Lessons Learned & Outstanding Questions on Sharpening

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Forum topic by SlaterNation posted 04-18-2012 08:24 PM 2131 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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15 posts in 2633 days

04-18-2012 08:24 PM

Topic tags/keywords: sharpening waterstones waterstone mkii honing dmt duosharp diamondstone

Sharpening Equipment I Have:

- Norton 220/1000 waterstone
- Norton 4000/8000 waterstone
- DMT DuoSharp Coarse/Extra Coarse diamond stone
- Veritas MK II honing jig
- Extremely flat granite block

It has been quite a learning process to get sufficiently sharp tools but I feel like I am finally getting to the point where I am reaching competency. I started out with the misconception that blades would be sharp and ready to use directly from the manufacturer but I have found that even the plane irons I received with my veritas planes were far from being ready to use. Since keeping your tools sharp is a part of ongoing required maintenance, this makes sense in retrospect.

When I first started using waterstones I had a similar misconception that they would be flat when they left the factory. Just like with chisels and plane irons, you cannot expect waterstones to be ready to use either. I also greatly underestimated the frequency with which the waterstones need to be flattened in order to achieve the desired level of sharpness.

My Current Sharpening Process

This is the process I now use starting from when I receive the chisel or plane iron from the manufacturer:

1) Flatten the back of the blade incrementally from 1000 to 4000 and finally to 8000. I examine the surface at each step to ensure that the surface is uniform and there are no coarser scratches than the stone I am currently flattening with. After the 8000 grit stone the blade will have a surface which is perfectly clear and mirrored.

2) Set the blade in the MK II honing jig at the desired angle (25 deg for most of my chisels and plane irons) ensuring that the blade is square to the fence (very important)

3) Hone the bevel with my 1000 grit stone until the entire bevel is ground to a uniform angle. Then proceed through the 4000 and 8000 grit stones. Just like with the back of the blade, there should be a perfectly clear mirrored surface on the bevel of the blade after this step.

4) Use the MK II micro-bevel knob along with the 8000 grit stone to give the blade a ~1/16” micro bevel.

5) Using green compound on a leather strop to perform final honing on the back and then the bevel (15-30 strokes on each).

Throughout each of these steps I stop to flatten the stone as soon as I see a fair amount of debris (black stuff) on the waterstone. Perhaps I have swung too far the other way from when I never flattened my waterstones (didn’t know I needed to!) but I find myself flattening the stone very frequently now. I would say ever 30-40 strokes across the waterstone. I can tell a much improved sharpening action after flattening the waterstone, which also has the effect of clearing all debris. I began to get much better sharpening results after obsessing over keeping the surface of my stones flat.

I keep my waterstones submerged in water at all times.

The problem which was driving me crazy is that I was initially using 220 grit wet/dry sandpaper on the granite slab to flatten the stones. This works just fine but I found the surface of the sandpaper would lose it’s ability to flatten efficiently very very quickly (especially when flattening the 1000 grit stone) and so it was not only expensive and messy, but also very laborious.

To that end I have purchased a DMT DuoSharp Coarse/Extra Coarse diamond stone after doing much research. I have not had much of a chance to put it though it’s paces (received it yesterday) but it did seem to flatten the one stone I tested with (8000 grit) much easier than the sandpaper method. I just held them together under a running faucet and rubbed the stone against the 220 grit side of the diamond stone.

Outstanding Questions and Concerns

- Can I use the DMT diamond stone to set the initial bevel on my blades? I expect it to remove material much quicker than the 1000 grit waterstone and my initial test seems to confirm this. Even though the DMT manual shows irons being sharpened directly on the diamond stone I am paranoid about it losing it’s cutting power and/or not staying perfectly flat. I do not want my $120 diamond stone to stop working for it’s primary purpose: keeping my waterstones flat.

- Why am I still seeing a non-uniform bevel being set across my new plane iron? I have recently purchased the Veritas low-angle jack plane and the 25 degree plane iron it comes with however when I set it in my honing jig (at 25 degrees naturally), the area where material is being removed can be clearly seen and it is removing more from the left side of the tip of the blade than the right. I am sure that the iron is squarely placed in the honing jig, and I know my stones are now flat so the only thing I can figure is that the blade from the manufacturer was not very accurately ground to 25 degrees. Not that I mind the additional work of honing the initial bevel on the blade, I just expected it to be much closer to “ready-to-use” than a Groz plane iron might be for instance. Should I continue to remove material all the way up to the beginning of the bevel so that it is uniformly set to 25 degrees according to my MK II honing jig? Do I only need to go half way up the bevel? Or is this a very bad sign that the material is not being removed consistently across the face of the bevel? Any suggestions?

That’s all I have for now. Hope this information helps some others out there who are figuring out how to get their hand tools sharp enough to work well. I know there are many ways to achieve acceptable results, this is just what I’ve found works best for me (at least for the time being) and figured I would share. Any critiques, input, or questions, or answers to the couple questions I asked above are welcome. Thanks!

