Stanley No. 4 – what am I doing wrong?

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    Larry Geib

    I just saw an interesting tip from the Fine Wooworking Instagram account for those of you who use sandpaper for sharpening.

    Put a couple of rare earth magnets on the iron and They will attract the filings and steel dust off the sandpaper and on onto the edges of the iron.

    When you are done, remove the magnets over the trash can. The paper will stay cleaner longer.



    You might also look on the tool casting for extention lengths. They were on a cheap one i bought a long time ago they were stamped in the casting and painted over. Had i seen them i might still be using a guide.
    That little general protractor from any hardware store is also a handy tool to have to keep an eye on the bevel angle


    Kirsty Sanderson

    Thanks everyone – sorry I’m only just getting chance to reply to this today. I had a great evening continuing with my workbench after spending a good while sharpening the blade, and the original problem had pretty much gone. I do find that my plane gets clogged up easily when working on the laminated pieces, and I have to clean up the sole with adhesive remover. I’ll be glad when that part of the workbench is done. Well, last night I sharpened up again using the honing guide set at 40mm (which is just under 30°). Unfortunately the skipping problem returned, although not as severe as before. I’m thinking (hoping) that I just didn’t do a thorough job of sharpening – I probably did around 50 strokes on each grit (240, 600 and 1200). I think perhaps I neglected the sharpening in my hurry to get back to the fun part of actually working on my bench! Tonight I’ll be making my very first mortice in one of the legs, so I’m excited for that. I’m trying not to be too demoralised by my sharpening failure and persevere, although it is certainly disheartening! This burr is still eluding me although now I’m using the guide I can see lots of tiny filings stuck to the tip of the blade – I was expecting a kind of ‘string’ of steel, but maybe the sandpaper method is preventing this? Or maybe these filings are what I should be seeing. I just don’t know.
    In any case, I have no intention of sticking with the sandpaper – if nothing else it’s a faff having to set it up for each sharpening. The stones are much more convenient, so this will be my next woodworking purchase, and I’m hoping it will help me with the sharpening. Although I’m not sure if the movement of the honing guide across the stone will do it any good… comments welcome on that.
    My Eclipse guide didn’t come with instructions but some Googling helped me figure it out. My Narex chisel set has yet to see any use so I’m hoping they are sharp enough to do the mortice this evening without me having to think about sharpening those too! I’m fed up of thinking about sharpening 😉
    I’m grateful for the tip about doing a few extra strokes on the corners – in fact I was noticing lines across the wood before and stupidly didn’t think that this would be causing it. This has solved the problem.
    If anybody is actually still reading these posts (I know I’ve dragged it on for a good while!) I’d appreciate any comments on whether I should be wetting the sandpaper before sanding? I’ve tried both with and without – not sure which was correct. I know Paul uses glass cleaner on the stones.
    Thanks again everyone.



    I never wet the paper, even when I use wet/dry for the higher grits, but I don’t use paper much these days other than for setting up a blade initially.

    Regarding the burr, you should be able to feel it. You work the bevel and then feel on the back side, because the burr will be pushed / developed on that face. Of course, don’t move your finger along the edge because you’ll likely cut yourself. Instead, put your finger tip on the back of the blade and drag it gently off the edge. I tend to use the edge, not tip, of my thumb, probably because there’s no callous there. It will feel like your fingerprint is catching on something. If you have fingernails, you can drag your fingernail gently off the edge (perpendicular to the edge so you don’t get cut), and sometimes you’ll be able to catch your nail on the burr.

    One way to learn to feel the burr is to feel the edge *before* you sharpen, after doing some work with the iron. A dull edge (from doing work) often feels just like a burr. Not always, but often. You can also compare what it feels like when feeling the bevel side vs. the back side. The problem here is, with no one there to show you, the burr might be there or might not, so you as the student don’t know. Just keep feeling and you’ll become confident over time. Note that, when you develop the burr and then flip over and pull a couple strokes on the back, this will push the burr over to the bevel side. So, if you feel a burr on the back, try pushing it over to the bevel side and feeling for it on the bevel side. Again, no guarantees, because this is also how you remove the burr and it might come off before you feel it. Yes, sometimes you’ll see a thin wire come off, but it can also come off in little pieces you don’t see.

    Keep at it. You’ll get it. You’re actually making fast progress. You’re likely to find that you spend a bunch of time on your coarse grit and then go quickly through the two finer ones. Rather than taking a fixed number of strokes, work the coarse grit until you feel the burr, then move on to the fine ones.



    Some of us are still reading this with some interest… we all had to start somewhere, especially if we earn our livings at other things.

    Planes seldom like laminates, after all they are made for wood. Clogging may be the least of your problems… some of the binding agents can be hard and may prematurely blunt your blade.

