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Sharpening - Sharpness

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While I'm waiting on all of my components to get here, I thought I would take the iron that came with my Stanley out and play around with it. After going over the 6000 grit stone I rubbed the "muck" off with my fingers and my shirt.  It sliced through the shirt and my finger.  Is the blade sharp enough? I didn't feel anything until I saw the red smear on my shirt and blade. Also, how long should it take to form the cutting angle to 30 degrees using 800, 1200 then 6000 grit stones?  (Robert Hicks)

    As long as you are absolutely sure you didn't feel it, it is probably sharp enough.

    Don't worry about how long it took to form the initial angle. It can take a fair amount of time using stones. You really only have to do that complete reshaping the first time, just like flattening the back. After that, you are removing a lot less metal in total.  (Larry Blan)

    When it slices that smoothly through the bamboo, that's when it is sharp enough!  [:-)] Seriously, pickup a good book on sharpening. There is much to learn about "what is sharp?",  "what is enough?" and "it cut me like butter why won't it cut this damn bamboo?!" when you start.  (Timothy Troester)

    If you didn't feel the cut, you're on the right track.

    How long it should take, is difficult to answer. Once the 800 is done, it might take me twenty strokes on each of the next stones.

    But it's also much easier to use what they call a microbevel. The main shaping is done at, say, 30 degrees (and up to maybe 800 grit) and then you dial up to 31 or 32 degrees and do just a very short bevel that's polished really fine. This microbevel might only be a 1/64 long; just enough to create the edge.

    This is real easy to do with my favorite honing jig, the Veritas. You initially set it up to whatever your primary angle is (IE 25, 30, 35) and then you can quickly dial in +1 degree or +2 degrees more. It saves time, it saves grinding away as much metal on the fine stones. After you've had to rehone the edge a half dozen times at 32 degrees, you go back to 30 and a coarser grit to start again.  (Rick Funcik)


In my quest for the perfectly sharp plane blade it has occurred to me that shaving the hair off my forearm is neither objective nor practical. I only have 2 arms so I need an objective standard. Does anyone know of a formal standard for sharpness. An ANSI standard maybe?  (Randy Tuttle)

    Try this sharpen a blade until it can cut a piece of paper with no drag then put it in the plane and plane your strip. When the plane starts to drag on the cane sharpen again. If sharpening a blade is taking too much time and driving you crazy the easy solution is to get the Lee Valley Catalog. They sell wheels and a support for a grinder to sharpen the blade with no effort. (Adam Vigil)


I'm struggling with keeping my plane blades sharp. There's nothing like a hock blade right out of the box! It so sharp you can shave with it. Is there a system that can put the same sharp edge on the blade as it once was? I'm using a sharpening stone with oil. Am I better off buying a jig to sharpen with?  Should I switch to Japanese water stones?? Or is this another preference thing?  (Bill Tagye)

    There's a LOT of opinion involved with sharpening...  If you really are having a lot of trouble, get a honing guide.  The trick really is to keep the bevel on the honing surface, whatever you use.  Before you buy anything, try blacking the edge of the plane iron you are going to sharpen with a magic marker (Sharpie or other) and you can see if you're being consistent.

    Personally, I finish my edge after honing on the back of a piece of old belt that I charged with oil and jeweler's rouge.  (Neil Savage)

      I think that there is a lot to be said for power sharpening, and that is the setup that I will be working on for the next few weeks. However, I have been using the scary sharp sandpaper system for a while. I like it because it involves no real investment in materials other than sandpaper you would be purchasing anyway. One thing- no method will work well unless the back of the plane blade is flat. I did not believe it could make a difference, and finally proved myself wrong.

      My last hone takes place on a piece of 2000 grit sandpaper that is about a year old. It has none of the original grit, and every once in a while I rub on some chromium oxide green compound. I polish the bevel using a honing guide and set depth with a stop block. Then run the plane blade sideways back and forth on the flat edge. It can shave hair or cut fine paper.

      I think that waterstones are OK, but I did not have good results with a 1000x and 6000x stone. I think that there was too much of a jump between grits (needed a 4000x), and the stones become dished rather quickly. You have to rub them together under running water to flatten them, or buy/make a plate to flatten the surface dead flat.  (Jeff Schaeffer)

    First off, get a jig of some sort and figure out how to use it. I have a cheap Stanley that works just fine and is easy to set the blade in the same place each time I sharpen. Next, you need a final stone that will mirror polish the cutting edge. I use a combination water stone, I can't remember the grits now, I think 800/2000, but I could be wrong. There's no reason oil stones won't work as well, but it will take a hard Arkansas stone for finishing, the Norton combination stones that most hardware stores sell aren't fine enough to get the edge you need to plane bamboo. Progressively finer grits of wet/dry sandpaper mounted on a sheet of glass work well, too. Try a search on sharpening . Also, you seem to have a Hock blade, mine came with pretty good sharpening instructions, see if yours did, too.  (John Channer)

    Hock blades are not really sharp out of the package. The back isn't flat either, which is just as important. They feel sharp because the ground edge leaves a bit of tooth to the blade. You are going to be really happy once you use a sharp plane blade!

