How keen is your edge???

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    André Gaudet

    Hello everyone,

    I am new to this forum but like most of you I share a great passion for wood working. I have always loved to tinker with tools and various materials but woodworking has become a genuine passion in the last year or so. I work nearly exclusively with hand tools, as most of you do, with the exception of my cordless drill (because its the only thing I have). I am still very young and as such I lack much experience. Likewise, I also feel that traditional woodworking is such an old and out of date practice (at least compared to my lifetime) it is difficult to seek advice and instruction on working wood. So on that note, a big thanks to Paul Sellers and his associates for their efforts with this site and all other sources.

    With the formalities out of the way, the topic that i wish to discuss is that of sharpening. Specifically, how often does one sharpen their edged tools and to what degree of sharpness is tolerated before its deemed unacceptable. Let us assume for this discussion that we all know how to and are able to sharpen our bladed tools with proper bevel angles, proper sharpness and such.

    In my personnel experience, as i acquaint myself with chisels, planes, saws and etc…, the sharpest any tool has ever been is when i take my tool off the last hone or strop in my sharpening process. As i work, inevitably the edge will be in a constant state of becoming more dull despite even the best practices when handling, eventually needing to be re-sharpened. This i find to be obvious.

    So now i am curious to know to what degree of sharpness, or lack there of, is tolerated by my piers as a usable edge and what is not. i Find this to be the grey area because its a matter of personnel judgement and what is required by the workpiece. And of course, the second question is dependent on the first, how long is an edge in use before sharpening is deemed necessary. Any thoughts???

    I find myself deeming plane irons no good anymore when the blade no longer catches a shaving without moderate downward pressure. Usually, if i am planing with the grain there would not be any tear out at this point even when i deem the edge as “lacking” and take it back to the hone. chisels are usually graded on visual inspection. when i can see edge failure on the tool and i can see tear-out lines on a cut where edge failure has occurred i start thinking of re-newing blade.

    Thanks everyone, i look forward to reading your standing/opinions on this topic.


    Hi Andre,

    I really haven’t given it much thought but your questions did make me realize something that I have been noticing with my tools. Lately all my edge tools seem to be sharper and staying sharper when compared to 6 months ago when I purchased Pauls DVDs. I think edge retention is pretty much dependent on the type of wood you are working with. Since I’ve mainly been working in pine I usually have to sharpen every three or four days, days meaning 2-3 hours per day. I have been working with maple and bubinga for shop jigs, fences etc and I’ll sharpen my irons pretty much daily, sometimes several times in a day, did I say maple is hard? In response to how I know when to sharpen, well I don’t know, I guess its about how much effort I’m using in any given work. If I’m having to force a tool with much effort I know it needs sharpening.


    Gary Hodgin

    Two things I really try to avoid are dull tools and prolonged sharpening sessions. I definitely hone when the plane or chisel starts becoming difficult to use. I will also hone at the end of a project or before I start the next project even if things are going well.

    One of the things I disliked about water stones was the set up before use and the put up after use. I didn’t have a good station for water stones. Now, I use diamond plates and oil stones. I use oil stones for older blades and diamond stones for A2 steel, although I will touch up A2 with a hard black Arkansas and strop provided it’s not too bad. I keep my stones on my table saw’s extension table and all I have to do is turn around at my bench and I’m there. The oil stones aren’t nearly as messy as the water stones and I end up honing a lot more often keeping my blades sharp.


    Hey André,

    it’s as you said. If you remember the performance of your tool after sharpening you will know when it’s time to reestablish the edge as it gets rounder and rounder. I don’t always go back through the stones. Especially while pairing with a chisel I sometimes repolish on the strop three or four times before I go back to the stones.

    I had not realized the correlation between fineness of the sharpening and fineness of the surface that results from cutting with a correspondingly sharpened edge until Paul mentioned it. Of course I knew that the finer the sharpening the finer is the possible result but I never thought in the dimension “I polished to 8000 so the planed surface should be 8000, too”.

