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Superimposing the Presets

I sometimes wonder of we don’t prevent ourselves from developing a skill by our fear of failing. I would say 80% of my students through the years have overstressed about sharpening, to the point that in just seconds it becomes more a white-knuckle experience rather than a flexible interaction that moves in and out of relaxing and correcting by engaging the senses rather than denying them. The ‘in-and-out’ I speak of is an alternating of both mental and physical responses. We listen for cutting on the surface of the stones and look at the video effect from the back and forth movements we make as a burr forms and glints its band of caught light in the flashes. We sense the pressures as we move rhythmically and shift our bodyweight as we might when cycling, not even conscious of those micro movements along the path of presentation.

It comes with practice, that rhythmic pulse. It leaves the question. Should we actually worry about always being square or should we periodically correct our discrepancy from time to time? Does it matter of we are not dead square? The answer generally is not much. The problem is that without some repeated correction we will always give sway to a developing bad habit. Eventually we will stop the bias and continue sharpening at the slight angle. The chisel will still cut well. Steady self correction will produce the muscle memory you need and if occasionally you are out of square, in my view at least, why does it matter? It doesn’t. The important thing is not allow a bad habit to form when it is as easy to establish a good one. Correct yourself consistently but relax in the process. When you relax you increase sensitivity and awareness. Relax, my friends, and it will take over to become a more calming experience for you.

62 Comments

  1. nemo on 26 May 2019 at 4:48 pm

    Well, it’s easy to say people overstress ‘X’ if you can easily do ‘X’ yourself. To a person who can’t do ‘X’, what looks like a molehill to you is a mountain to them. Everything is easy once you know how to do it. And people who told me to ‘relax’ when learning to fly and not hold the stick too tightly actually caused the opposite: more stress because of an inability to relax…. In my view, relaxation develops automatically over time, after you gain skills and confidence. The relaxation is a consequence, not a cause.

    Personally I use the sandpaper sharpening method; it was the first method that gave me repeatable results, getting my tools consistently sharp. I know you’re not fond of it. Despite the cost of sandpaper (I don’t glue it to glassplates, btw), for me as an occasional woodworker it’s cost-effective, but to someone who sharpens dozens of times a day such as yourself it isn’t. There’s a break-even point where diamond stones are cheaper than sandpaper and I’m far below it. Still, if I ever stumble upon some nice diamond stones…

    But they’ll be out of my league for quite a while. In the mean time I’m trying to use regular sharpening stones (silicon carbide) and freehand sharpening instead of sandpaper with a homemade jig. I also dare to take a few more ‘risks’ now during freehand sharpening attempts because I know I can always fall back on the sandpaper-method to get a guaranteed good result. That realization takes quite a bit of pressure out of sharpening, for me.

    But it seems to me there’s very little useful information available about using these stones: it’s either sandpaper at the low end of the spectrum, or an expensive collection of Japanse waterstones or diamonds at the other end, with nothing much in between. I know I would appreciate learning about sharpening the way the real craftsmen used to do it (I assume the men you trained with didn’t use diamonds).



    • Paul Sellers on 26 May 2019 at 5:35 pm

      Well that told me, Nemo. But, anyway, just passing on what I base on the hundreds of people I told to relax who did and ended up enjoying sharpening straight off.



      • nemo on 26 May 2019 at 8:33 pm

        I had no intention of telling you off. If it comes across as such, I apologize.

        Reading your advice to ‘relax’ felt to me like telling a beginning high-wire walker to ‘just relax and don’t look down’. It’s advice, though well-intended both by you and former instructors of mine, that I’ve found unhelpful and worse. My opinion – yours is obviously different. You have much experience instructing – but I have a little experience being instructed.

        I regularly read criticism here on the sandpaper method (and I agree: I don’t feel the slightest bit ‘professional’ when I sharpen that way) but it’s so far the only method that gets my tools reliably sharp every time. Diamond stones are simply not an option. Sandpaper or diamonds – these are the two extremes of sharpening – but where’s the middle ground, the ‘good enough’ of sharpening?

        Reading your posts on sharpening I’m reminded of my grandfather and father, who always seemed to manage to get their things sharp with a simple stone. I’m trying to learn that now too, and am surprized about the lack of helpful, no-nonsense information available, both in general and on your blog/website.

        Offering this as my opinion – not intending to start an argument or discussion.



        • Paul Sellers on 26 May 2019 at 8:53 pm

          Actually, there are times when I use 250 grit because it’s faster than diamonds to restore a bevel angle. When I say often I am talking four time a year for a bevel on a plane that’s become too steep for whatever reason. It’s quick and quite cheap and very effective. From there I go through the stones. generally though I just use the diamond plates.Of course your opinion is valid. In my life when someone has told me to relax and I know by their experience my tenseness is causing an issue `i take a deep breath and I relax. My thoughts, from reading the comments, is that people everywhere and in every sphere should try to chill. I tire of these rigid rule makers who say it must be dead square or dead on 30 or up to 25,000 to really cut. None of it is true. For most of us being out of square a mil or two will make absolutely no difference except in perfectionist minds which is often little more than a little pride. A two degree steeper bevel will not be felt either. No going up the notch to 25,000 makes a different to the initial cut but within ten strokes you might well be down to 10,000 and a few more down to 5,000 and so on. It’s really no big deal but if someone tells you to the contrary and you believe them then you’ll spend more time sharpening and honing than you will woodworking.



