My Sharpening Process

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Blog entry by Mauricio posted 03-19-2013 07:32 PM 2926 reads 1 time favorited 37 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Bigredknothead did a blog on his sharpening process recently and I thought it was a good idea; I enjoyed reading it and wish more people would do the same. So I’m following suit and hope that others will weigh in with their own no nonsense techniques.

This is what I’ve settled on, at least for the time being. I like it because it’s a pretty easy and inexpensive process. Maybe it helps bring some sanity to someone else who is trying to decide on a sharpening routine.
I’m no expert, just sharing what I do which has worked for me.

I’ve got two options. Option A is for blades that don’t have to be absurdly sharp like Jack, Scrub, and Jointer planes. Option B is for the extra touch on Smoothers or edges that will be used on end grain.

Option A:
Course (320grit) DMT followed by 1K/6K (double sided) water stone. I’ve been finishing that up with a leather strop with Flexcut gold compound.

I sharpen free hand, almost never use a honing guide. It easy to get the angle by hand but I’ve found it’s important to always start with the course stone for a few reasons.
• If you don’t start coarse the other stones will take too long
• Also I feel like you don’t fully renew the edge without it so you won’t end up as sharp
• When sharpening free hand you will have a tendency to make the bevel angle steeper and steeper each time to get a burr. Eventually you could end up with a bevel angle that is too big. I’ve done this once, put a 45 degree angle on a blade, it turns into a skid that won’t cut wood. Lol.
• I like to create a convex bevel on the coarse stone like Paul Sellers does but I try to just hone the “micro bevel” on the water stone. That makes those stones faster since they are removing less material; also it keeps your stones from dishing so fast.

• Another benefits of the DMT Coarse stone – I almost never use a grinder. The DMT is almost always sufficient. And the great thing about the DMT is that the course side (220 grit) works great for flattening the water stones.

Option B:
I do this when I want to get the sharpest edge possible.
Course DMT, 1k/6k then, instead of using the strop I will use 1micron and .3 Micron paper.
I just started using MDF tiles for the 3M paper so I can just toss them when they are done. I got this idea from Dan and so far it’s working well.

Yeah, that’s a Cobra tank in the background! Long story, it was a gift from a friend, the childhood story associated I will save for another day.

Why isn’t a strop sufficient? I’ve heard Paul Sellers say that green compound will get you to like 12K grit. I’m being picky but if you read the fine print on these products they tell you the AVERAGE grit size is .5 micron. Which means that there are larger particles which make the compound cut faster. Does that affect the cutting results you get? Probably not, I’m just being picky here.
From what I can gather only pastes made for use on sharpening machines are purely .5 micron.

Overcoming the messiness of water stones:
One of the downsides of water stones is the mess of flattening. I’ve come up with a way that minimizes this quite a bit.

I keep this bucket of water near the sharpening station. I wet the stone and the diamond stone in the water and rub them together. Then I rinse the stones with fresh water from a squeezy bottle when I’m done to clean them off. I also use the brush to clean off all the grit from the holes in the DMT.

I hardly get my hands wet doing this so it’s not that bad.

So here is what I call sharp. Take a piece of soft pine and test the edge on the end grain. For a while I thought it was just the same to do this test on oak but it’s not. The pine will only cut cleanly with a very sharp edge because the fibers yield more than hard wood.

Take a look at the right side of this piece… a clean surface. The left side was cut with a not so sharp chisel.
Interestingly I tried this on a chisel sharpened up to 6K and nothing more and I was able to get the same result. So maybe the 6K stone is sufficient.

However I still think getting a blade as polished as possible improves edge retention. If your edge is serrated on a microscopic level it will cut but the serrations will round over more quickly than a continuous sharp edge.
Take a look at these magnified pictures from Leonard Lee’s book on sharpening.

6k followed by a strop looks pretty sharp but you can see the edge is not as straight and smooth as the 8K. Also you can see the deep scratches on the 6K pic. That can be from the 6K stone but I think they are from those larger particles in the stropping compound.

Anyway, that’s the little I know about sharpening. It’s subject to change if I read something those changes my mind.

*Potential Changes”
I’m thinking of maybe going with the full Paul Sellers method with diamond stones and stropping. I’m going to use the strop more with my current method and see if I like it long-term. I like it because it’s so fast and it could save me a lot of time on flattening. But then there is that that issue with stropping compounds I mentioned above that bugs me. Maybe the speed of the process outweighs the slight increase in sharpening frequency? (if any). Like I said I’m going to strop and see how that works for a while.

The other route would be to buy an 8K water stone which would eliminate stropping and 3m film. But they are like $80 for one stone which kind of makes me wonder if the marginal benefit over stropping is worth the price. I do think Water stones are slightly slower because of the flattening you have to do but the polish you get is superior to diamond stones so it might be worth it… I’m undecided.

My current process works so I will stick with it for a while.

