Plane and chisel sharpening

Sharpening, love it or hate it, it's a must for clean , crisp joints and ease of work. I remember when I started to be able to get my planes, and chisels sharp enough to cut the hair from my arm. When I was able to do this my work improved dramatically, and I learnt a new understanding of my planes and chisels.

I use diamond plates/stones and I have never used anything else other then a cheap oil stone, so I can't comment on other systems but, diamond plates get the job done quickly, no mess or fuss and the all important sharpness I'm looking for. I do hear that Japanese water stones will never be surpassed, but they just sound like to much hassle to me. Storing them in water, packing and unpacking, flatten them and not to mention the cost of them. 

Diamond stones are really good, I've got them all set up on a piece of ply , extra coarse , course , medium and fine. I pull the board from underneath my bench , put it in the vise, spray some window cleaner on it and I'm ready to go in seconds.

I first seen Paul sellers use these diamond stones and I was sold , unfortunately for me I just couldn't get the technique Paul uses, I found I was sharpening to great of an angle , and over time creating a heal, so the plane wouldn't cut properly. I really struggled with this. Eventually, with some trial and error, I was able to devise a free hand method that works for me, and may help others.

As I said, I have four stones, extra course, course, medium and fine. The extra course only gets used if I damage the cutting edge, or need to correct the angle of the bevel. So it doesn't get used a lot but, it's good to have since I don't have a grinding wheel, and it makes quick work of correcting angles and such.

The three other stones get the same amount of use, starting at course and working down.
I hold the iron at about 70°, 

holding the iron at this angle allows me to sight the angle, and I can see what part of the cutting edge has contact with the stone. I have great control over the angle, visually and mechanically. Where as if the iron/chisel is close to 0° 

I can't see the angle and as I said before I just couldn't get the technique. I have also tried going left and right but that wasn't for me either, maybe I just have bad body mechanics when it comes to things like this!

I move the iron/chisel back and forth aiming for 25°, (you can place a bevel in the back ground as a reference) , because I'm holding the iron at 70°, I can see the angle so I'm not going way under or, in my case (what I was doing) way over 25° and causing a heel over time, which caused problems.

I proceed at 25° for a while ensuring to apply equal pressure with my fingers. I then lift one edge, maybe 10° and continue going back and forth. I repeat this process on the other side as well. 

This is to round the edges so that steps in your work , created by the plane are less noticeable. Please note that this (the 10° lift) is not carried out on chisels.

When I'm finished rounding over the edges , I then put the iron back on the stone so the bevel has full contact. As I'm still moving back and forth at 25°, I slowly start to raise the blade up to 30° 

I check regularly with my finger tips until I get a light burr on the back of the iron, as you do this you will hear a change in the  sound , this is a good indication, when your lifting the iron to let you know your at the very tip of the cutting edge, once I hear the sound with a few passes I then check for burr. I then go back to 25° and start dropping the iron to about 20°

again you will hear that sound and you can return to 25° . I may repeat this several times on the same stone until I'm happy. In doing this you will create a convex on the bevel, which is present in history as it was used by woodworkers well before our time.

I repeat this process on the other two stones. On the fine stone I pull the back of the iron across to remove the burr from the back.

Once I'm finished with the stones I put the leather strop (loaded with a buffing compound ) in the vise and I normally stroke the iron about 30-40 time. First on the two rounded edges, front then the back. I then pass the cutting edge through some wood to remove any burr, and your done . You should have a razor sharp edge.

When using the strop be careful not to lift/flick the iron at the end, by doing this you are curving the cutting edge, which we don't want to do.

Instead keep the angle you started with, and lift the iron at the end of the strop, instead of flicking it.

This is a good method that works for me and makes freehand sharpening possible, with good results but, as with most it has its cons.

I have found that it easy to take the cutting edge out of square, so I do take extra care to apply equal pressure when sharpening. I also check for square every few times sharpen, this way I can correct the edge quickly , before it gets to bad and I have to spend more time on it.

Another problem I find is that , when sharpening narrow iron like a 6mm chisel, it is easy to round the cutting edge (left to right) so I do take extra time and care with the smaller irons.
The two problems mentioned are easily done with other sharpening methods but if there brought to light , there is a possibility they can be avoided.

Below is a rough and ready (as always) video , showing me sharpening a plane iron, which may help some people.


  1. I am a professional woodworker, and I have to sharpen my chisel and blades regularly, but I don’t it manually. I have a bench grinder, as described at so I can use it for sharpening and grinding, without any hesitation.

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