          • Simon Wellicome on 27 May 2019 at 5:11 pm

            Nemo: Please learn to dismiss this feeling of not feeling ‘professional’ when sharpening your edge tools with sandpaper on glass. The real ‘take home’ from Paul’s blog & responses to comments is get tools sharp *enough*, with a tip that is square *enough* across it & honed to a consistent *enough* angle, close *enough* to 30 degrees for the task to be achieved – and then get back on with the woodworking. Let all elements of sharpening count with you, but none too much (to bastardise Kipling).

            Sharpening – when all the guff talked about it really is stripped away – is about rubbing something ‘soft’ on something ‘hard’ so as to remove material from the ‘soft’ thing until two of its adjacent surfaces meet with a ‘zero-radius’ curve between them.*

            Most things humans sharpen tend to be metal (mostly steel nowadays), and metals are invariably softer than rocks; so – at its real base – sharpening edge tools is about scraping steel across rock or rock across steel.

            Oil stones, water stones, diamond plates, sandpaper – all are just ‘rock’ in one form or another, either presented by themselves (oil & water stones) or stuck to a substrate (diamond plates & sandpaper). None of them are ‘more professional’ or ‘less professional’ than the other. Oil stones, water stones & diamond plates are all flat enough (or can be maintained that way) & stiff enough to allow the rocks to be presented automatically in a manner that facilitates us bringing adjacent surfaces together with a zero-radius, a glass plate does this part of the job for the sandpaper method just fine given its price & availability.

            On sharpening angles, the only angle that matters at the point of task is the one at the very tip of the meeting surfaces; the finer this is the more easily the tool will go into the wood, the coarser it is the longer the tip will last. A 30 degree tip angle, give or take, is the compromise between these two desirables that our forebears over the millennia have worked out is roughly best for most woodworking purposes – but CONSISTENCY from sharpening to sharpening is more important than precision to this 30 degrees (which is, as I’ve just said, a compromise anyway). That consistency enables us to be more consistent in how we present our edge tool to its task, which helps us build muscle memory into how we do our tasks, improving our speed, the quality of our results, our energy efficiency in task performance and our safety. The likes of Paul can achieve this consistency without reaching for a honing guide. He’s got there through a *lot* of practice. I can’t – so I reach for my honing guide every time and it takes me 20-30 seconds longer to sharpen each tool as a result. Big deal.

            Every angle in sharpening other than that at the very tip of the blade is about getting getting material out of the damned way – either out of the way of the interaction between the tool’s tip & the work task it’s being put to, or out of the way of the metal at the tip that you’re trying to sharpen. So aside from the ‘primary’ bevel being at a lower angle than the bevel to the tool’s tip, the actual angle of it is again less relevant than is consistency of that angle from sharpening to sharpening.

            And grit size? The particle size in the rock that initially helps us sharpen the metal eventually becomes a hindrance, as the scratches the rock leaves behind are what prevents us reaching a ‘zero-radius’ at the tip. That’s why we go finer in grit – to get rid of the mess the previous grit left us with. How far should one go? Only as far as is necessary to get the task done to the standard to which we can be bothered to get it done. Paul’s consistent point here is “If you can’t tell that you sharpened only to 250 not 25000, and if the workpiece’s end user can’t tell or doesn’t care either, don’t sweat it sharpening to 25000. Get back to the woodwork, or go have a cup of tea/coffee/chat with your mates instead. ‘Enough’ frequently really is enough.”

            ———————————————————-
            *Incidentally, ‘zero-radius’ is actually impossible to achieve. It’s a theoretical construct. We can only approach it – but the closer we get to it, the sharper our edges become.



      • Robert Brunston on 27 May 2019 at 3:34 pm

        Dear Nemo
        There is a whole other world of sharpening stones and systems! Explore the world of cutlery and sharpening you will find stones in all price ranges. Most woodworkers don’t know about this but it is out there! Look and you will find.



    • Bob Easton on 26 May 2019 at 6:55 pm

      Nemo,
      You are absolutely correct in thinking that relaxation will come over time, as one builds confidence. Expressing it that way suggests to me that you’re not far away from getting there.

      Paul is right too, for those people who can actually cause themselves to relax. Sharpening gets easier when one doesn’t worry or obsess.

      Much of the answer comes with experience, and realizing that “sharp enough” is often easier than you imagined. And once you can easily reach “sharp enough,” going to the next level of sharpness (resulting in smoother surfaces) is far less daunting that getting to that first level.

      As for stones, don’t worry about not finding enough information for your particular stones. Yes, there’s tons of information about water stones and diamond stones, but a lot of that is from people selling them. Keep some perspective, knowing that until about 20 years ago craftsmen for centuries used natural stones to sharpen their tools. If you’re lucky, you might happen across a video of some craftsman in a poor country sharpening his one turning chisel on a rock plucked from a field, and going back to turning chess pieces on a hand powered or foot powered lathe. Rather than look for information about particular stones, spend some time pressing steel against the stones you have and find out how to get to “sharp enough” today, and “sharper yet” maybe next week.

      BTW, squareness is very highly overrated, and I can’t imagine there ever being a need for sharpening “to 10,000.”



      • Ken on 26 May 2019 at 11:04 pm

        Good advice from Mr. Easton. Diamond plates are nice, I think, but it is the same processs no matter what abrasives you use.

        Bob Easton has a very good blog with tons of good information. He should update it more regularly though. : )



    • Tom Angle on 26 May 2019 at 7:08 pm

      No sure where you live, but there are some nice stones on Amazon. You can get two to four different grits for under $100 delivered. If you are not into refurnishing tools, a 400(or 600) grit and a 1000 grit with a strop is all you need.

