How to Sharpen a Plane Blade

This lesson will show you how to produce an extremely sharp plane blade. In addition to showing you the method of sharpening a plane blade, we also cover topics such as sharpening stones, different grades of abrasives, and sharpening equipment. At the bottom of the article, you will find a printable version of this lesson to take to the workshop with you. Perfect for those who have a bad Wifi connection or don't want to read from a screen.

This lessons objectives:

Before You Start

Sharpening Angles

Sharpening angles are one of the many things within this topic that can spark debate. However the majority of people will agree that a 25 degree primary bevel and a 30 degree secondary bevel is the best place to get started. Therefore we will be using this geometry throughout this lesson. Don't worry if those numbers or words don't make any sense at the moment. We will cover them later in the lesson.

Using a Honing Guide vs Freehand.

I would strongly recommend using a honing guide as a beginner as it increases your likelihood of producing a sharp, consistent and clean edge. They can also be relatively cheap and take no longer than 20 seconds to setup.

Sharpening freehand is slightly quicker as there is less setup involved, however you will likely face a steep learning curve while developing your muscle memory. You may also find that you spend longer trying to grind out previous mistakes caused by freehand sharpening, than you would have if you just used a honing guide straight away.

It’s completely up to you, but please take advice from experienced woodworkers with a pinch of salt. While they are able to produce a sharp edge using freehand techniques, be aware they have been practicing and developing that method for many more years than you have.

Side note: If anyone tells you that using a honing guide is ‘cheating' and you are a not a ‘real woodworker' if you cannot sharpen freehand. Walk away. They are likely too self indulgent to be wasting your time listening to.

Choosing a sharpening stone and/or grit to use

Fundamentally, the choice of stone doesn’t matter too much. Some cut quickly, some cut slower, some create a mess, some are relatively clean. The main thing to ensure is that the abrasive surface is flat. If not, you will have problems in any subsequent sharpening sessions when removing the burr.

Grades of abrasives for sharpening can be loosely categorised into 3 types. These ranges may vary depending on who your ask and to be quite honest, it doesn’t matter too much. This is simply a rough guideline.

CategoryGrindingHoningPolishing
GradeCoarseMediumFine
Approximate Range240 grit – 600 grit800 grit to 4000 grit5000 grit +
UseQuickly produces the 25 primary bevel.Produces the 30 degree secondary bevelPolishes the 30 degree secondary bevel

Which grits do I need?

If you want to do all your sharpening with just one grit, you can! It’s perfectly possible to re-grind a plane blade using a fine 5000 grit abrasive as opposed to a coarse 240 grit abrasive. Why wouldn’t you do this? Because its going to take ages and may wear out your sharpening stone, let alone thoroughly increase your heartrate both through exercise and frustration.

As another example, you could grind a blade to 25 degrees using a 240 grit stone then jump to polishing on a 5000 grit stone. However it may take ages to remove the scratch marks left by the 240 grit on such a fine abrasive. In this situation, it would most likely be quicker to use a honing grade in between grinding and polishing.

 

In order to efficiently produce an extremely sharp edge, you will need one grit within each of these ranges.

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3 Comments

  • After watching your video I’m totally sold on the honing guide. My only question is how did you make the board with the small blocks of wood that you used to calibrated your honing guide to?

    Thanks so much for all you do to help those odd us who are wood challenged. All the best from California and please keep up the great work.

    Reply

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