The sharpest tool edges start with absolutely flat and finely polished blade backs — a fact overlooked by many novice and intermediate hand-tool users. At first glance, it would seem that the sharpening process begins and ends by sharpening and honing the beveled edge. But, there’s more to it than that. The back of the tool is equally important, because it’s the two intersecting surfaces of the blade back and opposing beveled edge that creates a razor sharp wedge used in cutting or slicing wood. The more carefully you tune that intersection, the sharper and more durable the edge.
In this comprehensive video tutorial, master artisan Craig Vandall Stevens clearly explains how to achieve the flattest of blade backs. For each tool, this process is performed perhaps only once in a lifetime. So why not enjoy it. Pull up a stool, pull out your favorite plane or chisel and polish away. It’s 20 minutes of quiet relaxation that will pay dividends for years to come. (11 Minute Woodworking Video)
Note: Craig’s sharpening tool of choice – ceramic sharpening stones by Shapton® (or he recommends the King brand of Japanese waterstones).
Ah, now I understand sharpening. I swear I can’t learn from those darn books! Thanks for this incredible website and for your guests. Craig is amazing in how he walks you through the process. Heck, I’m ready to go on a sharpening binge!
Wow. Best video on sharpening that I’ve ever seen.
I’d like to know how much pressure he uses and the pros/cons of more/less pressure.
Keith’s Note: I can’t speak for Craig, but typically, most will you use a moderate pressure. It’s more about moving through the progressively finer stones that really does the work. And since it takes a bit of time, you need to be able to consistently apply the pressure during the entire process. You shouldn’t get fatigued in the process or your ability to accurately work with the blade is hampered.
I agree with Nick. This is, by far, the most comprehensive on-line tutorial on sharpening that I’ve seen. Thanks Craig. One question that I have: If I only have enough money to buy two whetstones, what grits should I get?
Keith’s Note: It’s a luxury to have as many stones as Craig has, but I don’t think many would suggest only two stones. If forced to choose, I’d say perhaps you’d go with the 1200 and 6000 grit, Be aware that you’d be sacrificing the courser and quicker cutting stone(s) and lengthening the time and effort needed to sharpen your tools.
So clear,and consise. I am watching this video for the first time. Will try your method. In India we do not get stones in different grits, neither have I come across a diamond stone that levels other stones. Thanks Mr. Craig.
Thanks so much for the informative video! I’m brand new to handtools and decided to give this a go on two plane irons that I recently bought.
I started with 100 grit sandpaper, then 220 grit on glass. Then I moved up to 1000 and 6000 grit stones. The results weren’t that great – I wound up with a pretty polished back in some but not all parts of the iron (the edges along the sides of the blade were a bit darker and less polished). I have a few questions that I’m hoping you can help with:
1) If after you make it to the end of the progression and you realize that there are still some ‘cloudy’ areas, can one go back down to the 1000 grit or lower stones to perfect the back? I assume yes and that I will just have to work through the whole process again.
2) How can I avoid this happening again? What caused (the side edges of the blade, in particular) to not get as much wear as the middle of the blade – could it be unevenly applied pressure? Is there a trick to this that might make it easier and more uniform?
3) When reflattening the stones, I used 100 grit sandpaper on glass. I found that I had to constantly change the sandpaper – is this normal?
Really appreciate any thoughts you might have.
Keith’s Note: Craig, in this video, is pretty particular about his process and the results he is looking for. Don’t worry if you don’t achieve this level of perfection. You can still get good results from a close approximation to the standard that Craig sets. Relax and play around. If the chisel is cutting correctly for you, then you are headed in the right direction.
As for your question about the sandpaper wearing out – You might try a diamond plate to flatten your stones. The plate with last “forever”. It’s typical for sandpaper to wear quickly. This is expected.
Fantastic video, more detail by an excellent craftsman than I’ve seen anywhere. One thing I couldn’t understand, was why not flatten and polish a little more of the back of the blade while going through all the effort? Why just the 3/8 to 1/2 inch he refers to?
Keith’s Noted: Craig is interested in working only on the portion of the blade that is sharpened. There is little need to flatten the entire back. To attempt that would take considerably more effort.