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Sharpening - Scary Sharp

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On the advice of an experienced rodmaker, I've attached varying grades of sandpaper to a piece of glass and use them plus a honing guide to get an edge on my blade. The past few times I've sharpened, I've had a mild metallic taste in my mouth and smell in my nose that's caused me some irritation for a day or so, accompanied by tiny flecks of blood on the handkerchief. I noticed that all symptoms went away once I started wearing a mask to filter out the air. I know this must sound weird, but am I paranoid or have I just encountered a problem other people dealt with a while back?  (Jonathan Engle)

    In regards to the question of sharpening. I believe as you suspect that you are inhaling some type of irritant (aluminum oxide, silicone, silica). The best thing to do is scratch (NPI) the sandpaper and glass sharpening system and get a Japanese Combination Water stone in 1000/6000 grit and maybe one for finishing in 8000 or 10000 (the finest grit you can find for polishing). The polishing stone is not that necessary but it is nice. By doing this your sharpening will go much faster with vastly superior results and no dust. Of course this is just my opinion. (Marty DeSapio)

      Couldn't agree more. The waterstones, to me, are the way to sharpen. A little time-consuming, but not very. No dust, Flatten your stones EVERY time you use them  and they will always  be ready to use next  time.  [Note : to this end I buy individual waterstones, so that I can always use the next stone in the series to lap the last one flat.]

      I don't suppose that we  are going to run a competition here, but if we were to run one I would defy anybody, using absolutely any technique, to get their plane irons sharper than mine.

      As sharp, sure; I am sure you can do that.

      But sharper? I doubt it.

      It's not really the equipment that you use , it's  the dedication and pride of workmanship   that determines the final outcome.

      Waterstones are great,  and very easy to use.  (Peter McKean)

    I get the same reaction as you when I clean copper water pipes with sandpaper for soldering, use wet/dry sandpaper to sharpen with and sprinkle some water on it while you sharpen, it will work better and last longer that way  and will not create the air born dust that is bothering you, or switch to a water stone.  (John Channer)

    Go with the recommended  waterstones.  I  use  a  combination 1,000/6,000.  (Billy Carter)


Thanks to Randy Tuttle I put the frosting on the cake with my scary sharp method. He put me on to Blockheads Inc. and I bought one of their 4" x 36" leather strops for my bench belt sander. That along with the green stuff that comes with it. I leave the blade right on my Veritas Honing Guide and go right to the new leather belt with it right on the guide. I can also put a blade back on the guide for a touch up and get the angle right every time. No more rounding off of my edge.

Check   this   guy   out   at   or  phone #908-754-8513   (Dave Norling)


I use the scary sharp method but I am not getting it, well, scary sharp.    Can someone better explain what is meant by lapping and how to go about it.  Do you do it free hand, do you keep it at an angle, or is the iron flat.  Some literature seemed to suggest that lapping the bottom side resulting in a one inch long mirror like finish.  How important is this.

Also, I have one Stanley 9 1/2 original blade and one Hock replacement blade. I was going to use the Stanley for rough planing and the hock for final. Is that a wise approach.  (Matt Baun)

    Explain a little more detail of your method please.  How fine of a grit are you using or progressing down to?  Is the back of your blade mirror polished?  Are you using a honing guide and able to get a repeatable angle setting?   What is your sharpening surface?  These are all factors to consider when striving for that elusive edge.  I can get razor sharpness by progressing down to 2000-grit without lapping.  Although I still lap.  I started with a strip of leather glued to a piece of plywood and charged it with green compound and lapped by hand.  But now I use a 6" buffing wheel in my drill press with white compound and polish for only a few (maybe 30) seconds after my final honing.  It may sound funny, but the more polished the back of the blade is, the better the sharpened edge will be. Good thing it only has to be done once...  Give us more info and I'm sure someone will get you pointed in the right direction.  (Brian Smith)

      I go from 60 grit down to 2000 as prescribed by the scary sharp method.  I use a Veritas guide and I have the angle figured out  I guess I don't really know what lapping is?  Could someone explain that and how best to go about it using sandpaper?   (Matt Baun)

