How Sharp

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Forum topic by john_az posted 08-18-2012 01:46 AM 1854 views 0 times favorited 33 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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105 posts in 2548 days

08-18-2012 01:46 AM


I’m a novice woodworker and I just purchased a couple of honing guides to practice sharpening a chisel and a plane iron. I believe I got the hang of it. I also bought a new set of chisels and haven’t touched them yet. I’m practicing on inexpensive harbor freight chisels and plane irons. I bought a piece of marble tile from the home center and 120/220/1000/2000 grit paper. I’m basically following the “scary sharp” formula. I flattened the back of the chisel first and re-established the 25 degree bevel. I then got it polished to the point where you could almost use it as a mirror. I then put the micro bevel on it at about 30 degrees. This thing seems awefully sharp to me as it is. Is there really any need to now use water stones and go up to 4000/8000 grit? At this point, it would seem to be overkill? I want to do woodworking with it, not shave with it. My hopes are to learn how to do some dovetailing with a saw and chisel and improve my hand tool skills.


-- John, Phoenix-AZ

33 replies so far

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18380 posts in 3853 days

#1 posted 08-18-2012 01:52 AM

There is no such thing as “too sharp” when cutting end grain, especially hardwood.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Grandpa's profile


3261 posts in 2853 days

#2 posted 08-18-2012 01:56 AM

What Topa said

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3825 days

#3 posted 08-18-2012 01:56 AM

In terms of practical cutting ability there’s not a lot of
difference between 6000 and 8000 grit waterstones.

4000 grit honing, done well, is pretty darn sharp.

I like “shaving sharp” but I can get that off a 1000 grit
Makita wet grinder. It’s fine for chisels but for planes
honing with a finishing stone helps the quality of cut.
If I don’t feel like it I’ll take a plane iron from the wet
grinder (1000 grit) to a green rouged buffing wheel
and as long as I don’t round over the edge the quality
of cut I can get is comparable to honing with an 8000
grit waterstone.

View Manitario's profile


2654 posts in 3060 days

#4 posted 08-18-2012 02:02 AM

When I started sharpening I would sharpen up to 2000 grit using the Scary Sharp method. At some point in time I upped the sharpening to 4000 and 8000 grit waterstones. I’m not sure if it makes a huge difference but it makes me feel better.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View a1Jim's profile


117282 posts in 3754 days

#5 posted 08-18-2012 02:05 AM

To keep sharpening once the chisels are sharp is a waist of time.
It seems your skipping a lot of the grits. I use 120,160,180, 220,320,400,600,800,1000,1200, 2000 and then a leather strop, and yes it should look like a mirror when your through,
How old timers use to test for sharpness on their chisels is to see if they could shave the hair of their arms. But given it is scary sharp, I would see how it cuts end grain, it should slice through hard rock maple or Oak’s end grain with just light hand pressure, no mallet.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Oldtool's profile


2732 posts in 2368 days

#6 posted 08-18-2012 02:13 AM

It is not possible to be too sharp, however;
I also use the Scary Sharp method on all chisels and plane irons, with sandpaper on a 12” by 12” marble tile from the big box store. I start with 300 grit paper when necessary, then up through 400, 500, 1000 and 1200 grit. For touch ups I just go to the 500 and up. I’ve found this to be sufficient for my woodworking, but could be because I’ve never experienced any better.
You are the best judge of the tool’s performance stopping at the 2000 grit paper. Do you get good results?

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View shampeon's profile


1860 posts in 2361 days

#7 posted 08-18-2012 02:19 AM

Until I got my Work Sharp 3000, I basically did the same thing: sandpaper on glass and marble. a1Jim’s steps seem like overkill to me, but he probably only has to do a couple passes on each grit. I always basically doubled the grits: 60 if it’s really rough, 120, 220, 320, 400, 600, 1000, 2000, green honing compound on a leather strop.

Of course, you only really do that once. After the back is lapped and the primary and secondary bevels are established, you only really need to hone unless you chip the edge or are dealing with hardwoods with a lot of silica.