    I’m a confirmed hand-sharpener, I have progressed through every honing jig known to man (or woman, for that matter), so I’ll desist any comments in that direction.

    As far as a clean smooth transit over the wood and a nice thin shaving goes it all goes back to the blade and the production of the burr. You have actually hit the nail on the head when you mentioned a ‘string of steel’; that is precisely what the burr will be and if you use a succession on stones it will get finer each time from one side of the blade to the other. When you get to the stropping process it is possible in some instances to see a tiny, minute wire left on the leather.

    The number of strokes is immaterial… it’s the burr that is important. In some respects a jig can prolong the sharpening process when compared to practised hand sharpening, but that sort of working does not come overnight – worth working on, though.

    If you are considering’ stones’ (a generic term for anything from genuine stone or modern Diamond impregnated steel plates), then the best advice I can give is to buy once and buy well. After all, it is something, the foundation of all that you use, that will be with you for years. In the very long run, abrasive paper is never cheap, so a good set of stones, or diamond plates will be the least expensive option if you are doing serious work.

    Diamond plates: here’s my considered opinion, for what it’s worth, based on the last 20 odd years.

    1 – Avoid cheap ones – they wear out quickly and you’ll end up buying more.
    2 – One-sided plates are easier to use than double sided – less faffing around turning them over.
    3 – The ones with holes in on a plastic background are OK… but, no use for very narrow blades which tip over and hard to use if you want to move on to carving gouges in future.
    4 – One sided, solid plates are best (around 8 inch by 3 inch). You only need three (though you can buy more if you wish) and you will be set up for the next 20 years.
    5 – Finally and most important, what ever plates you go for, check the surfaces with a straight edge – reject any that are not dead flat in every direction.

    You can use oil or water-based solutions. On this type of plate they are not lubricant – they are intended to float the minute particles of metal in suspension and need frequent wiping.

    My personal preference is a mix of 50 / 50 water and methylated spirit with a few drops of washing-up liquid to break down the surface tension of the liquid in a spray bottle. It’s home-made window, cleaner, in reality.

    Finally, sorry to say that I’ve never met a chisel yet that works directly from the manufacturer, so your Narexes will need a wee touch up, not necessarily a full Monty, just enough to raise a burr across the entire edge!

    Good luck from Wales, I admire your tenacity.


    harry wheeler

    As we talked about in an earlier comment, it’s hard to get a plane blade or chisel back in the honing guide in exactly the same position it was in the last time you sharpened and if it’s slightly further out of the guide, the sharpening angle is slightly lower and when you begin, you’re only honing the heel of the bevel – not the cutting edge. Sharpen for 20 strokes or so and flip the blade over and look at the scratch pattern. From your last sharpening, the blade was honed at 1200 grit so it’s easy to see the difference in the 240 grit scratches you’re putting on the bevel now and the previous 1200 grit scratches. Be sure that 240 grit scratch pattern goes all the way out to the cutting edge and if it does, you should have formed the illusive burr. As I said earlier, the scratches don’t have to go back to the heel as long as they are continuous at the cutting edge. The burr will be a very tiny “wire” attached to the cutting edge but it can be hard to see. It feels slightly rough when you run your finger down the back of the blade and off the cutting edge. Paul shows you a burr in several of his videos.

    With the exception of flattening the sole of a plane, I never use dry paper and I haven’t seen Paul use it either. Water works perfectly well or your favorite glass cleaner and it really helps stop the paper from clogging up. I use 2000 grit paper on all of my tools after my diamond stones and before the strop and I always use it wet.

    You may be able to get away with using your chisels right out of the box, but I think you’re going to quickly get frustrated. They may seem sharp, but I guarantee you they’re not. I would really recommend that you spend the time to flatten the backs and hone the bevels before you try using them for real work. You’re going to be chopping fairly wide and very deep mortises so the chisels need to be sharp. It’s a pain I know, but if there is one single secret to woodworking, it’s to make sure the tools are sharp. Regardless of how good you get at this, nobody can do much with dull tools.




    it is always about the burr gotta have it period but if you are planning lots of (junk, not pristine) or laminated stuff it is possible to get a sliver between the iron and cap ,
    this will stop the plane from working also. and four fine shavings are better than one thick shaving .
    when you have a blade in your guide, look at it from the side when its on the paperer a flat surface ,this will give you an idea of how the blade is contacting your abrasive



    By the way, if you haven’t used your Narex chisels and your first job is mortising, you almost definitely *must* sharpen first. They probably come out of the box with a low bevel angle, maybe even 25 degrees, which is too shallow for mortising. You’ll get only a few mallet blows before the edge likely fails. Put the chisel in the Eclipse for 30 degrees (35 for hardwood) and, if this is the first sharpening, go right to your middle grit paper. It will take only a few strokes to raise a burr because you’re really putting a secondary bevel onto the narrow bevel the chisel came with. Take a few passes on your fine paper and you’re ready to go.