      Since most of my tools are flea market/yard sale finds, I find a 250 grit stone to be really handy when the tool has been abused.

      My guess would be that the older men he worked with used oil stones. But all sharpening is the same whether it is oil, water, diamond or sandpaper. I used them all it is about pressure and presentation. Like sawing, you need to keep aware of even pressure and the angle you present the tool.

      With anything you do you should always do your best. Does it matter if you make a mistake? Did you learn from it? If the answer is yes, then no it does not matter. Everyone makes mistakes and they will always make mistakes. Being all tensed up about make a mistake, makes the experience of learning not very enjoyable.

      This lesson was a hard learned on for me (still learning), also took a long time to learn. Patience and a clear mind do not come easy for me and I always have to work on them.

      Just relax and sharpen. Check if it is out of square. If it’s not, think about how you held the took, where the pressure point(s) where, how your body was positioned, was you mind focused on the task at hand … How would/did those things effect the quality of the sharpening.

      The journey is the best part. Once the trip/job/etc… is done. It is done.



    • Terrence OBrien on 27 May 2019 at 3:12 am

      They also told me not to hold the stick too tight, and I learned they were right. They told me to loosen my death grip on the saw, and I learned they were right. They told me to exhale and relax when I pulled the trigger, and I learned they were right.

      After a while, I learned to listen because it seemed that was the quickest way to success. But it meant accepting and even expecting failure as I relaxed the muscles and things went to hell. And then they got better. And better…



    • Yohann on 27 May 2019 at 3:17 pm

      nemo-

      I’ve used most types of hones at one time of another. The basic principle is the same between sandpaper, water- or oil-stones and diamond plates. You’re rubbing a metal tool over an abrasive surface.

      If you’ve figured out your technique on sandpaper, then use the same technique on your water stone. Your SiCarbide stone will need water sprayed on it of it may need to be soaked in water before use (depending on the type of stone it is). All waterstones need to be flattened regularly. If you have the sandpaper around, you can run the hone over a flat sandpaper sheet on a flat surface for a few strokes before every use.

      Here’s a basic breakdown of the various types of hones I’ve used:
      Sandpaper – Initially cheaper, more expensive over time. Easy to use and fast. While you can stop at 1000 or 2000 grit sandpaper, you can get lapping film that goes to very high grits (if you like a mirror finish).

      Manufactured waterstones – Fast, easy to use. Cheap. They go out of flat quickly and need to to be flattened all the time. They can be messy, but they can be fun to use.

      Natural waterstones – There are many varieties of these. They can be cheap, but also very, very expensive at high grits. They wear slower than manufactured stones, but they still need to be flattened occasionally.

      Oilstones – (Charnley Forest, Arkansas, etc). These can be medium-expensive to start with, but they are fun to use. You can use them with oil (which is messy) or with soapy water. They cut slower than other hones. They also wear slower than waterstones, but they still wear over time.

      Diamond plates – Can be expensive to start with, but they need the least maintenance. They also cut very quickly.

      As you can see, each method has pros and cons. However, regardless of which setup you choose, you use essentially the same honing techniques that Paul demonstrates.

      You can get a set of combination waterstones on Amazon for less than $50, and they will go to very high grits (for tools). As long as you lap them flat occasionally, they will work really well as your sole honing setup for the rest of your life.

      Good luck!



    • Mark on 27 May 2019 at 4:31 pm

      Nemo,

      Speaking only for myself, my experience with developing “relaxed” technique has been somewhat different from yours. Here, I’m speaking primarily as a guitarist who early on, tended to death grip strings to get chords to sound clearly and also used an overly aggressive flat-picking approach.

      Teaching myself to consistently relax while playing took conscious effort. I adopted hand relaxation as part of my daily practice routine working to determine the lightest touch that would allow notes to sound clearly and in tune. I experimented with finger and pick positioning in order to determine the most effecicent placement. For me the best approach was to view relaxation as a core technique rather than as a byproduct of experience.

      As an advanced-beginner woodworker, I’m now using the same “same relaxation as technique” approach to activities ranging from sharpening, the sawing. For me, that’s primarily a matter of performing self-awareness checks. When I find myself clutching a plane iron in a death grip (an all to often occurrence), I relax my hands, shoulders, back, etc. and try to determine the lightest touch necessary to achieve the desired result. It’s an on-going process and I find myself doing a great deal of self-correction.

      I’ll also note that I also am a sandpaper sharpener who’s not yet ready to invest in diamond plate. I along with you, am interested in learning about successful “middle-ground” sharpening media. Having a limited wood-hobby budget, I’m very interested in the approach taken by fellow enthusiasts.

      Thanks to Paul for raising the topic of relaxed tool usage, and to you for raising the question and sharing your perspective.



    • Evan on 27 May 2019 at 6:31 pm

      @Nemo-
      There is a pretty good reason there is not much talk about a middle ground between diamonds and sandpaper. There really is not one. Both quality diamond and stones are expensive, in fact the best natural stone hone can cost more than the best diamonds. You can get cheaper “middle ground” hone both in diamond and stone (wet/oil/dry), but those cheap midway stone don’t sharpen any better than the sand paper method, and require so much more care and setup than the quality stuff, that it is really not worth the cost in time and effort. Given that being the case, no one see much value in spending time on them.