    I'd recommend Hock's sharpening instructions (they came wrapped around your plane blade) or follow this link and a bit of time on Todd's site. There are a couple of books out there, too.

    I suspect that if you took a poll, oilstones would be in last place. You can use them, of course. There are also diamond stones, ceramic stones, waterstones, both manmade and natural, the sandpaper method, lapping plates with abrasive grit, and a variety of power hones charged with everything from diamond paste to chromium oxide. You'll find that they all have their proponents.

    I like a jig, I suspect some will tell you they don't. The guys using leather power strops don't use a jig, although they do use a stop.

    Sharpening can be a real slippery slope, it is easy to invest a fortune in stones, for example. The sandpaper method will get you on the right track pretty inexpensively, and you can move on from there if you feel a need.  (Larry Blan)

    After using several systems with various degrees of success, I've settled on the water stones.   Yes, the new Hock blades are sharp, and I have no problem maintaining that degree of sharpness with the water stones.  I've used sandpaper, but it took way too long to get a decent edge.  I think it may be a matter of learning whatever system you choose.  I didn't care for the water stones until I saw somebody that really knew what he was doing use them at a woodworking show.  Really sharp blades make life much more enjoyable.  Learn to do it!  (Ed Berg)

      I use diamond stones followed by waterstones. When I look in my sharpening cabinet, I see $$$$, and lots of them. Of course, if I had to repeat it, I wouldn't have quite the collection. I'm really happy with what I am doing now, but I threw a lot of money at it to get there. I think Nirvana begins on an 8000 grit waterstone.

      The sandpaper method represents a fairly inexpensive way to sharpen. If one feels a need to move from there, so be it. I don't particularly care for the sandpaper method myself, but it works for an awful lot of people.

      If I had to do it over, knowing what I know now, I'd be looking at one of the power strops, ALA Tom Smithwick, Harry Boyd, etc.  (Larry Blan)

        Here we go again.... below is a post I shared a coupla years ago.  The web page which shows the pictures is here.

        Since Troy mailed out a group of carbide tipped plane irons last week I've had several  questions about sharpening carbide.  Rather than respond to all of them in private, let me share a few experiences with the List.  First of all, I am NO expert on carbide or sharpening it. All I can share is what works for me.  And let me say at the outset that this is a very good way to cut yourself badly if you screw up and run things backwards, or slip, etc.   If you get hurt don't blame  me, okay?

        I first got this idea from Tom Smithwick, who shared with the List what George Barnes had shared with him.  I don't think you will have much luck sharpening carbide with diamond paste on paper, or cardboard or even on MDF board.  My assumption is that it takes more power than that.  You might have some luck with ultra fine diamond stones, but my finest diamond stone is about 400g.  I use it to put the initial angles in and to get rid of chips in the edges (yes, I sometimes knick the edges).    I've made two different sharpening wheels, and both work quite well. Make a wooden wheel at least 6" in diameter, though 8" might be better. Make the wheel wider than a plane iron.   Go to your local shoe or saddle repair place, or your local Tandy Leather dealer and get a piece of  leather with at least one smooth side.  The strip of leather should be wider than the wheel, and long enough to go completely around it....  For a wheel 2" wide by 6" in diameter, you'll need a piece of leather about 2.5" x 22".  Purchase an arbor with which to mount the wheel to an electric motor.  I've used both 1700 and 3300 rpm with good results. Mount the motor to something solid.  The motor should turn away from you, from bottom to top -- opposite direction of a bench grinder.

        Mount the wheel to the motor arbor and use a large sanding block to true things up.  Obviously you want the wheel to be perfectly round, and the sandpaper will do that quite nicely.  I think I used either 60g or 80g paper for this operation, maybe finishing up with some 150g.  Once you have things true, remove the wheel from the motor arbor in order to glue the leather to the wheel.

        Dry fit the leather to the outside of the wheel, making sure that you have a nice joint where the two edges meet.  I miter cut the leather with a utility knife, though I'm not certain that's necessary.  Drawing some lines on the leather may aid you in positioning it later.  The leather will later be glued to the wooden wheel, but doing most of the fitting before mounting the wheel makes things easier.