        Lapping is the process of final polishing of the edge.  It's done generally with a buffing or polishing compound loaded into either a buffing wheel (oh boy, another tool to buy!) turning in a machine of some kind or some sort of stropping device-done by hand, slowly.  The buffing compound acts as a micro-abrasive and physically takes the metal surface to the next level of smoothness.  The compounds are made in different grits... the same way that sandpapers are just a whole lot finer.  There are also diamond polishing compounds in various degrees of fine grits.  Those are expensive, messy, not easy to find sometimes.  I suggest   that   you   go   to   a hardware/home-improvement store and look for a buffing kit that has several wheels 2"-4" and an assortment of small buffing compound sticks-about $15, not bad considering...  Set the wheel up in a drill and polish your blades with that.  Polish from the back of the blade towards the edge on both sides.  Don't push the blade edge directly into it otherwise you'll dull all that hard work you've already put in.  And be sure you've removed any burr also prior to buffing.  Try that and let us know what happened.  Did I mention that it's not done with sandpaper?   But then there is the .5 micron paper. I'm not going there.  (Brian Smith)

        Certainly the first time you sharpen your blade you would want to start with 60 grit, but once you've sharpened it well, you don't need to start with such coarse of paper.  I think to put a good edge back on the blade, you can start with 320 and progress to 2000.

        If you put your paper near the edge of your surface then before changing paper, flip your blade on it's back and while holding it flat, give it a few licks on the paper.  Do this with each successive grit.  As I understand it one reason for lapping is that when you sharpen the blade a small burr is rolled to the back side.  The finer the edge, the easier it is to roll that burr.  When lapping, you are holding the blade flat and then knocking off that burr.

        If you are uncertain of your jig, mark the beveled edge of the blade with a marks-a-lot.  Make a couple of passes on the paper and see if there is any ink left on the blade or at least if it is wearing evenly.  You want to make sure that every time you place that blade in the jig it is held at the exact same angle to the paper.  You don't want to find out that you are actually making contact with the paper behind the edge and not at the edge.  (Tim Wilhelm)

          And, if you use a micro bevel, all you need to do is give the blade a few swipes on the 1000 grit, a few swipes on the 2000 grit, and polish.  Takes me less than a couple of minutes to put back an edge sharp as a razor on my plane blades.  (Mark Wendt)

          One comment here, Tim. Certainly in the early stages a fair sized burr is raised. As you progress to a finer grit, that burr should be "sharpened" off, not broken off. If the burr is breaking, it is leaving what is essentially a serrated edge. A fine serration, to be sure, and the blade will feel really sharp. To my way of thinking, nirvana exists just beyond that point. A truly sharp edge won't "feel" sharp in the same way, due to the lack of any micro-serrations at the edge. With my stuff, that happens on the 8000 grit stone.   (Larry Blan)

    I have a couple of old Stanley blades that stay every bit as sharp as a Hock. I have a few newer ones that are not suitable. That said, the best way to find out is to ask the blade. Sharpen it and give it a try. Compare it to the Hock. It won't take long for you to have an objective answer, and at this stage, the practice and experience gained will be invaluable.

    As for the rest, ask 10 people, and you'll have 11 answers. Personally, I have no use for the sandpaper method, but I know people who swear by it. Rather than get involved in way more discussion than you need to absorb, how about a link to Hock's sharpening page? He also lists a couple of books in there.  (Larry Blan)

    I use 320 grit then 1500 grit on a piece of marble tile.  I use a Hock A2 cryo - I won't buy another.  The A2 is too hard and digs into my form constantly.   Myself I drag my plane down  the forms - metal on metal.  I sharpen pretty much every strip, so elaborate sharpening routines would lengthen the time to build a rod by far too much.  I don't get glue lines using my method and I hit my dimensions.    (Lee Orr)

    I have an old Record with a Hock and a Record blade.  I prefer the Record blade so far.  Go figure.  I used the sandpaper method at first and it took way too long for my liking.  It is easy and slick, no doubting that - but I ripped up the paper too often.  I sharpen after every couple of strips - more because I am anal than anything else.

