Chris Schwarz's Blog

Do You Sharpen Too Much?

When I teach people to sharpen I notice a bad habit that many of them have: They think that rubbing the tool against a stone is sharpening. The more they rub, the sharper it gets, no?

Well, no.

I think that sharpening is more about seeing and feeling than it is about rubbing. (Snakes alive I am going to catch crap for that line.)

It’s subtle. And I know it’s Monday. But allow me to be subtle.

When I sharpen a tool, the goal is to remove as little metal as possible and get the best edge possible. Why do I care about the amount of metal I’m removing? Well the less metal I remove when honing the longer I can go between grinding sessions. And if I’m removing less metal then I’m probably going to get back to work faster.

Here’s how I remove as little metal as possible:

1. I sharpen with a honing guide so I can always hit the right angle. If I’m bang on at 30° or whatever, then it will be only a few strokes to remove the old edge. If I miss the angle (even by a degree or two), I’m might have to remove a lot of metal to get a fresh edge.

2. On the coarse stone (#1,000 in this case), I stop stroking the second that I can feel a burr on the unbeveled face of the tool. Once you’ve cut a fresh edge, you are wasting your time and effort. Move up to the polishing stones.

In the video above, I’m sharpening a chisel on my Shapton waterstones. I use #1,000, #4,000 and #8,000. The #8,000 is probably overkill for a chisel. I like me some overkill. Also, it takes me 30 strokes or so to cut a fresh edge on the #1,000 stone. That’s more than usual. Typically, it’s 10 or 20 strokes — then I move up to the polishing stones.

All in all, this little video shows what the sharpening process looks like for me for chisels and handplane irons. Though this isn’t a race, I’m happy with a 2:30 interruption in my workflow.

 — Christopher Schwarz

I like Ron Hock’s Book “The Perfect Edge”
And I think you will, too. Ron is everything you want in a sharpening instructor. He has spent a lifetime in the sharpening and tool business and he’s a funny writer (sharpening can be boring). It’s a $29.99 investment in better sharpening. Get your copy here.

21 thoughts on “Do You Sharpen Too Much?

  1. Hayden

    Good sharpening video!
    But Chris you have to do something with all that hair hanging down in the video’s. Good thing there’s nothing mechanical or any kind of moving or spinning parts– I can feel OSHA having a field day by using all of that dangling hair for their training video’s on how not to approch any moving parts!
    Just gigging you!
    Hayden

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    Michael,

    I definitely understand the benefits of a tertiary bevel, but I stick to a single micro-bevel out of habit. I like to keep the jig at one setting and with the speed of waterstones, I don’t see a problem getting my scratches out.

    I might have to grind a little sooner with my techniques, but I’m OK with that.

    Chris

  3. Michael

    I’d like to ask a question too. I see you changing grits 3 times (including the first), but i don’t see you changing the angle on the jig. Does this mean that you only have 2 bevels (primary and secondary) and not a micro bevel for the final polishing. If so why?

    Thanks in advance.

    Michael (from the Netherlands)
    yes, you have an international audience.

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    The bottom of my sharpening box is lined with about seven years of slurry. If your stones slip, I’d nail little blocks of wood down to restrain the stones.

    This is how I sharpen my plane irons as well. I am using downward pressure only on the pull stroke. On the return, the tool is skimming over the water. I do have better luck sharpening in only one direction.

    Hope this helps.

  5. Mike N

    Another silly question:

    What do you have lining the bottom of your plywood box? My stones always seem to move a little when sharpening.

    One more thing. You use a back and forth motion on your last stone. Do you do this with plane irons as well? I remember you mentioning in an old post that you get a better polish when polishing in one direction only to finish. I’ve been doing this and find it does make a difference for me.

    Thanks for the video! Super helpful.

    Mike

  6. Christopher Schwarz

    Once you turn a burr you don’t need to look for it again. What I’m actually doing there is trying to remove any slurry on the face of the tool.

    The way I decide to move up in grits is to observe the edge and see if I have remove the scratches from the previous grit.

    The rag doesn’t remove the burr. The burr is worn down as you progress through the higher grits and is finally removed on the 8,000 stone.

    Chris

  7. Pete

    Chris, I see you checking for a burr between each grit, but you didn’t remove the burr by polishing the back between each grit, so how do you tell if the medium and fine grits are done by feel? Do you remove the burr when you wipe with the rag?

  8. Christopher Schwarz

    It is a Shapton. But it’s from the pro series, not the Glasstones. I’ve burned through two #1,000-grit Glasstones, so I switched to the Pro series for that grit. Works great.

  9. James

    It looks like you only wet your water stones with a spray bottle and you did not let them soak in water for 10 minutes beforehand. Is this true? Does it do anything to immerse the stones fully before using them?

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