        Contact cement is used to glue the leather to the wooden wheel.  All hardware stores carry contact  cement.  Get the old-fashioned kind that stinks like crazy rather than the new, less toxic kind of contact cement.  Thoroughly coat both the wooden wheel and the inside of the leather with contact cement.  Let both surfaces dry completely tack free.  Then coat them both again, and let them dry completely tack free again.  Here's the only tricky part..... position the leather on the wheel very carefully.  The instant the leather touches the wheel, it is stuck.  Really stuck.  For good.  You can make the bond even tighter by beating the leather down tight with a rubber mallet.    At this point you have leather glued to the wooden wheel, but the leather is overlapping the outside edges of the wheel.    You can cut most of the excess leather away with a utility knife, but don't worry about getting it too close.  Mount the wheel again.  Spin it by hand to make sure nothing hangs up.  Turn on the motor and use your sanding block again to make nice neat edges on your leather.

        You're almost there.  I cut the back end of all my plane blades nice and square with a Dremel tool and a file.  You don't want a rounded back on the irons, and you want them all the same length.   Remember, the motor turns AWAY from you.  Eyeball a position where the back end of the plane iron is sitting solidly on the base, and the beveled edge of the iron is squarely against the leather wheel.  I clamp a little wooden block against the butt end of the iron to use as a stop block and help me keep the correct angles.  Clamp it firmly.

        To load the wheel you first coat it with vegetable oil.    The oil will darken the leather.  You don't want it wet, just lightly coated. The diamond paste is an oil carrier with tiny chips of diamond in it. Diamond paste is sold in syringes -- 5 gram and 18 gram.  It isn't cheap, and I only use the green and yellow.  If I remember correctly, green is about 5-8 microns, and yellow is finer at 3-5 microns.  Start with the green.  Squeeze out about a 1/2" dab of paste onto your finger.  Dot it on the wheel at various locations, then smooth it around good.  It may take a little more the first time, but not much.  You'll be amazed how little paste it takes.

        Now, take a Sharpie and color only the bevel or your plane iron. Let it dry a few seconds.  Turn on the motor.  Place the butt end of the blade against the stop block, and very carefully lean the bevel into the turning wheel for about 1/2 second.  No longer.  Examine the colored bevel.  If the color has been taken off right in the middle of the bevel, and all the way across, you have the stop block in the right spot.  If not, adjust accordingly.  Usually takes me several tries to get it just right.  I'm sure there's some sophisticated way of measuring to find exactly the right spot but trial and error works okay for me. Once you have the block in the right spot, attach it permanently.  I used glue and screws.

        To use the wheel and stop block follow the instructions above.  The green paste will not get the iron sharp enough to cut well, though the mirror bright edge will fool you.  I use the green to get all my blades mirror bright first.  It takes maybe one or two minutes of honing.  Then I switch to yellow.  Between green and yellow, I touch a sanding block to the leather to remove all the green paste down to fresh leather, and charge the wheel anew with oil and the yellow stuff.

        With the yellow, it may take you several seconds, maybe even minutes, to get sharp.  When the blade gets too hot to hold, I quench it in a cup of water.  I then try shaving hair off my arm.  (Don't touch the hot blade to your arm!)  Once it gets sharp enough to shave with little pressure, I quit.  The carbide is not metal, so you don't have to worry too much about overheating and ruining the temper in the blade like you do when grinding metal.

        Once I get everything sharp, I stick with only the yellow paste for touch ups.  You'll be amazed how long you go between sharpenings.  (BTW, this works great for steel irons as well.  It only takes about 10 seconds to touch up a Hock blade that's lifting nodes back to incredibly sharp.)

        What else?  I get the diamond lapping paste from T&S Tool Supply (800) 525-8665 FREE  Page 105 in the catalog, Cat # 3, Medium, Yellow, 5 grams $11 -- 18 grams $29.10  Cat # 9, Medium, Green,  5 grams $13.95 -- 18 grams $37.45 (my catalog is old, this info may have changed)

        Travers Tools also sells it.  Page 477, #53-813-508 $11.99 (yellow) #53-813-514 $14.99 (green)  Hmm, I see that Travers has a bunch more grades.  I might try some of the Orange and some of the Ivory....

