Scary Sharp on a Budget





Introduction: Scary Sharp on a Budget

When you first get into woodworking, you realize really quickly you need to learn how to sharpen your tools. Dull blades just won't cut it. Sharpening is a skill that has to be learned just like anything else but it also comes with a cost, possibly a big cost. In this article I want to go over a cheaper option for sharpening that yields great results. I really shouldn't say cheaper, but lower initial cost because since this is a disposable system, in the long run may become more expensive depending on how much you need to sharpen. I would not recommend this system if you need to sharpen on a regular bases, I probably sharpen my two plane irons and 6 chisels once a month maybe even two so I think this will be a good setup for me.

Step 1: Picking Sandpaper

What to buy:

options, options, options. There are so many choices of sandpaper out there, its really hard to decide what to buy. I'll share with you want I decide on but I’m sure there are other great options out there. First I went to Canadian tire to see what I could find local. They actually didn’t have to much to pick from for metal so I grabbed what they had which was 3M wet/dry sandpaper 800, 600 and 400 grit (aluminum oxide) which was 5 bucks for 5 sheets. Next I went to the internet to find some higher grits for the final polish. Lee valley tools was having there usually free shipping week so I went there and order some 3M™ Aluminum Oxide Films which is specifically made for Sharpening. This Stuff is a lot more money but I think it may be worth it because it should last longer and it also has an adhesive back for easy mounting to a piece of glass. I chose the 9, 3, and 1 micron which is equivalent to 1200, 4000, and 8000 grit. This stuff is about 3-4 bucks a sheet.

Step 2: Hard Flat Surface

Now that I have the sandpaper, now I need something to mount it to. I didn’t want to buy anything so I looked around the house to see what I had laying around and I found a shelf to our fridge that wasn’t being used. frame This makes a pretty good option because its temped but ideally something thicker like 3/8” would be better. Something granite would be good as well.

Step 3: Sticking the Sandpaper to Your Hard Surface

The sandpaper from lee valley was easy, I cut it into 2.5” strips (which will give me three strips per sheet) and just stuck it on. The stuff from Canadian tire on the other hand needed an adhesive so I went with carpet tape. Spray achieve would also work well.

Step 4: Flattening the Back

Ok our system is ready to use. My first test is with my plane iron, which is and A2 alloy (harder to sharpen buts holds an edge longer). When you first get an iron the first thing you need to do is hone the back. This is done by going through the whole grit progression till you have a mirror finish. Once this is done you never have to do it again. Some people only polish the edge of the back by not laying the iron flat but rising it up slightly so its on an angle. This is much faster but has to be done ever time you re-sharpen your blade. My iron has already been polished on the back to 4000 so I’m just going start at 8000 to take it that little bit more.

Step 5: Setting the Angle

This iron has 25 degree primary bevel and a 30 degree secondary bevel. This is probably the most common angle for a plane iron but 38, and 50 are also used on bevel up planes. Lee valley has a good article about the iron angle. To make sure I consistently sharpen the iron at 30 degrees a prefer to use a honing guide. I set the angle buy using a digital angle block on my table saw but you can use a protractor just as easy.

Step 6: Honing the Angle

My iron has already been sharpened before to 4000 grit but has been used a lot since its last sharpening and is quit dull so I’ll start my re-sharpening at 600 grit. Using water to carry away the swarf, I run the iron over each grit about 10 times, making sure I get an even new surface finish in-between each grit.

Step 7: Checking Results

Its always hard describe how sharp is sharp but for me, if both sides have and even mirror finish, than your probably good. A few swipes with it mounted in the plane confirms.



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    25 Discussions

    I just made one of these and it really does work. my cheap blades were so full it will take many attempts to get them in ship shape. thanks for the build it's great.

    My experience was different.

    I found that they worked well when new, but wore out very quickly.

    Maybe it's because I pre-sharpen with a file, then finish with the steel?

    Harbor Freight is notorious for its products being inconsistent. I have had several and had no problems.

    this is really cool


    1 year ago

    If you want something that's cheaper long term, waterstones are a good way to go, and you don't need as many grits as with the paper.

    A single 800grit waterstone used every time you use the tools is better than having a big routine that gets them razor sharp but is such a hassle that you only do it occasionally.

    If you check your local yellow pages (or modern analog) you will probably find a place near you that does granite countertops.
    I promise you will find a dumpster there that is packed full of broken and offcut peices of countertops. these have already been lapped flat and will not flex, and are free.
    Happy hunting!

