At the risk of getting skinned alive these are my thoughts on hand plane tuning and sharpening for newcomers to woodworking who would like to try using hand planes.This blog is intended to steer you in the right direction, not to teach you the how to do it.
This is a shot of almost all the hand planes I own. I mostly use the #4 smoother now, but I started with the Stanley #5 Jack plane (at the far left on top) and and my little Stanley block plane. These two planes were the only hand planes I owned for many years and they could do just about everything I needed with them.
Successful (and enjoyable) hand planing totally depends on using a well tuned plane and a properly sharpened blade, so those are the two most important things to learn before actually doing any planing. That said, there are different degrees of tuning and sharpening, some more thorough than others.
Tailor your investment and methods to your current needs
Not everyone has all the equipment and/or expensive honing stones to follow the advice of the gurus. Also, the advice on offer varies a lot between experts, even though the advice is all good. They just arrive at the same result using slightly different methods.
Educate yourself with tutorial videos and blogs
I suggest you google some sharpening and tuning videos to get an idea of what works. I think Paul Sellers for example has a great approach overall because it is simple but effective and doesn’t require a big outlay in sharpening stones. He has a lot of Youtube videos showing his methods. Below are links to videos by Garret Hack, a real expert showing a hand plane tune-up and hand sharpening. I chose his videos because he also shows the grinding work. For a newcomer this work seems incredibly time consuming, but if you consider how much time Hack actually used in the videos, especially for sharpening, this was just a few minutes well spent, considering the results. A good analogy is all the time an athlete uses to train for an event that is over in a few seconds or maybe and hour.
In the sharpening video Hack uses a lot of stones. I used a diamond stone with 600 grit on one side and 1200 grit on the other for many years. I didn’t get nearly as good an edge as Hack gets, but satisfactory for most of the work I do. You don’t have to start with the ultimate edge, but you may want go for it after you get a little experience. If you don’t want to buy a diamond stone you can get just as good results using sandpaper. Just google ‘the scary sharp’ sharpening method. Lots of videos on that method out there.
Some prefer using sharpening machines. I confess that I now use a Tormek water cooled sharpening machine. This is mainly because I have arthritis and hand sharpening is not as easy for me as it once was. Sharpening machines also take time to use, in fact more time in my opinion than hand sharpening methods, and they are not as good either. We often think a machine will do a better job and quicker, but when it comes to sharpening hand tools this is not true. I am happy with my Tormek, but I am not expecting the ultimate edge from it.
I hope you find this advice helpful.
-- Mike, an American living in Norway.