Planes restored - Because I can. #10: Sharpening past the DMT.

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Blog entry by Don W posted 12-30-2012 06:25 PM 4115 reads 1 time favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 9: Plane Restoration, roll it together with a Millers Falls #10 Part 10 of Planes restored - Because I can. series Part 11: Tuning it up Bench plane style »

I decided to see if I could improve on my dmt sharpness. The good news, I did. The bad news, I did. It’s not a tremendous amount, and not enough to make me go back to waterstones (yet), but I will leave my hard arkansas on the bench from now on.

This is my normal sharpening routine.
1. Hollow grind
2. Hit the edge (do it more and more by hand) on th 3 micron DMT
3. Strop the back
4. Hit the 3 micron DMT again.

So here is with just the 3 micron dmt. Back flatten to the DMT well

EDIT: This first picture is what I started with. It hasn’t been flatten yet (at least not by me)

Polishing the back on the felt wheel with green compound and sharpening with the hard arkansas stone ( I saw a slight difference from the dmt to the arkansas)

Same sequence….

I did this with 4 different hand planes. The 2 shown, the Stanley #18, The sargent 710, and a Bedrock 604 and a Stanley 60 1/2.

All showed a subtle difference. The biggest difference was with the polishing of the back. Sharpening the bevel was barley distinguishable but I could see a slight difference in the resistance.

If, from the dmt, you polished the back with the felt, then sharpened with the dmt, the difference would be almost unnoticeable from sharpening with the arkansas. I’d have to do it a few more times to really know for sure, but my gut tells me the arkasas would have a slight edge.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

17 comments so far

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1137 posts in 3764 days

#1 posted 12-30-2012 06:46 PM

I think you might get a better result (IMHO) if you worked on flattening the back of the blade on your DMT or Arkansas stone first to provide a good reference point for honing the bevel. From your pictures it doesn’t look as if the back of the blade has had a lot of attention paid to it to ensure that it is flat. Is there a danger that stropping the back of the blade could introduce a hollow? Apologies if I am mis-reading anything.

-- It always looks better when it's finished!

View Don W's profile

Don W

20378 posts in 4019 days

#2 posted 12-30-2012 06:53 PM

It maybe miss leading. The back of my blades are always flattened for at least the very edge. I believe its just as important as the bevel.

what I was trying to discover is if the 8k dmt was enough.

How much of the back do you polish? Maybe you’re say just the edge isn’t enough?

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Caleb James's profile

Caleb James

149 posts in 4381 days

#3 posted 12-30-2012 08:26 PM

Interesting. Will keep this in mind.


View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4786 days

#4 posted 12-30-2012 10:37 PM

Hi Don, good blog. I use a two sided DMT with 600/1000, a lot less than your 8k DMT. I know a finer grit will make for a smoother and sharper edge, but I am convinced that I get a good enough edge finishing up with the 1k grit and doing touch up honing with it too as needed and it takes less than 30 seconds to do. I feel this is more than adequate for most any type of work and I can easily shave my arm with it.

I’m not trying to be controversial and I am not criticizing you or anyone else for going the extra mile, but I am directing these comments to those who are new to honing and may find such devotion to be discouraging rather than inspiring. I have become even more of a heretic by prescribing to Paul Sellers somewhat controversial sharpening methods which he blogged awhile back, one for chisels and the other for plane blades. My edges are a lot more robust now and they stay sharper a lot longer.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Don W's profile

Don W

20378 posts in 4019 days

#5 posted 12-30-2012 10:48 PM

Hey Mike. No criticism taken. I just wanted to see why folks switched after the dmt.

I think the biggest take away should be the back of the blade is extremely important.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View AnthonyReed's profile


10196 posts in 3892 days

#6 posted 12-31-2012 04:51 AM

Thanks for the thoughts Don.

-- ~Tony

View bluekingfisher's profile


1333 posts in 4431 days

#7 posted 12-31-2012 09:12 AM

I’m certainly no expert on the point of honing (pun intended) but I would echo JR45’s earlier input.

I have always been advised flattening the back of the blade across it’s entire width is key to ultimate success when sharpening chisel or plane blades. It only needs to be done once of course.

I am convinced more on this when I look at antique furniture, (pre power tool era) I ask myself, what would the old timers have used to sharpen their blades? In a way their choice of sharpening would have been restricted by the limits of available sharpening materials of the day, yet the quality and longevity of their work is unsurpassed. I’m guessing what may have been available to them was limited to a pedal drive grinding wheel and an oil stone? that I suspect would have been it. Waterstones, diamond stones and ceramic sharpening beds and the like would not have been around to confuse the issue.

The modern and commercial age has bombarded us with an endless and often unneccesary list of “must haves” to ensure our success. Don’t get me wrong, without some of it woodworking would not be as enjoyable or accessable to many of us. After all, the old masters served apprecticeships of 5 years in those days and I suspect a fair proportion of that time would have been learning how to glean a sharp edge for without a sharp edge there is little chance of producing the levels of excellence we can still see in their work today.

If the back of the blade is perfectly flat and you can shave the hair off your arm what more is required? I suspect honing with an 8000 grit could be useful for some work but it would require very frequent maintenance to ensure that edge. Just my two cents worth.