It’s also relatively inexpensive.
• Course/Extra Course DMT – $65
• 1k/6k Waterston – $50
• Leather for strop could be free but I got a big bag of leather scraps for like $10 at Hobby Lobby but I also used that for vise faces and I still I have a ton left over.
• Flexcut Stropping compound – $10
• A sample pack of 3M film at TFWW is $14 if you decide to go that route but you will have to keep buying it. It will get expensive over the long run.

So not counting the 3M film you’re at about $125. But you don’t have to spend that all at once. I built up to this gradually because I’m a cheapskate. I started with scary sharp, then bought the stropping compound, then the water stone; I was flattening the stone on a cinder block until I got the DMT.

Hopefully I haven’t board you. My hope is to help others like me who have struggled to find a process that works well. Also if you have any feedback that could make my process better I’m open to suggestions. The one thing I’ve learned from this process is that the biggest obstacle to getting better is believing you’ve got it figured out, so I’m open to anyone’s input.

Thanks for reading.


-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

37 comments so far

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 2933 days

#1 posted 03-19-2013 07:50 PM

Best line of the blog “biggest obstacle to getting better is believing you’ve got it figured out” Is that your quote? If so may I use it?

Good blog. Sounds like a good sharpening process to me.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3204 days

#2 posted 03-19-2013 07:56 PM

IT IS! lol. Feel free to use that whenever you want Dan. Thanks for reading, I’d love to see you post your process, your perspective is always extremely valuable.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View jordanp's profile


1086 posts in 1993 days

#3 posted 03-19-2013 08:07 PM

Great post love that phase also. “biggest obstacle to getting better is believing you’ve got it figured out”

-- J. Palmer Woodworks - Rockwall TX -I woke up this morning thinking “man, I really hope someone posted some soul scarring sh*t on LJs today.” -- - Billy

View ksSlim's profile


1277 posts in 2942 days

#4 posted 03-19-2013 08:30 PM

Maur- Great blog! I agree with, “biggest obstacle to getting better is believing you’ve got it figured out”.
What ever works for the user.
40 years ago I was a saddlemaker. We “learned” to use oil stones and Arky rocks for sharpening.
There was a strop on every bench charged with “white rouge” and “red rouge”, and each was used daily.
I use a strop regularly, espically when I’m planning.

I’m including a link to a “polishing and grinding” reference.

All strop compounds are NOT created equal.

“biggest obstacle to getting better is believing you’ve got it figured out”

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 2933 days

#5 posted 03-19-2013 08:34 PM

Darn it Jordanp took my idea.. I was going to use that quote as my signature quote… I move to slow.

I should do a blog with mine. I know I have gone over it before on threads but I have never done a blog about it. I will do one eventually.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View ksSlim's profile


1277 posts in 2942 days

#6 posted 03-19-2013 08:47 PM

FWIW- I posted a summary of grit comparison on our Guild’s web site.

My research until 2011. Still working.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View BigRedKnothead's profile


8520 posts in 2035 days

#7 posted 03-19-2013 10:09 PM

Nice write-up buddy. There is always more to learn on this topic. Thanks for taking the time. Gave me some more things to try.

-- "At the end of the day, try and make it beautiful....because the world is full of ugly." Konrad Sauer

View Ron Harper's profile

Ron Harper

133 posts in 1969 days

#8 posted 03-19-2013 10:23 PM

I have been converted to Paul Sellers honing method. I use oil stones instead of diamond stones, because I already have some great oil stones. I have been honing this way now for three months. There is no comparison in terms of speed. This is much faster, therefore it encourages me to hone more often. My irons get wicked sharp using this method. Now, let me say very quickly that I have tried five or six separate methods. They all work and will produce surgical edges if practiced enough. The advantage for me for this method is speed.

-- Ron in Kokomo

View Don W's profile

Don W

18789 posts in 2620 days

#9 posted 03-19-2013 10:36 PM

I’ll buy into the biggest obstacle to getting better is believing you’ve got it figured out. But thankfully we all have Dan posting his magical pictures to let us all know we have work to do.

Nice write up Mauricio.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3204 days

#10 posted 03-20-2013 12:28 AM

Ha ha, wow I don’t think I’ve ever been quoted before! Thanks guys, and thanks for the props Jordan!

Now that I think about it my tag line pretty much says the same thing “Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it’s Tomb” Prof. T.O. Nitsch. (Smitty’s College Professor) LOL

And I say that because for a while I thought I had it figured out. I was using sandpaper from the Auto parts store and stropping on mdf, I thought I was sharp until I tested my edge on pine end grain and then I realized I had room for improvement. But until I came to that realization I didnt open my ears to what others had been saying about their sharpening methods. Thus, I didn’t get any better for a while. Some people (me) have to learn things on their own the hard way I guess.

Dan the world needs your blog on sharpening. Otherwise it’s buried in the HPOYD thread, hard to find and not searchable.