    Don’t skip this. At 25 degrees, that edge will fail for mortising. The Lee Valley Narex come with backs that are very flat, ready for polishing. You can start right away on the fine grit and I’d even try starting on the superfine. I don’t know how the non-LV Narex are, though. Look at the back of your chisel. If it shows circular patterns of grind marks, you probably must deal with that to get started. If it has a uniform, dull, matte finish, then it is like the Lee Valley chisels and you can put off polishing it for a bit, especially for mortising.

    I keep suggestiong to put off polishing the backs of your blades, which isn’t what people usually say. The reason why is that, without a flat surface, and while you are improvising with paper, it is so, so easy to dub the corners of the blade. It takes the blink of an eye to do, but it takes a lot of work to fix. So, that’s why I’m saying to approach this iteratively. You’re getting things to cut. Do some work. Come back later when your hands and eyes have a bit of work behind them and take the next step then.


    Kirsty Sanderson

    OK, more advice for me to take on board, which is so kind of you all. I filmed myself sharpening my plane blade this evening, so although it doesn’t make for riveting watching but if anybody could have a quick flick through it and see if there’s anything glaringly stupid that I’m doing wrong, I would be very grateful. Yesterday I tried just pulling the plane backwards on the sandpaper whereas this time I went forwards and back, doesn’t seem to be making a difference to the issue of skipping/vibrating across the wood one way or the other. Here’s the link to the video:

    I can definitely feel something on the tip of the blade which I assume must be the burr, it’s just more like fuzzy filings than a definite ‘string’. When I pull the back of the blade across the sandpaper it does move it over to the other side as you say Ed, so I guess this must be it. I guess I just need practice (and lots of it) to get more consistent results. Many thanks Howard for your tips on buying decent sharpening stones. I was planning to get the Eze-Lap stones that Paul has recommended, these seem to have good reviews and I’ve seen much cheaper ones around so I guess these are a good investment. Do you agree? However it’s also the reason I’ve been using sandpaper – they’re not cheap are they. These seem to fit all your pointers, and I’ll get the 8 x 3 single sided ones as you suggest. I’m planning to make the holder in one of Paul’s videos too!

    I’ve attached a couple of photos of my chisels (and Magic the Lab in the background ;)), so you can see there are no circular marks as such Ed, but they clearly look like new chisels… what do you think? I’m sure I should be sharpening them before using really. Unfortunately I didn’t see these posts until just now, and I’d already been out in the garage attempting my first mortise. It seemed to go OK although I had episode 3 of the workbench series playing on my phone, and after a few short minutes of chopping his mortise Paul was down to about an inch, and I was down to about one sixteenth… not sure if that’s my dull chisel or the fact that I haven’t a clue what I’m doing yet 🙂

    Harry, I was conscious of your point about not getting the blade back in the guide at the exact same point – I just tried to get it as close as possible and it seems to be working OK. Having said that, if anybody watches my video they might think I’m doing far from OK!

    Anyway, I’ve sharpened my chisel now so I’ll give it another go tomorrow evening and see if it goes any quicker. One thing I did notice – when I started sharpening the chisel blade, it was clearly going much faster on one side than the other. When I stood head on and held the guide with both hands, it evened out. I wonder if this could have contributed to the skipping problem, even though I didn’t pick up on any uneven sharpening of my plane blade. It stands out more on the chisel blade because it’s new.

    One final incidental point – I have a lovely shiny new set of Narex chisels but the one I needed for the workbench leg mortise (18mm) isn’t in the set! I had a choice of 16mm or 20mm, so I went with the 16mm. Any reason why this was the wrong decision?

    I know I keep saying it, but I really do appreciate all this help.

    Thanks, Kirsty


    Sven-Olof Jansson


    Using a felt pen (Sharpie) on the bevel can be one way of assuring that one’s sharpening actually reaches all the way to the edge and to avoid skewness.

    Supposedly, the bench top is made from construction wood (44 mm x 70 – 90 mm) laminated together, which makes spruce the likely wood. If so, it can be helpful to retract the cap iron a tad, or retract the frog minutely to avoid clogging up. Pine is used as an umbrella-name for both spruce and pine. If the resin smells of “resin” then it’s pine. Pine also tastes of resin. Spruce has no odour or taste.

