P1040769Just to follow up on the last blog where I answered the question on setting your bench plane and in this case a Stanley #4 smoothing plane, we put together a quick video to help everyone work through the steps and to see what someone like myself as a full-time, lifetime, lifestyle woodworker has disciplined himself to do over a 50 year span of six-days-a-week woodworking. Here is the video:



P1040508Sharpening and setting my plane iron for me stopped being a chore 49 1/2 years ago when I realised that without perfecting this task I would never perfect my work. I hope this indeed helps everyone to see it performed. The whole process takes only a minute or two max and I am back at my work. If indeed I have sharpened the three or four planes I use at the bench an average of say four times a day over 50 years working my personal six-day week as I do then it means I have performed this task 62,400 times. I don’t use nor recommend machine grinding because it is simply too slow and this method gets me back to the work in a woodworking heartbeat.


  1. Anthony on 23 July 2015 at 4:08 am

    I read the blog yesterday and learned that my setting process stopped after I put the blade in the plane, closed the cap iron, engaged the blade through the throat, and centered the blade by eye. I added the steps you reviewed, Paul, and what a difference. My shavings are way closer to equal thickness on each side. Thanks.

  2. Douglas on 23 July 2015 at 4:33 am

    Thank you , Paul, for continuing to touch on this subject as it is much more difficult to master when we are not standing next to you at the bench being critiqued. I’m running into difficulties where I am sharpening my iron edge out of square. I’ve adapted the ‘angle’ sharpening as you have shown in your instrucrional videos and I’ve been wondering if this is what may be causing the iron edge out of square. Any thoughts on what I may be doing wrong and what I can do to square back up without heading to a grinder? I’ve tried to perfect my fingers, hand and body positioning to mimic your actions with apparently no success. Any help would be much appreciated.

    • Offshore Organbuilder on 23 July 2015 at 7:37 am

      If you are sharpening out-of-square, you must be pressing harder on one side, surely?

      • Paul Sellers on 23 July 2015 at 8:38 am

        Yes, usually your strong arm is the issue almost every time.

    • Paul Sellers on 23 July 2015 at 8:42 am

      Don’t overthink it and even more don’t worry. If you are slightly out of square then you must have been among hundreds of thousands because we all do it just a little and that includes me. I look at the end and see I am biased so I take a few extra rubs back on the course and pull it back.

    • Diego Demeulemeester on 23 July 2015 at 9:32 am

      I’ve had the same problem, so now every time I sharpen I just check for square first. That way I know which side to put just a little more pressure. Gradually my plane irons are getting square. I just have to remember to check it first with my starret, otherwise I have the tendency to worsen it without realizing.

      Trying to get it perfectly square in one go is too tedious and not really worth it time wise.

      • Paul Sellers on 23 July 2015 at 10:44 am

        You also must remember that the reason the lateral adjustment lever was developed was to allow some leniency here too. A 2mm makes no difference at all to functionality.

  3. Thomas Tieffenbacher on 23 July 2015 at 6:41 am

    When I saw the email, said “this is gonna be good.” And it was! simple direct and nicely demonstrated. I will reference it a lot when I get back into the shop. I posed a question….How much pressure do you put on the blade? Low ,medium or hard, and does it vary during the process?

    • Paul Sellers on 23 July 2015 at 8:39 am

      All of my upper shoulder weight goes down to my finger tips and hands, so as heavy as you like is fine.

  4. tman02 on 23 July 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Paul thank you so much for making this video. It makes the steps in your last blog much clearer and simple once you see them. I really appreciate the effort you went to on this subject.

    I now need to go out and set all my planes by these steps.

    Thank you again for all you give us that want to do more hand work.

  5. jdkaiser03 on 23 July 2015 at 3:58 pm

    A had constantly struggled with this a few months back. Just like the person who asked you the question, I dreaded having to sharpen my planes – it would take 15-20 minutes to get it set right. measuring my thickness wondering how craftsman like yourself were able to “just know” it was right.

    I’m not sure what make it click, but one day when setting my plane I HEARD the difference, and a light went off in my head. A slight adjustment; another pass – listen. They sounded the same. I was overjoyed.

