New Sharpening System.... Maybe? #1: Less Plugging in Leads to Plugging in

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Blog entry by HokieKen posted 05-24-2017 12:44 PM 3621 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of New Sharpening System.... Maybe? series Part 2: Initial Tests »

This will likely be a couple-of-entry series but I thought it might be of interest since sharpening, love it or hate it, is a necessary chore for most of us. So, here’s the background…

I’ve gotten serious about woodworking in the last 3 or 4 years. My background is as a machinist so working with wood is a very different medium. In the last couple of years, I have learned to use, and appreciate, hand tools more than ever before. I’m not a galoot purist by any stretch, I’m very much a hybrid woodworker, but I find that hand tools are a necessary compliment to my power tools for me to be able to elevate the level of my work. I use whatever gives me the desired results, whether it plugs in or not is secondary to the results it yields.

So I have built up a modest collection of hand tools. This obviously means I have to be able to sharpen them. No matter how you look at it, there is just no alternative to sharpening chisels, plane irons and turning tools. Well, okay, there are carbide inserted turning tools and you could get by without handplanes if you have a jointer and a planer. But there is no power tool that can perform all the tasks that chisels do. So if you’re a woodworker and have, at a minimum, a couple chisels, we can say that you have no choice but to sharpen (or pay someone else to do it for you).

I don’t love or hate sharpening. I do LOVE the performance of a freshly sharpened tool. But, I don’t enter some zen-like state when I’m honing and lovingly polish my bevels to the point that I can use them as a mirror. My goal when I sharpen is threefold:

  1. Get the tool as sharp as it needs to be
  2. Get it done as quickly as possible
  3. Be able to quickly hone the same bevel/angle next time

Now you know where I’m coming from.

The irony in the title is true for me… well maybe… for now. The more I use hand tools, the more hand tools I buy. The more hand tools I buy, the more there are too sharpen. The more there are too sharpen, the more time I have to spend sharpening instead of cutting wood. Like I said, I don’t hate sharpening but I don’t love it so much that I’d rather do it than using the tool either. So my sharpening system has evolved over the last couple of years and now I come to another possible step in that evolution. And that, my friends, is what this blog is about.

So when I started using chisels regularly, I had a few different oil stones I’ve used to sharpen knives over the years. I also had a small diamond file and a bunch of different slipstones from my time in the machine shop. I had a bench grinder with some SiC wheels with a flimsy rest on it. Chisels were honed free-hand on oil stones and were usable. But, I would watch youtube videos where Paul Sellers or some other woodworker was paring with chisels like a hot knife through butter and think, why won’t mine do that.

That was when I got sucked down the rabbit hole that is “sharpening theory on the internet”. So many methods, so many mediums, so many choices and SO MANY OPINIONS. What was I to do? Well, I read Ron Hock’s The Perfect Edge. I didn’t get specific methods or run out and buy all the stones, jigs and guides that he shows in the book. What I did gain was an understanding of how tools work when cutting wood and what it means for an edge to be sharp. I also gained a better understanding of how bevel angle affects the function of a tool and edge retention.

After reading Ron’s book and doing additional research online, I decided that scary sharp was my method. I had a granite surface plate and I bought several grades of wet/dry paper and some spray adhesive. And I was off! Still freehanding it, I was able to get better edges on my chisels almost immediately. Mostly because I understood now that the back face had to be flat and polished at the bevel. However my results were not always consistent.

Enter the bench grinder. At the time, I had a 3650 rpm grinder with silicone-carbide wheels. Which was fine for my chisels. I learned to hollow grind the bevel and then I was able to consistently hold them at the same angle when honing. Now I was getting good results consistently. Then I got a hand plane.

I flattened the back of that iron and it seemed like it took forever on my wet/dry paper. I must have used $10 worth of paper on that first iron! But I got the back flat. Then I ground my bevel on the grinder and went to hone it. No dice. The smaller bevel on the bigger, thinner iron made it much harder for me to hold the angle consistently.

Next came the honing guide. The first one was shop-built and was a revelation for me when honing my plane irons. I have since acquired other commercial versions and use them regularly.

