Scary Sharp and flat surfaces

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Forum topic by luckysawdust posted 11-26-2012 06:05 PM 6535 views 0 times favorited 32 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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32 posts in 2586 days

11-26-2012 06:05 PM

Topic tags/keywords: scary sharp reference plate lapping sharpening chisel plane

Before posting, I tried to go back and see if another post had already addressed this, and didn’t find one, so here goes.

I’m a recent college grad, and am just beginning to assemble the pieces for my own future woodworking shop. One of the first things I’m learning is that sharpening is a necessary, even critical skill. Given my budgetary constraints, I have opted to go with the “Scary Sharp” system of sharpening, at least for now.

I’ve already got several different grits of sand-paper that are usable. At this point, I am looking for 1) an inexpensive honing guide, and 2) a flat enough surface on which to mount the sand-paper. Some of the write-ups I have seen for scary sharp recommend the “flattest surface you can find”—either float glass, or a granite ‘reference plate.’

My question is, how ‘flat’ does the surface need to be? Are granite scraps from a granite-reseller good enough? (ones that would be used for kitchen counter-tops? Could I also use those scraps as a surface on which to lap the sole-plates of hand-planes?

Also, I have seen people recommending that, at least for sharpening chisels, that you don’t push the chisel against the paper, but ‘pull’ it back across. Opinions either way? Is ‘pulling’ the chisel still necessary if you are working with a honing guide?

Here’s the stone I got for free.

Is this good enough to work with? At least good enough to start out with? Would I ruin something by using it as a flat surface?

-- “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

32 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5088 posts in 2635 days

#1 posted 11-26-2012 06:16 PM

I think you’ll do well with that piece of granite. The slabs are very flat for counter tops, I have to think that the piece you have is that flat. I’ve used the top of my tablesaw and some 1/4” glass I got from Lee Valley, both worked good, but I’ve only done planes on the TS (more room). As for chisels, when I was doing mine this way, I honed it back and forth with the guide I have. It would be fairly awkward to just hone it on one direction I would think. When using a wet grinder, Tormek says it doesn’t make any difference which way the cutting edge is moved against the abrasive surface.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View GregD's profile


788 posts in 3278 days

#2 posted 11-26-2012 06:23 PM

Check it with a good straight edge. The more expensive 10” drafting triangles at office supply stores are, in my experience, not so expensive and have straight edges and accurate angles. That should be large enough to evaluate that block of granite.

If you didn’t get lucky with that piece, Woodcraft sells a flat granite block that isn’t too expensive when it goes on sale. If that isn’t in the budget then maybe a small torsion box out of MDF. Many people seem to think MDF is flat, but I think it is rather floppy and needs to be backed up by a more rigid support structure.

-- Greg D.

View a1Jim's profile


117232 posts in 3719 days

#3 posted 11-26-2012 06:36 PM

Like Greg said you can use MDF or a piece of glass or your table saw top, I would guess your granite will be flat enough but it won’t hurt to check it with a straight edge. As to a honing guide, I used scary sharp for years just holding the angle with out a guide.
You can make a honing guide here are a couple I found just by searching “shop made honing guide” images on google.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

29864 posts in 2480 days

#4 posted 11-26-2012 06:39 PM

Sharpening your own is wise for two reasons,
First , financial self defense. If you stay busy in shop and keep tools sharp, you’ll be sharpening a lot.

Second, I do believe you get to know your tools better. Therefore it will make you a better craftsman.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View chrisstef's profile


17671 posts in 3148 days

#5 posted 11-26-2012 06:40 PM

Ive found that pulling produces a better edge but ive only done it on 2 irons so the jury is still out in reality. 3M “77” is a good adhesive to use. I used the wrong adhesive on some sandpaper my firts time out and it was a nightmare to get off.

The backsplash cut offs are nice and long to the point where you can get more than one grit on it. That would be my recomendation as well as sharpening in batches.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View luckysawdust's profile


32 posts in 2586 days

#6 posted 11-26-2012 07:34 PM

Sounds like I’ll be alright using the granite slab, at least for now (as long as its flat) —I’ll have to be creative with attaching sand-paper to it, given the limited amount of ‘real estate.’ Would water be enough to keep the sand-paper flat and attached?

