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sharpening tray

When I think of all the things that improved my sharpening skills, two things loom large. No. 1 is practice, of course, but close behind that is a dedicated sharpening tray.

About 14 years ago I built a shallow tray from scrap plywood, nails and glue. No fancy joinery, no water-resistant materials and no finish. The tray sat beside my bench and contained all my sharpening mess, keeping it off my workbench and project parts.

Once I had the tray in place, a funny thing happened. I sharpened my tools more because I had only to take two steps to my right to do it. I stopped trying to squeeze one more edge, surface or joint from an edge.

My tools stayed sharper. And my work took a step forward as well.

I left that wooden sharpening tray behind when I left Popular Woodworking Magazine in 2011 (it was, after all, the magazine’s scrap plywood). Here in my home shop I don’t have the space for a dedicated sharpening station, so I keep a scummy boot tray below my workbench instead. I put a piece of tempered hardboard in the bottom of the boot tray so the stones would grip better.

sharpen_tray_under_bench_IMG_9073

It’s almost as good as my sharpening tray from my days in the magazine.

I am such an advocate of a sharpening station that I set one up wherever I teach. And I send students back there regularly during the class to touch up their edges with the hope that the good habit will rub off on them.

This simple tray is, in my opinion, more important than what sort of sharpening media you select. It’s more important than the steel you choose. It’s more important than the choice to use a honing guide or not. It is one of only two things I feel really strongly about when it comes to sharpening. (The other thing is that you should pick one system and stick with it – sharpening media monogamy.)

If you are in need of a good book on sharpening, may I suggest “The Perfect Edge” by my friend Ron Hock? Ron did an excellent job of dispelling myths and explaining the process in a no-nonsense format.

— Christopher Schwarz


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Showing 29 comments
  • muffyleigh

    Chris, what exactly is a boot tray? And what dept. do I find it in at Lowe’s or Home Depot?

  • grbmds

    Chris,

    The “boot” tray idea is a great one and would solve my problem of storage of sharpening supplies along with being able to use the otherwise useless space beneath my bench.

  • Dan

    “The Perfect Edge” is an excellent book. I refer to it now and then. I like the low cost approach and keeping it close.

  • Brian

    I like the under-bench setup. I have been debating a dedicated table, but my shop is small so I will try this first. Thanks Chris.

  • Chuck Bender

    Chris,

    Do you cover the boot tray with something? Just trying to ascertain how you handle plane shavings and dust gathering in the tray and on your stones. I see the blue woobie, is that the extent of the cover? Personally, I dislike anything attached to, above or below my bench because it ends up forever in my way. Like the tray, like the sharpening monogamy (and that’s coming from a 35+ year veteran of hollow grinding and freehand honing).

  • Rifrado

    I thought you recently indicated you had given up waterstones and gone exclusively to Dans arkansas stones !

    Did I miss read ?

  • RHS

    So, where does one find a boot tray?

  • deric

    This is useless info if no one is going to tell me what height I should use my sharpening tray at. 🙁

  • JMAW Works

    The sudden uptick in boot tray sales in April ought to drive some analytics guy nuts… Great tip on storage under the bench too, will be implementing ASAP.

  • rob@woodworkingjunto.com

    Good post, Chris. I keep my sharpening stuff in a plastic bin in the shop, but that still requires me to get the bin out to get to the stones and everything else. Having them on a tray that is easily stowed away would save a couple of steps.

    Anything that will make it easier will just help it to become a regular habit.

  • Bryan Robinson

    I bought the Diaflat you recommended last week. It is the cat’s meow and truly awesome. I didn’t realize how bad my stones were until I used it. Blades are really sharp again.

  • apbeelen

    Great reminder Chris. I need to get my sharpening stones in my shop rather than in the basement. It looks like you have the same waterstones that I do… how do you like to keep them flat? Do you find that your sharpening guide wears a groove in your stones? I do, so I quit using it most of the time.

  • Megan Fitzpatrick

    I picked up your habit…and kept your sharpening tray. It now sits next to my bench in the shop!

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