Too Much Information?

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Blog entry by iwoodu posted 02-17-2012 11:23 AM 1172 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Writing this to share my thoughts on the Internet. Last year I was looking online at different sharpening methods when came to my limit. This person was explaining, with words and photos, how to sharpen chisels and plane irons. I couldn’t believe it; he had photos of the blade edges taken with an electron microscope! Isn’t this taking the topic of sharpening a bit too far? Sheesh! My motto is K.I.S.S. i.e. keep it simple stupid. Pick a sharpening technique and stick with it. Personally I use the Scary Sharp method. Sandpaper is very low cost and I picked up a few 12” x 16” pieces of plate glass from a glass install company for a few bucks. Oh I looked at diamond plates and so forth; no thank you, I’ll spend my cash on lumber and do what I love to do; work wood.

10 comments so far

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2989 days

#1 posted 02-17-2012 12:57 PM

I agree, to a point.
I recently got the opportunity to watch some of Mr. Paul Seller’s sharpening techniques. I was impressed with the simpleness of it. I actually thought it too good to be true at first. This guy was just teaching basic sharpening techniques. He said you could use oile stones, diamnond stones; that it was a personal choice. WHAT? He wasn’t trying to sell me something.

I have done the scary sharp method as you describe, with sandpaper on glass.
Then I found two diamond stones in a thrift shop and started playing with those.
Then I needed some diamond sharpeners for router bit cleanins and sharpening. I found a deal on some various size ones that had a set large enough to be of use on chisels as well.
I recently aquired a fine set of oil stones at a great bargain.

Guess what?
They all work fine.

Sometimes it depends on what I’m trying to do.
For a fast sharpening of a very dull tool, diamond is the way to go.
For fine tuning a tool woth a razor’s edge, I prefer the oil stones.
The sandpaper doesn’t get used much anymore simply because I have all the other.

I’m sure that under a microscope, there are differences between each set of sharpeners. I’m not a great master sharpener though, so that difference will also depend on how well my technique is on any given day.

So you are correct in my opinion.
Different methods work and one is usually better than the other in each other’s opinions.

Now for the funny thing though.
Mentioning sharpening in come circles is like starting up a Ford and Chevy debate. There are diehard supporters of one method or the other that will argue till the death with you or me.


View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 3070 days

#2 posted 02-17-2012 12:58 PM

Good comment. I read the WW magazines and it seems like some of them go overboard with the explanations. I think they get paid by the word. I guess the alternative is being left out with not enough info, doesn’t seem to be a happy medium.

-- Life is good.

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2989 days

#3 posted 02-17-2012 01:10 PM

Sharpening chisels—forget weaker micro bevels

The above link is to a blog by Paul Sellers here on Lumberjocks.
If you read the comments, it is a good example of what can happen though when we start discussing sharpening techniques.

If you go look at it, be sure to watch Mr. Sellers video. It is interesting.
I can’t remember if he says it in that video, but in his videos he sells, he expresses that what you use to sharpen, oil stone, diamond, scary sharp, is a matter of choice. It’s the technique that matters.


View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3145 days

#4 posted 02-17-2012 01:20 PM

I also agree with the simple approach but I do want to throw out one thing though:

Many things that people go on and on about have a large degree of myth attached as well. Actually testing and comparing will do a lot. Getting out the microscope and looking at what is actually going on at that scale does a lot to dispel the hype.

Sharpening is a funny topic though. You can get things too sharp. You need to balance the toughness of the edge with the sharpness. The sharper the edge is, the more delicate it becomes. You want the angles to be right but you are cutting a material that is not uniform. It is a balancing act and since there is no true answer, people start deciding things on faith.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View helluvawreck's profile


32083 posts in 3014 days

#5 posted 02-17-2012 01:22 PM

I love the way a simple dry fine ceramic stone sharpens a chip carving knife in less than a minute once the knife has been prepared and is taken care of.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Helkat's profile


74 posts in 2443 days

#6 posted 02-17-2012 01:27 PM

I don’t believe there’s ever too much info (unless it’s personal)

Echoing David somewhat, some people like to get to the bottom of things. If you don’t care about the electron microscope pics, and just want the ‘how-to’, then I guess that particular article wasn’t for you!

Don’t forget – there’s a lot of overlap between engineers and woodworkers.. and (I can say from experience) engineers like the detail!

-- Nat, UPstate NY,

View iwoodu's profile


13 posts in 2734 days

#7 posted 02-17-2012 01:41 PM

Thanks to all for your thoughts and comments. William, I agree; it can get like a Chevy-Ford pickup debate!
If I ever see diamond stones large enough or low-priced enough, I will try them. I do have a Dia-Sharp extra coarse plate (120 microns) that I use to do the intial lapping of plane soles. I have also looked at the Norton 1000/8000 water stone. Anyone try these?

View BerBer5985's profile


445 posts in 2567 days

#8 posted 02-17-2012 03:09 PM

I’m also a Paul Sellers method believer….in pretty much everything he teaches. I think the engineer side our brains tries to interfere too much the woodworking side of our brains where we’ve had it drilled in our head to measure everything. So now we feel think “I must sharpen this chisel to exactly 30 degrees or it won’t perform” and in reality, anywhere between 30-35 is perfectly fine, so if you end up with a 32.68987987 degree bevel, who cares, I’m positive if it’s sharp, it will cut wood, and hands quite well as I carelessly found out the other day. The bottom line is, sharpening should be a quick method that gets you back to what we enjoy the most, working wood. If the bevels off slightly, that edge will wear down with use and you’ll have to resharpen anyway. So why go through all the trouble to make sure the bevel is absolutely perfect when “close enough and sharp enough” will do.

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

View jmos's profile


868 posts in 2516 days

#9 posted 02-18-2012 12:53 PM

My only concern with freehand sharpening is getting the technique consistent. I only get about 6 hours a week in my shop, and I can literally go months between sharpening sessions. It’s hard to develop a consistent technique, and develop muscle memory with that frequency of sharpening. If I was sharpening frequently I think I would take the time to develop a freehand technique, and maybe someday I’ll get enough shop time to make it worthwhile.

I use the method I’ve seen in Lie-Nielsen (and David Charlesworth) videos; a cheap side clamping honing guide and water stones. Make a board with stop attached at useful angles. Then, to set the angle, place the blade in the guide, run it out to the stop, and clamp. Takes about 10 seconds. Hone (on 1000 grit Norton) until you get a burr. Move projection out to microbevel angle, hone again (8000 grit Norton), flip and hone back. Very quick, and consistent. Does it matter if you stop is exactly 30deg; nope, close enough is close enough. But, it keeps you consistent and it’s quick and effective. I flatten the stones with wet/dry sandpaper on a granite reference plate.

Detdac, I have Norton stones. Overall I’m happy with them, but I haven’t used a lot of other methods to compare. I would get the 220/1000 stone and the 4000/8000 stone if I were starting again. I started with a 1000/8000 combo too. Then I had some poor blades that needed more serious work so I bought a 220 stone. Then I bought some decent chisels and bought a 4000 grit to speed up and improve the polish on the back. Would have been cheaper to get the two combo stones to start with.

One warning about the Norton stones; do NOT assume they are flat out of the box. I had a couple that were way out of flat and took a fair amount of work to get flat. I ended up only using one edge of two of the stones until I lowered the face enough to get the entire stone flat. It was annoying, but it was better than wasting all that stone initially flattening it.

When my Norton stones get worn out I’ll probably spend the money and try the good Shapton stones. Of course by the time they are worn out there’s likely to be something better on the market.

-- John

View iwoodu's profile


13 posts in 2734 days

#10 posted 02-22-2012 11:11 AM

Thanks to all that sent replies. Listening to everyones sharpening equipment and techiniques was wonderful.
Do not get me wrong, the ‘Information Superhighway’ is a splendid way to learn differnent things. Personally I have to watch it though; one link will lead to another link and before I know it, I’m not spending time doing what I love: working wood!
God BLess All!

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