      (Quality sand paper gets expensive pretty fast also)



    • Nathan on 28 May 2019 at 9:06 am

      Sharpening I started when I found Paul’s video tutorials. To poor to buy diamond plates I tried the sandpaper method, it really was effective and wasn’t to difficult to get a decent edge.
      It’s taken me half as long as the time I’ve been woodworking, which is about 3 years, to sharpen my tools to a very good level and though I shouldn’t, I still compare the edge Paul gets with the edge I get, Paul’s is better every time, and so it should be. If a student came to me and said ‘I want to get the tone you produce on your guitar without the practice’, I’d say, best of luck!! It takes time to say what you want to say, do want you want something to do and often through desperation we succeed in making breakthroughs. For me sharpening has been that very learning experience.



  2. Chris Snyder on 26 May 2019 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks for this. I’m procrastinating planing my bench top right now in part because I’m agonizing over whether I have my scrub plane set up well enough, so this is something I needed to hear.



  3. Mike Coughlin on 26 May 2019 at 5:23 pm

    Paul, the whole western world is divided by ‘fear of failure’. Half lack ‘faith’ in their God-given skills/abilities to CHOOSE to make an ‘honest living’, rather than deceitfully turning to the false gods of government, drugs and alcohol to deceitfully steal from OTHERS what the faithless want in life. Relying upon one’s skills/abilities (or not) is a core CHOICE in this ‘test’, we call ‘life’. Pioneers, who left their homelands for opportunity in America, did so with NO guarantees – only ‘faith’ in themselves. So, to cure/fix our sadly divided western world, I pray for ‘faith’ … and (re)turning to God, rather than government.



    • Tom Angle on 26 May 2019 at 7:09 pm

      Well said.



    • Dave Berry on 26 May 2019 at 7:32 pm

      Or the perhaps the greatest false god: money, materialism, mammon, machine. For those who are uncertain of themselves, for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, there is a machine — a modern technological wonder — that promises to do a better job for those with the skill to push the on-button.



    • Yohann on 27 May 2019 at 3:36 pm

      Mike – I agree with the sentiment in your post. Self-reliance is powerful and less valued in today’s broader society than it should be. While god, prayer and faith are crutches that I don’t need and have got along well without, I know that other people find confidence in these things. They serve a purpose in those people’s lives.

      Looking for others to fix your problems is usually in vain and generally disappointing.



  4. Craig Medvecky on 26 May 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Can someone tell me what causes your chisel to sharpen at an angle that isn’t 90 and how to correct it?



    • Terrence OBrien on 27 May 2019 at 3:25 am

      I bought a set of five chisels at Harbor Freight for five dollars and just experimented. Things get easier when you’re not worrying about ruining a good chisel or destroying the joint you are trying to make. I learned how to put an angle on a chisel, and that let me know how it happened. Make an angle one way, then make an angle the other way. Then find the middle.



    • Tom Angle on 28 May 2019 at 9:19 pm

      Too Much pressure on one side of the chisel or the other. You need even pressure across the chisel. This get harder as the chisel gets narrower.



  5. Mic on 26 May 2019 at 10:51 pm

    People need a bit more self efficacy and a bit less ‘just click & buy’ mentality. It’s not going to be handed to you. Experiment, make mistakes and learn. No other way.

    Mic



  6. Big Al on 26 May 2019 at 11:06 pm

    A year ago I decided it was time I cleaned and restored my grandfather’s toolchest. He was a ship’s joiner back in the 1920’s & 30’s. I had never mastered the art of sharpening since first learning at high school 40 years ago. However, from watching Paul’s videos, including starting with sandpaper, I soon gained confidence enough to be able to sharpen planes and chisels just using his old sharpening stone. I figured that would be all he had used in his professional career. I practiced on my own cheap tools first and when I had the technique down I moved onto grandad’s tools.

    I very thankful to Paul for passing this skill onto me.



  7. Jp on 27 May 2019 at 5:32 am

    My trouble is less getting the edge sharp – I can produce an edge that cuts well and leaves a nice finish. My plane even sounds like Paul’s when in use! But, unlike Paul’s, where he will plane the whole benchtops or cut all the mortises only stopping to sharpen once, I find the need to return to the stones 4 or 5 times as often. I’ve checked my bevel angle which is fine, so very confused as to why my edges go dull so quickly. By dull, I mean an edge that is reluctant to engage the cut when planing, and tears fibres constantly when chopping mortises. Any ideas would be much appreciated.



    • Evan on 28 May 2019 at 8:22 pm

      Dont forget wood makes a huge difference in how often you sharpen. Yellow pine or Dogwood will dull your edges a lot faster than poplar or cedar or cherry. If I work a board with a lot knots in it, I will be back to the stones a lotmore often than in clear straight grain.



  8. Jonathan on 27 May 2019 at 7:58 am

    JP – I think you’ll find that Paul sharpens often; it isn’t captured on the videos.



  9. David on 27 May 2019 at 9:04 am

    Paul’s sharpening technique is difficult to learn because he maintains a convex bevel on his edge tools. This is unusual in today’s world. Many woodworkers find a concave bevel more easily maintainable as it can be formed in seconds on a grinding wheel and easily registered on a stone for honing. It takes a lot of practice to properly maintain a convex bevel, but once learned it is a very satisfying methodology to keeping your edge tools sharp.

    The key to sharpening edge tools is “what works for you is right.” The principle is simple. Find a way to spend two or three minutes bringing your edge tools to razor sharpness and stick with it. It’s a no lose proposition.



    • Mic on 27 May 2019 at 10:30 am

      David,
      When beginning woodworking I was put off by all the sharpening videos out there, it looked like I was going to spend more time flatening stones and sharping tools than working wood – plus the elaborate and expensive gear required.
      Then I ran into Pauls method which looks and is a lot easier, it’s not difficult to learn at all I don’t think. I think concave bevels appear easier because that’s what the machine gives you, not necessarily because it’s better.