    Harry Boyd made mention of his lapping wheel and I was sold (more gizmo's).  I tied down an old electric motor, bought an arbor from Lee Valley, a leather belt from the local Tandy and glued up some plywood and cut 2 wheels (and sanded and glued etc.).  I spent ages sourcing a range of diamond grits from lapidary stores and now use only the green compound from lee Valley (I have 2 sticks - enough to last me a while).  Harry did warn against accumulating many grits, but - I had to try it for myself.

    I did spend time polishing the back of my blades and filing them to equal lengths before trying the lapping wheel.  Now a few seconds at the wheel polishes up the blade way faster than the sandpaper.  I stripe a number of marks across the edge with a permanent marker and lap till they are gone.  I repeat that twice generally.  Unless there is a game on the radio and I forget what I am doing.  I then polish the back of the blade for a few seconds on a piece or 400 grit water paper (should probably be finer).  I get a decent edge and it is quick enough not to be bothersome.

    I don't claim it is better than any other method - but it fits my work rhythm.  (Greg Dawson)

    What progression of grits of sandpaper have you used?  By the time you get to a 2000 or 2500 grit paper you should be getting a mirror like polished surface.  Once you have done this you have no more lapping to do.  You can do this by hand, particularly for the back, but the steeper bevel angles most of us use make it difficult to do the bevel by hand without rolling the edges.  I'd recommend using a sharpening jig.

    It is always good practice to flatten and polish the back of all plane blades.  The size of the polished area on the back is not particularly important as long as the edge is flat and polished.  It is only the edge that cuts.  An area of about an inch is nice because it will allow you to resharpen the blade numerous times without having to re-flatten or re-polish the back, but otherwise the size of area flattened and polished does not really matter.

    The idea behind the lapping or "polish" is simply to create an absolutely flat, smooth surface.  At a 2500 grit paper the scratch pattern is so fine that you will not see it without magnification.  Thus, you see a polished surface.  When the back and the bevel of a plane iron are flat and "polished" the plane can remove a very thin, consistent shaving and  leave the surface of the bamboo absolutely flat.  If you look at the edge of a plane iron that has not been flattened and polished under magnification you can see that the edge has ripples.  Even scratch marks left by sharpening create ripples.  Ripples in the edge of the plane iron can result in ripples in the surface of the bamboo.  So, it is fairly important to get the surfaces flat and polished if you expect your plane to perform at its best. I have found that looking at the edge under magnification is quite helpful.

    As to the choice between the plane irons for different tasks, it doesn't matter.  You will probably find that the hock blade will stay sharp longer. That's its only advantage.  In the long run, this decreases the amount of time you spend sharpening.  Since many of us enjoy making bamboo rods more than we enjoy sharpening plane irons, a blade that stays sharp longer is good.  Otherwise, sharp plane irons are sharp plane irons.  They will both work well if sharp.  Neither the plane nor the bamboo care what brand of plane iron you use, but both will protest in their own way if either plane iron is not sharp.  (Russell Dabney)

    I use the scary sharp method. Here are a couple of tricks ...

    No sharpening method will work unless the back of the plane blade is flat. Dead flat. Do that first. Work through the grits and get the back of the blade like a mirror.

    I use a Veritas jig, and position the blade with a stop block.

    Don't skip grits when sharpening the bevel. Each successive grit removes the scratches that the previous grit left. The idea is to end up with an edge and face that is polished mirror smooth. My metallurgist friend insists that no edge will cut well unless it is devoid of these scratches. They are a source of friction that has a substantial effect on cutting ability. I thought he was crazy until I borrowed his filet knife one day. Frightening.

    I get that final razor edge with a sheet of 2000 grit sandpaper that has been treated with chromium oxide honing compound. Formax product number 12668, available at woodcraft. The sandpaper is about a year old, and has none of the original grit left. I polish the bevel, then lap. The paper is on the edge of the table so you can get the back of the blade polished while it is still in the jig.

