Looking Sharp for my Vacation - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Looking Sharp for my Vacation

 In Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

Early this morning, I dove into my tool chest to pull the stuff I’ll need next week at The Woodwright’s School for a 17th-century joint stool class with Peter Follansbee. And I realized, as I arrayed the tools on my bench, that my bad habits had caught up with me.

How many of you hone your plane blades and chisels after every use, before you put them away? Yeah; me either. So, I spent more than an hour at our sharpening station putting a mirror polish and sharp edge on five plane blades, six chisels and my marking knife (the knife wasn’t in dire need of a touch-up, but I already had swarf under my nails, so why not?). By the time I finished, I had two acute spots of pain – one on each of my middle fingers (of which I was going to post a picture, but it seemed rude to flip off all our readers).

I did, however, get to spend some quality time with a new set of Japanese ceramic waterstones, the Sigma Select II (which we got from toolsfromjapan.com). These stones, which are designed to sharpen high speed steel and other tough alloys, worked quickly to hone a wicked sharp edge on all my blades (which are a mix of O1, A2 and whatever my Japanese chisels are – wish I knew!). In fact, by the third plane blade (I started with the plane blades), I realized I was making a couple fewer passes on each of the four grits I used (#1,000, #3,000, #6,000 and #10,000) than I used to on our Shaptons.

You do, however, have to factor in soaking time (during which I checked my e-mail) – but I’ve read in several places that these stones can be stored in water with no adverse effects. So when I was finished, I flattened them all with a diamond plate, cleaned out my Tupperware container, filled it with clean water, and plopped the stones back in. (Yes, I made sure they were clean; no, they are not touching one another; no cross-grit contamination for me, thanks.)

The Sigmas quickly break down to form a mess of thick slurry, but at 78mm thick, I expect they’d last a good while in the typical home shop. There are no binders in these stones, nothing but fresh abrasive is released with every pass – I guess that’s one reason why they put an edge on a blade so quickly. But it also means you should flatten them regularly (that’s a good habit I actually do have).

Do I still prefer the Shaptons? Well, yeah – less fuss, less mess. But, if these Sigmas truly don’t break down in water, then I’ll be able to get more sharpening done more quickly, and get back to work. (Prices range from about $65-$100 from coarse to fine.)

— Megan Fitzpatrick

If you want sharp tools, want to know what sharp actually means, and want to understand all these newfangled steels (as well as the old ones) you need Ron Hock’s book ‘The Perfect Edge.”

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Showing 11 comments
  • Steve_OH

    I use the 1000/4000/8000 Shapton GlassStones. On the 4000 and 8000 I rarely make more than eight total strokes per blade per stone, and on the 1000 average only a little more, maybe twelve. I spend more time mounting the blade in the honing guide and making sure it’s square, and flattening the stones afterward, that I do actually honing…

    Of course, I do try to sharpen at the first signs of blade distress.


  • Wilbur

    Is that a Japanese chisel in the photo?


    • Jason

      That’s almost as good as seeing an attractive, well-spoken lady in a woodshop.

      Wait a minute…

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      It is! I have a bunch of chisels, but I do so love those (less back to flatten, and can beat the heck out of ’em)!

      • Fred West

        Megan, I too have the Sigma Select ll but what I was told was that the lower grits needed to be soaked but that the upper grits could be used like the Shaptons. I have been using them in that manner for a month or so and they have worked like a charm. I took some of my mortise chisels that are made with M2 and sharpened them with the Sigma stones and they sharpened quite easily. Fred

        • Jason


          What grits did you use with mortise chisels? I’ve been using diamond plates for the lower grits, but would like to save my Shaptons some wear (and save time, also) if the Sigma’s did a quick job in the finer grits.

          • Fred West

            Jason, I started with 1,000 then went 3,000,6000 & finished on 10,000. I had to start low as they had some pretty bad needs when they arrived. I was told that the Sigmas were developed for the harder steels and so far I would very much agree. I took fewer strokes on the Sigmas though as to how many fewer I do not know. I will try and keep count next time and compare them with my Shaptons. Fred

        • Megan Fitzpatrick
          Megan Fitzpatrick

          Interesting. I’ll pull the #10,000 from the water, let it dry, and see what happens!

          • Fred West

            Megan, As they say, I could be all wet but it is what I was told from two different sellers. :o) Fred

          • Fred West

            Megan and everyone else, I have been quite remiss in pointing out something and I feel very badly. I have received my Sigma Select and my Sigma Select ll from Stuart Tierney of ToolsfromJapan.com. I could not recommend Stu more highly and if you check his prices you will be quite happy. He also goes far, far beyond most vendors in trying to help. I realize that this is a plug but Lee Valley and Fine-tools were also mentioned. Give Stu a try, you will be very pleased. Fred

  • Chester Field

    Luv da Shapton’s , mon!!

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