x 48” and 3/4” thick).

It’s very important to use MDF for this project rather than plywood for one main reason: FLATNESS. MDF is very smooth, which will provide an excellent surface for the laminate to adhere to. And since it won’t have any voids, high or low spots, you won’t need to do the filling and prep you would if you were to use ply.

The lid will consist of a perimeter frame made from inexpensive pre-surfaced 3/4” x 4” white-wood from Lowes or another box store, and a piece of hardboard or 1/4” plywood for the large top panel in the lid. I would not advise the use of MDF for the lid, as it simply will not hold up over time, and it doesn’t hold screws well either.

You will need a set of hinges for the lid. Again, nothing fancy is needed. Something like THESE” butt hinges will be fine. If you opt for smaller hinges, I suggest using 3 for durability sake.

Since we have a lid, we will either need a lid support or a short length of small chain to keep the lid from just falling over backward. This is something I have not settled on completely. I will update this when I do settle on a suitable arrangement.

If this will be a portable station and not permanently mounted to a stand, handles on the sides are a must. Simple chest handles like THESE= are fine, or you can opt to make your own. Either way is sufficient.

Next, a draw-hasp to keep the top closed when moving is a great add-on that comes in very handy. Two of these along the front edge of the lid are plenty. Something like THIS is all that’s needed.

Now, we will need the laminate or other protective layer for the top. I prefer laminate as it is thin and lays down very flat, and is very durable and easily applied. Contact adhesive and a roller are all that is really needed to apply laminate. Cutting laminate is easiest with a pair of laminate snips, though a “laminate cutter” (basically a special knife) and straight-edge will work too.
Trimming the laminate flush after applying is easy with a flush-trim router bit and a mill file to bevel the edges, though there are special bits that will trim and bevel the edge in one step.

Another option you can use instead of laminate is acrylic or plexi-glass. It’s thicker and will scratch a bit easier, but it will still serve it’s purpose and protect the MDF and keep it dry.

And last but not least, you will need a light of some sort. The simplest way is with a 24” fluorescent tube fixture like THIS.
Another option is with a “Swing-Arm Drafting Lamp” like THIS.

The drafting lamp is what I will be using, as I have one already. The major advantage to the drafting lamp is the ability to use incandescent or halogen lighting, which is brighter, casts better shadows and gives better reflections (good at times), and also doesn’t “strobe” like a fluorescent does.

So, there you have it, all the necessary materials for this build, and some explanation as to why I picked each item for use with this sharpening station.


The basic design of the station is a 28” wide x 20” deep x 3-1/2” tall torsion box made of 3/4” MDF. There will be two (2) pieces of MDF cut to 28” x 20” that will provide the top and bottom of the structure. The inner ribs and outer edges will be 2” tall, making up the 3-1/2” height.
Due to the structural advantages of a torsion box, this can be relatively thin and yet still be very strong and stable. It will also be very, very flat, as long as you build this on a very flat and level surface you are careful to rip all the internal ribs to the same exact width, that is. In reality, it will be flat enough to sharpen directly on the sharpening station itself, but using granite or plate-glass will ensure the best flatness possible.
In the event you need to flatten something too large to use the granite tiles or glass, such as the sole of a plane, the work you put into making the entire surface of the sharpening station as flat as possible will really pay off!

And to recap on the materials list:
1) 48”x48” sheet of 3/4” MDF
2) Section of laminate at least 29”x21” to allow for trimming
3) two pieces of 3/4”x4” white wood 30” long (oversize to allow for mitering)
4) two pieces of 3/4”34” white-wood 22” long (oversize to allow for mitering)
5) 28” x 20” section of hardboard or 1/4” ply
6) pair of 2-1/2” Butt Hinges
7) Pair of Chest Hinges or other lifting handles (if made portable)
8) Pair of Draw Hasps (to keep lid closed)
9) Lid Support
10) Light
11) basic supplies: Glue, screws, contact adhesive, 1-1/4” brads and brad gun (if available), etc, etc

I will give a full list of supplies and tools used once I am further into the build. I just don’t want to miss anything!