      And I agree, whatever works for you to get the job quickly done without wasting material is good to stick with.
      Mic



      • David on 27 May 2019 at 2:26 pm

        You don’t need a machine to use a grinding wheel on a chisel or plane iron. Hand-cranked wheels are easily obtainable at almost no cost. Paul uses a convex bevel on his edge tools because it works for him. I use a concave bevel on my edge tools because it works for me. My edge tools are razor sharp and unless I chip one of them I can maintain that edge while working with only a few moments of effort on a given blade. I use Shapton glass stones with a Lie-Nielsen honing guide. It works for me. I use Shapton stones because you don’t need to soak them in water. I keep them flat with a Shapton diamond plate.

        As I said above, the key issue here is working with sharp edge tools. How you get them sharp is up to you.



  10. Gregg Germain on 27 May 2019 at 11:00 am

    I think you also have to loo at Paul’s method of sharpening in totality to understand how it fits into the work.

    Yes he does it by hand and makes a convex bevel. But he has his stones set in a board….the board has a cleat for locking it into the vice…the board is stored at the end of the bench a foot or two away. All of that contributes to ease and speed.

    I think of sharpening as a massive interruption of what I’m doing and not “what I am doing”. Paul is the first person I’ve seen to suggest that it’s part of making the joint (for example). And his design and storage of his sharpening system really enhances that idea.



  11. Paul Oram on 27 May 2019 at 11:20 am

    I find it the hardest thing to get square sides.

    I bought a Veritas plane side attachment that made life a lot easier – although I got the feeling I was getting dependent on it – how would I ever improve my skills? So I stopped using it.

    I think now that it is better just to relax into it. Take it slowly and check constantly. When I do this, and just trust my gut instinct, it seems to improve my results. Getting ‘in touch’ with the tool I guess. When this happens it’s very rewarding.

    The same I find true in rip sawing -, especially with a thin Japanese saw. When I get it right it’s a great feeling.

    The thing, I find, is not to beat myself up if something isn’t 100% accurate. That’s how you learn – do better next time. Every piece I complete is an achievement – something I’ve never done before.

    Now I’ve started thinking like this I feel like I’m improving at a faster rate.



  12. Robert W Mielke on 27 May 2019 at 11:25 am

    Many years ago now I got into personal computer on the ground floor. I worked for a huge company that decided to computerize their employees. I was on the initial task team tasked with teaching 45,000 employee to use and utilize personal computers.

    One of my initial student reactions was fear, fear to touch a key thinking they would destroy something. I tried to put them at ease saying that I wanted to make mistakes. In making mistakes they were learning what not to do, the consequences of that mistake and finally figuring out how to fix it themselves.

    Woodworking seems to have a similar philosophy. Fear of failure pulls students away from a task. The more they repeat that task the fewer mistakes they will make until the fear and skill only remains.



  13. MarkR on 27 May 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Hello,
    I am only about 15 months into my woodworking journey, which started by getting some cheap new and a couple of secondhand old chisels and the same for planes. I studied the videos and started sharpening …

    Originally I had a cheap honing guide, but I spent a long time setting the thing up, especially with the chisels which would become a bit skew in the horizontal plane (if that makes sense) … so I decided to ditch that and use Paul’s freehand method.

    One one thing that I did do before starting this freehand sharpening was cut myself a small triangle wooden block with one angle of 25 degrees and another at 30 degrees. I place this on the stone, and then I can align the plane iron or chisel along side it to register the correct angle. Having done this for a while now, I find that as the irons are correctly beveled and I have built up some “muscle memory” I am usually pretty good at finding the 30 degrees (although I do still check each time).

    I also check pretty frequently how square I am, and try to adjust as I go along, usually by moving where I am holding the blade down to the stone with my left hand (I am right handed… and this is providing the back and forth motion).

    One thing that I don’t understand (and it is difficult to see on any video) is how much burr I should be getting on the first sharpening stone – I have a feeling that I am overdoing this, so possibly sharpening a bit longer than necessary.
    Even with a strop (20-30 “pulls”), I never get a mirror-like finish (as in the photo in the previous blog-entry) – so maybe I am not using the fine stone enough.

    Thanks for any tips on this.

    Mark



    • Mic on 27 May 2019 at 1:40 pm

      Same here. Depemds maybe on the buffing compound? I find I get better results with 50-60 strokes and putting a bit more pressure on it. When not happy I do another 20, and so on.

      As for the burr, the first feel of one across the full width works for me.

      Mic



  14. Herb on 27 May 2019 at 12:08 pm

    I bought my first plane when I was 15, because I wanted to know how my cabinet maker grandfather made all his furniture by hand. I tried it and failed. In ignorance I didn’t know that the Stanley #4, or any other new plane, had to be sharpened. And so, the plane went into hiding for the next 69 years. I have been an ardent woodworker all these years having accumulated all the machinery required to make some nice stuff. However, having accidentally running across one of Paul’s videos on sharpening, I decided to try hand-made woodworking. That was a year ago, and while the conversion isn’t quite complete, I will say that sharpening up that plane and an E Bay block #60 1/2 has been an ah hah experience. Oh the sounds they make are truly rewarding and perhaps mystical.

    I have been using sandpaper on a granite floor tile with proper results. However, I’ve calculated the on-going cost of those supplies and I believe that I can now prove to myself that a 2-sided 300/1000 grit diamond stone is economically warranted. For me, it will be easier to handle the diamond plate than the tile and will be a greater incentive to sharpen more often. Now, on to dovetails.