I’d considered making my own honing guide—maybe that is the best way to go, for now?

In any case, I’m going to try this set-up out, and sharpen the best I can by hand, and may consider a honing guide if I really feel that I need/prefer it.

Thanks guys!

- “Lucky”

-- “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

View a1Jim's profile


117232 posts in 3719 days

#7 posted 11-26-2012 07:44 PM

The whole idea behind scary sharp is not to use water. You can buy some spray on adhesive or buy some pre glued sand paper PSA sand paper ,the spray would cost the least and should last a long time. If your going to free hand sharpening then you need to practise putting even pressure along the front edge of the chisel ,if you keep looking at the edge you can tell where you need to change the pressure on the front edge. It takes practice but you can do a good job with some practice. It will be easier with some kind of guide.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View dhazelton's profile


2789 posts in 2438 days

#8 posted 11-26-2012 07:53 PM

Pick up a cheap plastic protractor in a dollar store so you can get a reference for the proper angles to do your blades and chisels. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need a thousand bucks worth of tormek jigs and wheels and such to get a sharp edge. A belt sander to take metal past nicks (go slow so you don’t take the temper out of the steel), the sandpaper on a flat surface and maybe some red rouge (not really needed) and you’ll be making shavings you can see light though.

View Grandpa's profile


3261 posts in 2817 days

#9 posted 11-26-2012 08:00 PM

pulling a blade on a sharpening surface leaves burrs on the cutting edge by drawing them out there. If you push the blade it pushes the burrs back away from the cutting edge and you take them off. Those edges tend to have the sharp feel longer. Watch a professional sharpen a knife and shee when he applies the pressure. always like he is cutting.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5067 posts in 4102 days

#10 posted 11-26-2012 08:27 PM

I use a granite sink cut-out from our local granite fabricator. Plenty flat for what ya want. Price? FREE!
wet or dry (black) sandpaper.
Be sure to flatten the back of the cutting edge too. Work the bevel, touch up the back again to remove the burr, hone on a leather strop with green compound. Done.


View ajosephg's profile


1880 posts in 3703 days

#11 posted 11-26-2012 09:07 PM

I use a 12×12 granite tile purchased from Lowes.

-- Joe

View luckysawdust's profile


32 posts in 2586 days

#12 posted 11-26-2012 09:09 PM


Thanks for the tip – i guess you’re right! If I can get by without water, maybe that’s for the best?

Also, I have spray adhesive—its 3M “General Purpose 45”, not the “77” stuff I’ve had recommended to me. Is the “general purpose” adhesive unsuitable for the task? My wife says she’ll let me use some nail-polish remover to get the adhesive off the stone, so I’m covered there.

- “Lucky”

-- “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

View dhazelton's profile


2789 posts in 2438 days

#13 posted 11-26-2012 11:38 PM

You can also go to a craft store or art supply store and buy a gallon of rubber cement thinner and a small squirt can to remove the paper (just lift a scorner and start squirting as you pull up) and clean that adhesive.

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 3526 days

#14 posted 11-27-2012 12:04 AM

Lucky, you don’t really even need to stick the paper down with anything, either glue or water. I just lay the piece of paper down and hold it with one hand while sharpening the tool with the other. I did glue mine down, but found it totally unnecessary so I I don’t do it anymore. When using a sharpening stone, whether oil or water stone, I draw the blade towards the cutting edge, but when using sandpaper, I draw away from the edge. I found that drawing towards the edge on sandpaper quickly removed the grit and the sandpaper would be almost worthless in a big hurry. Try it and see how it works for you, but that’s what I do. Finally, I would try to learn to sharpen freehand. It’s easier with chisels, because of the larger bevel, but you can do plane irons that way too. It’s a skill that will really pay off later if you get into carving and have to sharpen gouges, V-tools and other odd shaped chisels that aren’t easy to do with a guide.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View patcollins's profile


1687 posts in 3007 days

#15 posted 11-27-2012 12:20 AM

I use a piece of laminate covered particle board shelf from lowes. It is very flat and cost about $5, sure it isnt as cool sounding as a piece of glass or granite but it works well and was cheap. Another alternative is a cheap ceramic or glass cutting board from a discount store like Marshalls or TJ Maxx.

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