    When beginning woodworking I did not in my naïvity consider that tool blades were sold anything but straight, flat, and sharp. Hence, not that little morticing was done with chisels with 25° bevels and none-flat backs. The resulting joints were – tolerably mediocre, perhaps.

    More recently, I did a simple investigation on whether there was a correlation between the time it took to flatten a chisel and its price, while adjusting for chisel width. With exception of the most expensive one (a US product that was perfectly flat and exact to width) there was no correlation. One of the better was made by a small family company, later to be bought up by a big anonymous one. That chisel looks very similar to a Narex. The US ones serve as my goal for sharpening. They are truly ready to use straight from the box. My sharpening has still to re-establish the original edges.


    Sven-Olof Jansson
    London, UK; Cambridge, MA


    Sven-Olof Jansson

    Your sharpening looks just fine, and there is a burr I think. The ink-on-the-bevel is quite useful. As you grind the ink disappears and it’s easy to check that it occurs all over the bevel. So, it also helps in positioning the blade within the guide. You adjust until the ink is coming off over the entire length of the bevel. Once you’ve found your angle, align the guide with the edge of some wood and mark the position of the edge of the chisel. Screw some scrap piece there and you have a jig for setting up that blade at least. Apologies if you already know about this technique

    Some have no use of a strop. I find it helpful, but as said my sharpening is wanting. Then, there is also David Charlesworth’s ruler technique for a microbevel on the back. Plenty of videos show it, and it does add.

    Sixteen or 18 mm is of no concern. It’s easier to make two cuts along the same -virtual – line than two angulated, which is needed if a chisel is to be used where it is too wide. If allowed, I would suggest you just start chopping. It’s a rewarding activity

    As S. Holmes put it: “When every possible explanation has been refuted, we must evaluate the impossible.” (Or maybe he didn’t say that). So with all known excuses for asking, but have you checked the sole of your plane for straightness?


    Sven-Olof Jansson
    London, UK; Cambridge, MA



    another thing you need kirsty is to buy some leather and make a strop, once you get some diamond stones (I use DMT) then you’ll be sorted for life for all your sharpening needs, from the video you posted it looks like the sandpaper is mushrooming which may be causing the problems you’ve been having, it needs to stay perfectly flat, try spraying the back with a spray adhesive or hairspray. I’m guessing that the sandpaper mushrooming up is failing to cause the proper burr because it’s rounding the edge too much.



    If you look at the edge of any cutting tool you cannot see the edge if it is sharp. If you look at the edge in a strong light you can see the burr and can feel it.
    Here are a couple bad pics showing a burr from the back
    ( black line ) and one from the front ( silver line) neither one is solid as they have partially broken off. This is from the medium stone

    [attachment file=552159]

    [attachment file=552160]



    i finally got the video to load your sharpening looks fine. this is where you see the value of water , the swarf is held in the water instead of all over in the form of metal dust . and you should keep your finger away from in front of the blade ,it will bleed if you happen to touch it as you are sharpening ,
    the way you are going 30 strokes should raise a burr after the angle has been established,


    harry wheeler

    I agree with Sven-Olof Kirsty. Your sharpening looks fine and the cutting iron looked sharp enough to me when you finished. That stuff you’re seeing at the edge is a mixture of iron filings and abrasive from the paper. When it’s wet we call it swarf. You should try spraying some water or glass cleaner on the paper as you have seen Paul do. A lubricant like that helps and that is about the only thing I would change. I’ve had experience with Eze-Lap and DMT stones and both of those have worked well. I’m using DMT’s now and when you’re ready, you definitely want the 3″x8″ size which takes care of any plane or chisel blade.

    Those chisels need some work but all of them do when they’re new. The backs definitely need flattening and polishing. If you don’t get the backs flat, there’s not much point in honing the bevels.Other types of honing guides like the Veritas Mk II have a wide roller and those make it harder to put uneven pressure on the chisel or plane blade. The ones like yours aren’t quite as forgiving because of the narrow wheel and you’ll discover that the more narrow the chisel, the harder it is to keep the pressure even. You might try placing your tile on a piece of shelf liner to stop it from slipping around. If you can use two hands on the honing guide, as you found out, it’s much easier to control it.

    Your selection of a 16mm chisel is fine. When it comes time to cut the tenons, you’ll use that chisel to set your mortise gauge and everything will work out. Chopping mortises takes some practice. The first few are going to be a struggle as you learn how hard you can hit the chisel, which way it should be facing and when, how much pressure you can apply when levering, what that “dit” sound Paul always talks about really sounds and feels like, etc, etc. There’s a lot of technique going on and it just takes a bit of practice but you’ll get there. You’re doing great – we all went through the same things when we started so don’t get discouraged.😃


    • This reply was modified 11 months, 3 weeks ago by  harry wheeler.
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