Sharpening - what am I missing?

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I never get a burr (although I know that's not essential), and I never seem to get a plane that can just take a nice thin shaving off anything.



I can pretty much guarantee that this is the root of your problem. If you not getting a burr than your are not exposing fresh steel, you are not removing wear, and you are out removing any rounding/blunting of the edge.  


On an already fairly sharp edge it is true that you don't necessarily need to pull a burr, but on a dull edge it is a must. 


We all have tendency to think sharpness comes at the highest grit levels, but the single most important step in sharpening is pulling a wire edge, as it insures that you have removed the blunting.  Each step that follows makes the edge sharper but that first stone sets the stage.


Next time you hone, set you jig or, if you are free handing, the bevel so that you are working a new bevel that is slightly higher than the primary. This will ensure that you are working the bevel at the cutting edge. This should pull up a burr almost immediately.    Then swipe the back on the stone...the burr should flip to the front of the blade. If its still on the back, than your stone is not hitting the edge at the back of the blade and you need to do some more work on your blade back. On a coarse to medium stone, you should be able to go from the bevel to the back and feel that the burr is flipping from one side to the other. If this isn't happening, going to finer grits won't do you much good. Only once you are able to tell that a fresh sharp edge has been established (via the bur) will your the finer stones/grits be able to do their jobs to the max.

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I never get a burr (although I know that's not essential), and I never seem to get a plane that can just take a nice thin shaving off anything.



To start with, I’d concentrate on sharpening chisels. Your issues with your plane could be a sharpening issue, or it could be the plane itself, even if your plane blade is wicked sharp.

Second, I’d get a 20x jeweler’s loupe with an LED light. You can find them on eBay or Amazon for $13 or less, including shipping to your door. Use it to look at the edge of your chisel as you sharpen it.


Some people say that using a magnifying glass to examine your edges while sharpening is making the whole process too anal-retentive. I disagree. Looking at your edges under magnification will give you the most direct way of seeing what it is you are doing as you sharpen. It’s far more reliable than feeling for a burr.


Once you’ve nailed the sharpening thing with your chisels (and you will, trust me), then move on to your plane. You still may not be able to get a thin shaving, but you will know that it’s not because the plane blade isn’t sharp enough.

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I know it's heresy, but I just said the hell with it and got a work sharp.  I figured a chisel that's pretty sharp most of the time is better than a chisel that's really sharp once in a great while.  I wasn't very good with the stones to begin with and I had about a dozen chisels sharper than what I was getting with them with the stones in maybe half an hour. 

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At the risk of repeating above, you MUST feel that burr.  This is not optional nor is it subtle.  If you "think" you feel the burr, you don't have it.  It will be obvious when it's there.  I just did a Facetime consult with a student last week and this was his entire problem.  Moreover the lure of the next greatest sharpening method is a tough one to ignore and switching around can set you back.  So like was said above, pick one and stick with it for a while, but what I will add to that is try to "reset" your edges.  I would skip the micro bevel entirely for now and simplify everything.  If you have it go back to the grinder and reset the edge completely (or on a stone/paper/whatever).  Then work with just the primary bevel for a while.  When you add ruler tricks/micro bevels/convex bevels/pink heart stickers/etc you increase the number of variable you have to keep track of.  Go stupid simple and it is doesn't work you only have 2 things to consider:

  • is the back flat up to the edge
  • and is the bevel flat up to the edge

Then later, after you have consistently been able to sharpen your blades many times over you can consider adding a micro-bevel  variable.  I do think they can speed things up but baby steps come first.

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At the risk of repeating above, you MUST feel that burr. 


It took me a while to learn this, but once I realised why it was true blades suddenly got sharper much quicker and more reliably.


I started out by using the Veritas Mk II jig, but the problem I was having was that if the bevel on my tool was ground even a fraction of a degree steeper than the angle set in the guide, then I'd have to re-establish the bevel to the *exact* angle - which is a thankless task on my slow cutting oil-stones. My experience is that ground bevels do not come at an *exact* angle, so I was doing an awful lot of this. Since I don't have a grinder to re-set a primary bevel I avoided using micro-bevels, which seems to defeat the purpose of using the Mk II guide since the micro-bevel adjustment is its best feature.


After watching videos of Bob, Shannon and Chris Schwarz all sharpening freehand, I thought I'd give it a go too. The result was that I'd raise a burr much faster since the freehand method sharpens to the actual bevel angle of the tool, not the bevel angle set by the jig. And as long as I don't let the tool get too dull, I can now go straight to my hard arkansas stone to refresh the edge. Which means I'm more likely to do it without waiting until the tool is really dull again.


As everyone says it's about finding a system that works for you, and sticking with it until you understand how changing your system will improve the results before changing.


Now I'm waiting for Shannon's podcast on the use of pink sticky hearts in woodworking - I've never mastered that technique.

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