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The 10 Cent Sharpening System

I had a visitor today in the form of Mike, a primary school teacher, who was setting up a woodworking program for his kids at school. What is exemplary, he is doing this on his on initiative and out of his own pocket. Several Perth members of the Ubeaut woodworking forum had donated planes. When I heard of Mike’s wonderful effort I felt that the least I could do would be to hone the blades, tune the planes and ready them for use.

Of course, little did I know that this involved 8 of the most abused and rejected planes – four #4s and four block planes – all cruddy and warped. Thanks to the miracle of electricity and a large belt sander, all soles were flattened, all blades and chip breakers de-rusted, blades ground and honed to razor edges, and planes tuned to take fine shavings. And in just 3 hours!

I anticipated that Mike would need some strategy to maintain the sharp edges. So I came up with “The 10 cent Sharpening System”, which actually cost nothing since I just used a few scraps lying around. However quick and cheap to make, this is really a serious sharpening system and I've posted it here so that others might enjoy using it as it is so compact and works very well. Mike timed me taking a blade with a rough primary bevel to a razor edge in under 30 seconds.

None of this system is original. Just my adaptation in this package, which I consider perfect for the thinner Stanley blades, since the primary bevel on these can be ground rapidly on sandpaper.

At this price we are talking Scary Sharp, that is, the use of wet-and-dry sandpaper as the sharpening medium. I only used one grit – 600 – but I later made provision for lower grits as well. In addition to the 600 grit W&D, I used .5 micron Veritas green compound.

For a honing guide, the best at the price (5 cents) is the jig designed by Brent Beach. No, just kidding. This is a cracker of a jig at any price as used in this type of system.

Here is Brent’s jig.

Where Brent uses a glass substratum, I purposefully built this from an off-cut of MDF. The honing guide was just a block of Tasmanian Oak from the scrap bin. I am not sure of Brent’s dimensions here, but I suspect that the one I built is lower (I used the same height as a Eclipse guide). One possible advantage is that the set up is compact. The disadvantage is that the backbevel angle is 10 degrees, so micro backbevels need to be done as per David Charlesworth’s “Ruler Trick”, that is, with a steel ruler.

So what is the system?

There are three parts: the honing guide, the honing board, and the guide angle set.

The honing guide

My Brent Beach copy:

The honing board

What we have here is 600 grit W&D contact glued to the MDF. Later I realized that a better system would be to simply have two clamps (using bolts and butterfly nuts) so that sandpaper strips could be changed out.

The far end is a section with Veritas green compound – just “scribble” this on the MDF.In between the two, the MDF surface is given a coat of wax to reduce friction.

The Guide Angle Set

There are two elements here.

Firstly, the depth of projection is set for 25- and 30 degrees. This also automatically squares the blade in the guide.

Secondly, here I have drawn in lines for microbevels (1/32” is sufficient for a 1-2 degree secondary bevel) – just shorten the projection to these lines.

Later (again!) I realised that a better system would be to just use a shim (one for each reduction) placed against the fence to set the depth.


Most know this process well.

Items 2-4 took about 30 seconds.

In summary, there are many ways to sharpen a cat – but none cheaper or simpler.

Derek Cohen

Perth, Australia

June 2006