I sharpen all of my plane irons and chisels at 35°.
Here’s why: I do this to keep my sharpening regimen as simple as possible. I don’t want to pick up a tool and wonder: What angle is this sharpened to? I also don’t want to sharpen a tool, discover that I used the wrong angle and have to resharpen it immediately. And I don’t want to have multiple jigs to set my tools. Or be forced to engrave my sharpening angle on every tool.
I know that lots of woodworkers will call this a wrong-headed approach. But here is why I have been doing this for the last six years.
- I find that keeness is more important than small differences in cutting geometry. With a 35° cutting edge I can cleanly pare the end grain of white pine, and that’s all I need to know. If your tool can do that operation, it is wicked sharp and can handle anything.
- Higher angles are more durable. A 35° tool goes a little longer between sharpenings than a 25° tool. Less sharpening means more woodworking.
- A 35° angle won’t interfere with the operation of any handplane that I know of. I chose this angle with care. A higher angle could end up fouling the clearance angle of some tools. But 35° works with every tool I’ve ever touched.
- A 35° secondary bevel combined with a 25° primary bevel is an ideal combination. The higher-than-usual secondary bevel is smaller than a 27° or 30° secondary bevel. A smaller secondary bevel means less honing and polishing time.
I set the 35° sharpening angle using a simple jig made from two blocks of wood nailed and glued together. To be honest, it’s not dead-on at 35°. I don’t know the exact angle. But it’s in within a half degree or so, and what is most important is that the angle doesn’t change. It’s always that same angle when I put my tool into my honing guide. So when the tip of the tool touches the sharpening stone it is immediately honing that tool at the perfect angle (whatever angle that is).
If 35° seems drastic to you, try 30° instead. That sharpening angle is quite common among hand-tool woodworkers, but it’s a little less durable.
The point is to pick one angle and stick with it. For years I kept my tools at all sorts of different angles. My set of chisels used three different angles. I used 35° for the small chisels that were for light chopping, 30° for the middle-sized tools that were for chopping or paring and 27° for the wide chisels that were for paring only. I had steep angles for mortising chisels and plane irons used for figured woods.
Perhaps I’m just a simpleton, but keeping up with the angles was an annoyance. And so one day I threw away all my jigs for setting these different angles and made one for 35°. And I slowly converted every tool in my chest to that angle.
— Christopher Schwarz