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. http://lumberjocks.com/BigRedKnothead/blog/34842
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.
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.
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.
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