Sharp, sharper, sharpest

Sharp, sharper, sharpest

Sharp tools are an absolute prerequisite to accurate cabinet making. Everyone knows this. I have not just set the world alight with this fantastic insight, but it does need to be said. In fact, it needs to be said every day by every student and every cabinet maker. It’s all very well sharpening your tools, but the trick is to never let them go dull. And it is maintaining this sharpness that ensures everything you make is made to perfection.

The basic tools we use for ensuring our hand tools remain sharp (specifically hand planes, chisels, and marking knives) are a Tormek water cooled sharpening system (other systems are available), and a pair of Japanese water stones, 800 grit and 6,000 grit, with a Nagura stone. They’re nothing fancy and readily available. But, of course, the trick is not just to buy the right products. You have to use them too!

It is not easy to explain how we sharpen our blades but, in general, you can’t go far wrong with a 25 degree bevel machined on the Tormek. And then a slightly higher angle to hone using the two stones, first with the 800, then the 6,000. The Nagura stone creates an abrasive slurry on the 6,000 grit stone to help abrade the blade. First, you create a clean bevel on the Tormek, then hone on the 800 until you can feel a burr on the underside of the blade. Next, flatten off the burr and repeat with the 6,000 grit stone. And remember, practice makes perfect.

The rules

At Rowden, we have three basic guidelines to help us understand when a blade might need sharpening, being the earlier of:

  1. If you’ve been using blade more or less constantly for 45 minutes.
  2. When you start to get a niggling doubt in your mind that maybe the blade needs sharpening.
  3. If you’ve not used a blade for a while. Check its edge. and if any light can be seen reflecting off the honed edge then it’s time.

Simple as that.

Until next time,



David established Rowden Atelier in 1995, a now world renowned fine woodworking school. Discover Rowden, the woodworking courses, and the work that students go on to do.

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