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					3 Types of Sharpening Systems Compared

Get sharp,
stay sharp!
Good news: Easy and precise sharpening
doesn’t have to cost a lot of coin.

   Authorized reprint from
   Issue 186 October 2008

                                                                                                           Powered wet sharpeners
                                                                                                           Price range: $160–$590
                                                                                                           Shown: Tormek T-7, $590

                             Honing guides
                             Price range: $12–$80
                             Shown: Veritas MkII, $58

       he first hand plane I ever used        Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather be        dozens of sharpeners and spent more
       came out of Grandpa’s box of dis-    using tools than sharpening them. And      than a month testing them. Although
       carded tools. With visions of a      tool manufacturers must think so, too,     some models can be used to sharpen
fragile wood curl spiraling out of its      because in the past few years, several     jointer knives or lathe tools, we focused
mouth, I ran the tool along the edge of a   new sharpening systems have been           our testing on flat cutters, such as chisels
nearby chunk of walnut. But the blade       introduced to take the drudgery out of     and plane blades—the tools you’ll likely
in Grandpa’s neglected plane was so dull    putting on a keen edge. Those products     sharpen most often. Maybe if he’d had
that my dream turned into a nightmare.      fall into three general types: wet-wheel   one of these 40 years ago, Grandpa would
Disappointed, I pretty much swore off       sharpeners, powered sandpaper sharp-       never have chucked out that old plane.
—and at—hand tools until about 10           eners, and human-powered honing
years ago, when a custom furniture-         guides you use with your own stones or
maker taught me the joys of razor-sharp     sandpaper.
hand tools. Now, I always keep a well-        To help you decide which type and                                     Dave Campbell
honed block plane in my shop apron.         model is best for you, we rounded up                       WOOD® Magazine Deputy Editor
Honing guides: Economy, simplicity, and accuracy
It takes a practiced hand to freehand              efit from the additional stability of a            For one-third the price of the MkII,
sharpen without accidentally changing              honing guide with widely spaced wheels          Stanley’s Sharpening Kit/Honing Guide
the bevel angle or putting the cutting             or a single wide roller, like the one on        ($20, Garrett Wade, 800-221-2942,
edge out of square with the tool edge. A           the Veritas MkII, shown at bottom right., below, presents a great
wheeled honing guide, though, main-                  On the other hand, some hand-plane            value. It comes with a two-grit oilstone
tains the tool at the correct sharpening           users prefer to slightly round (or camber)      (and oil) that does a nice job honing
angle as you roll it back and forth over           the cutting edge so the corners don’t           straight edges. On occasion, though, we
an abrasive.                                       gouge into a workpiece. In that case, a         found that narrow blades shifted slightly
   Increasing the projection (the amount           narrow stance allows some side-to-side          during sharpening.
of blade extending out the front of the            rocking of the guide and blade during
guide) makes the bevel flatter; decreas-           sharpening to create camber.
ing the projection steepens the bevel. If
you know or can measure the bevel,
most guides come with a gauge or chart
                                                   Honing guides make a good
that shows the correct projection for              entry point into sharpening                     learn to hone razor-sharp edges
that angle, and sharpening a tool to the                                                           using sandpaper and a honing
same angle goes pretty quickly. On the               because of their low cost                     guide in a Free video at:
other hand, reestablishing or changing                                                   
the bevel angle of a cutter becomes                 ($12–$80), effectiveness,
tedious because you have to remove a lot                                                            stANley gives oNboArD help
more steel.                                         and uncomplicated setup.
   Honing guides make a good entry
point into sharpening because of their             Best buys
low cost ($12–$80), effectiveness, and             Of the half-dozen models we tried, the
uncomplicated setup. You can use them              Veritas MkII Honing Guide ($58, Lee
with sandpaper, oil- or waterstones, or            Valley, 800-871-8158,
even diamond paste, although models                performed best. The included setup
with widely spaced wheels may not fit              gauge (demonstrated below) locates the
on all sharpening stones.                          blade for perfect sharpening every time.                               Built-in
                                                   And the wide roller provides a great                                   gauge
What to look for                                   foundation for this guide: It’s stable with
A rock-solid registration method—a                 even the narrowest chisels; works on
fence of sorts—to keep the cutting edge            sandpaper or stones; easily adjusts to
square to the edge of the blade ensures            add a microbevel (a slightly steeper cut-
accuracy and consistency, as does a tool-          ting angle that hones quicker than
clamping system that holds all widths of           regrinding the entire bevel) to the cut-
tools securely. (Some honing guides                ting edge; and can be replaced with an          Extend Stanley’s honing guide gauge to set
have difficulty with chisels less than             optional barrel-shape roller ($22) if you       blade projection, then flip it out of the way.
about 3⁄4" wide.) Narrow chisels also ben-         want to camber a blade.                         Square the blade to the gauge by eyeballing.

