Unable to get handplane blade sharp

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Forum topic by Tom posted 12-22-2015 08:28 PM 4292 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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182 posts in 1867 days

12-22-2015 08:28 PM

I have a very old (50 yrs+?) Craftsman hand plane that I am trying to get sharp. I’ve watched the YouTube videos and read the sites about doing the sandpaper sharpening method…and it doesn’t work. Maybe I’m not taking long enough on each step but the iron was in very good condition and was set at a 25 degree angle. I have a rolling jig that keeps it even when I sharpen and even going through 6 grits of sandpaper it’s still dull. I made sure the back was flat then started sanding. I barely got any burr at all from the coarse paper and when I tested on a piece of pine it just wouldn’t cut. Any advice on what I’m doing wrong? My fingers hurt from the amount of time I’ve been running that plane over the sandpaper.

I am using 3m wet/dry paper and the blade is getting a polish on it.

I also bought as a backup a Bosch 3 1/2” power plane since I have a project to get done this week and can’t keep playing with the hand tools just to get it tuned up when the power item will let me have the job done.

15 replies so far

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 3018 days

#1 posted 12-22-2015 08:36 PM

What grits are you using?

If you are going high enough on grits, then I think you’ve probably hit on the answer. Most times someone isn’t getting really sharp, this is the problem:

Maybe I m not taking long enough on each step . . . . . I barely got any burr at all from the coarse paper

- Starfury

Go back and start about 220 grit until you get a burr before moving on. Remove the burr and then do the same at 400, 600, 800, etc. Once you’ve gone through this several times and have a better understanding of how long it takes on each grit, then you can sharpen through the burr and eliminate the step of removing it.

Also, double check the back for flat with a straight edge. Sharp is the intersection of two planes (geometric, not woodworking). If the back isn’t really flat, then you will never get really sharp.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View Richard H's profile

Richard H

490 posts in 2488 days

#2 posted 12-22-2015 08:47 PM

If you don’t get a burr at each step you are not removing enough steel yet at that grit to get rid of the scratch marks created by the last step. You might be moving on to higher grits to quickly which means you are having to work harder and harder to remove steel. The course grit may be raising a burr but leaving scratches so deep that the next grit down isn’t able to remove them before you move on. Go back to the grit just after where you had a burr and work from there verifying you get a consistent burr at each grit before you move on. You should find it goes faster and faster the as you move to finer grits because the previous scratches are smaller.

An alternative is to do the primary bevel at rough grits and use finer grits for a secondary bevel which would let you skip a few grits but regardless the back of your chisel needs to be honed at the same grit as the bevel edge and should be a mirror finish in most cases.

I have a chisel that I took very aggressive sand paper to on my worksharp because it had a large belly on the back. It flattened the chisel in seconds but took forever to get rid of the scratches on the back at finer grits because of how deep they where.

View tburkhart's profile


8 posts in 1694 days

#3 posted 12-22-2015 08:52 PM

Sharpening knives and tools is something I have been doing for a long time. The thing about sharpening any blade, be it chisel ground or any other shape, is it should be sharp (relative term, but stay with me) from the first grit you use on. going through a series of grits refines the edge and even, as you found out, polishes the bevel. The trick is getting the plane blade sharp from the first grit and continuing to refine throughout the process. I think paul sellers mentioned in one of his videos that for the first 20 or 30 years of his career all he used has a 2 sided norton india combination stone, and he got paper thin shavings. So he was sharpening the blade and shaping the bevel on the courser grit of the stone, and refining it a bit on the finer side.

So my advise, start again. Make sure it feels super sharp before moving on to the next grit, EACH AND EVERY TIME YOU GO UP A GRIT! If an edge is not sharp, moving to a higher grit will not make it sharper (unless you spend a lot of time there). Then each time you move to a higher grit you need to completely remove any scratches from the previous grit. This is how you refine properly. You can always try free hand, I feel that i get a better edge free hand than with any guide (even if its all in my head). If you take your time free handing any chisel ground tool is easy, and you get faster the more you do it. Also keep in mind pressure can make you sloppy, especially if you are not putting the sandpaper on something absolutely flat like glass. you will actually roll the edge over itself.

I think stones are a lot easier for beginners, it takes the guess work and possible movement of the medium out of the equation. Don’t get me wrong, wet/dry is fantastic, but i would recommend using glass or certified flat marble beneath it, because it is really easy to overdo the pressure.

View Ghidrah's profile


667 posts in 2029 days

#4 posted 12-22-2015 10:02 PM

I haven’t had much luck with the sandpaper method either. I never got the knack of the expensive wet wheel either, what I have had excellent success with is the MKII sharpening guide and DMT (green/red) diamond stones

-- I meant to do that!

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 3018 days

#5 posted 12-22-2015 10:30 PM

One thing I forgot to mention. If using sandpaper, pull the iron backwards to sharpen only and see if there is a difference. Forward motion can push up a small hump of sandpaper in front of the iron and it rounds off the cutting edge instead of sharpening it.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View Fettler's profile


206 posts in 2804 days

#6 posted 12-22-2015 10:55 PM

Are you using the ruler trick?

Are you using a secondary / tertiary angle?

- How are you checking for sharpness? When I first started sharpening I would shave a bit of hair from my arm. You look a little weird but at least you know it’s sharp. Also, you can lightly drag the tip of your fingernail to check for Knicks.

I started off using guides but then stopped for most things since it’s definitely slower. Also the guides can track your stones.

