More Thoughts on Sharpening

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Forum topic by BubbaIBA posted 02-16-2014 03:43 AM 1103 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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387 posts in 2404 days

02-16-2014 03:43 AM

I’ve been thinking about the process of sharpening. Thinking, dangerous thing to do, could fry the few remaining working brain cells and/or come up with something really dumb but what the hey. Sometimes I need to write about it to see if I’m on the right track or off chasing rabbits.

Sharpening is kinda like religion or tribalism, your method is the only true way or you are a seeker trying this month’s way to enlightenment….knowing truth must be in the way of the latest guru. Been there, tried most of the ways, found they all work, some easier, some faster, some a PITA, but bottom line if you scrape enough metal off both sides of the iron you will get a sharp edge.

Here comes the kicker, What’s sharp? Is it a near perfect meeting of two planes at what angle? Can it be too sharp? What about sharp enough? Cut to the chase, here’s what has been bugging me: I think we spend too much time and attention looking for the perfect edge, for irons that are sharper than sharp. As has been said “Your chisel, plane iron, whatever, can’t be too sharp”. I think it can and I think we have lost the reason for stropping. It isn’t to make the iron sharper but to dull it, to slightly “dub” the iron. Irons straight off the stones when using a jig on high number water stones or a machine like a Tormek are sharper than an iron that has been stropped. You can feel the difference in the first test cut of end grain. The un-stropped iron will make hair die just by approaching but at the first touch of wood the edge fractures where a stropped iron is not quite perfect, not as scary sharp but if sharpened at an appropriate angle will be “sharp enough” and will remain so for much longer than an un-stropped iron.

Fire away, tell me I’m full of stuff, tell me the reason I’m wrong. I got’s to know.

8 replies so far

View Aj2's profile


1440 posts in 1825 days

#1 posted 02-16-2014 04:44 AM

A good sharpening for me is a edge that cuts the wood I am working with.Theres really no perfect edge angle or plane for everthing,That’s the challenge that I like.
I have sharpened a hand plane that cuts perfect shavings with no defects but will not shave hair on my arm.
So the whole process can be mysterious and amazing!

-- Aj

View BubbaIBA's profile


387 posts in 2404 days

#2 posted 02-18-2014 08:26 PM


I wouldn’t say it is mysterious but I’m with you on using what works and how it changes depending on job and wood. The sharpest edge is not always the best edge. Just like the hardest iron is not always the best iron.

View 12strings's profile


434 posts in 2412 days

#3 posted 02-18-2014 09:27 PM

I’m with Aj2, I’ve been able to get good results planing hard maple with a smoothing plane, but the same iron won’t shave my arm hair. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong, but I”ve never been able to shave with something I sharpened…Perhaps my arm hair has difficult grain? :-)

-- I'm strictly hand-tool only...unless the power tool is faster and easier!

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4950 posts in 3988 days

#4 posted 02-18-2014 09:47 PM

I do strop, but very lightly. Edges are some funny things as you know.
I have some Case knives with regular steel blades that are extremly sharp, and some with stainless blades that are sharp enough (Buck).
I just go with what works best on the planes and chisels.
I like your analogy about religion and tribalism. :)


View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2276 days

#5 posted 02-18-2014 09:48 PM

Sharp is where you can effortlessly and cleanly pare end grain on softwood. How you get there or what your edge looks like when you arrive there is up to you.


View madts's profile


1862 posts in 2367 days

#6 posted 02-18-2014 10:56 PM

I have found that if it can cut hair on my arm, it definitely can cut wood. What I have to do is change my angles of the home. Right now most tools are at 25 deg’s. For the first time I have consistently sharp tools after getting the T-3 . It is great having sharp tools.

-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

View BubbaIBA's profile


387 posts in 2404 days

#7 posted 02-19-2014 01:50 AM

I have most systems to sharpen and I keep a fair number of planes, chisels, and saws sharp and ready to use. I’ve found all systems will work with a good number of tools. The WorkSharp is the most limiting but almost as fast as freehand followed by various jigs. The Tormek is surprisingly versatile but the fastest, easiest and most versatile way for most irons is freehand.

For awhile I’ve tested different types of iron using different sharpening systems. What I have consistently found is O1 high carbon steel freehand sharpened and stropped will give the best edge of the different tool steels (O1, A2, PM-11) and resist edge fracture better than O1 sharpened with a jig (Veritas Mark II or Eclipse) or with the Tormek. While I expect the jig or Tormek sharpened iron may be sharper on the first cut I can not feel or see any difference in sharpness for the next few following cuts but after a half dozen or so cuts on a hard wood like Oak the edge of the hand sharpened and stropped iron will remain in good condition and the others will show edge fracture. YMMV.

View Aj2's profile


1440 posts in 1825 days

#8 posted 02-19-2014 04:40 AM

I bought one of lie neilsons o1 blades for my block plane the last time I orderd some blades,I found the steel too soft or my work,I barely find A2 acceptable I use the side sharpening technique ,So when my bevels get too steep I hollow grind them on a tormek and start the proceeds over again.
I was mostly referring to wood as being mysterious but I guess sharpening can be too.

-- Aj

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