Sharpening methods #1: What is your favorite iron and sharpening method AND why?

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Blog entry by mafe posted 06-03-2011 01:48 PM 8786 reads 6 times favorited 157 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Sharpening methods series Part 2: A update on my personal sharpening methods. »

What is your favorite iron and sharpening method AND why?

After we had a few talks on Berthas ‘what is your favorite hand plane’ blog I decided we needed to go to next step.

So please let us hear your thoughts show us pictures videos why you like your blade or sharpening method and proofs if they exist why it should be better than other.

I am lazy by nature, and handicapped by life, so for me to stand and move the blade forward and backward on a stone or paper is a painful process, so I had to settle with a Tormek style wathergrinder and the leather wheel with past on it, also I like to use a leather strap as I work, especially on my 01 steel since this takes a easy razor edge that way, where my A2 steel seems to want more effort to become sharp again.
(I am fully aware this is not the best way to razor sharp).

Her you can see the standard I use for chisels, bedanes, plane irons and knifes, a grinded primary bevel on the water wheel that I leave grinded, a second 5 degree extra bevel that I also hone, and of course a clean and straight iron – for the back I flatten but far from hysterical, and I put most weight on the front of the blade when I hone it so I achieve a really sharp edge.

If I was a field worker I think I would choose A2, if working in a shop 01.
In general I have come to the conclusion that 01 is the best for a chisel or plane iron I want to be able to sharpen and stay super sharp, I will choose 01 where I really want to cut the wood, also I read that it holds a better edge for the lower angles than A2.
Where A2 gives me a stronger edge with high angles, so if I look for a workhorse or a chisel that can stay alive longer, it will be A2, but it’s ‘sudden death’ tend to annoy me, so I do prefer 01 steel.

I have made knifes for quite some years, and here it is the same story and conclusion, that if you are willing to hone, not sharpen once in a while the softer steals provides you with a razor edge in almost no effort, where the harder steel are giving you a really nice edge for a while and then the party is over until you go home and sharpen it again.

This is wonderful clear reading about the pitch.

Please let me here your thoughts.

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

157 comments so far

View Brit's profile


6829 posts in 2412 days

#1 posted 06-03-2011 01:54 PM

Mads, I think there might be a translation issue with your post above as I’m not sure we are seeing what you are typing on your Danish keyboard. So just for the record, if anyone else is seeing O2, it should read A2 and if anyone else is seeing A1, it should read O1. That’s right isn’t it Mads?

Its a bit weird Mads. I noticed it in one of your other posts but forgot to mention it.

-- Andy -- "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." (Michelangelo)

View mafe's profile


11312 posts in 2658 days

#2 posted 06-03-2011 02:09 PM

Hi andy,
No it is not my keyboard it is my head… It must be because I am a architect, I always write A1 A2 steel, and not 01-02 steel…
And yes you may laugh, big time,
Best thoughts, and thank you,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View mafe's profile


11312 posts in 2658 days

#3 posted 06-03-2011 02:11 PM

Here are the Lie Nielsen words on 01-02 steel:

A-2 Steel chisels will hold an edge extremely well, especially when sharpened at an angle of 30 degrees or higher. Some folks however prefer O-1 Tool Steel, because O-1 holds up better at lower angles, 25 degrees or less, making them more useful for slicing or paring tasks. So in response to customer requests, we are making our standard five sizes available in O-1, each ground at 25 degrees.

So I might not be all wrong in what I feel…
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 2628 days

#4 posted 06-03-2011 02:11 PM

Well Mads, you have seriously opened a can of worms here. This could get heated before this blog is finished.

I don’t know much about metalurgy so I don’t know if I can offer much on that subject except to say that I some very old chisels and planes and I have a few that are fairly new and I much prefer the steel in the older ones than the newer ones. I think that the older ones may require sharpening a little bit more frequently, but I can sharpen them more quickly and get a better edge with less effort than I can on the newer ones that I own.

As for sharpening methods, I have tried many different methods. I have not tried one of the grinders like the one you have Mads, but most every manual method there is from Scary Sharp (sand paper on glass) to Water Stones, Oil Stones and Diamond Stones. I would like to try the newer Ceramic Stones, but have not had the opportunity yet. I have been using water stones most of the time for the past couple of years. I love the speed of water stones as well as the quality of the edge that a water stone gives. However, I don’t like the mess associated with water stones nor the constant need to re-flatten the stones. I have tried and tried different ways to try and sharpen so that they willl remain flat and have not been successful. They still get dished pretty quickly and have to be re-flattened. One other draw back to water stones is the water itself that will cause your tools to rust if you do not dry and oil your tools following sharpening. More recently, I have been migrating to oil stones. Oil stones don’t dish out as quickly as water stones so they don’t require flattening as often. There is still a small amount of mess associated, but not as much as with water stones. Also, since there is no water, then there is no danger of rust on the tools. They cut a little more slowly so are not as quick as water stones, but this is a very small difference. If you keep your tools sharp so that you are only touching up the honing from time to time, this is really a negligible difference.

As for process, if it is a new blade or a badly damaged blade, my first step is to us a jig that I have made on a plain old bench grinder to grind a fresh, new and square bevel on the tool. Then, depending on the tool, I either use a jig or sometimes by hand and simply start with a coarser stone and work my way down to a fine polishing stone. For me, the main concern is to be patient and keep at it till the tool is truly sharp (easily shaving hairs off of the arm gives me a good indication that it is sharp. I then confirm by taking some end grain shavings on a piece of scrap to see how it behaves on some actual wood. I figure that if it will shave end grain smoothly, it has to be pretty sharp.


-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View Brit's profile


6829 posts in 2412 days

#5 posted 06-03-2011 02:11 PM

I knew it was you really Mads, I was just being polite LOL

-- Andy -- "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." (Michelangelo)

View mafe's profile


11312 posts in 2658 days

#6 posted 06-03-2011 02:20 PM

Now I think I corrected the text right, I just used the spelling and then it changed all into 01 02 and this was wrong also…

Just so there are no mistakes I talk O1 oil cooled steel, and A2 air cooled steel.

Hock writes better than me about it here:

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View mafe's profile


11312 posts in 2658 days

#7 posted 06-03-2011 02:23 PM

Doc, thank you for your insight, this was exacty what I was hoping for, some people sharing their views on what they do and why they do so. I listen carefully and think your explanations makes perfectly sence.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View dbray45's profile


3254 posts in 2346 days

#8 posted 06-03-2011 02:24 PM

Illinios Engraving lists A-1 steel.
A-1 Air Hardening Steels Provide Increased Toughness

Air hardening (A-2) tool steel can be used in the same applications where water and oil hardening steels are used. Some of these include cold chisels, blacksmith tools, cold forming tools, hand punches, scissors, shears, razors, knives, taps, trimming dies, shear blades, knurling tools, drills, woodworking chisels, embossing dies and of course, steel stamps.

This may be the process

AISI O1 general purpose oil-hardening tool steel is
a versatile manganese-chromium-tungsten steel
suitable for a wide variety of cold-work applications.
Its main characteristics include:
• Good machinability
• Good dimensional stability in hardening
• A good combination of high surface hardness
and toughness after hardening and tempering

-- David in Damascus, MD

View dbray45's profile


3254 posts in 2346 days

#9 posted 06-03-2011 02:33 PM

There is a difference between the “O” and “A” tool steels, there is also a “D”, “W”, and others.

The end result—if you harden and temper correctly, you will have a hardness between 59 and 64, where my HF chisels have a steel that has a hardness just above cardboard – but they sharpen real fast.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View dbray45's profile


3254 posts in 2346 days

#10 posted 06-03-2011 02:49 PM

Sorry about the multiple posts. Personnally, I like to grind, then use my stones to finish. The combination of the diamond – then 8000 water stone – then finish with strop and printer or craft paper gets the finest edge for me. I do not have the space for a machine.