I use Rob Cosman’s method and I’ve also collected Some ceramic water stones over the years (moving up from Norton stones after moving up from Sandpaper).
Here is Rob Cosman showing his method:

I use 1k, 8k to 32k, doesn’t take more than a minute from dull to sharp (unless i need a new primary angel on the grinder). My 1k stone is a diamond stone and it cuts very fast. Since I’m using secondary bevels little material is being removed.

Wood craft has grinders in stock again. Check my reviews, I added a wolverine fence to my grinder. The larger fence really helps dissipate heat (I hold the iron to the fence between grinds) and helps prevent scorching the blade. If you already have a grinder you can also get an aluminum oxide wheel from Norton (woodcraft has them). Nothing worse than scorching the blade and having it chip on first use. Go slow and periodically check for square, use a sharpie to check your progress.

If you’re trying to sharpen a crappy iron you may never get there. Consider a Veritas, IBC or Hock replacement blade + cap iron (in that order). You can take a rusted out Stanley, dip it in some harbor freight Evaporate-Rust, flatten the sole and with a thick blade not have to worry much about blade chatter or blade seating issues. You may have to widen the throat a bit (among other minor tweaks) but then you also get a tight throat.

-- --Rob, Seattle, WA

View Fettler's profile


206 posts in 2804 days

#7 posted 12-22-2015 11:05 PM

Also, keep in mind that once you get the iron sharp you still have to fettle the plane to get it working right. Even high end planes needs lots Of adjustment (I have a lie-neilsen skewed block plane that I may send back because it’s not even close to flat).

A craftsman bench plane just might take too much work to produce the results you really want. IMO, save it for a fettling practice plane and get a #6 wood river V3 OR if you’re a bit shorter ~5’8” / have a high bench possibly a Veritas Low Angle Jack. The wood river 6 can function as the only plane you need (jack/smooth/jointer… Just not a scrub). You’ll have to do far less work to get this plane where you want to be.

-- --Rob, Seattle, WA

View cutmantom's profile


407 posts in 3842 days

#8 posted 12-22-2015 11:10 PM

Check out Paul sellers on you tube

View bandit571's profile


26167 posts in 3490 days

#9 posted 12-23-2015 12:10 AM

Depends on who made the Craftsman plane for Sears. I have had a lot of luck getting those Craftsman planes sharp.

Polish the back, at least the first 1/2” or so, as that is where the chipbreaker will rest.

I have the MK1 honing guide. I use it on the oil stones I have and then on the wet&dry paper, up to 2.5K grit.

I do not have “extra” bevels on the irons, I have a single, flat-faced, 25 degree bevel on my irons. I will hollow grind an iron IF and only when it comes to me in such badly sharpened state that it does need ground. Then I work away at removing the hollow part of the bevel. After each grit on the bevel side, I follow with a couple on the flat side of the iron. Then move on to the next grit.

I also have an old leather work belt, from the days of carrying around a nail bag as a carpenter. I use the rougher side of the belt as a strop, when I get done with the grits.

The iron in that Craftsman plane might have been made by….Millers Falls, Stanley, or even Sargent. Sears NEVER made a plane in its life. All they did was sell planes made for them by others. One year, it might have been Stanley, the next Sargent, the next…Millers Falls. Depended on who got that year’s contract.

Craftsman…Fulton….Dunlap….were brand names used by Sears, and not whom made the tools.

This label is on a Craftsman Tools #3 sized plane. Otherwise, it is the exact same thing as a Millers Falls No.8

And even works the same

Maybe a little elbow grease is all that is needed??? Too much work? Send it to me, I’ll do it for you, and return it to you on your dime.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Tim's profile


3859 posts in 2769 days

#10 posted 12-23-2015 12:20 AM

I also bought as a backup a Bosch 3 1/2” power plane since I have a project to get done this week and can t keep playing with the hand tools just to get it tuned up when the power item will let me have the job done.

- Starfury

If the power plane will get the project done faster and to the level of finish that you need, then definitely use that unless you’re doing it for fun. The other responses seem to have covered your question.

View Don W's profile

Don W

19653 posts in 3375 days

#11 posted 12-23-2015 11:05 AM

If its the cutting board, the power plane will make it worse, so I wouldn’t use that.

Maybe a picture of what the iron looks like will tell use the story, but as said, you need the burr after each course.

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

View OSU55's profile


2651 posts in 2797 days

#12 posted 12-23-2015 12:12 PM

Here is how I sharpen. Works for everything from O1 to PM-V11 and HSS. The wet/dry paper will work, just not quite as well as other products. “Barely getting a burr” with coarse paper is the biggest issue. You aren’t spending enough time with the most coarse grit. Then, trying to remove scratches over the entire bevel through each grit takes forever – that’s what micro bevels are for. The back must be polished as well, and “the ruler trick” concept is the best way to do it.

View Robert's profile (online now)


3798 posts in 2288 days

#13 posted 12-23-2015 03:48 PM

Basic principles I employ:

1. the blade must be dead flat and highly polished.

2. don’t move up a grade until you get a burr.

3. employ use of 2-3 degree secondary bevel for final honing.

That should get ya’.

Back bevel is optional you don’t need that to get a blade sharp.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 4166 days

#14 posted 12-24-2015 03:00 AM

My suggestion would be to see if there are any woodworking clubs or woodworkers in your area that use hand tools. I’d be very surprised if any of them wouldn’t be happy to spend a couple of hours with you teaching you how to sharpen.

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View waho6o9's profile


8919 posts in 3384 days

#15 posted 12-24-2015 03:45 AM

“2. don’t move up a grade until you get a burr.”

Never really got a burr until I used DMT diamond stones :)

Great advice

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