    This has worked well for me, but about a year ago I began adding a micro bevel to the sharpening process, and it improved things dramatically. On a couple recent rods the corners were so sharp that the varnish would not hold and I had to round them a bit with steel wool to get a decent finish! That never happened before.  (Jeff Schaeffer)

      Could you explain some more how you add the micro bevel? Do you start with the coarsest grits,  just as  you would with a standard bevel?  Once you have the micro bevel in your blade and have to resharpen, do you just sharpen the micro bevel, or go through the hole sharpening process again?  (Felipe Gonzalez Chiappe)

        Put the blade in your Veritas jig, and set it in the stop block. Then tighten. Go through the sharpening process and establish the primary bevel. Then change the dial so you increase the angle by 2 degrees, and repeat the sharpening process. You will get a tiny primary bevel. As you resharpen, the micro bevel gets bigger and bigger until at some point you will need to reestablish a primary bevel once again.

        once the microbevel is established, you can leave the dial in the 2 degree position and put the blade in the stop block. It will be positioned correctly to sharpen the microbevel, and not the primary.

        The advantage is that it takes much less time to sharpen a microbevel because you are removing less metal. This may be offset by the time you spend remaking the primary bevel, but the micro bevels seem to work much better. It could be that the edge is stronger, or that it increases the blade angle. For whatever reason, it seems to give me much better results. I have fewer problems with glue lines, chipped nodes, and get sharper corners.

        There is an excellent picture of a stop block in Wayne's book. That is the one you want to use. It gives a repeatable blade position in the jig, and that is what makes the whole process work.  (Jeff Schaeffer)

        Once I have my base angle established on the iron, I start the micro bevel with 600 grit, then finish it up with 1000 grit, 2000 grit, and finally the .5 micron polishing papers.  When resharpening, I sharpen only the micro bevel, and I start with the 1000 grit, then 2000 grit, then the polishing paper.  There's no need to flatten the angle, and start all over again.  All told, it takes only a few minutes to put a keen edge on the micro bevel.  (Mark Wendt)

    As to regards about sharpening, I use the x fine and fine stones from Woodcraft and their adjustable jig. I can get  a razor sharp edge on them, good enough to slice paper or cut hair. As to the cryo blades from Lie-Nielsen, they are the best thing that's hit the market in years in my opinion. I can plane out 6 butt strips or 6 tip strips with one blade with no chips or splinters. I'm a bit retentive about the absence of glue lines, and these blades give me a nice clean edge.

    I saw my strips instead of splitting, so I no longer fight the sweeps at the nodes, or the little voids that love to show up at the nodes from splitting.  (Jerry Andrews)

    A slow sharpening system will rob you of many hours from your life. I have done the scary sharp and stone and guides. They work but so does washing your cloths on a rock.  When I initially started making rods sharpening was always a major bottle neck to the whole process. Now it is nothing more then a minor process. What I have done is similar to others. I built my sharpening system by reversing a Harbor Freight grinder ($30) on it base so it the wheels turn up toward the ceiling. I use a paper sharpening wheel ($20) and I built the blade rest from scrap material. I use red jewelers rouge available everywhere and it gives me razor sharp edges in a few seconds. Here are some links  to some equivalent supplies if you wish to build your own. On one end of the grinder I put a cloth wheel and use it for polishing the blade to a crazy edge.

    I put a 45 degree angle on  my blades ground on a grinding wheel. I then use white metal compound on the paper wheel to clean up the grind marks. Then remove the compound from the wheel with putty knife held against the running wheel. I then apply red jeweler rouge and to the paper wheel and sharpen the blade. Once the original angle is on the blade it only takes a few seconds to sharpen on the wheel then touch it to the polish wheel. Total time to resharpen a blade is about 15-20 seconds.

    See here.

    And here.

    You can get the whole thing set up for the price of about 2 reel seats.  (Adam Vigil)

    Just a couple of things that may be helpful.

    (1) for a blade to be truly sharp, the edge of that blade must have its two surfaces meeting in a line with as little radius as possible.  It is the reduction of this radius to the point of disappearing that makes it desirable to have both the leading and back surfaces as truly FLAT as possible - this means POLISH both the leading and back edges of your blade, preferably until they are better than a mirror, and polish them FLAT.

    (2) I happen to use a series of Japanese Water Stones to sharpen my stuff.  I use 800, 1200, 3000, 6000, and 8000, and I  keep them very, very flat.  These will not suit everybody, but will give you a comparison between the grits that are used by different ones of us.  All systems work, it's just a matter of picking the one that suits you best.  I think my main reason for using the waterstones is that I really, and I mean REALLY, hate the fine black dirt that hangs around the paper systems.  Trivial stuff, ain't it?