I prefer the thicker blades of old – they are harder and are of better quality.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 2224 days

#11 posted 06-03-2011 03:19 PM

I think for this post I will limit myself to plane blades. As far as my favorite Iron I get very specific. Cryogenicly treated A2 tool steel, Rc 62 ± 1, blades 3/16 thick made by David Finck. I have not been able to find a better blade though I have yet to try Hocks (at some point I look forward to comparing the two)

Link here:

To sharpen these blades I use a hand crank wheel to hollow grind to 30 degrees and then I use the bevel as its own guide. I made “stones” from MDF, and automotive sandpaper (Silicon Carbide) in 400, 1500 and 2000 grits. If you study the micron count of the abrasive compounds 2000 grit in silicon carbide is the same micron count as an 8000 grit water stone (translation: they get you to the same edge)

I am not sure if sharpening this way is my favorite but I like the edge I get from this method as opposed to oil stones and water stones are not practical for me to try since my shop in not insulated. I do a pictorial or a video as promised on the hand plane forum a little later.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 2450 days

#12 posted 06-03-2011 04:52 PM

I have spent more time over the past couple years learning how to sharpen then I have on anything else woodworking related. I cant even tell you how many times I thought I had a “sharp” blade and then I would learn more and realize they weren’t sharp enough. Getting the perfect edge seems to be an endless struggle for me and I am sure I am not alone.

I am at the point now where I can get my blades sharp but I have a hard time getting old blades that are badly out of square back to being square. One of my setbacks is I do not have a power grinder or even a belt sander.

I grind my primary bevel by using sandpaper attached to a granite tile and holding the blade in one of the cheaper rolling jigs. This method takes a long time but it does work. I start with 100 grit paper and I grind most of the primary with that. As I start approaching the edge I switch to 120 grit and then 220. I check the blade often and I try and stop before I reach the very edge. If the blade is out of square I keep grinding through the edge until the blade is square. I should also note that I will use wet/dry paper for this and I stop often to let the blade cool down for a few then I go back to it. I learned to do this after I burned my fingers a few times by going to quick.

To flatten the backs of the blades I have pretty much given up on flattening the whole back and I now use the David Charlesworth ruler trick to flatten the backs of my plane blades.

To hone the irons I use Scary Sharp method using Micro film from

I follow the steps from Brent Beach’s web site

I will sharpen a blade tonight and take some pictures of my set up and then post again here later in more detail.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View Bertha's profile


13047 posts in 2262 days

#13 posted 06-03-2011 04:57 PM

If starting from scratch:
1) Wet grinder for hollow primary & square
2) Scary sharp (windowsill) and eclipse jig to flatten the primary
3) Powered strop with autosol or green bar
4) Secondary on scary sharp
5) non-powered strop

Dan reminded me in his post that I forgot my scary sequence:
120, 160, 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, and 2000
I polish the backs of my irons first, to a mirror finish. If I see pits within my lifetime of use, I cut it off and start all over.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 2728 days

#14 posted 06-03-2011 04:58 PM

I hate sharpening. This is why I love my Worksharp 3000. It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s fast and easily brings the tools to a sharpness that I can shave with (or sharper). It doesn’t have to be the perfect, microscopic edge because of the speed in which I can re-hone a chisel or plane iron.

-- jay,

View bigike's profile


4051 posts in 2858 days

#15 posted 06-03-2011 05:26 PM

Me I read a lot of what others had to say about sharpening and put together my own method of going about it. I grind the primary bevel at 25-26 deg. then I use a honing jig to hold the blade set at about 30 deg. and go from a 1000 grit water stone to a 8000 grit counting my strokes as I go. So it’s like 10 strokes pulling toward me on the 1000 grit then another 10 on the 1200 change the blade angle to about 32 deg and then do about 15 on the 6000 and then 20 on the 8000 all the while changing pressure from the middle of the blade to the ends this way the ends are set back from middle so I don’t get the lines from the ends digging in my stock. I used the lie nielsen plans for the blade angle setter so I get the same results every time very sharp blades I can shave with. This is why I think mine is the best method for sharpening plane blades and chisels I have different angles for chisels though, for those I use the same method as David Charlesworth uses on his DVD Precision Prep of Chisels for accurate joinery.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

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