    My problem was I was using calipers and try to make the shavings exact. I stopped. If the savings sounded the same and felt the same that was enough for me. Now I can sharpen up and be set in less than 5 minutes.

    • Offshore Organbuilder on 23 July 2015 at 11:21 pm

      True! When I read that someone was using *calipers* to measure the thickness on each side, I thought “overkill!” It’s like cutting your lawn and then taking a ruler to the blades of grass to check that the mower is doing its job correctly.

  6. Tom Hanson on 23 July 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Great video Paul
    Ive always left the chip breaker between 1/2 and 1 mm away from the edge what differance does 2mm make

    • Paul Sellers on 23 July 2015 at 10:25 pm

      I’ve tested out and it seems optimum to me that’s all. No real problems with 1-1.5mm either.

  7. James Pallas on 23 July 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Paul Very interesting discussions. It took me a very long time to start to understand all of this. It was quite a while before I realized that you can feel hear and see when a blade is sharp or ready for the next grit. You are abrading and then it just feels smoother like the stone quit cutting. You just know it is ready. It is harder to feel the lesser the grit. The same for planning. You are going along on a board and the that one stroke hits and you just know. It could be that stroke hits anywhere along the board so you just keep going until it feels and sounds the same. Sometimes you just can’t get there if you have hit your mark but you can feel it to know if it is good enough. For those who don’t believe just set your #4 to take a smoothing cut and pick a nice straight grained board fresh off a power machine and start to plane you will know when it’s done no looking, feeling or measuring shavings. Thank you Paul so much for sharing your knowledge and those 62,000 plus strokes you took in your lifetime of experience.

  8. Christopher Mitchell on 23 July 2015 at 5:57 pm

    Thanks again Paul for giving us your time, I had problems getting my vintage planes to work and so I tried different ways of sharpening. I’ve the free hand method down pretty good with the exception of the corners. Do you round the corners of your irons with a file first or only with the diamond stones whe you hone?
    The main problem I was having before turned out to be my cap irons they weren’t contacting the blade flat and all the way across the iron. Now that I have that fixed I have much better control. My only issue is my corners are coming out slightly longer than the center. In other words I’m loosing my radius across the with of the cutting edge. This Video helped me understand how you are doing that. You drop down slowly to help form the slight radius correct. Thanks Chris

    • Paul Sellers on 23 July 2015 at 10:22 pm

      I do drop slowly but the long centre of the edge, within say a quarter of an inch from the outer edges, is dead straight on smoothers and jacks.

  9. michael on 23 July 2015 at 6:21 pm

    I noticed a while back my mortise and tennons were not perpendicular. The cutting edge was way out of square on my chisel. Does it matter if the cutting edge is square on chisels?

    • Paul Sellers on 23 July 2015 at 10:20 pm

      No, not really. Mine are almost always slightly off, but every three months I go in and correct it on the coarsest level, but it really doesn’t bother me at all in fact in theory I could even prove the angled edge is most likely more efficient.

  10. davidos on 23 July 2015 at 9:15 pm

    defiantly the best and quickest method to get an iron sharp and back to work .the more you practice this method the easier it becomes and yes you can hear the plane tell you it is set correctly .brilliant

  11. christopher Mitchell on 23 July 2015 at 11:29 pm

    Hey Paul, I know this is crazy but for the past five weeks I have done nothing but sharpen, My Trestle Table has been on hold, But I’m sick and tired of my Plane’s dictating to me what it wants to do instead of me being in control. I do have a way to sharpen but it requires basically three bevels 23,33 and 35. Its time consuming, a mess” using water stones” and expensive. I keep trying your method but no matter what I do the iron always comes out with a concave in the center of the blade. 1/2″ in from each side is longer than the center. Ive watched your new video over and over . I place my hands in the exact same position. I skew the blade in the same direction. There must be an answer for what Im doing wrong, I Hope!! , I know your busy plus trying to answer all these questions so If you have a simple solution to my problem then great but If not dont worry about it I can always just sharpen the hard way for now. Also I was trying to find the download version of your Artisan Series books/DVD’s but I couldn’t find it anywhere. DO you know where it is? Thanks again for everything. Chris

    • Offshore Organbuilder on 24 July 2015 at 12:09 am

      I have spent/wasted a fortune, trying out the different sharpening methods and I found the water stones a costly, messy mistake. I’m not saying they don’t work. I think everyone has to find which method best suits himself, but the water stones were not for me. They work, but if you want to keep them flat, you have to spend a little time, at each sharpening, flattening them off, because they are so soft and they soon get out of true. Then there is the problem of all that water sloshing around!