    (3) Just my opinion here, but I think the English "Eclipse" sharpening jig is so far in front of the "Veritas" that it's hard to know they are both doing the same sort of job!

    I think the Veritas is hard to use, the little patent angle setter just too inefficient to consider seriously, and the glitzy little wheel adjustment for "microbevels" is just absolute, pure MR. Magoo!

    Still, they both work, I guess.  (Peter McKean)

    I have been doing a little fine woodworking the last couple of days and have made three observations I found interesting and thought I would share or comment about since there has been the discussion of sharpening. I usually keep my rodmaking tools separate from other tools. I had to do some fine work and picked up my dedicated planes and scrapers. (1) I have observed how incredibly sharp these tools are and how much better they work for with more common materials, (2) how different and rougher bamboo is on these tools, and (3) how much longer these edges last on the more common materials. It has long been my belief the longest learning curve and the most important skill to master is sharpening. My grandfather was a cabinet maker and I had worked with him and have done a lot of sharpening. Coming from a more experienced place that some, I have learned a lot since the bamboo thing and am constantly learning more. My grandfather believed idle hands were the devils workshop and hard work purified the person. What we do is hard work and my hands are seldom idle. (1) Old men have a lot to teach us if we are receptive to listen and learn. (2) Classes start after the reading and discussing and thinking. We use to tell the newcomers to just "do it", to "get started", then we have basis to ask questions. There is a lot of truth to this. For me, rodmaking has had more to do with the quest than anything else. The lessons I have learn have changed my life.  DIG IN!  (Timothy Troester)

      That's funny you mentioned that. I lent my Record 9.5 plane to the neighbor to trim his freshly cut doors he is installing. He was so happy the way it cut, he was practically cackling. As I walked back over, it occurred to me, "What the heck was I thinking?" He's had my chainsaw for almost two years!

      Nothing like sharp tools, that's for sure. I use a Tormek BTW.  (Bob Maulucci)

        Yeah, I try not to loan tools but try always to loan dull ones. (I guess this sounds awful) I have discovered that anyone who knows how to use a plane will do a fair job sharpening the blade or ask me if it is okay to sharpen the blade. The guy that doesn't know how to use a plane doesn't know the difference and might hurt themselves with a sharp one and sue me. I had one fella walk in my shop pick up a plane, run his hand over the sole of the plane, cut himself and with blood dripping off his elbow and a shocked expression, asked, "why is this plane so sharp?"  (Timothy Troester)


I tried utilizing the scary sharp method on a blade from a 50 year old Stanley 9 1/2, but can't seem to get a good edge using this system on it or any blade.  Other more experienced builders have told me that you should be able to shave the hair off your arm if it is truly sharp.  The blade was taken from 220 through a gradual progression of grits to ultimately 2000 3M wet/dry sandpaper, and it can't shave the hair off my arm.  It seemed like a simplistic and inexpensive method for a beginner on a budget in comparison to more costly approaches such as wet stones or machine based sharpening systems.  Actually when you consider the cost of good wet/dry sandpaper in all those grits a $30 combination wet stone isn't that expensive after all.  Would a combination 1000/6000 wet stone be a better idea since the notion of wasting more time/money on sandpaper seems ridiculous if in the end you get mediocre results?  (Ron Delesky)

    Two questions;

    Are you using some sort of jig to hold the blade at a true angle?

    Are you using a flat like a piece of glass or marble?  (Pete Van Schaack)

      Those were going to be my questions as well.  Also, did you flatten the back of the iron before working the bevel?  The bevel and the back of the iron should have a mirror reflection after using the 2000 grit sandpaper.  (Greg Reeves)

        All those plus did you get a burr on the edge with the first 220 honing? A burr on the first honing lets you know that you are sharpening right to the edge.  (Dave Norling)

          I often run a black Sharpie along the edge.  It lets me see whether I'm sharpening the cutting edge, or farther back  along the surface.  (Neil Savage)

    I would invest in the 1000/6000 stone and a iron holder. Set up a block with a 1" stop so that the blade will be the same angle every time you sharpen it. I bought a power sharpener but find myself using the stone and iron holder. I actually find it faster than setting up the power sharpener.  (Tony Spezio)

      I would like to add my two cents worth, in this case about the old "shaving the hair off my arm" test.