The procedure is similar with the Work Sharp. The main advantage is it does it a lot faster, with fewer grit steps. Since my shop is almost entirely old tools, rehabbing old plane irons and chisels is a lot more fun when it takes a couple minutes per blade instead of 45 minutes.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View a1Jim's profile


117282 posts in 3754 days

#8 posted 08-18-2012 02:27 AM

Your right shampen it was an is a over kill but it sharpens much quicker . Like you I use a work sharp3000 but I still go through same grits and Yes I have about 8 glass disc with different grits on each side If I have an old crummy chisel I’ll rough it out on the grinder and then start with 60 grit on my work sharp.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View john_az's profile


105 posts in 2548 days

#9 posted 08-18-2012 03:04 AM

Thanks for all the quick responses. I guess it’s because I’ve never had a sharp chisel before. All things being relative, sharp seems very sharp to me. I’ll kick it up a couple more notches and see what things look like then. I can go through pine end grain fairly easily, but not maple. I guess when I can do that, then it is sharp.


-- John, Phoenix-AZ

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 3536 days

#10 posted 08-19-2012 02:22 AM

If you’re cutting though pine end grain instead of compressing it, you’re sharp enough. The easiest way to tell is to look at the shavings. If they look like the shavings you’re getting off the face of the board, you’re good. If they are more “powdery”, you’re compressing the wood and not shaving it. Pine end grain is considered the test because its a soft wood and the fibers will compress more easily.

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2655 days

#11 posted 08-19-2012 02:41 AM

I have the benefit of trying every type of sharpening system. I am lucky to have a worksharp and a tormek t7 And I can strop the iron to a mirror finish with the best of them. But I recently got a set of Naniwa stones from Japan. I replaced the stropping procedure with the additional stones up to 10000 grit. The finish is a mirror on the hallow grind left from the T7. The re honing takes only a couple of minutes I have a 400 a 1000 a 3000 and a 10000 as well as a 12000 stone they more than hold their own when it comes to sharp. And in the long run the stones are less money than the scary sharp method. Normally I only use 1000 to 12000 stones and don’t touch the 400 grit stone. But I do use the 400 for The back of chisels and plane blades I take the backs to at least 10000 grit and I have found the flat back is a huge key to the best results. One thing I know for sure there are lots of ways to get to a mirror finish and for what its worth Japanese water stones are one of the fastest ways to get things sharp. I also have lots of tools I finish on the Japanese stone on the Tormek. I am on a quest to have the best and sharpest tools I can get and I work very hard on this because it improves everything I make. I am always around to help you if you need it and you can PM me any time for my viewpoint. Good luck with your new Quest.

-- Please check out my new stores and

View john_az's profile


105 posts in 2548 days

#12 posted 08-20-2012 02:21 AM

I’ve thought about the worksharp 3000, but it seems that it is only good for sharpening chisels and not plane irons?
The Tormek-T7 looks like the ultimate sharpening tool. I just purchased a set of Lie-Nielsen chisels and a LN block plane. I need to let my wallet cool off before getting the Tormek-T7. I’m beginning to think that hand-tool wood working is more expensive than power tools!!!

-- John, Phoenix-AZ

View waho6o9's profile


8489 posts in 2754 days

#13 posted 08-20-2012 02:38 AM

Congrats John, you’re purchasing value and not junk.

Those chisels and the Tormek-T7 will last a very long time and you will get excellent
service out of both.

View pierce85's profile


508 posts in 2740 days

#14 posted 08-20-2012 03:17 AM

Hey John,

Don’t abandon the scary sharp method too quickly. I started out using that method exclusively and learned a lot about sharpening through that process. I now use a combined method of scary sharp and water stones. The biggest lesson I learned was not to skip grits. As Jim points out, it actually goes much quicker and is more consistent taking small intermediate steps than leaping from say 220 to 600 and so on.

Make sure you have a consistent scratch pattern before moving to the next grit; be careful not to round over the edge, which happens more readily with sandpaper than with stones, at least for me it did; and I tend to get better results when I pull the blade on the higher grits than when pushing, i.e., you’re more likely to round over the edge while pushing.

In any event, develop a method that works for you and stick with it, but don’t be afraid to experiment once in a while.

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2655 days

#15 posted 08-20-2012 03:18 AM

I agree but you could get by with a grinder and a set of stones I did it for years but the T7 is the best it really is

-- Please check out my new stores and

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