By Joshua Farnsworth
Introduction to Buying Tool Sharpening Supplies
When I first got started in traditional woodworking I cheeped out more with sharpening supplies than with anything else. So below I’m going to tell you what you should buy and what you shouldn’t buy. I implore you to trust me. Spend a little more money to buy the right sharpening tools upfront…you’ll save money this way. Having sharp tools is perhaps more important than having amazing tools. I’d rather cut a board with a razor sharp crappy saw than with a dull (or poorly sharpened) good saw. Ideally you can have great tools that are sharpened properly.
1. Urgent Sharpening Supplies (Buy these first):
Supplies For Sharpening Chisels, Hand Plane Irons, & Spoke Shaves
Let me first say that there are many methods for getting a keen edge on chisels & plane irons. You can see my page on learning how to sharpen your hand tools here. I spent a lot of time and money trying to find the system that works best for me. My system involves obtaining a primary angle on a grinder, then honing the angles on waterstones. This system is also used by the majority of other traditional woodworkers. Sandpaper sharpening works, but is more expensive in the long run. Huge sharpening machines (like this) are really slow & expensive. So I stick with a fairly traditional method.
Buy a Slow Speed Grinder with Tool Rest
I don’t use much electricity in my traditional workshop anymore, but a grinder is a must for establishing the correct angle on chisels and plane irons (blades). My simple sharpening process (coming soon) starts out on a slow speed bench grinder with aluminum oxide wheels (don’t heat up as much). I purchased a descent slow speed grinder through Amazon, it’s not currently available, but here is a very similar slow speed grinder that has descent reviews. You can see some other descent slow speed grinders at this link. Try to stick with higher star ratings. If you already have a normal bench grinder, you can buy aluminum oxide grinder wheels for it right here. I prefer a finer grit wheel, like 150 grit. You can also get away with using your old high speed bench grinder. Just be more cautious about overheating your metal tools…keep water nearby.
Vintage hand crank grinders (like these vintage grinders on ebay) are also fantastic and extremely affordable & safe. You just need to learn how to crank & sharpen at the same time…or get your kids to do it for you! Again, just buy a new grinding wheel for it, if needed.
The tool rests that come with grinders are usually junk. Take them off. I recommend that you buy the Veritas Grinder Tool Rest (pictured above). It’s the tool rest that was most people recommended to me, and I’ve really enjoyed my set. The angle is simple to adjust. You can purchase it here. The Vertitas Grinding Jig (sold separately) leaves a bit to be desired, but maybe I just haven’t figured it out yet? Just learn to grind freehand like your ancestors!
Buy a Grinder Wheel Dresser
I use my grinder all the time, and the wheel occasionally needs to be “dressed”. This means flattened with something harder than the wheel. I use a wheel dresser to accomplish this. I purchased this inexpensive dresser on Amazon and it has worked just fine.
Buy Sharpening Waterstones
I spent hours and hours researching which sharpening methods worked best (there’s a lot) and I settled on using fast-cutting waterstones. Natural oil stones are also good, but not as easy to find. The overwhelming majority of traditional woodworkers that I surveyed use (and love) Norton Water Stones.
Because I was cheap, I let myself get scammed by this terrible double-sided $47 waterstone. Please don’t buy it! It wasn’t really half 6,000 grit…just a thin veneer. Please trust me when I tell you that having nice waterstones (like Norton) will save you hours of frustration and will make sharpening enjoyable (instead of a chore).
I was confused by which grit stones I should buy. I talked with a lot of traditional woodworkers & read a lot of forums and finally decided on these:
I bought this set (click here) for around $225 which includes:
- Norton 220 Grit 1″x3″x8″ Waterstone (approx. $32)
- Norton 1,000 Grit 1″x3″x8″ Waterstone (approx. $49)
- Norton 4,000 Grit 1″x3″x8″ Waterstone (approx. $65)
- Norton 8,000 Grit 1″x3″x8″ Waterstone (approx. $90)
Moving up from 220 grit (lapping & minor grinding) all the way to an 8,000 grit polishing stone will give you a perfectly honed edge. They are wide enough for any hand plane iron/blade. And these 1″ thick stones will last you for years (the 8,000 grit will likely last you for the rest of your life) so don’t cringe at the high prices. Or you can just buy cheap junky sharpening stones (like I did) and get so frustrated that you eventually buy these waterstones. It’s your choice.
If you’re on a tight budget, Norton also sells two-sided stones (like this), but I find these limiting in getting a perfect edge.
Buy a Diamond Lapping Plate
For about two years I used sandpaper strips to flatten my waterstones. So frustrating. I burned through a ton of sandpaper and the grit continually gummed up the sandpaper. I got so frustrated that I finally broke down and purchased the fairly expensive DMT DIA-FLAT Lapping Plate (purchased here) for around $165. Being a frugal guy, this shows the great benefit of this tool. Now I can quickly and easily lap my waterstones flat, which is vital for properly sharpened chisels and hand planes.