      This prompts me to ask, did you check your stones for flatness? If they are in any way convex (across the width of the stone) this is going to create the problem you describe.

      • Chris mitchell on 24 July 2015 at 12:45 am

        I’m using brand new diamond stones for your method. The one in particular is a course/extra course by DMT . Bought it from tools for working wood but yea it appears flat it’s a little hard to check perfectly cause of the course grit. But my fine and super fine are flat. Also new as well. A few months but I’ve only used them very little. Talking about the water stones that was my problem also was keeping them flat. You know I’ve bought DMT’s lapping plates , both the 95 and 125 mesh and I recently bought Shaptons stones and there lapping pate. So four different sets of water stones , King, Norton, Ohishi, and Shapton and 12 diamond stones not counting diamond paste, Mylar backed lapping film. So I know what you mean by expensive. But I just sharpened a #4 iron on the new diamond stone using a honing guide and it came out straight so it’s not the stone it has to be the finger pressure I would think but I’ve tried only pressure on both corners of the blade and still it cord out slightly con caved in the center. I wasn’t impressed at all with the Shapton stones. I bought the right ones. I get a awesome cutting edge using the diamond stones and the green aluminum oxide strop compound. Chromium what ever it’s called but just this problem with the concave. I freehand dead on 30 degrees at the tip and about 22 at the heel so I’ve got that part down but the second I skew the blade the problem comes in. Plus my corners don’t come out that great. Not like yours that’s why I asked earlier if you round them over with a file or something first. Thanks Chris

        • Paul Sellers on 24 July 2015 at 6:49 am

          It doesn’t have to be round like mine, it can just be bevelled at an angle. That being so, try jacking one side up with a piece of thin wood, six laters of masking tape to the opposite side of the diamond plate, something like that and then pull-stroking the cutting iron 30 or so strokes until you have a bevelled corner. When you strop it will round slightly anyway. That will do it.

    • Douglas on 24 July 2015 at 5:30 am

      Last time I looked the DVDs and books were still on Amazon.

    • Paul Sellers on 24 July 2015 at 6:45 am

      The book and dvds won’t give you any more than you can get for free on the blog, youtube and the free subscription on woodworkingmasterclasses.com nowadays. The info is still good but as we have grown everything more organically to expand the baseline of knowledge around the world, we’ve also added the extra nuances I feel make woodworking at-the-workbench real, which means here and there through the three presentations we can give everything away for FREE.
      If you keep persevering, don’t fret about the slight camber because the plane will still give you a good surface and edge as long as it’s not too much camber.

  12. Dominik G-S on 24 July 2015 at 8:32 am

    That is one advantage of the bailey pattern plane. The bedding angle of 45 degree is much more forgiving when your iron is sharpened out of square. The lateral adjuster can compensate that and also little inaccuracies of the bedding.
    A low angle plane 12 degree bedding angle has to be build with much tighter tolerances. An iron sharpened out of square can be more easily an issue because of the very limited amount of adjustability in a low angle plane.
    I have calculated an example with a bedding angle of 45 degree and one with 12 degree:

    The adjustment on a low angle plane is 3.3 times the adjustment of a 45 degree bedding angle plane.

    So we can draw the following conclusions:

    1. The bailey pattern with 45 degree bedding angle is much more forgiving when it comes to handling with out of square sharpened irons.

    2. Accuracy of the bedding of a bailey pattern plane is less important

    3. If you want to buy a low angle plane buy high quality because of the necessary higher demands in manufacturing accuracy.

  13. Ed on 24 July 2015 at 11:22 am

    Paul- Do you also take the corners off of your cap irons, or is the cap iron far enough back that it does not overhang the radius you’ve put on the corners of the blade? Is this what determines your “2mm back” for setting the cap iron location?

