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Thread: Sharpening: what am I doing wrong

  1. #1
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    Sharpening: what am I doing wrong

    Hi all,

    I have become really discouraged with my latest attempts at sharpening, and would appreciate your advice.

    I have a full set of diasharp diamond sharpening plates (extra-extra coarse to extra fine) and then float glass with 3M PSA lapping films from 5 microns to .3 microns. I use the Lee Valley Vertias MK2 sharpening jig/guide. Yesterday I tried to sharpen two plane blades, one for my Lee Valley low angle block plane, and one for my Number 4 Lie Nielsen. The Lie Nielsen sort of worked: it took me forever, but I eventually got an edge that would produce thin shavings in both hardwood and softwood. But it was not scary sharp. Couldn't make it cut through a sheet of paper like everyone does in the videos. Sort of did, but sort of tore the paper.

    The Lee Valley blade was less successful: what I kept getting was an even scratch pattern for about 2/3rds of the height of the bevel, but the bottom third seemed to have a slightly different angle (even though I never set this blade up with a microbevel), and wasn't getting honed. I tried for a very long time on the extra-extra course plate, and no luck. I even tried 60 grit sandpaper, and same result. I am being very careful to try to keep even pressure on the blade, but maybe there is some trick to it that I am missing.

    I am almost positive I am using the jig properly. I did notice that to get the even scratch pattern across the full height of bevel on the Lie Nielsen blade, I had to back the blade off a bit from the stop on the angle setter of the Veritas Mk2. Which means, I believe, that in effect, instead of using a 25 degree angle, I ended up with something closer to 27.5 degrees. I tried the same thing with the Lee Valley blade but it did not work. Maybe I am having trouble with it and I just have to work it longer because it is made with their harder grade of steel (PMV-11)? But it is taking forever with what seems like very minimal progress on the extra-extra course stone.

    As a general question, how long does it take using hand sharpening methods for someone skilled at this to get a dull (but not uselessly so) but undamaged blade back to sharp?

    Thanks for any advice/suggestions.

    -dan

  2. #2
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    How were your results on wood? Did you have a surface ready for finish?

    Thickness of shavings and being able to cut paper don't mean squat if you leave a bad surface on wood.

    I sharpen freehand, and I have a double sided India stone and a leather strip with compound and this is all I need to get satisfactory results on pine, mahogany, and maple that I normally work.

    If you enjoy sharpening, all the more power to you. There are guys that chase a perfect edge and there is nothing wrong with that. But I truly believe it's not 100% necessary to work wood. Guys like Paul sellers, Chris Schoenberg, and James Wright I have all all seen Sharpen free hand, and they build some amazing things.

    It seems there are two camps in the sharpening world. Those who use jigs and fancy equipment to get a surgically sharp edge that will last, and those that sharpen free hand and do it fast and often, sacrificing edge retention for speed in resharpening.

    And please don't take this as me saying you have been doing it wrong, but if you are judging your edge based on ability to cut paper and the thickness of shaving, maybe you try grading your edge on the surface it leaves on wood. That's what the tool is intended to do! It's a hand plane, not a scissors.

    Best regards.

  3. #3
    It takes me 85 seconds to sharpen a plane iron. I have been doing this a long time.

    I have never used sandpaper, diamond stones, jigs, grinders, secondary bevels, micro bevels, back bevels or ruler tricks.

    I think what you have been doing is sharpening the bevel at a shallower angle than it was sharpened before, so that your sharpening never reaches the edge. I would sharpen at 30 degrees and make sure the scratch pattern goes all the way to the edge. You will feel a burr on the back side when you have sharpened to the edge with your coarse stone. Then you can use finer stones to refine and polish the edge.

  4. #4
    I expect Warren has the right of it. If you're going to use the Veritas guide, you also want to make sure that the entire blade edge is seating evenly on the stone. That guide is not great for it (in my experience – I know many people like it), and I no longer use mine very much because I find it's too finicky to get it to sharpen evenly across the edge.

    Also, there is zero reason to start sharpening a dull edge on anything coarser than a DMT fine unless it's damaged. I have a DMT coarse that I only use when I need to repair or restore a bevel. I recently bought an extra-coarse to use in lieu of a grinder. I do most of my sharpening freehand on DMT plates and go fine, extra-fine, and (sometimes) extra-extra-fine. That's all. Takes a couple of minutes. I don't think there's much of a reason for lapping film and float glass. You'll lose that extra tiny bit of sharpness after the first few cuts anyway.
    Last edited by Tyler Bancroft; 10-19-2021 at 1:10 AM.

