The 2014 Anarchist’s Gift Guide: Day 6

I have owned several plant sprayers since Harrelson Stanley of Shapton USA introduced them to me in 2003 as a great way to keep your waterstones wet. Of all the sprayers I’ve used, this sub-$10 one from Home Depot or Lowe’s is by far the best. It’s sold under the “Project Source” label and is found in the gardening section. (Definitely skip the nicer-looking Flo-Master – that thing leaks like […]

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The Monogamy has Ended

When I teach people to sharpen edge tools, I am very much an “I’m OK, you’re OK” guy about the kinds of systems out there and whether you should use jigs or not. But there is one thing I’m all fire and waterstones about: Stick with one system until you know it – at least 12 months. I call it “sharpening monogamy.” I also practice “saw monogamy” and the regular […]

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Wicked Sharp

Wicked Sharp

For the ultimate edge, use a leather strop.

By Alan Turner

I have a special set of chisels that I only use for paring. To do a good job, they have to be wicked sharp— and stay that way. My secret weapon isn’t a fabulously expensive honing stone. It’s a cheap, homemade strop.

I use these chisels a lot when I’m cutting dovetails (Photo 1). Whenever a chisel feels the least bit dull, I renew its edge on the strop. This only takes a moment, but the results are dramatic. When I pare end grain, for example, I routinely get tissue-thin shavings, not dust. I use the strop quite often, so I store it right next to my chisels (Photo 2).

A strop is a very simple device. It’s just a thick piece of fi rm leather, about 2-3" wide, glued to a block (see Sources, below). The leather is charged with a thin layer of 0.5 micron honing compound (see Sources). A strop will serve you for many years: The leather won’t wear out, and one stick of compound is probably all you’ll ever need to buy.

Here’s how to make one. Cut the leather about 10-12" long, then cut a board slightly wider and longer than the leather. Spread a thin layer of yellow glue onto the board and place the leather on the board (Photo 3). Clamp a second board on top of the leather to keep it fl at. After the glue dries, use your tablesaw to trim the block fl ush with the leather. Next, apply a thin coat of mineral oil to the leather (Photo 4) and rub on some honing compound (Photo 5). Your strop is ready to go.

Before I explain how to use the strop and describe what it does to an edge, let’s return to my set of paring chisels. They’re made of high-quality steel, so they can hold a thin edge. (A chisel with a low angled bevel requires less effort to push when paring than one with a steep-angled bevel.) I grind these chisels at 20°, then hone on 500, 2000 and 8000 grit Shapton waterstones. I don’t use a guide. Instead, I rock the chisel on the stone until I feel both the bevel’s heel and toe contact the surface. Then I start honing, maintaining that angle, until I feel a wire edge on the back of the chisel. I remove the wire edge on the 8000 stone.

Next, I go to the strop. Again, I rock the chisel to find the bevel, press hard, then pull the chisel backwards down the strop. I repeat this process three or four times, making sure I maintain the bevel’s original angle. I also strop the chisel’s back (Photo 6).

What does the strop do? It polishes the edge—making it sharper; and slightly rounds over the edge— making it stronger. I’m convinced that a stropped edge lasts longer than an edge that’s only been honed. It’s amazing!

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Paring end grain requires an extremely sharp edge. When my chisel feels a bit dull, I go right to the strop to restore its edge.

2. My strop lives on the wall next to my bench, always ready to go. Stropping a chisel takes less than a minute.

3. To make a strop, glue a thick, stiff piece of leather to a block. MDF makes an ideal block—it’s very flat and stable.

4. Prepare the strop by applying a light coat of mineral oil. Work it into the leather—you only have to do this once.

5. Rub honing compound onto the strop. The compound lasts a long time—I only recharge the strop every 3 months or so.

6. Strop the back of your chisel, as well as the bevel. Hold the chisel flat on the strop, so you don’t round the edge, and pull it back.


Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

Tandy Leather Factory,, 817-872-3200, Natural Cowhide Leather Strap, 2-1/2" W x 50" L, #4575-00.

Lee Valley,, 800-871-8158, Veritas Honing Compound, #05M08.01.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April/May 2011, issue #153.

April/May 2011, issue #153

Purchase this back issue.