    It’s different with every tool for me. I always thought that a scrub that takes of so much material needs to be sharpened more often than a smoother. In fact it’s the opposite.

    [[the following is not part of the reply, just a thought, thus in brackets:

    Paul’s way of sharpening has been one of the eye-openers for me. I spent so many hours on youtube watching master artisans celebrating waterstone sharpening. “Another 45 times, push-relax-push-relax… and after 8 minutes we can already move on to the next finer stone…” I was happy with the result on the waterstones as I am happy now on the diamond stones but I am a lot more relaxed now. “No phone calls in the next 75 minutes – I am flattening my waterstones!”

    I don’t want to weaken waterstones but especially in our modern western world they need to be demystified. If you watch a traditional japanese or  chinese woodworker you know how to use these stones. It’s no meditation like demonstrated by many western woodworkers. ]]


    I enjoy working wood in Germany.

    Marc Casebolt

    I have started going to the stones at the first moment that I think about the sharpness of the blade. I figure that if the thought comes to mind, then there must be some reason for it. As soon as I find myself wondering if my chisel or plane is working properly I just go over and give them a quick touch up. With the method Paul uses it is just so fast that there is no reason to put it off. Since I have been doing this my tools are always sharp, and I can concentrate on accuracy.


    Doing the best I can with what I've got.

    André Gaudet

    I find it interesting that many of your observations are all similar. for some reason i was expecting a broad range of opinions. it gives me a sense of reassurance to know i am not a sharpening fanatic when considering the frequency i take my tools to the hones, it seems pretty standard from what i read here. likewise it is also reassuring to know that i am taking full advantage of tool lifespan without sacrificing quality.

    i haven’t mentioned this before but have noticed tool performance varying a lot when comparing tasks from paring to mortising and the different materials that are worlk. Dave, i must agree with your statement, maple IS hard. recently i made a box with lid for storing and burning incense as a gift for my girlfriend. Yes it was made of maple and i did rip it to width and thickness before planing it smooth.

    in response to Florian Eisele, i am going through the very same revelation you experienced yourself. i first started sharpening with jigs and angle guides. after some time i got fed up with the time consuming set up of various jigs and decided to practice free hand sharpening. it was a hug step forward for me and i quickly adopted the use of micro bevels. after viewing paul’s method it seemed like the natural and logical evolution to my own methodes. i am a huge fan of simple, effective and quality. paul’s method exemplifies all of those. and i am very pleased with it. its not hard to understand why he was taught that method as an apprentice or why its been used for centuries by craftsman.

    Thanks to all for the great responses. cheers!!!


    Good stuff, guys. Thought provoking. I think that I am with Marc; if I have thought that it’s time to sharpen, it almost certainly is! For me, in my currently cramped workshop, I don’t have a dedicated sharpening station. This leads me to put off sharpening; daft, but it does happen. When I was learning with Paul, on the month long course, we all learnt to keep “going to the stones” very regularly. I need to get back to that. I’m building my new bench, and when I install it in my new, larger workshop, I will have that dedicated sharpening station, and no excuses!

    All the best, chaps,



    I recently attended one of Paul’s classes and one thing (of many) I took away is to establish the habit of putting tools away sharp, so now I sharpen at the end of each session, or day, or more frequently if a tool doesn’t cut as easily as at the beginning of the session. I’m a novice woodworker but find this discipline means I start with fresh, sharp tools every time, and I can get straight to work without doing the sharpening before I start. It takes just a few minutes so is a natural part of the clean-up at the end of each day/session.


    For years I have been sharpening with Norton water stones and after watching Paul’s videos I have been saving for Diamond stones. If anyone is interested here is link to a pretty good sale, 199 U.S. for 4 Diamond  stones. Have no idea how long this sale is going to last but I just purchased mine.

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