Sharpening procedure - Am I doing anything wrong or getting ahead of myself?

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Forum topic by BTimmons posted 10-10-2013 05:39 PM 1408 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2303 posts in 2663 days

10-10-2013 05:39 PM

Topic tags/keywords: sharpening chisel plane

For my plane irons and chisels, I’m using the scary sharp method (220, 320, 400, 600, 1500 grit) and finishing on a strop. And yes, I know stones are cheaper in the long run but I’m not in a position to make that investment yet. Had pretty good results so far but I’m starting to second guess my methods. Been revisiting some videos on the subject and I’m wondering if I’m missing a key factor or two.

What I’ve been doing is flattening the backs all the way up through the grits, then honing the bevel. What some videos show is honing the bevel until a visible burr is produced, then pulling the burr off by flipping over to sand the back, and repeating this process all the way through the grits. Is this what I should be doing? Is there some fundamental error in fully polishing the back and then doing the bevel? I ask because I don’t think I really see a burr when I do it, although the edge certainly gets shinier and much more sharp.

Also, I use a rolling honing guide and I roll it back and forth. But some videos show it only used on the pull stroke. Am I short changing myself by pushing forward too? Could this be rolling the bevel? And when I flatten the back, should I always use a pulling motion, or is a push/pull OK? Obviously I can only pull once I’m on the strop, or I’d cut the leather.

Oh boy, I’ve asked sharpening questions on the Internet. Now I’ve done it.

-- Brian Timmons -

8 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5143 posts in 2671 days

#1 posted 10-10-2013 07:01 PM

I flatten the backs on irons that are new to me (once), then using a guide roll them back and forth to sharpen the bevel. After I’m done with that grit, I remove the burr (seems like there is always a small one) and move to the next grit. I don’t use a strop. But here’s what I think: if your method works for you, stick to it. There’s always more than one way to do something, if what you do works you’re good to go.

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

View Don W's profile

Don W

18992 posts in 2746 days

#2 posted 10-10-2013 07:27 PM

I don’t use sand paper, but I don’t think it really matters what media you use. First, I agree with Fred, I flatten the back once. Push or pull, you’ll always get a burr. I don’t use a guide, but I typically push. Push, pull, I can’t see how it would matter.

I would never go “through the grits” unless I was fixing a bevel, nick or bad spot. I only use a strop to remove the burr or touch up between sharpenings.

As Fred said, use what works for you, but I would think most of your sharpenings would look like this. (assuming you don’t have a chip, nick or you’ve waited until its so dull it won’t cut butter) hit the bevel with the finest grit until you feel a burr, strop the back, hit a few (2 or 3 tops) strokes on the paper again, or the strop whichever you chose.

This is why I like free hand. A typical resharp is about 3 minutes on a slow day.

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

View brtech's profile


1049 posts in 3101 days

#3 posted 10-10-2013 07:40 PM

One issue is “I don’t think I really see a burr”. You don’t see a burr, except under a microscope. You should be able to feel it. At the finer grits, it’s very weak, so a stroke or 2 can knock it off.

The thing is, that the burr also probably gets knocked off as soon as you use it.

So, looks like the changes you want to make is skipping the lower grits unless you are starting with some damage, and knocking off the burr when you finish the bevel.

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2663 days

#4 posted 10-10-2013 07:44 PM

OK, it seems I should clarify. I only go through the grits on the initial sharpening of a new tool, and I’ve just been stropping in between sessions to keep it fresh. I was just curious to see if the way I got to that point was somehow flawed. Seems like I’m in the clear though.

Thanks to everyone who answered.

-- Brian Timmons -

View PurpLev's profile


8542 posts in 3827 days

#5 posted 10-10-2013 07:48 PM

a few points:

1. sandpaper is quite fine. don’t think twice about it, unless you want to

2. you only need to flatten the back and go through the grits once. once the back is flat, there is no need to redo this step.

3. a burr is formed when you pull. if you push , you grind the metal the “other way” and prevent/reduce burr from producing. the same concept is used when “climb milling” or “climb cutting” on a router/mill to avoid that burr at the edge of the cut. as mentioned – you probably won’t ‘see’ the burr, but you could feel it. if you push+pull, you will have less of a burr.

4. sharpening/honing is all about producing a sharp edge between the bevel and back of the iron. the method is less important, and focusing on the side effects of someone’s method is to be left for philosophy ;). for cutting purposes its best to focus on the sharp edge instead.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View TerryDowning's profile


1103 posts in 2295 days

#6 posted 10-10-2013 08:20 PM

I have also seen videos using a side to side motion. It just moving the steel across the abrasive.

Understand the fundamentals of the geometry of sharp.

2 flat edges perpendicular at some degree. In general the shallower the difference the sharper you can get.

For example sharpening at 11 degrees you can get a keener edge than one at 30. However, the shallower the degree while sharper is fundamentally weaker and the edge won’t last as long.

This is why planes are generally sharpened at 25 degrees while chisels used for chopping are at 30 degrees but paring chisels around 20 degrees and knives are much shallower 11 – 15 degrees or so.

Ultimately, there is no perfect or right method for sharpening. Find what works for you and stick with it.

-- - Terry

View BigMig's profile


469 posts in 2791 days

#7 posted 10-10-2013 08:25 PM

One thing you may not have picked up on – you may contaminate your finer grits unless you take care to completely wipe off your iron and the wheel of your guide as you move from one grit to the next finer. These larger grits can reduce the effectiveness of your sharpening work.

Also – I was recently at a Lie Nielsen event and the LN guy emphasized that he was comfortable in stroking with a fair amount of poressure – back and forth when he’s using a guide – not only pulling.

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

View stefang's profile


16074 posts in 3512 days

#8 posted 10-17-2013 03:31 PM

No arguments with the above advice, but you may be messing up your nice edge while stropping, which is a common problem for many. Personally I had mixed success with stropping until I used Paul Sellers technique (youtube), but that technique is tailored to his sharpening method and therefore wouldn’t work with the scary sharp method. I suggest you take a look at some videos and try out the different approaches until you find one that suits you.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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