  15. Brian Anders on 27 May 2019 at 12:45 pm

    The end source of, and the end result of all this is the basic human need to be a ” maker “! An ingrained need to take a material, and make something. Could be useful, beautiful, valuable, or maybe just satisfying. To somehow leave an artifact that says ” I was here”. It’s so hard in our world, at this time, not to be tied to the outcome. It’s the journey that matters! I’m 4th generation blacksmith. Learned young, like a second language. You can learn another language at any age, most easily by using it. I’m also a Goldsmith, saddle maker, and luthier. No special gift. Mostly driven by need, and desire. Musicians often are adept at multiple dissimilar instruments. An old teacher of mine said ” Don’t copy the Master. Learn to see what the Master sees!”



  16. Jeff Rogers on 27 May 2019 at 2:05 pm

    I couldn’t agree more about what Paul wrote. When my son and I started using hand tools, we just about quit because we couldn’t get our plane blade sharp. We had bought a honing guide and started down the “scary sharp” method based on the salesman’s advice. Didn’t work. Then tried a norton stone and arkansas stone and used honing oil, what a mess and no closer to being sharp like we expected. We always dreaded sharpening and thought that the best we could do was ruin the blade. Thankfully we came across Paul’s method for sharpening using diamond plates and have learned that it is easy to get a sharp blade. And we’ve learned that you really can’t screw up the blade! If you haven’t done so, make the sharpening plate holder, it just makes sharpening even easier to have the plates in 1 place.



  17. Yohann on 27 May 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Paul –

    That’s a very insightful post. I am a rank beginner with tools, and it can sometimes take me a long while to get started on something, because I’m afraid of messing it up.

    Some of my projects have wound up really nicely, but not all. Still, even when I messed up, I learnt something and made something. The trick for me is to not repeat mistakes. I still sometimes do. 🙁



  18. L Arthur on 27 May 2019 at 3:29 pm

    I found that when I was not sharpening square, it was because I was not checking and adjusting often enough. Checking the edge more often as I sharpened also helped to create better sharpening habits overall as well.



  19. Diego on 27 May 2019 at 4:33 pm

    I too used to avoid sharpening because it was tedious, took too long and fear of messing up a working angle…

    Now I just say to myself that it’s worth sharpening because your planing results are much better.

    I just check my edge before starting to sharpen with my square to see which way is off, then just try a little to get it back to square without really trying to get it perfect… that gives me a fresh sharp blade to continue to work with. If it’s not square, I might get there next time, maybe not. But now I didn’t waste my steel and got the tool to do it’s job. that’s why I like having the metal planes with the lateral adjusters.



  20. Tim B on 27 May 2019 at 4:50 pm

    With respect, Nemo, I think you may be missing a main point of Paul’s presentation. The relaxation is the key…yes it starts out as a mountain for most of us, but the stress over the mountain gets in the way of our progress. The stress is not our ally. At the same time, as I interpret Paul’s narrative, it is not simply a matter of merrily slogging away; that leads to slop. Thus the wisdom of the relaxed vigilant practice of doing>observing>thoughtfully adjusting>doing again.

    The other thing that can get in the way is our envy of those to whom our mountain is a molehill. I know, I’ve been there. For years. But not only does that discount the years of effort and learning that it took those master craftsmen/women to get to that point, it also impedes of our progress—a self-defeating indulgence.

    So for today, I appreciate and learn from the masters—not as idols or heroes, but as generous souls who pass on their wisdom and experience. And when I walk into the shop, I remind myself that the main point of my day’s work is the joy, not my level of skill or accomplishment relative to others.



  21. Tom Ashworth on 27 May 2019 at 5:42 pm

    I want to veer off a bit about relaxation. While I believe all the above is “right,” insofar as relaxing to task, and how difficult that can be sometimes, I think it is important for those of us old-timers who might just be suffering from some lower back issues. I find I tense up most when sawing. Trying to get the saw, hand, arm shoulder in one continuous push, looking at the saw blade for the reflection that indicates I’m at least true one way, etc. Lately, I’ve been taking to stopping myself, taking a breath, and feeling relaxation down to my bunion-covered feet (another topic). This has resulted in less saw-induced colorful language.
    Woodworking surely gives rise to differing opinions. I still like hanging out with all of you guys, and enjoy the back-and-forth. Paul teaches like a house a-fire!



  22. John on 27 May 2019 at 6:49 pm

    I have a question for Paul. I recently bought two Stanley no. 78 planes, different eras. One is a sweetheart and the right side of the blade is beveled and the other is a later version and both sides of the blade are not beveled. Was the bevel added to the sweetheart plane blade or did it come from the factory this way? Also the sweetheart blade is way out of square, what is the best way to correct this because it can’t be set up to cut a square rebate as it is?



  23. John on 27 May 2019 at 7:04 pm

    I forgot to mention the the blade sides are not parallel. Is it alright to strop a dulled blade sometimes without going through the stones first.



  24. Jeffrey Dustin on 27 May 2019 at 7:22 pm

    I AM RELAXED!!!!!