        I've made this sound more complicated than it really is.  Remember, you will sharpen so infrequently with these blades that it's worth some time and effort to get it right the first time.  Tony Spezio has used a similar system in the past (improved in some regards, I'm sure), as has Roy Hawk.  I've talked a few others through this, but don't remember exactly who.  Tom Smithwick did have some nice pictures of his setup posted somewhere, but I don't remember the url.....  Tom?    If you guys want some pictures of my setup let me know.  I'll take some close-ups and post them  to my web site.    There  are  a  few    pic's    in    my    articles    at and on my web site.

        Again, Tom Smithwick started me down this road.  George Barnes has a description of his setup in his new book (worth reading, btw) "Fly Rods Galore".  This is my system, and it works for me.  Your mileage may vary.  If I can help, I'm more than glad to try.  Just let me know.  (Harry Boyd)

          This might help in gluing the leather to the wheel.

          Contact cement can be a real pain to use as you said, when it is stuck it is stuck. Cut a strip on brown paper bag that will be wide enough to to cover the wheel. When getting ready to glue the leather to the wheel, place the paper between the wheel and the leather. Line up the leather with the wheel. Stick the very  end of the leather to the wheel. as you work the leather around the wheel, slide the paper out between the leather and the wheel. This will keep the leather from gluing down where you don't want it to glue. It is easier to do that it is to write it up. This is an old cabinet makers trick  where they lay a sheet of Formica that has the glue applied on a cabinet top, line it up and pull the paper out from between the cabinet top and the Formica.

          That is the way I did the two wheels I have. Sorry to say, I must be doing something wrong, I just don't get the finish on the blade with the wheel as I do with the Water stones. I will play with this a bit more when I get the time.

          I have seen Tom do his blades and I know he has the "Magic Touch". He can shave hair from his arm so it has to be what I am doing that is not working for me.  (Tony Spezio)

            I think there is definitely a knack to it, no matter what system you use.  I can get a shaving edge on a steel plane iron in about a minute with my old oil stone and leather strop, no honing guide, but I sharpen often too.  It's a lot easier if the tool isn't very dull to begin with.  I inlaid a piece of an old belt into the top of the box I keep my stone in and rubbed in some oil and jeweler's rouge.

            My dad always handed me his pocket knife to sharpen because I could do it better/faster than he could, even when I was only 11 or 12.  (Neil Savage)

              Have not given up on it, just have not had time to play with it. I had mentioned before, I have no real problem with sharpening so I just do it like I have been doing. With soaking the strips like I do, I do very little sharpening. I am using the old blade that came with my Sears plane I bought in my High School days back in the 40's. The quality of the blade might be another reason for not having to sharpen too often.  (Tony Spezio)

            I'm guessing the brown paper bag doesn't stick to the contact cement.  Is that correct? (Harry Boyd)

              It's not SUPPOSED to.  (Neil Savage)

                A contractor friend helped me lay some Formica and showed me his system of laying dowels down on the surface to position the laminate - then dowels are  removed one by one as you go.  I used small spare strips of bamboo to this end in gluing the leather to my wheel.  I sure found it laborious to sand the wheel perfectly round though to get out all the bumps.

                Now I'm using a hard felt wheel and pink jeweler's rouge.  To me this has made as much difference as the motorized strop did in the first place.  One of my blades done on the leather feels like a hack saw compared to one finished on the felt.  I couldn't believe the difference.

                For those contemplating making a motor strop - refrigerator motors are very cheap.  Check the dump or appliance repair shop.

                Another minor tip - for applying oil to the leather - SWMBO's Pam works well (when she ain't looking) - just a squirt gives even application as the wheel is turning.  The felt doesn't need oil - there's enough in the rouge already.  Have a good one.  (Darrol Groth)

                  So Darrol, where did you pick up the felt wheel?  Any considerations for size?   (Todd Talsma)

                    Doesn't seem to matter where they are ~ $29. I got mine from Highland Hardware out of Atlanta - sure like them, they try harder.  I couldn't believe the difference. I had to feel twice with my thumb because the edge was so smooth compared to the leather way.  One can get the rouge at knife and gun shows real cheap couple a bucks a chunk.  (Darrol Groth)

              That is correct, there are other ways too. Wax paper is good for large areas but a narrow strip like you would use for a wheel would be hard to handle without it getting wrinkled and hard to manage. Dowels and venetian blind strips have also been used. I find the brown paper from grocery bags work fine for me, they are always around and cheap.  (Tony Spezio)

                Will add my 1/2 cent to the sharpening. This comes from 50+ years as a cabinet maker/woodcarving instructor.

