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We all know there are lots of options available (for a price)...
The best and fastest in our opinion is the Tormek system:
It'll give you great results with very little effort but you need to get used to it first.
The cheapest way to sharpen a tool and get it seriously sharp..., is to use sandpaper on a flat surface... It's the SCARY SHARP METHOD!
You could use a table saw bed but I'd recommend you get yourself a Granite Surface Plate. You'll love it and you'll use it a lot...
If you want to recondition old bench plane's for example, this will be indispensable because it'll be flat to within a thousandth of an inch...
That's how accurate your plane would be and how flat you'll be able to get a piece of wood with that plane as a result...
It's actually, one of the more expensive ways to sharpen your tools when you realize how much you spend on sandpaper, spray adhesive, solvent (for cleaning the spray adhesive off afterwards), cloths or paper towels for cleanup etc......
I used to use the 'Scary Sharp Method' but soon swapped over to water stones.
If, you'd like to know about sandpaper sharpening, let me know and I'll post an article on it.
Then there are water stones: (my recomendation for your first system)
The following set up will get you started and do everything you need it to do:
You'll enjoy water stones if you love the tradition and artistry of woodworking.
There are times when slow, repetition can be therapeutic. Sharpening with water stones does that for me.
Tip - It'll speed up and simplify the process if you have a honing guide.
I find that the 1000 grit and 8000 grit stones give me an edge I can shave hairs off the back of my hand with.
That’s sharp enough for me.
"What's a Micro Bevel and do I use one?"
(A micro bevel is where you increase the cut angle right at the tip of your blade/knife. Generally 1/32" to 1/16" of the tip)
I do use a micro bevel but I have to say, I have mixed feelings here.
Most of my tools have a 25° primary bevel and a 30° micro (secondary) bevel, (see pic).
The idea being that resharpening will be faster.
That makes sense in theory but after a couple of sharpenings you have to re-extend the primary bevel. If not, you end up with one big secondary bevel.
The edge has more strength and it’s less of a fine point so it’s harder to chip although it still does.
I find that I end up working both bevels which defeats the object.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about sharpening with stones:
1. Your eyes can see a blunt edge in the right light, if you can't see the edge, it’s sharp.
2. Don’t forget to remove the burr when you’re done. Use a leather strop and honing compound.
3. Stones develop a valley fast. 2 sharpenings of a 1/2” chisel on a 1000 grit wet stone and you need to flatten it again if you want to be sure it’s flat.
4. You need a flat surface in your shop. If you don’t trust any of them. Invest in a granite flat stone. They are flat to within 1,000th of an inch which is plenty accurate.
5. You need to flatten your flattening stone to guarantee it will flatten your other stones. I do that with 100 grit sandpaper stuck (with spray adhesive, never double stick tape) to a flat surface. Use a granite flattening stone, jointer bed or cabinet saw bed, if you trust it.
6. Sharpening tools is a laborious task that will take hours of your day. It’s much better to sharpen a tool after you use it than go through every tool in your shop in one hit. Your hands and back will thank you.
7. Set up a sharpening station. No matter what system you prefer, dedicate shop space to it and have everything in one place, ready to go. You need that efficiency in a small shop.
8. Wider blades take more time. The more stock you have to remove the longer it'll take. A 1-1/2" chisel can take an hour if it's very blunt.
Some things can’t be sharpened...
If if you own a thickness planer with 2 or 3 blades. You can't sharpen them, I’ve tried.
A sharpening service may be able to do it but it’ll be more expensive than new blades.
Buy a machine with a Helical cutter head, or buy a helical cutter head for your existing machine. Blades have 4 sides and they are tough. They will pay for themselves within a year.
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That's how we keep the lights on around here... Sometimes...