    I use a variety of wet/dry automotive paper usually up to 3000#, but I don't use water as the floating liquid.

    I use mineral spirits (paint thinner) and with that I don't have to glue the paper down to my sheet or glass. It just happily stays where I put it when I wet the glass first and then put down 1/2 sheets of the w/d paper.

    Mineral spirits float the minute metal chips and flakes out of the paper much better than wetted water.

    What's "wetted water"? If you put a drop of liquid dishwashing detergent on the paper, it too helps keep the paper from clogging, but mineral spirits does it so much better.

    I build guitars, and believe me that you need to keep water far away from wood as it swells the grain. Mineral spirits won't raise the grain, making it very much better to use. This is where I learned to use it to sharpen tool edges.

    Thick glass (called "float glass") is polished and flattened during manufacture so that the surface is VERY flat, and it's thick enough that it doesn't flex. It's worth spending $8 or so for a piece of this from a glass shop. I've been using mine for years.

    Can you recommend a honing guide and where to purchase it?.

    3 replies

    The honing guide he's using is available under a bunch of names from about $11-25. Check out this amazon search, most of the hits that come up are the same guide under different names:

    It's actually pretty decent for a cheap guide. I machined a block with notches in it to set the amount the blade sticks out to set specific angles without actually having to set the angle.

    I have also tried the veritas delux honing guide and I wouldn't recommend it. If it worked as advertized then it's a really nice setup, and if you're into setting a microbevel the easy adjustment for that is nice. The problem that I ran into with it is that I got 2 in a row that do not register the blade straight so it grinds a crooked bevel (if you hold a square against the blade the edge is not square to the sides). Their customer service tried to convince me that I was holding it wrong and I finally sent them a video of how I did it and the non-square edge and they agreed that it wasn't working correctly sharpening one of heir plane irons.

    Honestly even if it was working correctly I don't think it is worth 10x the guide used here. This guide adjusts width and stays centered and straight. It takes a slightly steadier hand because the roller isn't as wide (you can rock it over to the side if you're not careful easier, what veritas was convinced I was doing with their guide) but in the end it works well and it's cheap.

    As codswallop says, it depends upon the plane use. Roughing planes often have a curved finish to the iron. taking off the outside edges of a flat blade makes for easy use.

    Glass paper/carborundum paper (wet & dry), some of which is of course cloth backed, makes a good cheap alternative (the cost of abrasives that could go toward some good tools). I find that cheap diamond 'stones' work really fast and are very cheap and more substantial than glued glass paper/carborundum paper.

    Personally I use 800 grit max, normally 400 is fine (pun intended). Use water or 'hard surface cleaner' spray as a lubricant/de-clogger.

    The real difference is the polishing! I use a flat board about 250mm x 75mm with a strip of wood 20x30mm glued/screwed to the back so it can be fixed in a vice. To the working face I glue a sheet of leather, suede side up, this is dressed with jewellers rouge and used to polish, using drawing strokes - 30 to 60 will give a very high polish.

    Just yesterday I used a piece of 2x4 as a backing and rapped my father's leather apron around it (no rouge) to polish a 'sticking' but otherwise sharp chisel!

    Honing guides usually come with an angle setting instruction. You set the angle by how much blade protrudes from the end (but the angle indicator shown is cool and very cheap out of China - I use mine on my bench saw), But try to not use honing guides, it only takes a little practice to get the angle right, you get a better 'feel' for your tools and in fact you may find a variance in angle better suits your woodworking technique.

    Assuming the angle is correct, as you lift the blade on the 'stone', rocking upward, a meniscus of lubricant will show at the tip of the blade as you equal the angle - this is very easy to see on oil stones and makes angle setting simple.

    Nice instrucatable, and shows that you don't need the most expensive kit!

    I MP

    1 year ago

    I use granite blocks from Home Depot as my mounting surface because they are polished flat and heavy enough to stay in place on the bench, They cost $4.98 USD but are a one time purchase. I use window spay from Dollar Tree to wet the sanding surface (Paul Sellers technique) Scrap leather glued to a piece of wood forms a honing surface. Smoothing plane irons often have rounded corners to prevent tear out. Brand new out of the box wood and wood carving chisels require the backs flattened and the bevels sharpened. To sharpen the inner edge of a gouge glue sandpaper to a dowel of matching diameter. Remember to remove the backside burr from any tool sharpened.,

    A sheet of flat glass can also be a finish hone. I use a common drinking glass or jelly jar to hone my pocket knife blade to a shaving sharpness.