                Many mediums may be used to sharpen our pet plane blades. Only the one that works best for you is actually "The Best" We need to remember the blade being sharpened must be held in some sort of sharpening jig so as to keep the angle exact all the time. By starting with a more coarse grit and progressing to the finer. Different woods requite a bit different angle but cane has a very well established angle. Hock blades come to us new with this angle. I would recommend trying to set up using it. As we go finer with our polishing (note I say polishing) we end up with a bright mirror finish. I do not like diamond because though it cuts fast, it requires more polishing. All scratches must be removed to get a good sharp edge. As one goes through the polishing grits to the end where the cutting edge is highly polished we will find it may appear to be sharp at any stage. But if we take the time to go the end of the polishing we will have a longer lasting edge. Hand pressure can change as we polish. (one side more than another, etc) Develop a sequence and hold to it. If sharpened up correctly (perfectly polished cutting edge) one need to only polish with the last stage to bring back perfection. I find that power stropping tends to curve the surface, not holding it flat.

                Because of the need to keep a stone perfectly true (yes I am lazy) my choice is the scary sharp wet dry sanding paper method. I use a 12" square piece of marble under the pieces of paper. I have a very expensive set of Japanese water stones that I seldom use.

                My choice for holding the blade is a Precision Guide sold by woodcraft. It has rollers that allow me to sharpen on any surface. The guide is priced at $32.99 and is worth it for me. For a final polish I prefer a leather strop (suede leather glued to a piece of oak, 2 " wide x 18" long) After trying almost every polishing medium I have settled on a product called "Yellow Stone". I drag the jig/blade backwards on the strop about 4 passes and my polished edge is back to perfection.

                Disclaimers to products. Just a happy user. Please contact me off list for any questions.  (Dennis Conrad)

        I agree with you.  I have a good spread of Japanese waterstones - 1000, 1200, 3000, 6000 & 8000, and I can put an edge on that even now I can hardly believe.

        I use an old Hock iron for trimming the tag ends on my guide wraps, because it is so much sharper than scalpel  blades, and I can lie it flat and flush on the wraps.

        What comes out of the box is not sharp, but only a start.

        The waterstones are probably expensive to buy, but they last pretty well, and I sometimes wonder if I mightn't have spent a lot more over the years buying endless sheets of paper.  Not to mention the fact that the sandpaper technique is so bloody dirty!

        I am pretty hard on my stones as well, as I flatten each stone every time I use it with a few laps with a 1200 grit stone.  I know that sounds 'sessive (ob- & ex-) but it works for me, and I never have to cope with the dished stone thingy. Heavy use of waterstones can be sort of hard on your hands, so I have developed the habit of wearing blue Nitrile gloves while I sharpen.

        Bill, as you surmise, it is another preference thing, and what works well for you is the best way, but I for one will probably never change from my waterstones.  (Peter McKean)

    I am satisfied with the water stones. I finish up on the 2000 grit stone. I would say it is personal preference.

    I use Wayne's 1" jig to set my plane iron in the same position in the blade holding  jig. This always sharpens the blade at the same angle.  (Tony Spezio)

    I use 2 Hock blades for my planing.  I use the Scary Sharp system with the Veritas jig.  I finish up by polishing the edge with 0.5 micron polishing paper, and the edges are so sharp, I can shave a balloon with them.  I also put a 2 degree micro bevel on my blades too.  Makes for shorter sharpening times, since I'm only resharpening that little 2 degree bevel, rather than the whole face of the edge.  When I resharpen, I only hit the blade on the 1000 grit, then the 2000 grit, then the polishing paper.  Takes about 1 minute to put the edge back to better than razor sharp.  (Mark Wendt)


I'm a bit fanatical about blade sharpness, I use waterstones, ending up with the 10000 grit job that makes the blade look like its been chromed under a times 10 magnifier. So, why do my horrible standard, high chrome Stanley blades seem to work just as well and for just as long, as my super cool and sexy Hock blade? Especially as they are mounted in the plane that I didn't spend a week of my spare time tuning to Stradivarius pitch? As far as I can recall it got its sole plonked on the belt sander and that was that. It gets used for all the rough hogging work too. Curious, is it not?  (Robin Haywood)

    Are your Stanley plane irons older models?  I have often heard that older irons have much better steel than their modern counterparts.  (Harry Boyd)

      Indeed they were, and mine, sadly, are not!