  5. #5
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    It can take a very long time to regrind the bevel on a plane iron, especially a thick one made of high end steel.

    I agree with Warren. Learn to sharpen free hand, and start simple.

    A crystolon stone is fast cutting and will quickly allow you to fix / set the bevel. Work on geometry first before you think about polishing the edge. Just pick an angle somewhere around 30, and be careful not to exceed that angle. Then grind away until you have that angle the whole way along the edge. Diamond stones can be a tad slow for this. Practice will give you an extremely steady hand and a sense for angle.

    Next two stones I would go to are an India, and a Hard Arkansas. This is where you can hone the blade and flatten the back. First get the back dead flat, and then proceed to polish both the bevel and the back. Aim to get a burr first, and then work back and forth between the bevel and the back to remove the burr. When you have that down, congratulations, you can sharpen anything!

    If you want to make finishing easier, instead of a hard arkansas you can go to a leather strop loaded with green stropping compound. It will take a lot of stropping (say, 40-50 strokes) to get the scratches from the India out without an Arkansas (Soft or "Hard" but not true hard), but you can do it. This will conform to the shape of the bevel and any bad geometry you have, and will still leave you with a polished edge, whereas a stone, especially a hard stone, will not, making it a little more difficult to get that final sharp edge when you're just starting out and haven't taken the time to really establish good, dead-flat (ie, on the back) geometry first. Your bevel can be concave, convex, or any wonky shape you like, but you must be able to reliably hit the entire edge evenly on the stone in order to get a truly sharp edge.

    Sharpening a tool without proper geometry can be a perplexing thing. It'll look like it's polished all the way down to the edge sometimes even, and it will seem sorta kinda sharp, but off. That's a sign that something is off, and you're not actually making good contact with the stone all the way along the edge, on one surface or the other or both. Go back to your India stone and sort it out (and check the stone for flat too maybe, but they tend to stay flat for a good long while). Be patient and insist on getting that geometry fixed nomatter how long it takes. I've had to spend a very long time in some cases, such as badly made or abused / damaged / very badly sharpened tools, and even some tools that came straight from the factory.

    I find guides can be finicky, and you still need to know how to sharpen and troubleshoot problems like this, so better just to learn to free hand from the start and develop sensitivity / tactile feedback and muscle memory, IMO. Both of those things do wonders, whereas you're kind of just flying blind without them.
    Last edited by Luke Dupont; 10-18-2021 at 12:34 PM.

  6. #6
    I don't do hand sharpening with an angle guide (it isn't compatible with my patience level), but here are some general guidelines. It sounds like you are having an issue with getting the guide to cut consistency across the grits. It isn't an issue of whether the angle is set at 25 vs 27.5 degrees, that won't really have a noticeable effect on your edge (unless you have a steel like A2 that needs a steeper angle). Whether you can cut paper or not doesn't matter; it's how it works on wood that matters. I have no idea whether I can shave with my plane blades or cut paper with them, and I don't really care either way.

    For now, don't worry about lapping with compound, just get that angle guide figured out. Do one grit and get it nice and even. I'm not a big fan of the "progressing through the grits" thing. The risk of doing individual grits and trying to do the whole blade is that if you don't have the angle exactly right, you can end up rounding over the bevel slightly, which will result in an edge that cuts poorly or not at all. After getting the primary angle set, bump up the angle a degree or two and put a slight secondary bevel on it with your finest grit. Try that and see how it cuts. If you get that to work consistently well, you can try lapping. That may take a while to get used to. If you don't have the right angle when you lap, you will actually dull the edge, not sharpen it.

    Myself I do a primary bevel (with a Tormek, but again it's a patience thing) and put a secondary bevel on with a stone free hand and then hit the edge on a the lapping wheel on the Tormek. There are others that insist there is no need for a secondary bevel and successfully go through all the grits and produce beautiful looking edges. They have more skill (and patience) than me. That said, I haven't been held back by my cutting edges; they work for me. The fact is I hate sharpening and just want to get back to work as fast and efficiently as possible

    Adding to what Warren said, after I get a blade set up for the first time, I maybe spend 40 seconds touching it up: about 20-30 on the stone redoing the secondary bevel, and maybe 10 seconds on the lapping wheel. Any longer and you are just wasting time and steel. A pro like Warren can probably do the whole blade start to finish in a minute and a half by hand, mortals like me use grinders for the hard part

    My other recommendation is to find some one who knows how to sharpen, and have them show you in person. Most people are flattered if you ask them (it makes us feel like we actually know something valuable and that someone wants to learn it). Seeing what happens live and being able to ask questions makes a world of difference.
    Last edited by Andrew Seemann; 10-18-2021 at 12:45 PM.

  7. #7
    If you're only ending up with around 27 degrees, that may be why its seeming to take so long. Lie Nielsen blades come factory ground at 25 degree bevel (real sharp when you get them) and the back of the iron needs no work. If you sharpen at close to the primary bevel angle, you end up having to "grind" that whole 5/8" or whatever it is every time to get that burr on the back. Upping it to say 30 degrees usually means less than a dozen or so passes and you'll feel a burr on the back of the iron, since you're only now having 1/8" or so at the very end, depending on how many times you've sharpened. This creates the micro-bevel or secondary bevel that you do want for easy sharpening.

    Another thing you may be experiencing, is from using an extra coarse stone. If you use an extra coarse stone or paper, you'll get that scratching you see, and the coarser the stone the deeper those scratches are. You have to keep working at the next grit to get those out or you won't get the polished edge that equals sharp, just like sandpaper, 200 grit sandpaper won't get out the marks from 80 grit If you don't need the coarse stones, I would skip them. I use water stones, but only an 800 and a 2000 (I think). 800 is like a medium, medium fine, plenty enough to create the burr and then a few laps on the higher stone I've polished off the roughness from the 800. I have extra coarse stones but those are for re grinding that primary 25 degree bevel after a lot of sharpening, or fixing an iron I've damaged (but I have a hand crank grinding wheel I use now). One last thing on coarse, extra coarse, and depending on who you're asking, after some grinding, the grit in the stone is "bottoming out" in the scratches in the iron, and you'll have to switch between grits to work out some of those deeper scratches to get any continued progress.

    I didn't see you mention it, but just make sure when you get the polished edge you want, you have to turn your attention to the back of the iron and remove that burr since sharp is really just two polished edges meeting. That angle you make them meet at is what says how "sharp" it feels, and how long the blade lasts.

    -Sam

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tyler Bancroft View Post
    Also, there is zero reason to start sharpening a dull edge on anything coarser than a DMT fine unless it's damaged.
    Or if the geometry is off. I highly recommend beginners learn on the coarsest flattest stone they can find (which stays flat) because they can more quickly establish proper geometry (which often is off from the factory even) or fix mistakes that they made.

    Once you can get a super coarse but sharp edge on such a stone, you can go on to finer stones, and then go primarily to finer stones when your tool is dull but not damaged, as you suggest. But for a beginner, or a new tool, I think a quick cutting, coarse stone is a good place to spend considerable time and sort out the geometry.

    I say all this because when I first started sharpening, I started with too fine a stone, which everyone said was a good all around stone (somewhere around 1000-1200 grit if I recall). Way too fine to establish the geometry I needed on new, factory ground tools that had never touched a stone before. Took me forever and I thought I was doing everything wrong until, after hours of just pure determination, I finally got it. That process would have been much easier if I'd started on something around 300-400 grit at least, if not coarser even.

  9. #9
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    Folks,

    Thank you, each of you, for your helpful replies. I really appreciate it. During my lunch break I had about 10 minutes to try freehand sharpening. While I am not done yet, I am definitely getting more consistent results -- the scratch pattern extends the full length of the bevel. Obviously that is not the end of the story, and I need to finish, hopefully tonight, but this has already lifted my gloomy mood. I am so enamored of Lee Valley and their products, tools and customer service, that I assumed it couldn't be the sharpening guide. And to be clear, I am sure it is the combination of the guide and the user, because some people get great results with the guide. But it certainly appears that for me, free hand works better. I will report back when I get the blade finished.

    To answer the some of the other questions, with the Lee Nielsen blade that mostly worked, I did get a burr, and I did gently remove it with a very fine stone. That is when the blade became sharp (stupidly cut my finger on it). With that blade in the Number 4 plane, I was getting good results on wood -- smooth even surfaces. Although much better on pine than on cherry -- still good results, but it was a bit touch and go (the blade is clearly sharp but not really sharp).

    I love the idea of getting some mentoring and it's a good suggestion I will need to ask around. If there's anyone who lives in Baltimore-Washington area who would be willing, please let me know.

    Thanks,

    -dan

  10. #10
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    I don't think there is necessarily an issue with your honing guide, but it sounds like it may not have been necessary in this case.

    For what it's worth, I have a honing guide, but I use it primarily for regrinding primary bevels on old irons and chisels or if I have an edge go out of whack from freehand sharpening. It happens. I have had more than one chisel or plane iron on an antique tool that is slightly skewed, and I have to imagine it's from the old owner who held it not quite perfect while sharpening. While the lateral adjustment usually takes care of this I generally like to start with a fresh edge anyways.

    But it sounds like you had some success freehand sharpening. Keep at it!

  11. #11
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    Good, repeatable results can be had with a guide. I went back to using one so my helpers, who can almost read a tape measure if they work together, can sharpen. They can get chisels, and plane irons almost as sharp as I can, and certainly useable.

    I never use a grinder unless an edge has chunks taken out of it. To answer the time question, a few minutes on stones alone to take one that was used for getting paint off of bricks to super sharp (that chisel didn't have any nicks in it, but was completely dull).

  12. #12
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    I have gone all over he map trying to find what works the best "for me". I was out in the shop last night and decided I was tired of a cherry board with a crack getting in my way. I placed a dowel under the split and stepped on both side to sperate the halves. I thought "I am going to make a S4S board out of this and put it on the rack". I was having trouble jointing the edge with a Stanley No. 7 and saw that even with the lever all the way to one side the blade was off. Out came the iron and when checked with a square it was sharp but badly out of square. I placed it in my Eclipse style jig and went at it on my 300 grit diamond plate at 25 deg. and it took a while but was able to get it corrected and place a mild camber on it. Since it was in the jig I continued up to the 1200 plate. Then (maybe this is your missing step) stropped on my horse butt strop 30 times with firm pressure. It was able to slice the paper. This was a correction but have switched to freehand to touchup and sometimes use just the strop to touch up but as said unless disaster happens you should only need the finest plate. If doing freehand you will likely place a micro bevel of sorts on it naturally. I don't try for a micro bevel any more as over time the bevel will grow to the point that it will need correction again. This is what works for me so give all these ideas a shot to see what fits your style. The reason I like freehand is it is quicker without fooling with a jig and I get a better feel for the mild camber I prefer on the iron.

  13. #13
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    Most of my sharpening is freehand. Most of the time all that is required to bring a blade back to working sharpness is a hard Arkansas and a black or translucent Arkansas.

    My preference is a plain flat bevel.

    Sharpening skill is one of those things that seems to keep improving over time.

    Sometimes a nick occurs or a secondary bevel can form. That is when the blade is taken to a soft Arkansas or to my power sharpening system to return to a simple flat bevel.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  14. #14
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    Hi Dan
    I read your post and it didn't mention the back flatness or getting a burr. A shiny bevel doesn't mean it is sharp. If you not raising a burr on the back of the bevel you will never get a sharp tool. I would start again at square one and ensure the backs are flat and start sharpening the bevel on the first stone. Do not go to the next stone until you have a consistent burr from one side to the other. Wash, rinse, and repeat on each successive stone.
    I used the Mk2 from Lee Valley and I initially loved it. I switched to the LN honing guide because the tools kept slipping in the MK2.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Luke Dupont View Post
    Or if the geometry is off. I highly recommend beginners learn on the coarsest flattest stone they can find (which stays flat) because they can more quickly establish proper geometry (which often is off from the factory even) or fix mistakes that they made.

    Once you can get a super coarse but sharp edge on such a stone, you can go on to finer stones, and then go primarily to finer stones when your tool is dull but not damaged, as you suggest. But for a beginner, or a new tool, I think a quick cutting, coarse stone is a good place to spend considerable time and sort out the geometry.

    I say all this because when I first started sharpening, I started with too fine a stone, which everyone said was a good all around stone (somewhere around 1000-1200 grit if I recall). Way too fine to establish the geometry I needed on new, factory ground tools that had never touched a stone before. Took me forever and I thought I was doing everything wrong until, after hours of just pure determination, I finally got it. That process would have been much easier if I'd started on something around 300-400 grit at least, if not coarser even.
    DMT Fine (despite the name) is 600 grit, and it'll produce a burr on PM-V11 in ten strokes or less. I am far from an expert sharpener, but I can pull a plane iron out, go through two or three diamond plates, and have it back in the plane in two minutes. About ten strokes or so on each of fine and extra-fine, maybe also on extra-extra-fine, and then run the back over the EEF stone a couple of times to remove the burr. The DMT stones cut ludicrously fast.

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