12 replies so far

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4930 posts in 3959 days

#1 posted 04-18-2012 08:46 PM

I don’t question the process other than it seems TOO much work for ya.
I flatten as you do. Not as accute, but flat. Not to a mirror ‘cause I’m afraid that I might see myself.
Basic 25 degree bevel +-, then a micro bevel which I believe to be the most important. Hone with green rouge or even alum. oxide if I want to get nutso.
I flatten my w’stones after each use. Had ‘em for over 15 years, keep ‘em wet (with a touch of bleach in the water) so they are ready for use.
I won’t fault your process at all.
I welcome any comments too.
I use a Makita horizontal waterstone sharpener. It is a dino, but so what…....


View SlaterNation's profile


15 posts in 2633 days

#2 posted 04-18-2012 08:53 PM

Bill, thanks for the input. After the initial process I documented I only need to go in and re-hone the microbevel so while the initial amount of work is high, I am able to keep my blades sharp relatively easily afterwards.

Do you have any thoughts on what I’m seeing where the plane blade is being honed inconsistently when setting the initial bevel? Is this normal from your experience when setting the bevel for the first time?


View Don W's profile

Don W

18715 posts in 2566 days

#3 posted 04-18-2012 09:00 PM

If it’s a sharpening process that works for you, I have no fault with it. I agree with Bill, it seems a little excessive for me.

When you flatten the back, you only need to be flat on the end of the iron. An 1/8”is enough, I strive for 1/4”, but don’t always get there. You didn’t mention how far you are flattening.

Can I use the DMT diamond stone to set the initial bevel on my blades?—Yes. If I were you I’d buy 3 more DMT’s and sell the Nortons, but again, that’s me. (I did just that)

the blade from the manufacturer was not very accurately ground to 25 degrees. —This is typical.

Should I continue to remove material all the way up to the beginning of the bevel so that it is uniformly set to 25 degrees according to my MK II honing jig?—I wouldn’t. Just get enough to make the iron usable. Subsequent sharpenings will even it out.

Sharpening is a individual process. We all have our own opinions, so its best to continue to do what works for you, but continue to learn. I think as your process evolves you will find shortcuts to make your life easier.

That’s my cent and a half’s worth.

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

View jmos's profile


827 posts in 2368 days

#4 posted 04-18-2012 09:26 PM

I’m a waterstone user also. I have the same grit Norton stones as you (slightly different configuration) and use a cheap side clamping guide. I flatten with sandpaper on a granite reference plate. I haven’t had too much complaint about the life of the sandpaper. Don’t have the DMT so I can’t provide any input there. Has anyone tried the new DMT dia-flat lapping plate; sounds great, but pretty pricey?

There seems to be a million ways to sharpen, and million opinions, some of them very adamant. I think as long as it works, and you get consistent results, each to their own. I bought and pretty much follow the method from the David Charlesworth sharpening DVD (available from Lie-Nielsen).

For back flattening plane blades I use the 1000 grit stone until I get all the coarse machine marks out, then go straight to the ruler trick. If your not familiar, you take a thin metal ruler and place it on one long side of the 8000 grit stone and work the very edge of the blade on the other side of the stone. This creates a small band of high polish at the cutting edge rather than going through the labor of taking the entire back through 4000 and 8000 grit. This does impose a small back bevel on the blade, but the effect is negligible. For chisels, this is not recommended. There you have to work through the grits as you do now.

For sharpening, I’ll set the primary bevel at, say 25, then go to 30 on the 1000 grit stone. Just as soon as I have a wire edge (can be as little as a stroke or two if I just re-established to primary), I tip up a few more degrees and polish on the 8000 grit stone. Then repeat the ruler trick on the back. The more you sharpen the longer it takes on a 1000 stone to get the wire edge, and you have to think about resetting the primary bevel again. In between resetting the primary it’s really fast to resharpen.

I do not strop. Haven’t tried it. I’ve read in a couple of places that you can’t tell the different between honing to 8000 on the stone and doing a final stropping (or going to a crazy fine Shapton stone). I’d be interested to hear experiences from those that have tried it both ways.

I have also found that most plane irons need work from the manufacturers. I’ve got a number of LN items an they are usually very goo out of the box, but I even one of those required a god bit of work (almost sent it back.) Veritas is pretty good too, but generally have had to work those a bit as well. It would not shock me if your iron was out of square. Have you checked the iron itself with a square? That’s the best way to tell. If the cutting edge is square to the side of the blade I’d look for some set-up error with the jig, if not, keep working it, or send it back.

Good thread!