And Don, good point, it might have been Dan with his magic shavings that got me thinking, hey I cant do that! Thanks buddy.

kslim what are the white and red compounds about? I bought some green compound from TFWW but I didn’t like the polish I was getting as much as the gold. And your right about compounds not being equal, it’s just hard to know the differences because they are not forthcoming about what’s in them. Kind of like finishes.

And thanks for the link! I had a similar one favorited but not as good or complete as yours!

Red glad you got something out of it and thanks for the inspiration.

Ron your comments really have my thinking. I know PS method gets you pretty damn sharp and any perceived disadvantage on my part is more than overcome by the speed and simplicity of his method. The other thing I like about it is how compact it is. I like how it all fits on that little board. You really dont even need a sharpening station because there isn’t much mess. Hmmm… All I need is two more stones and I’m there. The fine and x fine DMT dia sharps. Single grit so I don’t have to flip them over.

Here is a question about PS’ method, what do you do the polish the backs? You’re not getting there with the diamond stones; do you polish them with scary sharp?

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View CL810's profile


3801 posts in 3041 days

#11 posted 03-20-2013 02:13 AM

Great post Mauricio. Your quote is definitely an absolute truism.

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 3538 days

#12 posted 03-20-2013 04:57 AM

Great blog Mauricio,

I was on my way to the shop to write about my sharpening technique, but on the way there (a few steps past the back door), it changed and now I have to start over!

“For Sale – All the junk that goes with the other 7, er 8, er 10 sharpening methods I’ve tried”

Still not sold on the current waterstone with some diamond stone thrown in method. I’m messy by nature, so yeah, it’s a mud fest.

Big flat expensive diamond stones and/or shaptons will be my final, end all, be all, sharpening method.

With the money I’ve spent over time, there could be a tormek sitting on my bench, or a dozen diamond and ceramic stones. Tormek never appealed to me. Not that I have the $600 plus to invest in one.

ksSlim – regarding your tables, thanks so much for posting them Back when I bought my first 8000 grit waterstone, I was using 2000 and 2500 wet/dry sandpaper from Napa Parts, IIRC, for the final hone. I could bring up a mirror polish on the face of an iron or chisel using the 2000 W/D, and dreamed of the polish I could achieve using an 8000 waterstone. Heck, going from 2000 to 8000 grit, it was a no brainer. I was using some well used 2000 grit W/D so it was more like maybe 3000 W/D (never seen 3000 W/D but you get the picture). So after a few swipes on the well used 2000 or 2500 W/D, I forget, I switch to the 8000 waterstone. I worked up a slurry using a nagura stone and when to town on that stone. After a few swipes I looked at my progress and imagine my surprise to see a slight haze on a previously pristine mirrored face. I didn’t know the 2000 W/D was about equal to the 8000 waterstone. And really, that is still not a well known fact among woodworkers, just my opinion.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3204 days

#13 posted 03-20-2013 02:29 PM

David, thanks for weighing in. You know I kind of feel silly now because it never clicked for me that 2000 grit sandpaper was the same as a 8k Japanese waters stone. I mean I know that the grit system was different and I had seen charts like what Slim posted but I never realized how they lined up. It’s not obvious because a 6K water stone is smoother to the touch than 2k paper.

And you’re right. I used to get a mirror polish on the back of my irons with sandpaper which I don’t get with the 6K stone. I have to finish it off with the 1 and .3 micron 3M paper to get the mirror.

Shaptons sound cool but if you talk to Dan he will tell you they wear out too fast for what they cost. He does a lot of plane restorations but still…

I like the Paul Sellers Diamond Stone idea followed by the strop but I think I would finish with the XX Fine (3micron) stone and skip on the XFine which is 9micron.

You know it’s a little shady that DMT would call their XXFine 3micron a 8000k grit stone when a Japanese 8k stone is 1.2micron. In my book that’s a 4000 grit stone.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3387 days

#14 posted 03-20-2013 03:09 PM

I use a two sided diamond stone 600/1200. I sharpen with Paul Sellers technique except for the high grit counts. It works great for me including end grain, pine or whatever. I touch up as I work which takes only a few seconds. I guess we all work different or are satisfied with more or less. It’s always interesting to discover how different the requirements are from one person to the next. I’m not saying this belittle others who want 12000 grit edges, but just to say that good woodworking can be done with a lot less, so as not to scare any newcomers off.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3204 days

#15 posted 03-20-2013 03:44 PM

Stefang so your using the PS method but not following with the strop?

I think your right that good work working can be done with much less. I mean, imagine sanding your wood to 1200 grit? That’s pretty damn smooth, and that’s what you’re doing basically with your process.

However as a newcomer progresses and want to be able to plane difficult grain then I think the higher grits become more important. For example take a look at this picture. Here I’m taking my smoother over a knot in walnut. There is no tearout, just a slight bit of roughness right before the knot that can be taken care of with a scraper.

I think its situations like that where you want the sharpest blade possible. Now if that can be done by sharpening only to 1200 grit then I stand corrected. Like I said before I’m open to improvement.

By the way I do have a 10degree-ish back bevel on my smoother iron so that helps to.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

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