      They had less chromium in them, its addition was to make them less prone to rust and able to keep a half sharp condition for longer.  (Robin Haywood)

      I have two old Stanley’s and two new Stanley’s.  One new Stanley has a Hock blade.  I don't really notice a lot of difference in length of use or better sharpness. Now, I will say that I have added a Tormek sharpening stone to my "stuff" and it does a very good job. That is the reason I am teaching a course this spring semester at Clemson - more toys for the "boys".  (Frank Paul)

    I have one new plane blade. I was able to see damage to it after roughing out no more than 2 strips. Now, it may be that I got an unusually bad blade, but I certainly don't experience that with the Hock blades, or any of my old Stanley blades. I have 1 or possibly 2 old Stanley blades that I would put up against the Hock blades any day of the week. In the case of the first blade, one can plainly see where the blade is laminated. I really don't believe that it is necessary to flatten the sole, though, belt sander or otherwise. I am in favor of at least checking the throat,  for dead rodents if nothing else.   (Larry Blan)

      The throat on the tuned plane was quite awful and took ages to get right. The throat on the hogging plane, which was bought from a suspect source and possibly a reject was not so bad. I have four standard Stanley blades here, all identical, too thin and too much chrome in them, when sharpened I don't know which is which. The Hock blade seems to be more trouble to sharpen. Neither of the soles were too bad, the reject had a cavity just behind the blade, which I ground out. When I put it on the 10000 waterstone just now it came up quite flat so I left it alone, the other one took longer on the waterstones. Ages, from memory. Are standard Stanley blades REALLY laminated? I had not noticed. I think the Record blades are, perhaps I need to buy one and play with it. I like playing with planes, you don't get cane splinters in improbable parts of your body.  (Robin Haywood)

        The newer Stanley's are certainly not laminated. It is a documented fact that the old bench plane irons were laminated for some period of time. I've never seen it documented in the case of the block planes. I do have two blades that show a clear delineation about a third of the way up the blade, and they are both hard. Still thinner than Hock's, though. That isn't a bad thing. I put Hock's in the 9 1/2's and keep the two hard Stanley blades for the 18 that I use for final planing.  (Larry Blan)

          By lamination I took it to mean  along the major axis of the blade, like my laminated Japanese kitchen knives and presumably, Samurai swords, for which I have very limited use. We Cornish are not a very warlike people. What has happened to the blades you mention is a localized hardening at the blade end. On carbon steel blades this is a very useful improvement, if you can get someone to do it properly. You go for glass hard, and they end up that fragile too!  I once had one, it almost required me to lend him my ex-wife to get it done and sharpening took forever. It acquired a chip in the wrong place and had to be disposed of, rather like my ex-wife.  (Robin Haywood)

    I'm like that but 6,000 grit is fine,  and I go straight 1200 to 6000.  I wouldn’t go near that blade after that.  Lap the backs though.  (Geremy Hebert)

    PS: buy Hocks finest. Only cost a quarter more to go first class.

      My Hock blade is indeed the Cryo job,  and its a very fine blade indeed. Since I have the 10000 stone it seems a shame not to use it and the finish certainly looks better. I'm a fanatic about blade backs too, nothing happens to the front until they are mirrors. I even strop the things on fine leather after the 10000, I'm so far up my own arse on this that it's a good job I take size twelve shoes. Hurts like hell, of course, but you gotta suffer a bit to win.  (Robin Haywood)


If I had to choose two of the best skills to develop in rodmaking (or at least in hand planing) it would be splitting and sharpening. The closer you can get to your finished strip size in a rough strip the less planing you need to do. For a 2 inch in diameter culm I can get 32 strips, which I do for tip strips. I split to 24 for butt strips.

A sharp blade is also a tremendous time saver in hand planing. Sharp enough to shave with is dull! You should get a plane blade so sharp that you can't feel it pull when you cut off a few arm hairs. I use a honing guide and waterstones to get my blades that sharp.  (Darryl Hayashida)


I doubt anyone has been a bigger proponent of using sharp irons than I have been.  But a couple of weeks ago I stopped to resharpen all my irons long before they quit cutting well on bamboo.  Not a single iron would still shave hair off my arm, but they still managed, in well tuned planes with a somewhat experienced operator, to consistently cut nice shavings as small as .0005".

So here's my question:  How sharp is sharp enough?  Assuming the maker knows his stuff?

Sandpaper is graded a number of different ways.  As I understand it, the typical North American Scale is referred to by numbers usually expressed in grit.  The European Scale uses similar numbers preceded by a "P", and will usually be held to stricter tolerances.  Different sources vary in their correlation of "grit" to microns, but one chart is provided below.

1000 North American grit sandpaper = 9.2 microns.

1500 North American grit sandpaper = 3 microns

2000 North American grit sandpaper = 1 micron.

12000 North American grit sandpaper = .5 microns

1000 European grit = 18.3 microns

1500 European grit = 12.6 microns

2000 European grit = 10.3 microns

2500 European grit = 8.4 microns

Diamond paste - down to 1 micron.

