scrub plane cutting iron sharpening

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    Carlos J. Collazo

    Anyone else intrigued with the idea of having a scrub plane after watching Paul’s video? I know I am. Got an extra #4 cutting iron laying around and thought I’d give it a try, but one snag for me I think would be freehand sharpening on the stones. Up to this point I’ve been getting by with a honing guide every time I’ve had to sharpen my hand planes, none of which are cambered. How did you transition to freehand? Or did you start freehand, never looked back and just never used a guide? Did you use a jig to get the 30 deg bevel for plane irons until you developed the ” muscle memory”? Tips and suggestions appreciated!Thanks, Carlos

    New Jersey, U.S.A.


    I did one a while ago with an old Stanley ‘handyman’ #4 and did freehand bevel on a granite stone with coarse grit papers, then to diamond stones and strop. I love the way It allows for aggressive removal of material on a tangent. Great feeling when it’s working well.

    Ontario, Canada


    I started with a Veritas honing guide, but over time I have moved to sharpening freehand.

    Partly I became more confident in my ability, and partly I was forced to sharpen some tools freehand because they did were unsuitable for the guide. Router plane blades, spokeshave blades, thin chisels etc.

    Then I moved on to plane blades, and finally gouges.

    I do still use my honing guide when I want to regrind a primary bevel, or to square a blade or chisel if the edge has become skewed, but mostly I sharpen freehand. It’s very liberating and much faster.

    I even keep a strop right by my bench and polish the chisel for a few seconds every minute or so. It means I rarely have to go to the stones.

    Paul Sellers

    I would that everyone started out without the honing guide as I did. In a few hours I was away and never looked back in 50 years of sharpening. But I do use one now and again if a bad iron comes in and needs restoring it means I can focus just on pressure and not correcting. there is nothing wrong with using a guide except the fiddle of installing which isn;t that big a deal really. You should just do it and see how you feel after a fair trial period. I think it would set you free and give you the versatility established skill gives you. Some people, not many, just a few in a thousand, just don’t get it. Should they give up woodworking just because someone said not to use a guide? Not at all. Use the guide in that case.

    Mark Armstrong

    I have an old eclipse guide which I think is still the best guide because of the small wheel allows you to tilt each side so you can put a slight camber on Iron if needed. When I think of being on site most of the time I done it free hand on my old oil stone. When at home I would occasionally use guide to re-establish primary bevel.

    Dagenham, Essex, England

    Carlos J. Collazo

    Brian, Richard, Paul, Mark,

    Thank you for the supportive encouragement and experience shared, it makes a difference! With my worbench project i’ve learned what a sharp plane looks like, and looks like now would be a good time to begin freehand sharpening. It will save time for rest of the bench build and I need established skill in my repertoire. Good point about needing to get something done as a teacher of skill. It lights a fire in the belly and pushes you to set yourself free.

    I did freehand sharpen my #80 cabinet scraper just a few days ago first time. Needed to get bench slab edge square to face. I think confidence feeds off successes, no matter how small, and success makes for confidence.

    Also, I think I just need to do it as you said Paul.


    New Jersey, U.S.A.

    Ian Stewart

    Hi Carlos.
    My story with sharpening might be unusual, I don’t know. I first learned woodworking at school in the ‘sixties, and always sharpened freehand then. I did very little after leaving school until the late ’70s and then not very much. Eventually found my sharpening skill very poor, and I bought an Eclipse honing guide. The guide helped me get an edge, but it wasn’t very good and, especially with the plane iron, was slightly skew. I blamed myself for lack of practice.
    One day I read an item somewhere on the internet that suggested that the honing guides were less than perfect (by then probably Chinese made) and could be corrected. I modified my honing guide to remove the skew effect, and thought it a bit better, but still not brilliant.
    Since I discovered Paul’s blog and “just do-it” attitude, I’ve returned to honing freehand, and my edges now are better than I have ever had them, even under tutelage at school.
    The important aspects are :
    1. Get the flat face to a mirror finish, you can’t make a sharp edge against a rough surface.
    2. Hone until you get a wire edge. The grade of the honing surface determines the size of that, and the sharpness achieved.
    3. Strop carefully! You CAN remove the sharpness.
    Free-handing a curved edge is not that difficult with practice. Choose a technique you are happy with and practice it. The figure-eight is difficult to acquire for many, but the sideways sweep works just as well, as does my technique of forward and backward with a side rocking action.
    I expect the scrub plane blade is the best one to start with, as it doesn’t matter to the plane if the curve is a series of flats 🙂

    Salko Safic

    I use the MKII honing guide I prefer it above all that’s available. Does it get some getting use too yes it does because if you don’t apply equal pressure and if you do follow the manual your blade will not come out square. Once all that is out of the way your blades come out square and pristine sharp. So now I’m used to it and actually cannot really sharpen without one. In my view using a honing guide hasn’t taught me any muscle memory only dependability on a product. Having said that Tom Fidgeon uses one all the time so it’s completely up to you. It’s not a bad thing to use one and doesn’t take long to set up either and if you like to have a secondary bevel it’s a sinch with or without a guide.

    But surprisingly though I have managed to mimic Paul’s figure out free hand on my scrub blade. I actually thought it would be difficult but I got it only after two strokes. In this case it was much faster to do it free hand because I would of had to pull the guide apart and install the camber wheel.
    The Lost Scrolls of HANDWORK
    (Hand tool only woodworking magazine)

    Carlos J. Collazo

    Ian and Salko –

    Thank you for writing in response to my question. All good advice which has helped me along in seeing how others have progressed in sharpening freehand as compared to myself. I think it’s very instructive to do this, to ask and compare how others have fared going freehand.

    I actually began freehand sharpening as a first approach when I decided to do my first ever project in wood with joints – Paul’s work bench. In the Working Wood book he stresses giving freehand sharpening a try and if one must, use a guide like the Draper. I followed this advice but after a few sharpenings, planing was rough going, was a bit of work just to take a few clean shavings, felt that iron was not as sharp as it could be. I decided to get the Veritas honing guide, but not the MKII system, the simpler one that sells for under $20.

    This has worked great and I’ve come along fine in the workbench build.

    Now here’s the interesting part: After creating this thread, reading the replies, and after all this thought about moving to freehand sharpening, I think I will be able to hold the iron just fine at the appropriate angle and at the same time apply the right pressure, “drop the hand”, etc.

    I’m chalking it up to just being more familiar with the action of moving the iron across the sharpening stones…I’ve concluded that there is truth in the notion of “getting a feel” for the right action, abrasive process, and what level of sharpness you will want for taking shavings and correct planing. Not so much “muscle memory” as familiarity and practice.

    If needed, I could always use the guide again, for the bench planes. For the scrub plane, I have no qualms about the figure of 8 method or Joseph’s side to side method. But I think Paul said it pretty well and succinctly, when he said to “just do it.”

    New Jersey, U.S.A.

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