-- John

View SlaterNation's profile


15 posts in 2633 days

#5 posted 04-18-2012 09:52 PM

Don – Thanks for the comments. I am only flattening the last 1/4”-1/2” of the back. I can’t imagine how much work would be involved in flattening the entire back but I don’t want to find out!

I may end up getting additional DMT stones at the higher grits and get rid of the waterstones altogether as they are rather messy. Do you spray down your diamond stones with a spray bottle? And are you concerned with them losing their flatness over time? Thanks again!

John – Thanks for the advice. Despite all the information out there on the web (or perhaps due to that fact) I have found sharpening to be one of the most mysterious and challenging things to pick up. It’s always good to hear other methods and get confirmation I’m not missing something stupid! Thanks again.

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2474 days

#6 posted 04-18-2012 09:59 PM

If you are using a “micro” bevel (which in my opinion it is no longer micro when it is 1/16”) why are you sharpening so much? Just sharpen the micro bevel and be done in a couple of minutes. I use the same method you use from 1000 to 8000 but I just do it on the micro bevel, I get a mirror sharp edge in a minute or so, all you need is a few passes per stone.

As stated above, no one can say you are sharpening the “wrong” way, but it certainly seems you are putting more effort than required.. :-)

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18715 posts in 2566 days

#7 posted 04-18-2012 09:59 PM

I started with waterstones and hated them. I picked up some oil stones at a couple of flea markets. I liked them a lot better. The only reason I went with the DMT’s is a caught a buy-it-now for the 4 stones on ebay for $100. I like them. I use a spray bottle with Window Cleaner. I saw it on a Paul Sellers video so I tried it. I am not worried about them losing flatness. We’ll see but I don’;t see how they can. Check out Dan's review.

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

View walterdlewis's profile


4 posts in 2063 days

#8 posted 01-04-2013 02:50 AM

Non-uniform bevel being set across my new plane iron is an issue I’ve been having as well. The issue is I see it happening on different blades both plane and chisel when honed with my MK2. One thing I have noticed is that the alignment/angle setter graduations could be more precise for setting the blade width. Also when making certain the blade is firmly against the fence and square I cant seem to get the angle setter off the honing guide without loosening the blade, not the best thing when trying to hold everything square.
Does anyone have any ideas to keep the blade square, provided the blade itself is square to begin with?

View JohnChung's profile


408 posts in 2073 days

#9 posted 01-04-2013 06:50 AM

Here are my thoughts.

1) The DMT can be used to set the initial bevel BUT it will wear faster…. I would keep it for flattening stones.
2) Veritas Jig non-uniform bevel being set across plane iron. This was a question I started with when I started to question how reliable it is. It is NOT exactly square between the bevel and the side of the blade. If you used a square and check, it would be off quite a fair bit. But the key is to have a sharp edge. You can use the lateral
adjuster to ensure that the bevel is square on the sole of the plane.

It is possible while sharpening that the blade would have shifted in the jig. Try to reset the iron in the jig and make sure that it is clamp down tight on the blade.

View Mark Kornell's profile

Mark Kornell

1169 posts in 2530 days

#10 posted 01-04-2013 07:36 AM

I had that issue when I first used the Mk II jig, too, and I eventually figured out it was how I clamped the blade or chisel in place. I’d first tighten one side, and then really lock it down on the other. Seems that would put uneven pressure on the blade, causing the jig to distort slightly and resulted in a small skew in the bevel.

I found that I got better results by holding the clamping bar flat to the back of the blade, tightening the screws until they both just touched the bar, and then further tightening both screws in small and equal increments. It locks the blade down evenly, and less overall force is needed to adequately secure it.

And to answer another part of your post – I was taught how to use a grinder to establish the bevel, which then allows one to ditch the jig and use the stones freehand (hollow grind/freehand hone). Much faster, but takes practice to get good at grinding – once you have that down, the freehand honing is easy.

The end result is the same, so I wont say one method is better than another. The goal is to get the back and bevel as flat as possible, so they meet at a very sharp point. I just find that using the jig makes things slower.

-- Mark Kornell, Kornell Wood Design

View Woodknack's profile


11626 posts in 2379 days

#11 posted 01-04-2013 07:40 AM

Yeah, many sharpening videos have the guy honing the bevel then cutting a micro-bevel, it never made sense to me. One or the other, no need for both. The exception would be first time sharpening especially if they are an inexpensive set just to make sure the initial bevel is square and uniform. I use an old General honing guide so I can’t help with the MK2 squareness issue.

-- Rick M,

View mandatory66's profile


202 posts in 2129 days

#12 posted 01-06-2013 06:20 AM

I had the same problem you are having using the LV jig, I changed to the cheap side holding jig and set up a guide block for 25 & 30 Deg. on a board. LN has a video on how to do this. Using the DMT diamond plate for keeping stones flat, works great. Now getting a nice even bevel. using 1000 then 8000 on the micro, couple of swipes then the Ruler trick. Finally .001 shavings.

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