The Church of ‘Leave me Alone, Please’

During the last 17 years that I have been using a honing guide to sharpen, I’ve been approached (sometimes nearly assaulted) by people who want to teach me to sharpen freehand. My response: “I sharpen freehand all the time.” They don’t believe me, and so they spend an hour or so to show me how they hone their edges. Then they want me to try their technique and say: “That’s […]

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A Place to Call ‘Hone’

When I think of all the things that improved my sharpening skills, two things loom large. No. 1 is practice, of course, but close behind that is a dedicated sharpening tray. About 14 years ago I built a shallow tray from scrap plywood, nails and glue. No fancy joinery, no water-resistant materials and no finish. The tray sat beside my bench and contained all my sharpening mess, keeping it off […]

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Foolproof Scraper Sharpening

Foolproof Scraper Sharpening

Make shavings like a pro with our new sharpening method.

By Tom Caspar

Scraping is quiet and efficient. It’s perfect for removing milling marks and shallow tear-out. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw John Erickson, the woodworker I apprenticed with, scrape a piece of walnut. How could a mere piece of steel work so quickly? John didn’t have to go through five grits of sandpaper to get a smooth surface. He’d take a board right from the jointer, scrape a few strokes, lightly sand with the finest paper, and that was it!

I was only a young apprentice in his shop. When it came time for me to sharpen my own scraper, all I got was dust, not those long shavings John made. How did he do it?

Although the old man never shared his sharpening system with me, I’ve developed my own approach using some modern twists. The best thing about it is that anyone can get great results. Once you get the hang of it, you can put a fresh edge on a scraper in five minutes, tops. All you need is some basic sharpening equipment, the world’s simplest jig (a plain stick with one beveled side), a vise on the front of your bench and the patience to take the process one step at a time.

What you need

The Scraper

A card scraper is a rectangular piece of flat steel. Like a handsaw blade, the steel is soft enough to be filed, but hard enough to hold an edge. Scrapers have four cutting edges shaped like miniature hooks. The hooks are almost too small to see, but you can feel them with your fingers.

In the steps that start on page 4, we only tackle the top side of the scraper, making two cutting edges. To sharpen all four edges, flip over the scraper and repeat each step on the bottom side.

Click any image to view a larger version.

The Sharpening Kit

File. The handiest tool is a 10-in. combination mill file with a built-in handle. The double-cut side of the file has two crisscrossed rows of teeth for fast stock removal. The single-cut side has a single row of teeth. This side cuts slower but leaves a smoother surface. Actually, any 8- or 10-in. mill file will work, as long as it’s sharp.

Honing Paddle. A diamond paddle cuts fast and stays flat. You can substitute a slipstone or small oilstone, but they’re slower and score too easily. An extra-fine grit paddle is best, but a fine will work.

Burnisher. A burnisher is nothing more than a hardened and polished 3/8-in.-dia. steel rod. Most come with a handle, but you really don’t need one.

File Card. A file card cleans your file. If you don’t routinely clean your file, metal debris caught in the file’s teeth will put deep scratches on a scraper’s edge.

Oil. Honing oil lubricates the burnisher. Household oil (such as 3 IN 1) works, too, but leaves your hands smelly. See Sources, below, for information on where to buy these items.

The Jig

This beveled stick is all you need to hold the file, honing paddle and burnisher at the correct angles.

Flatten the Dull Hooks

Stroke the burnisher back and forth over each edge of a dull scraper. Smear a few drops of oil on the burnisher first, then press down lightly and rub until you no longer feel a hook. Two or three passes should do it. Hold the burnisher flat on the scraper, or lean it over the edge, as shown.

Remove the Dull Edge

Push the coarse, double-cut side of the file down the full length of the scraper. Removing lots of metal is the key to success. Hold the scraper in a vise. Ride the knuckles of your hand along the benchtop to steady the file at about 90 degrees. You don’t have to be precise, just aggressive. Don’t drag the file back over the scraper on the return stroke, though, or you’ll prematurely dull the file.

Test for Sharpness I

Feel for a very small ridge of excess metal on both sides of the scraper. This ridge is called a wire edge. Pay special attention to the center section of the scraper, where it’s the dullest. If you feel a wire edge here, move on to Step 4. If you don’t, go back to Step 2.

Remove the Wire Edge

Hone both sides of the scraper with the diamond paddle. Hold the paddle so most of its face is riding on the scraper’s side. Hone back and forth until you no longer feel a wire edge. It should only take a few strokes. Wipe the paddle on a damp rag to keep it clean and cutting efficiently.