To ask the questions another way, how fine, in micron sizes, must our plane irons be sharpened to cut bamboo efficiently?  Just FYI, I have consistently sharpened to 3 microns for several years now.  (Harry Boyd)

    I sharpen to 2000 grit wet/dry paper (used in auto body places).   I get a beautiful mirror finish every time and can easily shave hair with the blade. As I posted earlier my blades came with the planes and they are "old," but man they hold their edge for what seems to be a good long time.   How sharp is sharp enough? Well, if I can cut myself and not feel it, that's sharp enough.  (Ren Monllor)

      What grit paper do you usually start with?  800g?  1000g?  Are the blades still cutting well when you stop to sharpen?  Or have they begun to hang and drag?  (Harry Boyd)

        When I first received the planes, I trued up the soles to a mirror finish, then began the sharpening regiment with 50 grit @ a 30 degree angle, then progressively worked my way up to the 2000 grit. At the very first sign of "drag", something I'm pretty sensitive to, I bought out the sandpaper coated glass pane and touched it up starting with the 220 grit paper. I do that only because should I have picked up a tiny nick due to sand  or any other impurity in the bamboo, the 220 will clean it up with 5 or six light passes. Then I work my way up the different strips up to the 2000 grit once again.

        To be honest with you, I've planed well over 40 strips to date and have resharpened the blades on the first two planes once and then today I sharpened them all, starting with the 220 grit again. I have three planes, all 9 1/2 Stanleys. One set to take off .008", the next to take off .003" (these two are the work horses of the three) and the last which I hardly ever use, to take off .001".

        I came across the Scary Sharp System a while ago.

        The whole sharpening time for all three blades is about 10 minutes.  (Ren Monllor)

        Way back in '99 @ the Gathering @ Allenberry on the Yellow Breeches, a maker gave a sharpening demo with varying grits of sandpaper on a plate glass or mirror.  I am assuming this is what is being discussed here.

        I have a new LN and a Veritas guide.  Will sharpening like this be sufficient to produce that sought after hair shaving sharpness?  What grits?  800 thru 2000?  Or start lower?

        Or is Harry's power strop with diamond paste the better way to go? (Leo Wroblewski)

          I have been using the power strop for some time now I was introduced to a similar process for sharpening wood carving chisels years ago. The diamond paste is relatively new. But I think this is the best system by far, beats waterstones diamond whetstones and abrasive paper. It's a lot faster to get an edge.  (Gary Nicholson)

    FWIW, the plane iron will likely not cut hair after just a few passes.  Not sure how many, but I recall you could take the fine edge off a straight razor (yes I remember them, I've even used one) by slicing a piece of paper.  If you're happy with the cut, keep going, but resharpen as soon as you begin to wonder.  And remember, "my opinion and a dollar..."  (Neil Savage)

    Just to add a bit to your list...

    According to Cattanach's book, the 2000-6000 combo water stone that many of us use is listed as

    2000 Japan = 700 US

    6000 Japan = 1200 US

    Or to put it another way the 6000 side polishes to 9 microns... well short of your 3 microns, Harry.

    I think that this works out okay for many people, but I must confess that I think that I would be better off getting a nice 8000 stone and getting myself into the 2-3 micron range.  When sharpened to 9 microns, hair flies off my arm, though.

    Interesting question.  (Carl DiNardo)

    Geez Harry, not only did you used the infamous "G" word, you used it 10 times.   Oh, the  humanity!   ;-)    As a follow up, I use .5 micron polishing papers to get that final edge on my Hock blades.  The edge just glows, and the reflection is clear enough you can count nose hairs.   Not that I'd do that to occupy my time, just sayin'.  (Mark Wendt)

      and the reflection is clear enough you can count nose hairs.  Not that I'd do that to occupy my time, just sayin'...

      Well, I do. Or I should say I "would" if I hadn't have cut it off to spite myself sometime back.

      Thanks for the "equivalent" chart. Interesting... And to whoever it was (sorry) that posted the Japanese equivalents, thanks to you as well. Who'd a guessed! I have NO idea what I'm sharpening to. Thanks...

      I bought the ol' dual action Japanese waterstones quite some time back. With the old Stanley irons "sharp enough" ended up not needing the 8000 grit side. But now considering that 8000 grit is not actually 8000 grit...