Eventually, I got tired of scraping the sandpaper off of the granite and buying more paper so I bought a box lot in an estate auction that included a coarse and a fine diamond stone. I eventually added an extra-fine stone and a leather strop. Long story short, I eventually settled on this as my primary sharpening setup:

You’ll see my Veritas Honing Guide in the back on a jig I made to set the tools quickly at 15, 20, 25 and 30 degrees. I also have an eclipse-style guide I use for narrower chisels that the Veritas doesn’t hold well. I can set the tool in the guide in seconds so there’s no need (IMHO) for me to agonize over training my body to hone my tools freehand.

In addition to the diamond stones and the strop, I have a hard black Arkansas stone and some lapping film glued to granite tiles that I use when I have a need for a more polished edge than the diamonds can deliver (which is not very often). I have upgraded my bench grinder to a variable speed with Aluminum Oxide wheels with a nice adjustable jig on one side and a shop-made jig (not pictured) on the other for grinding my turning tools.

So, in a much longer introduction than I intended :-0, that’s where I’ve been as far as my sharpening method for a little over the last year. I’ve been happy with the results but, I’m always looking for ways to improve my method. And then there was an ad on Craigslist yesterday. I picked this up last night for <$100:

I have looked at power sharpening systems for the last year or so. The Tormec is nice of course but there’s no way I’d ever drop that kind of change for hobby use. It did seem that the Worksharp WS3000 was a good compromise between function and cost but, by the time you add the “accessories” that allow you to do blades wider than 2” and to use jigs for turning tools, it’s still $300+ and you still have to buy the abrasives. So, still a bit more than my cheap-ass was willing to spend just to try it out and see if I liked it. Well this one had all of the accessories I need plus a leather strop wheel plus a bunch of extra abrasives. So I figure I can give it a go and if I don’t like it, I can easily re-coup my investment.

So that’s what I’ll be documenting in this blog:
  • How quick is the setup vs my current system
  • How much time is saved in the honing process
  • How is the edge quality vs my system? Do I still need to hone after using the WS?
  • Can I sharpen ALL of my tools on this (chisels, plane irons, turning tools) and can I used it for knives too?

These are the big questions I’m looking at. If I can pare my setup down to just this machine and a couple of stones in a drawer, it will save me room. I could also probably sell some of my current plates and jigs and recoup the cost of the machine plus a little extra.

So that’s the deal. Thanks for reading, hopefully it wasn’t too long! Next time I’ll have this thing set up and I have 2 identical chisels that are brand new. I’ll take them both to “ready to work”, one on my current system and the second on the work sharp. We’ll see how the time required and results compare between the two.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

6 comments so far

View Rich's profile


5137 posts in 1195 days

#1 posted 05-24-2017 01:23 PM

Ron Hock’s book is a great reference. I really like what you did to simplify the Veritas jig setup. That little slide-on setup gauge is accurate, but I find it clumsy to use. For 99% of my honing, your method would be perfect.

Thanks for sharing.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View HokieKen's profile


12001 posts in 1745 days

#2 posted 05-24-2017 01:52 PM

Thanks Rich. I do really like the Veritas guide but I never did like the angle-setting jig that came with it. As you say, too “clumsy” to suit me. The little set up jig I made is soooooo much faster. If you’re interested, let me know and I can send you the distances I used for each angle.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View waho6o9's profile


8812 posts in 3183 days

#3 posted 05-24-2017 02:43 PM

Thanks Kenny!

Looking forward to these as well:

Get the tool as sharp as it needs to be
Get it done as quickly as possible
Be able to quickly hone the same bevel/angle next time

View dschlic1's profile


464 posts in 2576 days

#4 posted 05-24-2017 05:25 PM

I have a WS2000 that I purchased off of Craigslist. It works for me.

View Woodknack's profile


13014 posts in 2986 days

#5 posted 05-24-2017 08:05 PM

Sears was selling Worksharps a couple years ago for about $80, I regret not buying one. But I think I’m going to build a sharpener that will handle everything, planes, chisels, turning tools, knives.

-- Rick M,

View HokieKen's profile


12001 posts in 1745 days

#6 posted 05-24-2017 08:58 PM

For Rich:

You can see the stops are just screwed on. I made sure the piece between the angle stops was square to the angle stop. That ensures that I get plane irons square in the guide.

I set the blade in the guide with the short side of the guide at the front. I think that’s backwards but, it’s easier to set the angle that way IMO. However, you have to undercut a chamfer on the bottom of the jig faces or the wheel will prevent the guide from setting flat on the face.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

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