    Lol



  25. RODNEY MAGEE on 27 May 2019 at 8:35 pm

    When you stop to sharpen, there are only 3 things, the tool to be sharpened, the sharpening medium and you. Only one of the things has the ability to think, you, you’ve read or saw what Paul is teaching and why and perhaps several other teachers also, you have a pretty good idea of what to do so start doing it, quit worrying, you’re going to screw it up, happens to all of us but you have the ability to look at what happened and think about it, the other 2 items can’t, they can only move to your will. If you need to use a guide, do it, learn how it feels. If you’re sharpening out of square, stop to think about why, try changing that, you can. Enjoy the learning process, it’s in learning that we become better, that comes through practice.
    It’s possible you will always need to use a guide, I will, arthritis and unintentional tremors make that a reality so I live with it and move on. I learned to sharpen fish hooks when they got dull through use or rust and a bevel on a chisel or plane blade isn’t much different, just round not flat. Think of it as training the tools if you must. Realize one thing, Paul wasn’t born able to sharpen or cut square or plane a board from rough to ready, George taught him and Paul worked at it to learn, so can you. Just take a deep breath and have at it, slowly at first and then faster and faster as you learn.



  26. Peter Uribe on 27 May 2019 at 11:24 pm

    Mr. Sellers, Could you please tell us the story behind the 2nd picture? I have never seen shavings like those. Is it a rounded cutter?



    • Joe on 28 May 2019 at 4:27 pm

      I will take a guess on this. This weekend I was reading Mortise and Tennon magazine volume 6. In it, there is a nice article about chip breakers and how they were a big deal when invented several hundred years ago. The one point that really stuck out in my head was how close you wanted the chip breaker to the edge of the iron for optimal performance. They stated 0.012 to 0.004″. One of the things they mentioned (and in my mind ties to image 2) is that when you get it so close, supposedly the shavings shoot out of the plane and are straight. That seems to be what I see in image 2. I could be completely wrong about this. This weekend when I am at my bench I am planning to try and get the chipbreaker close to see if it makes a difference and I can go from my normal curly shavings to the ones that jut straight out.



      • Paul Sellers on 28 May 2019 at 5:20 pm

        You are wrong I’m afraid, Joe. And I can tell you the answer, but only if you stop calling it a “chip breaker” and call it by its proper name. Also, these ‘experiments’ of course are really of little value to woodworkers if indeed they are woodworking at all but more just shaving making and an interesting diversion if you will allow. I think perhaps it’s more an alternative to navel gazing probably. Just my perspective.



        • David on 28 May 2019 at 8:22 pm

          We here in the US commonly call them “chip breakers” even though the English insist upon calling them “cap irons.” As you know nearly all Western-style bevel-down, Bailey-style planes have them and are vital to their proper functioning.

          I can’t disagree with you about Joe’s speculations regarding whether shavings “shoot out of the plane and are straight” because of how close the cap iron / chip breaker is to the cutting edge of the blade, but in my experience setting the cap iron / chip breaker very close to the blade and at the same time moving the frog forward to minimize the mouth opening during planing results in a very thin shaving, something that comes in handy now-and-then.



          • Paul Sellers on 28 May 2019 at 9:05 pm

            I don’t believe it’s really so much just an “English” ‘insistence to call it a cap iron. Early Stanley catalog parts lists list the secondary iron as a cap iron or iron cap. So too Canadian catalogs, both American counties in this case insisted on the term too. The term “chip breaker” is more recent but has no nomenclature of real value because of course it doesn’t break shavings into chips as in the case of machine planers which must break wood into chips via a soecific bar designed as a, well, chip breaker so that the chips can be expelled in the mechanised planing process. I really don’t mind what anyone calls it particularly but I will correct woodworkers so as not to mislead, however unintentionally, new woodworkers. I worry that they might adopt a wrong name and in time the erroneous one be the adopted one by default.
            In this case the explanation for a hundred straight and uncurled shavings in constant succession by ten different users without more than a fifteen second break between users comes at a simple price. Whether the price is worth it is up to Joe.



          • Joe on 29 May 2019 at 4:32 pm

            Thanks Paul for the correction. I am very much a beginner. I want to make sure I use the proper terminology. I am curious as to the why they came out straight and what is the price. Could you please tell us?



  27. Joe on 27 May 2019 at 11:43 pm

    Maybe part of it is age, maybe it’s grandkids – who knows? I have reached the point in life that if a chisel performs as expected or a hand plane sings as it works then it is good enough.

    I don’t mean to imply acceptance of shoddy or substandard is ok.

    I do however see a bit more clearly that perfection is a hindrance to enjoyment.

    I routinely now have my 7 year old grandson as a “helper”. Some days the level of laughter exceeds the level of production. He always walks away with a skill that is just a bit better and I walk away with a bit more peace than before.

    I hope my Grandfathers tools will one day grace the engraved tool tote we recently made, just not today as I have need of them.



  28. David on 28 May 2019 at 6:34 pm

    I recently lost my slowly forming workshop, with all its stuff. I’ve spent about 6 months just trying not to think too much about what to do next, instead waiting to see if the woodworking bug resurfaces or if it was just a whim — I had been doing it only a few years, mostly sporadically on the weekends.

    I had come across this website (and a few others like them) a couple of years ago, and had decided to go in the mostly handtool direction. I had a few trinkets, as I like to call them, such as the veritas jig for sharpening, and some very precision woodpeckers tools.

    As I consider re-starting, I think I will go even more stripped down. I intend to learn to sharpen by hand, entirely. Not only is it cheaper, but I am certain it will be much more satisfying. Of course there will be many frustrations along the way, but I’m in no hurry. Our town went up in smoke in the blink of an eye, so I’m fine taking it slow.

    I ‘know’ the approach Paul is taking — learning as a whole body event — is the correct one, because I have experienced it in many other pursuits. It values the process of learning and making over the result.



