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