Buy a Side Clamping Honing Guide
A simple and inexpensive honing guide is used to hold your chisel and plane iron in place for honing it on the waterstones. I have learned to love honing my hand planes free-hand, but I still use a honing guide for cambered plane irons and my chisels.
Most beginners should start out using a honing guide on hand plane irons as well. See my sharpening page for tutorials.
I purchased this Robert Larson Honing Guide and it has worked just fine for several years. Even higher end tool companies like Lie-nielsen only carry a $15 honing guide, so this one is fine. A lot of people like this Veritas MK II Honing Guide, but at $70 I’ve never felt the need to try it.
Supplies For Sharpening Handsaws
I’m not sure why anybody sends their saws off to be sharpened. It’s very easy and inexpensive to sharpen your own saws, and the non-machined imperfection that you create give a better saw cut. Chris Gouchner shares two really great videos on saw sharpening here and here. In the videos you’ll see all the items that I mention below.
Make or Buy a Hand Saw Vice
Ideally you should build your own wooden saw vice. Here is a nice video on building a traditional saw vice by hand:
Here’s another good free tutorial for building a saw vice: Lee Valley’s free saw vice tutorial
When I started out, my confidence level wasn’t high enough so I bought a vintage saw vice on ebay. It’s worked great so far!
You’ll notice that I drew guides on the saw to assist with sawing angles (above). The metal saw vices clamp onto a horizontal board or bench.
Buy Saw Files
I’m going to keep this simple, because it can get complicated. The number of teeth per inch (ppi) dictages the size of file you should buy. I’ve found that Lie-Nielsen has been the most reliable source for saw files. Here’s their chart:
I also recently discovered that Tools For Working Wood is now selling saw files here. I’m sure they’re also good. The prices are both comparable and pretty reasonable.
Buy a Bastard Mill File & File Jointer
You’ll need a bastard mill file and a file jointer to hold it. A few passes with this setup will enable you to bring all the saws teeth down to the same height. I purchased this inexpensive bastard mill file and this Veritas Jointer/Edger. And here’s an antique pair that I got in a lot purchase:
Buy a Handsaw Set
Adding “set” to handsaw blades, means using a tool to push the teeth one way or another to create a slightly wider “kerf” (saw track) and even cutting. It also prevents your saw from getting stuck in the kerf. A “Saw Set” is a simple, inexpensive, and mandatory saw sharpening tool. My recommendation is to purchase these two new very affordable saw sets (about $25 each), like I did:
- Course saw set (for panel saws & back saws with larger teeth: 4-12 points per inch)
- Fine saw set (for back saws with finer teeth: 13-27 points per inch)
They work amazing and are already in perfect condition. For a bit more money (unless you are lucky to find one in a flea market) you can look for a this popular vintage saw set: Stanley No. 42 saw set. There are some other vintage saw sets easily found on ebay.
But as you can see, my new saw sets don’t require refurbishing…that way I can spend my time refurbishing my saws rather than my saw sets:
Buy a Card Scraper Burnisher
A cabinet scraper (i.e. “card scraper”) gives one of the best finishes available (much better than sandpaper). You can find a video on my sharpening page (here). A burnisher is a steel rod used to create a folded micro edge. Don’t try to use a screw driver. Instead purchase a dedicated burnisher. I purchased this Crown Burnisher on Amazon (around $20) and have found it to be satisfactory. Compare prices with these on Highland Woodworking.
2. Non-Urgent Sharpening Supplies
Buy Ceramic files for Molding Plane Irons
If you plan on getting obsessed with molding planes (like me) then this would be an urgent sharpening accessory. Ceramic slip stones are the traditional tools for honing the bevels of molding plane irons.
I purchased this inexpensive Spyderco set on Amazon, which comes with 4 shapes and a leather pouch. I’ve found these files work just fine.
Other Non-Urgent Sharpening Supplies:
- Leather Strop & Compound (for ultra sharp honing)
- Saw File Holder (for aiding with filing angles)
- Axe Stone (for sharpening axe blades)
- Any others I’m missing? (email me!)
Check out my Tool Sharpening Pinterest Board:
Hand Tool Buying Guide Shortcuts:
- #1 Buying Guide: Workbench & Tool Storage
- #2 Buying Guide: Layout, Marking, & Measuring Tools
- #3 Buying Guide: Handplanes
- #4 Buying Guide: Handsaws
- #5 Buying Guide: Chisels
- #6 Buying Guide: Sharpening & Honing Supplies
- #7 Buying Guide: Mallets & Hammers
- #8 Buying Guide: Hand Drills, Braces, & Bits
- #9 Buying Guide: Tools for Curved Work
- #10 Buying Guide: Files, Rasps, & Sanding
- #11 Buying Guide: Fastening, Gluing, & Clamping
- #12 Buying Guide: Carving Hand Tools
- #13 Buying Guide: Tools for Green Woodworking