  29. Ed on 29 May 2019 at 3:28 am

    The fingers of one hand wrap around the tool, and the other hand is placed on top. If not attended to, the fingers wrapped around the tool and the associated wrist just naturally screw the blade into the stone causing the edge to grind out of square. Some of the effect can come from the wrist and some can come from simply squeezing the fingers. Both can lead to a screwdriver like effect. Being aware of this allows you to make subtle changes in the “wrap around” hand so that it takes more of a supporting role rather than a screwdriver role. Keeping your attention on this actively I find helps. You can relax until the cows come home, but if your grip causes a screwdriver motion, relaxing won’t help. Grinding off square will just happen, similar to how the convex bevel just happens. You may need to nestle the blade in a slightly different part of your hand. So, play with adjusting your grip. Then, relax. 🙂



    • Paul Sellers on 29 May 2019 at 8:31 am

      This sounds like a double hand wrap whereas I wrap the tool with my dominant hand, primarily to steady, and then use the three or four fingers of my non-dom hand to press as evenly as possibly over the width of the tool if wid and two only on narrow widths such as chisels under 12mm wide. This seems always to result in a good balance and I have mnot worked out if it’s the practice in using this method or that I have developed muscle memory. personally I think woodworkers may want the square edge for the wrong reasons as being slightly out of square actually produces a better slicing action for the majority of work. if the bottom of a mortise is slightly out of square, and we are talking micro here and not macro, why on earth would that matter. I doubt that many can give me a good enough reason for a dead square chisel tip or even a plane edge. The problem comes when the habit is formed and goes uncorrected. Personally I think this blog has proven my point that we sweat more over the small stuff and forget why we do what we do. It is at the end of the day just a matter of self discipline which always starts with more frequent self introspection. Gradually confidence builds and we become unconcerned. That brings with it the freedom of relaxation I am speaking of. Freedom!



      • Ed on 29 May 2019 at 12:26 pm

        Nope, it’s the same grip as yours. You’ve seen me sharpen in class.

        I suspect you are right in saying you have developed muscle memory and my description is of me discovering mine. I agree with everything you said- squareness doesn’t usually matter, *but* if you are doing this screwing thing, the squareness can get quite out of hand, to the point that it can distract you when chopping because you sense the handle leaning left or right when you register in a knife line and, for plane blades, you need to fiddle with the cap iron and angle adjuster to compensate. Things must drift quite a bit before those are really problems, but it can happen, especially on narrower blades. I’m pretty much always out of square a little and just ignore it, except for bull nose planes and such things. But, I did need to learn to keep from having big changes in squareness accumulate.

        The funny thing is that this screwing motion can be useful. I use it deliberately to sharpen things with a crown, like scrub plane blades. Screw to the left, then to the right, and the crowned blade is either sharpened or formed from a straight edge.

        One person mentioned forcing yourself to go out of square in the opposite direction to discover the “errors” in your grip and technique. I did that too at one point and found it helpful. Finally, I wonder if this is like learning an instrument. If you practice playing too fast, you will reinforce poor movement patterns. So, here too, slow down and don’t move the blade so fast. Don’t speed up the stroke until you’ve achieved what you want at slower speeds reliably.



  30. Roger Dickinson on 29 May 2019 at 11:20 am

    Dear Paul,
    I have spoken to you before to thank you for making the transition to being a real woodworker (though imperfect) so easy and so enjoyable. I have two things to suggest.
    Firstly, please be aware that some of us can show you a few years of seniority, which have inevitable consequences. For example the idea of the effort necessary to resawing a very long board can have a serious dampening effect on the woodworking resolve!
    I very much like your fairly recent introduction of the use of good quality plywood into your woodworking examples, and in particular in the case of your workbench. I intend to use plywood into the making of the front and back boards of the bench I am making, because I think they will ease up the required cutting of joints. Similarly I think, as you have occasionally suggested, there is no need for a woodworker to feel shame at using power tools in a limited way to ease the way on effort-eating projects. I would hate to give up my drill driver for repetitive assembly and am considering getting a skilsaw for heavy sawing duties.
    Secondly, the reflections above, on sharpening and other acquired skills, resonated with me very powerfully. I can sincerely say that at my time of life, after a lifetime of on and off amateur wood working, I have only since chancing upon and following your teaching really become confident and happy with sharpening, and other processes, that used to fill me with total horror and fear of failure, and the answer, as also suggested above is losing the fear and gaining the confidence. This I have gained from your lessons and guidance and I thank you for it.



  31. Mike Bullock on 29 May 2019 at 8:59 pm

    I try to find a balance. When the most important thing for me is to stay engaged in a project, I’ve learned to not sweat the details to much- I just sharpen and flow back to the project. Other times I pay a lot of attention to my sharpening and try to recognize and adjust if I’m not getting it just right. It took some time for me to get to this mentality. Early on, I often (I think) spend too much time obsessing over sharpening. In the end, sharpening is a means to an end so these days I try to balance treating it as an end unto itself to keep improving while not being afraid to just flow through it and get back to the rhythm of my project.



  32. Ted on 31 May 2019 at 1:55 am

    Paul, I read all your blog articles, but I particularly appreciate when you drop us tidbits of technical or practical advice/wisdom. I’ve been using honing guides, and I hate them. They’re awkward to use, and take more time to setup than it probably should take to complete the task. I bought and used them because I was afraid I couldn’t get it right by hand. I’ve known for a while that I should switch to the hand method I’ve seen from your videos so often. But this blog post put me over the edge, and now I’m just going to take a deep breath and go for it. Thank you



    • Paul Sellers on 31 May 2019 at 8:29 am

      Ow! I feel your pain, Ted.



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