      I recently bought a Torment Sharpener. There was a learning curve on that machine. The actual stone is listed as 250 I think...I forget. With the grading stone I believe it gets down to around 750 grit. It's still no way sharp enough at that point. Honing with the supplied compound gets it to about 1200 grit, I believe. I haven't bought any of the diamond compound that you use Harry, but that's next.

      I will say though that I'm finally getting edges as sharp as I was getting by hand, but it was a painful road. So...1200 grit is working about as well as 8000 grit. Go figure.

      I know Chris Carlin uses a waterstone (800gr) on his Tormek and seems to like it very much. But 800 grit Japanese may be 2000 grit. American.  Damn my head hurts. I haven't splurged on that goody yet. My point in all this muck was that "sharp enough" for me is to be able to plane out an 8 foot two piece, two tipped rod with a single sharpening, whatever the hell gr*t you use. That's what I get. 

      I have gone to great pains to keep  from using the word "grit"...oh hell!  (Mike Shay)

        I started out using the scary sharp system with wet-or-dry sandpaper.   Then I got a Norton combination waterstone that's 1000/6000 grit I think, and used that for a couple of years.   However, past few years, I've gone back to the scary sharp system using mylar backed micro-abrasives from Lee Valley.  These come in 15 micron, 5 micron, and 0.5 micron grits.  I got 3 pieces of 1/4" plate glass cut 9"X12" and put one sheet on each piece of glass.  I set the pieces of glass in a row and just work my way down the line.  The 15 micron stuff is pretty aggressive and takes the edge down rapidly, the 5 micron grit removes the scratches with a few passes, and the 0.5 micron grit puts a mirror polish on the edge.  I use the adhesive backed sheets and just peel off the backing and stick it on the glass.  Unfortunately, I notice that the 0.5 micron grit is no longer available with the adhesive backing.

        The only problems I have are getting air bubbles under the mylar when I stick it on the glass, and removing the stuff from the glass when it's time to replace the abrasive.  Pulling that stuff off of the glass feels like you're pulling the skin off your hands!  (Robert Kope)

        Robert added the following later: 

        The stuff without the adhesive backing may work better.  Don Schneider and a couple other rodmakers use that.  In addition to being cheaper, you don't have the problems with trapping air bubbles and removing it from the glass.

          I also like the 15-5-.5 micron sandpaper from Lee Valley. I don't bother with the adhesive backs, they were hard to peel off and I only have one  dead-flat  surface,  a  granite  slab  from Lie-Nielsen. I just switch the papers from one grade grit to the next.  (Henry Mitchell)

            That's the system that I use also (the micron sandpaper) with the Mark II sharpening jig. It's quick, easy and repeatable.  (Jeff Inglis)

            I also use the 15-5-.5 micron sheets from Lee Valley without the adhesive backs. Using a granite slab from Grizzly.  Put water on both sides of a full micron sheet and a little water on the slab and it stays put. When switching sheets, just rinse the sheet with water and hang on a close pin & switch the sheets from one grade to the next.  (Don Schneider)

        My Tormek machine is very slowly learning to  sharpen.  I've been practicing on kitchen knives to get the hang of it  before I risk my chisels and Hock blades.  Uhh, let me rephrase that.   I assured Sugarbabe that her knives would get top priority over my old shop  tools.  That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.  (Ed Berg)

    You can make a rod with a dull plane. I did three of them before I learned how to sharpen correctly. It is a lot more work, but it can be done. I use the Tormek and finish the bevel with diamond paste. Then the back of the blade is lapped on a piece of 2000 grit sandpaper that was glued to the bench a couple years ago. It is shiny black with metal  shavings and green honing compound. None of the original grit is left.

    I like the blades to shave hair, or cut paper very smoothly. The feel is sort of sticky sharpness. Over time I have gotten pretty spoiled about having sharp blades. I have three planes: a rough Stanley for taking off .005-.006, a fine one for taking off .003, and a Lie-Nielsen for the last thousandth. The Lie-Nielsen blade gets changed just about every second or third strip. I hate working with a dull blade, and a sharp blade can overcome problem nodes...  (Jeff Schaeffer)

      I use the Scary Sharp method like this.


      After that I usually start at  320.   I tried starting at 400 but found I wasn't really getting it sharp. 

      Originally I did polish my blades but have found if I get a good angle in my guide I don't need to go that far.  Getting a poor angle is worse than useless.

      I use two bench planes, one for roughing in, the other for the original taper, followed by a 9 1/2  to clear up any problems, pulls or other screw ups, followed by a low angle set to 40 degree to finish.  Then I scrape with a razor blade.

      Some times I only need to take three or six passes with the last plane, so they stay sharp a long time.  (Terry Kirkpatrick)


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