      IMHO the shaving thing is next to useless ;  any blade with any sort of edge will scrape hairs off your arm, even ( especially ? ) if it has a burred edge.

      I want my blades to go a long way sharper the just scraping a few coarse hairs off my arm.

      Polish the  back of the blade when you get a new blade, rough hone the bevel until you can fel a distinct burr along the back edge, and  then work your way down the grits, lapping the back of the blade on every grade.

      Forget the hair thing - you are finished when you have bright, shining FLAT surfaces and no palpable burr.  But the really critical thing is that you have a clearly palpable burr after the first stone, and right across the blade.  As somebody said, you can use a Sharpie, but I prefer to feel the burr.  (Peter McKean)

    I think the guys are right, the most important things are setting the blade in the holder exactly the same every time. This involves using a blade stop which sets the blade square and at the correct angle. The other thing is using a black marker on the flat you are doing, set the blacked blade in the holder, true it up and do one pass on a medium grade paper, then look at it, if the black is gone you are ready to sharpen it. Finally, I have found that  the only part of the blade that gets used while planing is the part in the middle, so I use 100 grit to take the blade down so that the center part of the blade is flat then 200, 600 and finish with 2000 paper. I also black the blade before I use it and check it at the next sharpening.  (Bob Norwood)

    There is a really good write up with photos out there on the internet somewhere that was done by Chris Bogart. He covers using a honing guide and a block to set the blade. It was a very big help to me. He used water stones. I used to use sandpaper until I switched to diamond stones. They both stay flat and don't dish like water stones, which is a plus for me. The diamond cuts fast. Sharpening also takes practice. At first it took me 20 minutes to sharpen a blade. Now if a do not need to regrind the bevel, just sharpen and hone, I can easily do it in two minutes and I  think I can reduce sharpening time more.

    On my first rod, planing cane reminded me of boat painting. Boat painting is mostly scraping and sanding while cane planing for me was mostly honing and sharpening. Things are better now.  (Joe Hudock)

      I've demo'ed Scary Sharp and use it exclusively, both at home and indoctrinating students with it at the school I'm involved with. Everything said above sounds like a perfect plan to me. Getting the back flat is something a lot of guys don't think of. AND it's imperative. I use a hinge-type Sears (General) blade fixture and a Chris Bogart type setting jig, and every time I get a great edge. Can I shave with it? I dunno, I quit that test years ago; but I almost never lift a node anymore. LOCK the blade holder ( I use about 37 degrees) and don't ever open the hinge again! If you need one for some other use GET another one! I've thought about epoxying it, but I think I'd have to move it to glue it <G>.

      BTW, I don't go below 800 or so wet or dry at home anymore, don't seem to need it. And my surface is a bathroom mirror door, about 1/4" thick. The nice thing about the technique is that the surface never cups as would a stone.

      Happy sharpening!  (Art Port)

      I have known a couple of guys that left the diamond stones behind saying they eventually clogged. have you had any problems of that kind or have ay to remedy that?  (Timothy Troester)

        No problems with clogging. I use water while honing and clean them with a scrub brush every so often. I think DMT recommends using an abrasive cleaner like Ajax to clean them if they get fouled up. I have not had to resort to that. Mine has the little holes that are supposed to catch the swarf and maybe that's what they do since the holes do get dirty.  (Joe Hudock)

        I use a bit of water on my diamond hones, and wipe with a paper towel when I'm done.  Also, I use the "3 piece diamond whetstone set", $14.25 plus shipping from Grizzly.  It's the only one I've found with an extra fine stone in it.  When they wear enough not to work right anymore I'll get another set.  Usual disclaimers.

        Any kind of stone will need maintenance or replacement eventually, water stones have to be flattened, carborundum will dish or clog or both, sandpaper (scary sharp) has to be replaced, etc.   (Neil Savage)

        They only clog when you use 'em dry.  You have to clean them once in a while.  Warm water and Dawn works wonders.  (Mark Wendt)


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