For more information on Sharpening Stones, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.
I’m still surprised to see how little it takes to keep things sharp and uncomplicated. I have always fought against complication in everything I write about and work on and work with. One thing is very very clear to me. Sharpening has been made complicated all the more by a mass of choices. The issue is what to buy more than how to sharpen.
Even when I was but fifteen, sharpening for the very first times the saw and plane, a few chisels and a spokeshave, I could see the simplicity of creating a sharp edge to a piece of steel. It was a simple Norton India combination stone back then that developed a convexed bevel on all of the edges. I took the edges and stropped them on my then soft hands as the men did and they laughed and joked as the blades slapped my palm one after the other.
My planes and chisels were sharp enough for working hardwoods and softwoods equally well. People mock me from time to time because I work pine and compare hardness to some of the hardwoods. I find that funny really, that people think softwoods to be soft when many aspects of the softwood are indeed harder than hardwoods like mahogany or sapele, oak, walnut, cherry and others. You see for the main part they discount the knots that are not just hard but intensely brittle. My learning then was that knots in wood remained, were not cut around, discarded for better but fully used. Even from the stones I used and the stropping on my hand, the knots and wood came smooth and level from this simplicity. Since then I’ve moved to new levels, but looking here I see that despite many intrusions, experiments and rabbit trails, my sharpening remains the simplest thing. Once a year I might, just might, use a mechanical grinder on a single blade. Sometimes a chisel corner might break or hidden screw catch an edge to damage my plane. Some such thing to leave a deep chip. Then I might grind it out, but not always.
Here in is the simple thing I’ve retained throughout my working life as a crafting artisan selling nothing more for the main part than the things I made. What you see in the picture at top is what I use to sharpen all of my tools. Nothing more, nothing less. These tools, abrasive plates abrasive compound and files give me pristine, surgically sharp edges as fast or faster than any method I ever saw. It takes me about a minute per chisel, two for a plane iron and the same for a spokeshave. With the saw files I sharpen any saw in under four minutes and the flat file? That’s for my scrapers, axes, froes and some other edge tools.
Oh, the saw files do my auger bits too. Forgot that.