  14. Simon Richardson. on 24 July 2015 at 12:46 pm

    I like your clear instructions on how to sharpen planes and chisels. However we all have our own way of doing this and it is very difficult to change the way we were shown by our dad or grandad fifty odd years ago, never mind the dreadful woodwork teacher ! My own problem is not being able to remember to not put a microbevel on a blade, I tried once to change,about twenty years ago, but found that if I was thinking about anything else ( the next step) while sharpening, I put a secondary bevel on whatever I had in my hands. After about a month I gave up. Bench Grinders are a godsend to those of us who do refurb /repair work,you never know when a lurking nail or screw will turn up and take a corner off or a lump out, rule of thumb is it usually happens to a newly sharpened tool !
    S R

    • Paul Sellers on 24 July 2015 at 1:40 pm

      Truth is, if what you are doing works then why change UNLESS with a little practise a small change makes a big difference. Using a guide is not particularly slower, just another step.

  15. Aaron Tobul on 27 July 2015 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for the informative (as always!) and very timely post. I just picked up two Stanley planes (a 4 and a 5c) along with a decent Norton stone in a wooden box on Saturday for the princely sum of $40 (US) at a flea market. After about an hour yesterday I had the soles cleaned up, both irons sharpened, and both tuned and taking nice, even paper-thin shavings. Like others, the post-sharpening tune up had always been a bit of a hassle for me, but not this time thanks to your video. There is something very satisfying in taking 100+ and 80+ year old tools and returning them to working order. I’ll be using them later this week to prepare some rough sawn stock!

  16. Jaime Clifton on 27 July 2015 at 6:14 pm

    I struggled with Paul’s sharpening technique (i probably wasn’t doing it right). I was getting tear out on difficult grained oak. I then went on David Charlsworth’s course in North Devon and found I got the irons significantly sharper but oh my what a fag, very long winded. Now I’ve sort of merged the two techniques and I’m getting on a lot better. Essentially I use diamond stones but go to the DMT 8000 plate at the end, I’ve dropped the strop (I found it dulled my blade after the 8000), I use an eclipse guide and finish with the ruler trick. Now all is well with my planing.

    • Offshore Organbuilder on 27 July 2015 at 8:12 pm

      It just goes to show that we must each find our own way to sharpen – the way that works for *us.*
      In my case, I found the leather, glued to a piece of mdf and charged with CrO abrasive, was a great help. I can start with a sharp blade, and when it gets dull, squeeze some more out of it by stropping, only. This returns it to the state at which I can shave hairs off my wrist. When the blade next dulls, I have to re-sharpen it.

  17. David Devereux on 28 July 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Paul’ I have been experimenting with sharpening dry on the diamond stones, ie without any glass cleaner. So far I have found no problem. I just clean the stones after with a dry paint brush and have not noted any clogging up or drop in sharpening performance. In particular Its a lot cleaner and I found the liquid got onto the underside of the plates and rusted them. Can you explain what the benefit of the liquid is?

    • Paul Sellers on 28 July 2015 at 10:48 pm

      I suppose we are sharpening 60-100 chisels at any given time over a few days; plus other tools too. I have found that the plates do clog without it but not always whereas with the fluid they never do. I suspect that you are the only one using your plates and that you sharpen periodically so that makes a big difference. Nothing wrong with that, just saying. I don’t always use the liquid every time without any issues too. My plates have never rusted through yet in fifteen years using them, though I have gone through three sets personally. I probably use them fifty times more than most woodworkers do.

  18. David Devereux on 30 July 2015 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks Paul. That’s reassuring. I have found it much easier to dry sharpen and just occasionally use the fluid to give the plates a good clean. The only slight concern I have is with the fine particles getting into the air and being inhaled. Could that be a problem with your frequency of use?

    • Paul Sellers on 30 July 2015 at 10:08 pm

      I think so. I have a class tomorrow and we always sharpen up before class begins. So, that’s 60 chisels and 30 planes and spokeshaves. A mask is a good idea.

  19. Mario on 24 February 2016 at 9:14 am

    Hi Paul, I am sharpening the plane iron using your method and it works great but i just realized while setting the plane that the cutting edge is not straight, it’s slightly curved (like a scrub plane) so the shavings are always thicker in the middle. I tried straightening the edge on the diamond plate, then sharpened it again with the same results – so it’s definitely me. Any thoughts on what I may be doing wrong?
    Thanks, Mario

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