-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4786 days

#8 posted 12-31-2012 10:23 AM

I do think that craftsmen had ways and means to get very sharp edges in the old days, and that the means probably differed a lot depending on what kind of stones were available, but the time need to get the sharpness desired probably varied a lot. I do think blades were re-honed a lot as work progressed. I have a Norwegian carving book that shows a 50cents piece size pendant with an incredibly small and detailed pattern which could only have been done with the sharpest of blades, and that was in 1850. I also know that craftsmen were extremely careful not to damage their edges by reasons of misuse or dropping them as grinding out chips and re-honing were very tedious and time consuming tasks.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Don W's profile

Don W

20378 posts in 4019 days

#9 posted 12-31-2012 01:44 PM

ok, so I think I found part of the confusion. I edited the post. The first picture was before I started. If you were thinking that’s how I flattened the back, I understand the comments.

Next I have to say I have restored a lot of hand planes. A LOT. Both wood and vintage metal planes. I have found very very few of these planes with a flat backs on the irons. I would say of all of them, there has only been 4 or 5 irons that were previously flatten. Somehow these guys of yesteryear knew how to make a plane work without flattening the back or normal sharp was sharp enough.

I’ve already stressed that I think flattening and polishing the back make a big difference in sharpness. So a few points that we know.

There is a point were its possible to make a plane iron to sharp. Its not that to sharp doesn’t cut quicker, it dulls quicker. Its like freezing hot water.

How sharp a plane Needs to be really depends on the wood.

How sharp a plane Needs to be really depends on the process. A jack doesn’t Need to be as sharp as a smoother.

It was easier to find clear grained wood 100 years ago than it is today.

I’ve given some thought to Mikes comments. I surely hope my blogs haven’t in any way discouraged anyone from using hand planes. The problem with the sharpening process, is its thought of as a separate process than Planing, and its not, its part of the process. Over all it is somewhat of a complex process (planing) and there is a learning curve, just like any woodworking process.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4786 days

#10 posted 12-31-2012 01:57 PM

Don, I can remember when just about every household had a few carpentry hand tools, especially since most male students had wood shop as part of their curriculum in high school. Most of these folks weren’t real woodworkers and their tools were mostly used for simple house repairs and occasional relatively simple projects. Sharpening skills were pretty much limited to a single relatively coarse whetstone. I suspect that many of your restored planes might have been owned by people like that or at least handed down to them and the flattened part was probably ground off over the years. The ones with the flattened backs were probably used by more highly skilled folks prior to you buying them. Does this make sense?

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Don W's profile

Don W

20378 posts in 4019 days

#11 posted 12-31-2012 02:01 PM

It does make sense Mike, and to further support your theory, I’ve restore quit a few that had never been sharpened.

But then there is the flip side. The plane where the blade is well worn and been sharpened many many times, and never flatten on the back. A normal person would have given up if the plane didn’t do what it was suppose to.

But then, I spent many years using hand planes, sharpening on a belt sander, thinking that was good. All it meant was everything was sanded after.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17816 posts in 4070 days

#12 posted 12-31-2012 02:16 PM

From the tools I have of Grand and Great Grand Dads before me, it seems the family mantra was, If it cuts wood, it’s good. But of course, those gents were generalists rather than jointers or furniture makers when it came to hand tools.

Point being, not everyone knew everything about sharpening 75 years ago, simply by virtue of living back then.

Wish I had an old plane of the family’s. Bet the back wouldn’t show signs of being worked…

Thanks, Don, for sharing what you find along the way towards a better edge. Your approaches are reasonable and attainaible.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4786 days

#13 posted 12-31-2012 02:24 PM

I bought a nice Stanley no. 5 around 1981 and used it occasionally until 1996 when I became interested in woodworking as a hobby, and probably a few years after that, I finally learned to sharpen properly (slow learner I guess). There wasn’t an awful lot of info out there when I began and unfortunately I was focused mostly on power tools at the time, but my Stanley was (somewhat) usable though far from sweet. I must admit that I didn’t really know what sharp was, except for the knife I kept well honed and used a lot while I was in the Navy. I sharpened all my lath tools except for the skew chisel on the bench grinder and still do as they cut just fine that way.

I was at my local woodworkers store where I bought my first bandsaw, combo machine and other power tools one day and I saw a whole box full of Stanley and maybe some other brands of well used no. 4 smoothers. I asked if they were for sale and they told me they had been sent from school wood shop for sharpening. I was amazed that students weren’t taught to sharpen their tools since any wood working depended on it. It looked to me that the store had just given them a fresh bevel with a bench grinder and not even honed at all! A case of putting the cart in front of the horse if you ask me.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View mafe's profile


13872 posts in 4541 days

#14 posted 01-01-2013 04:01 PM

I always get facinated by these compares, it seem that we have many options that acually work, and so it is mostely to make a choice of what we like and what we can get friendly with.
Thank you for the efford.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Mauricio's profile


7170 posts in 4603 days

#15 posted 01-02-2013 06:31 AM

great post Don, thanks for putting it together. Any thought of trying the same test on end grain?

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

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