Sharpening a handplane iron blade on oil stones with a hand plane in the background

Introduction to Buying Tool Sharpening Supplies

By Joshua Farnsworth

Having sharp hand tools is one of the absolutely most important aspects of traditional hand tool woodworking. But it can also be a real challenge, and often takes several years to really figure out the sharpening methods that you like best. There are so many ways to accomplish the same result. When I first got started in traditional woodworking I made the mistake of trying to buy the cheapest sharpening supplies, and I had to repurchase a lot of supplies. So below I’m going to tell you what you should buy and what you shouldn’t buy. Spend a little more money to buy the right sharpening tools upfront…you’ll save money this way. Having sharp tools is usually more important than having amazing tools. I’d rather cut a board with a razor sharp cheap saw than with a dull (or poorly sharpened) expensive saw. Ideally you can have great tools that are sharpened properly.

Below is a summary of the basic steps of sharpening edge tools and hand saws. This page won’t go into details on how to sharpen..refer to my hand tool sharpening page for sharpening tutorials.



The first part of sharpening edge tools (e.g. chisels & plane irons) is flattening the back so it will lead to an invisible (and sharp) edge. Lapping can be done on diamond plates, sandpaper, water stones, oil stones, etc. The key is to move from progressively course media to fine, so you end up with a flat, polished back. The entire back of an edge tool need not be polished, but just the first half inch or so. 


After lapping/flattening the back, next comes the establishment of the bevel with a grinder, sandpaper, or other sharpening systems like the Work Sharp sandpaper sharpener or  a wet grinding system (like these). Different bevel angles lead to different results. A low bevel angle is weaker, but works better for paring wood. A higher bevel angle is stronger, but doesn’t cut as well as a low angle bevel. 



After establishing the desired bevel angle, the next step is to refine and harden the edge with progressively finer waterstones, oil stones, or sandpaper until the edge disappears and the intersection between the back and bevel is razor sharp. After honing, you should be able to shave hair from your arm. 


Stropping a woodworking wood chisel on a leather stop

The last, optional step, after honing the edge is to get the sharpest edge possible using a leather strop, with fine buffing compound on leather. Woodworkers who are diligent about stropping every few minutes won’t have to return to their honing stones very often, if at all because the stropping keeps the edge from getting dull. 



The first part of sharpening hand saws is to use a file to level the tops of the handsaw teeth so they are all the same height. This step doesn’t have to be done every time someone sharpens their handsaws, but just when the saw is sharpened for the first time or after the teeth have become damaged or overused. 


After jointing the tops of the teeth, a woodworker shapes the tooth angles with appropriately sized triangular files. Rip teeth and Cross-cut teeth are sharpened at different angles, and more about tooth shape and tooth points can be learned in my handsaw buying guide (here).



After the saw teeth are shaped, a woodworker uses a special tool to set spread the teeth apart slightly so the teeth won’t bind up in cutting the saw kerf. Different uses of a handsaw and different tooth size require different amounts of set. Personal preference is also a determining factor in the amount of set on saw teeth.


Woodworker stoning saw teeth to reduce saw set in hand saw sharpening

The final step is to remove the burrs created when shaping the teeth, by lightly running a fine diamond stone along the face of the teeth. Test the sharpened saw teeth, and if the saw tracks to one side of a line, then run the stone along the edge that tracks. See details on our hand saw sharpening page (here). 


Tools for Edge Sharpening and Tools for Hand Saw Sharpening

On this page I’ll talk about which supplies you’ll need for sharpening woodworking edge tools, like chisels and handplanes. On the following page I’ll talk about which supplies you’ll use for sharpening woodworking handsaws.

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’ve tried a lot of different sharpening systems, and they all have pros and cons. And I use different sharpening systems depending on the situation, so I’ll mention some that works best for me.

Buy an Edge Grinding System

Establishing a correct angle for the job at hand is of upmost importance when sharpening edge tools (like handplanes and chisels). There are different ways to establish an angle, but my favorite sharpening process starts out on a slow speed bench grinder with special wheels (like white aluminum oxide wheels) that don’t heat up as much as traditional grinder wheels.  However, you can overheat the edge of your chisels and handplane irons even with these special wheels. Regularly quenching your hot edge tool in water or peanut oil is essential. You can even grind your edge tools on a cheap normal wheel as long as you quench often enough. Slow speed grinders and cooling wheels just require less quenching. Just make sure that you regularly dress (or flatten) your wheels (pictured below).  I use a diamond wheel dresser to accomplish this. I purchased this inexpensive dresser on Amazon and it has worked just fine for me and other woodworkers that I know.

The tool rests that come with grinders are not really versatile, but I don’t mind them. Some people take them off and replace them with something like the Veritas Grinder Tool Rest (pictured below). It’s a very popular tool rest and I like mine. The angle is simple to adjust. You can purchase it here. But it isn’t necessary to start grinding. But my new favorite grinder tool rests will be mentioned below.

The Vertitas Grinding Jig (sold separately) leaves a bit to be desired as far as I’m concerned. It is supposed to allow you to  clamp your edge tool in it’s jaws, and then keep your grinding square by sliding back and forth in the tool rest. But it doesn’t really work well for me. It’s like training wheels when you’re learning to ride a bike. It kind of keeps you from messing up, but it never seems to give great results. I just use a square and a fine tip sharpie marker to mark a square edge, then set the tool rest perpendicular to the wheel, and grind a flat, straight edge, and then reset the tool rest to my desired angle (usually 25 degrees) and grind the bevel until the tiniest of flat exists. This will then be honed away.