 three simple setup steps eNsure mkii’s hoNiNg ACCurACy


                  mark                                                                        Angle               Fence
    Blade stop                    Blade width                                                 detents
Slip Veritas’ blade-setting gauge onto the           Next, lock the knurled brass blade stop into the   Flip the guide over, insert the blade
guide, align its index mark with the blade width     bevel-angle detent that matches the angle you      against the fence and stop, and secure it.
scale on the guide, and secure the gauge.            want to grind on your tool.                        Remove the gauge and begin sharpening.

                                                                                                                 WOOD magazine         October 2008
Powered dry sharpeners have pluses and minuses
The fastest-growing category of sharp-           What to look for                                slide the tool side-to-side during sharp-
ening systems, these powered units use           Again, unless you’re adept at freehand          ening, so the abrasive wears all in one
self-adhesive sandpaper stuck to swap-           sharpening, look for a tool holder that         spot—a third or more of the abrasive is
pable spinning platters. By applying             maintains the blade’s bevel angle and a         never used, as shown bottom left, unless
different grits to opposite sides of a plat-     square edge. And the ability to add a           you freehand sharpen.
ter, you can step up through the required        microbevel will help your finest abrasive          If you sharpen frequently, or want to
three or four grits with only seconds            grits last longer. A powerful motor allows      hone a variety of hand tools, the Veritas
between grits to flip or switch platters.        you to bear down hard on the tool for           MkII Power Sharpening System, bottom
Because of the coarse 60- to 80-grit abra-       aggressive sharpening without stalling.         center, ($390, Lee Valley, 800-871-8158,
sives available—and the ability to                                                      works with wider tools—
quickly flatten tool backs during sharp-                                                         25⁄8" plane blades, for example. And the
ening—these systems excel at restoring            If you’re a weekend warrior                    thinner platter used with the finest grits
a dull, abused, or misshapen cutter.                                                             automatically creates a microbevel on
   The finest abrasive grits (down to 4-           who just wants to keep his                    your tool. The MkII also proved more
micron or smaller, depending on the                                                              aggressive than any other dry sharpener,
system) deliver a near-mirror finish on          chisels keen, the Work Sharp                    thanks to its powerful motor and durable
the bevel, but they wear faster than                                                             3M micromesh abrasives.
sharpening stones and require frequent             3000 does a great job at a                       Finally, lovers of freehand sharpening
replacement. Some manufacturers, such                                                            will embrace LapSharp’s LS-200 ($595,
as Work Sharp, sell refill abrasives only                       low price.                       707-473-0593, It has a
in packs with a range of grits, so you                                                           foot-operated power switch (shown
may wind up buying coarser grits you                                                             below), enabling you to keep both hands
don’t need to get the finer grits you do.        Best buys                                       on the blade when turning the machine
   The platters on these dry sharpeners          That all depends on your skill level and        on or off. LapSharp provides the finest
deftly walk the line between turning             budget. If you’re a weekend warrior who         grits (down to 1-micron “polishing
fast enough to remove material quickly           just wants to keep your chisels keen, the       paper”) and the longest-lasting abra-
and slow enough not to overheat the              Work Sharp 3000 ($200, 800-597-6170,            sives. With a tool rest available as an
tool steel. But they sling abrasive grit does a great job at         option ($80), this machine is not for the
and steel filings over a surprisingly large      a low price. It’s foolproof to sharpen          beginner (or faint of budget), but we
area, so keep the unit isolated from the         tools up to 2" wide using the grinding          found ourselves going back to it when-
rest of your shop as much as possible.           port beneath the wheel. But you can’t           ever sharpening our better tools.

 work shArp hoNes                              spiNNiNg plAtters shArpeN                          hANDs-Free stArt For
 From the bottom up                            oN pull or push                                    FreehAND shArpeNiNg
                                   Unworn        Tool rest


                        Abrasive                                                Tool holder
                        on tool                                               Projection
                        rest                                                  gauge


The abrasive tool rest on the Work Sharp       Moving the blade to the outside of the abrasive   The foot switch on the LapSharp allows the
removes the burr created when grinding         platter speeds sharpening; moving it toward the   user to hold the tool with both hands while
the bevel on the bottom of the disc.           center gives you better control.                  starting and stopping the spinning wheel.
Wet sharpeners: Go vertical for the best results
With this style of sharpener, the spin-          What to look for                             sharpeners. Tormek’s heavy-duty T-7
ning stone runs under a drip or in a bath        Power in spades. If the motor stalls while   ($590, 800-586-7635,
of water that washes away the swarf              you’re pressing down hard on a tool,         proved impossible to stall, no matter
(metal filings) and cools the tool, help-        you’ll lose the aggressive benefit of a      how hard we pressed on the tool during
ing make these sharpeners aggressive. If         water-cooled system. A rigid tool rest       sharpening; none of the lower-priced
the stone lies horizontally on the               ensures precise bevels, and tool holders     units even came close. Its tool-holding
machine, you sharpen tools on the flat           should slide easily on the tool rest while   system (tool rest and holders) fit together
face of the wheel, much like the platter         holding the tools securely and square to     like hand in glove and gave us dead-on
on a dry sharpener; on a vertical-wheel          the stone. Also, a diamond trueing tool      bevels and square ends with little fuss.
machine, you use the edge of the wheel,          (for flattening the face of the stone) and   And the stone wore much slower than
creating a gently curved bevel called a          stone grader should be included in the       less-expensive models we tried. If you
“hollow grind.” Some woodworkers                 purchase price, because you’ll need          sharpen hand tools or knives at least
argue that hollow grinding produces a            those nearly every time you sharpen.         once a week, the versatile T-7 is the
weaker cutting edge than the flat grind-                                                      sharpener for your shop.¿
ing produced by other sharpening                 Best buy
methods. But we’ll gladly make that              Price often indicates quality, and we
minor trade-off for the ability to sharpen       certainly found that to be true in wet       Written by Dave Campbell with John Olson
a larger variety of cutters (scissors, turn-
ing tools, scrapers, etc., using optional         two wheels, three grits, loADs oF ACCessories
tool holders) than possible on a horizon-
tal wheel.
                                                                 tool rest
    Although wet sharpeners
 have a reputation for being                     Stropping
messy, we found them much
 tidier than dry sharpeners.

  To step up in grits with one of these
units, you use a special double-sided
stone called a “stone grader.” Simply
hold the rough side of the stone grader
against the wheel to make the wheel
more aggressive, then hold the smooth
face of the grader against the wheel to
refine it for sharpening. For final hon-
ing, vertical sharpeners also include a
leather stropping wheel, charged with
an abrasive compound, to take the bevel
to a mirror finish.
  Although wet sharpeners have a repu-
tation for being messy, we found them
much tidier than dry sharpeners, and
the few drips and drops can be easily
contained by placing the sharpener on
an old TV-tray top. One small caveat:
You can’t store one of these systems in a                                                                                                Bevel-
shop where the temperature might dip                                                                                                     gauge
below 32°F—the wheel absorbs water                                                    Water bath
and will crack if it freezes.
    With a vertical-wheel wet sharpener, you
      sharpen tools first on the water-cooled                                                      Stone
      stone, then regrade the stone to a finer                                                     grader
   grit and sharpen again. A final pass on the
leather stropping wheel adds a mirror finish.

                                                                                                            WOOD magazine      October 2008

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