I will post a basic sketch of the cut plan, and also a basic sketch of the sharpening station and how the internal ribs will be arranged, sometime tomorrow. It’s late here (nearly 1am), and my brain has nearly ceased functioning.

Thanks for reading, I hope you all end up liking this, though I think you will! I’ve given these plans to several people in the past, and they have always been well received. As well, anyone who has seen and used my station loves it. It really is a super handy addition to the shop, and it’s an area that is normally neglected badly, or at best is an after-thought.
I promise you, when you make sharpening easy, and employ it in your work-flow, it makes using edged tools so much easier and more enjoyable. Many of the well-known hand-tool woodworkers recommend setting up a sharpening station, and they recommend it for a reason, they use it themselves and they know it works!
One benefit mine has over many others I have seen, is the entire top surface of the station is flat enough to use as a reference surface and can be used for all types of general flattening. Only the very expensive units I have seen, like the Lie-Nielsen which employs an entire top made of solid granite, give you this same ability.
Mine also has another advantage, using a simple cover. This one addition makes using it a breeze. No matter how dusty your shop gets, even if you’ve been sanding for 3 weeks straight, your sharpening station will still be clean and dust free because of the simple lid.

Stay safe out there!

-- Kenny

3 comments so far

View bluekingfisher's profile


1250 posts in 3009 days

#1 posted 03-01-2012 08:46 AM

Sharpening is one of those tasks as woodworkers we should all be experts in, this seems seldom to be the case. I am one of those who hates sharpening so I bought a Tormek T7 with all the jigs, most of which I haven’t used yet.

-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View DIYaholic's profile


19623 posts in 2704 days

#2 posted 03-01-2012 11:15 AM

A very informative read. I’m (still) looking forward to following along and eventually build one for myself. I’m going to follow till the end to see the finished project, as I have to finish assembling my air cleaner, tweak my new (to me) TS and one “real” project to complete, before I tackle this project.

Thanks for doing this & sharing all this info!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2477 days

#3 posted 03-01-2012 01:32 PM


I have an 8” Grizzly wet-grinder myself (a Tormek knock-off), but to be honest, I only use it for major regrinding operations and on very seldom occasions when I’m willing to take the time to set-it up for the tool I’m using.

I can walk over to my sharpening station, flip the lid up, stuff my tool in the jig and set it, and be well on my way to a razors edge before I could even get the bar set to height on the Grizzly. I timed myself a few times, and from stopping work to restarting after sharpening, I average under 2 minutes. And most of that time is spent setting up my plane! If I’m using a chisel, it’s usually about a minute and I can shave with it.

On my sharpening station, I have two 12”x12” granite tiles set-up with grits ranging from 400 to 2000 and a 14” long leather strop charged with honing compound. It has been the best solution I’ve found so far, and I’ve tried a few. I have Arkansas stones too (oil stones), and some diamond, and I like the abrasive paper better myself.

One trick I use to extend the life of my super fine grits (1500 and 2000), is to charge them with fine diamond paste. If I recall correctly (tubes are barely readable now), I use 1/2 micron on the 1500 and 1/4 micron on the 2000. It may be 1 micron and 1/2, I’m not positive. Anyway, it really extends the life of the paper exponentially. And while the paste isn’t cheap, it lasts a long, long time! I’ve had mine for nearly a year, and I still have a good bit left, at least 4 to 6 months worth. But the best part, is it cuts FAST! Much faster than paper alone. I’ve also used the paste on Micro-Mesh. The latex they use on the micro mesh holds the grit very well, I really liked it. But it still only lasts so long, and it’s much more than comparable papers, so I opted to switch back.
I have some higher micron stuff on the way that I plan to try on the coarse papers, and I’ll keep you posted on how that works.

As a final note on the Tormek type systems, I really like mine, I just didn’t like the time it took to set-up. I stil use it regularly, but I use my sharpening station for regular sharpening while I work.

-- Kenny

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