Caution: Hold the paddle carefully so you don’t cut your fingers on the scraper’s sharp edge.

Level the Scraper with the Jig

Adjust the scraper in the vise so the full length of its top edge feels even with the jig stick. Make sure the beveled side of the stick faces away from the scraper.

File the Edge Square

File the edge again, this time using the finer, single-cut side. Support the end of the file with the jig stick. This guarantees that you’ll make a 90-degree edge. Keep filing until you feel a faint wire edge on both sides, just like in Step 2.

Pushing the file at about 120 degrees is called draw-filing. This produces a smoother edge than pushing the file in line with the edge, as shown in Step 2.

Hone the Edge Square

Support the honing paddle with the jig stick to maintain a perfect 90-degree edge. Then hone both sides of the scraper, as shown in Step 4. Alternate honing the sides and the top four or five times. This is the only way to completely remove the wire edge.

Test for Sharpness II

Check the edge to make sure it’s sharp. Pull your thumbnail across the center and both ends of the scraper. If you see small shavings, and the center feels as sharp as the ends, you’re ready to go on to the next step. If not, repeat Step 7.

Caution: The edge and corners are very sharp!

Bend the Hook In

Burnish the edge into a concave shape. Remove the scraper from the vise and lubricate the burnisher with a few drops of oil. Then lean the burnisher about 5 degrees and stroke it back and forth over the scraper’s edge three or four times. Press hard with your thumb directly over the edge. Flip the scraper over and burnish the other side.

Bend the Hook Out

Bend the cutting hook using the jig stick as a guide. Clamp the scraper back in the vise so it’s level with the lower edge of the stick’s bevel. Push the burnisher back and forth four or five times, applying hard pressure.

When you’re done with one hook, place the jig stick on the other side of the scraper and repeat to form the second hook. As you gain experience in burnishing, you’ll find that you won’t need a guide to get the angle right.

Try it out

Bend the scraper to stiffen the cutting edge. Place your thumbs near the bottom edge and pull back the ends with your fingers. Lean the scraper forward and push with your thumbs. It may take a bit of experimentation to figure out how much lean you’ll need to make full-fledged shavings.


Re-sharpening a Dull Scraper

When you’ve worn out all four edges of your scraper and all you get is dust, not shavings, it’s time to reburnish the edges. Chances are the hooks aren’t dull, but simply bent back. To re-form the hooks with your burnisher, repeat Steps 9 and 10. This usually works two or three times, but eventually the hooks get worn away and can’t be re-formed. Then it’s time to get out the file and start from the beginning.


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Woodcraft,, 800-225-1153, Sandvik card scraper, #02Z08; Honing oil, #07D10.

Hock Tools,, 888-282-5233, Burnisher, #BR375., 866-835-5643, 8" Nicholson Handy File #06601; File card #22284;

EZE-LAP,, extra-fine honing paddle, #LSF.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker September 2003, issue #102.

September 2003, issue #102

Purchase this back issue.



A Trickier Ruler Trick for Router Planes

A Trickier Ruler Trick for Router Planes

Sharpening router plane blades can be no fun. For years now, I’ve made things easier for myself by honing the flat back of the iron through the grits and then removing the “burr” from the bevel with a polishing stone. This is way faster than trying to hone and polish the bevel while it is … Read more »

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Shut up and Sharpen

I make it a point to avoid blogging about sharpening. It is the simplest thing to do that is made confusing by too much talk and too many commercial products. I honestly do not care how you sharpen your tools. If you can get a zero-radius intersection and then polish the two surfaces, then you … Read more »

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Sharpening Angles for Dullards

The most embarrassing jig I’ve ever owned has been photographed, measured and pondered more than any single piece of fine furniture I’ve built. It’s a stupid little block of wood with stops on it for many common sharpening angles I use with my side-clamp honing guide – sometimes called the “Eclipse” guide because that was … Read more »

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Arno Burnisher: The One True No-fail Burnisher

Arno Burnisher: The One True No-fail Burnisher

Sometimes it’s not you. Sometimes, it is the tool that is causing the problem – especially if we are talking about burnishers. The following scene has been repeated so many times during the last seven years that it is beginning to feel like “Groundhog Day” for me. Woodworker: I can’t turn a hook on a … Read more »

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