Chris Schwarz's Blog

A Dance to Keep Your Stones Flat

Carpenter and woodworker Carl Bilderback never flattens his oilstones. And they are both dead flat – I couldn’t get a .00125” feeler gauge under a straightedge that I laid on the stones.

His stones aren’t magic. He simply knows how to dance.

The trick to keeping your stones flat is in how you hold the tool and how you work the stone. As we were getting ready for our Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event this morning, Carl showed me how he’s kept his stones flat for 25 years and I shot the above video.

— Christopher Schwarz

7 thoughts on “A Dance to Keep Your Stones Flat

  1. HowardS

    I like the dancing method! I think flat to .0125 is good for chisels but for other tools flatter is better. Straight razors, for example, would develop problems from that level of flatness but they’re examples of extreme honing due to the edge being .001 thick.

    I’ve always recommended using the whole stone to people but it seems almost to be a natural tendency to use the center 80% of the stone. Carl himself says his stone is a bit dished.

    Overall, I like the dance method!

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author


      You are missing a zero. It’s .00125″ — the thinnest feeler gauge we own. In other words, Carl’s stones are as flat as our tools could test.

      Carl is being modest when he says his stone is dished. It could pass as a reference plate in a machinist’s shop.


        Actually, the last frame of the video is missing a zero, too. It reads “His stone is flat to .0125″.”

        Typos aside, a thou and a quarter is pretty darn flat.

  2. David Keller

    Chris – What Carl is showing you is the traditional method used for sharpening carving tools. Specifically, you are taught to lock one’s arms and wrists to your body and move the tool on the stone by moving your lower body. One of the reasons for doing this is that with the complex shapes of carving tools, it’s dang near impossible to produce a consistent bevel throughout the radius of the tool without the control produced by the “dance”. Carl has simply applied this idea to cabinetmaker’s chisels (and it’s a good one).

  3. griffithpark

    OK. This may explain the traditional/old Japanese preference for sharpening with a figure-8 motion.

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