Here are some good 8-inch slow speed bench grinders.  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 80-150 grit. Perhaps the best wheels for cool grinding are these 80 grit Norton blue grinding wheels.

Sharpening a hand plane iron on a hand crank grinder with sparks

Vintage hand crank grinders (like these vintage grinders on Ebay) are another fantastic option for grinding an edge, and are affordable and 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. Here and here you’ll find some good articles on choosing antique hand crank grinders. Before you buy a vintage hand grinder, make sure the seller has a good return policy, and that they can confirm that the hand crank grinder has good gears and functions properly.

Bill Anderson sharpening a hand plane iron on a hand crank grinder with sparks

My new Favorite Bench Grinder system: Wolverine Grinding System with VARI-GRIND jig

Wolverine Grinding System with VARI-GRIND jig sharpening a detail spindle gouge for woodturning

Last year I found an amazing jig system for grinding bevels on my woodturning tools and my edge tools.  It’s the “Wolverine Grinding System with VARI-GRIND jig”. This system, when accurately mounted under each grinding wheel allows much more simple grinding of detail spindle gouges and roughing gouges (for woodturning). It also has a tool rest for skew chisels and normal edge tools, like handplane irons and chisels. I have removed my Veritas jig in favor of this new setup, and have really enjoyed it.

Wolverine Grinding System with VARI-GRIND jig sharpening a skew chisel for woodturning

I’ve found that the best price for purchasing this grinding system is on Amazon for around $140, and you can find it here. You can read more about this setup on my Woodturning Tools guide (here).

If you are on a budget and want to start off with a more “affordable” sharpening system, then you can start off with using sandpaper on a flat surface, like plate glass, MDF, granite, or Melamine shelving (the latter being my preferred base).  This will work for both flattening the backs of edge tools and establishing the bevel. Simply attach the sandpaper grits to the flat surface (spray adhesive if you’re using melamine) and for this first grinding stage, use course sandpaper (I like 60 or 80 grit belt sander paper) and an affordable honing guide set to the angle you want to achieve (see below for more details on honing guides). Then progress through finer grits until you have a fine edge. You can find many free tutorials online for this method of sandpaper sharpening. The only problem is that it can be very costly in the long run. However, if you make a leather strop, and are diligent with keeping your edge super sharp, then you won’t have to return to grinding or honing steps very often, and your sandpaper cost won’t skyrocket.

worksharp ws 3000 sharpening a molding plane iron

Some other edge grinding systems include a wet grinding system (like this Tormek sharpening system). I haven’t used a system like this, so I can’t give an honest opinion, but a couple friends of mine say that it is painfully slow for them, and extremely expensive. I’m always in a hurry, and I’m cheap, so I haven’t explored this option.

Buy an Edge Honing System

Honing a plane iron on an oil stone

Over the years I have spent a lot of time researching and testing different sharpening & honing methods, and have altered and changed my methods several times. And sometimes I use different methods and systems, depending on the situation I’m in (e.g. sharpening tools for a furniture project vs. sharpening dozens of tools for a class).

I have finally come up with a honing system that works well for me, and may be helpful for other traditional woodworkers. I would be arrogant to suggest that any parts of my sharpening system should be used by everyone. It works for me and my workflow, but may not work for everyone. But I hope it’s helpful to you.

In the above grinding section I mentioned sandpaper sharpening (both on the Work Sharp and with sheets of sandpaper on a flat surface), and how you can move from course grits to fine grits. I won’t discuss it again in this section, since the only difference between the grinding stage and the honing stage is just the grit of the paper. I’ll focus this section predominantly on honing stones:

  1. Water Stones
  2. Oil Stones
  3. Diamond Stones

Pointing finger vertical

1. Waterstones for Sharpening:

Waterstones are a synthetic brick of grit that breaks free easily to allow grit to accumulate in your wet slurry and provide fast honing of your woodworking tools. Waterstones are my honing stone of choice. Waterstones cut faster than any other honing stones, and they provide a mirror polish. The downsides are that you have to soak the stones (except for the dense 8000 grit polishing stone) and you need to flatten them quite often. But I now keep a bucket of water nearby, and sharpen with these waterstones in a $5 drywall mud tub (like this) so this wet process is a lot more convenient than it used to be.

Woodworkers can get confused when deciding which grit waterstones they should buy. From my experience and from talking with other woodworkers, these are the grits that I recommend for waterstones: This set of 4 waterstones (click here) runs about $225 which includes:

Moving from 220 grit all the way to an 8,000 grit polishing stone will give you a perfectly honed edge. The 220 grit stone isn’t necessary, but is very convenient for lapping and minor grinding. These stones are wide enough for any hand plane iron (i.e. blade). And these 1-inch 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 too hard at the high  prices. Handplane expert Bill Anderson told me that he still has his waterstones that he purchased 25 years ago, after using them extensively!

If you’re on a tight budget, Norton also sells two-sided stones (like this), although the honing process will take a longer, and it will be harder to get the 1000 grit scratches out with the 8000 grit stone. A 4000 grit stone is a nice transition to remove the scratches from the 1000 grit before final polishing on the 8000 grit stone.

A word of warning: don’t by cheap waterstones, like this terrible double-sided $47 waterstone. I decided to test it out to see if I could recommend a more affordable stone, but discovered that it didn’t really  have a 6,000 grit side at all…just a thin 6000 grit veneer that wore away after several honings. Please trust me when I tell you that having nice honing stones, like those mentioned above, will save you hours of frustration and will make sharpening enjoyable (instead of a chore).

2. Oil stones for Sharpening: