SHARPENING TOOLS: How To Get Razor-Sharp Tools in Minutes Without Sharpening Stones

UPDATED 2Jan2019: Sometimes the journey of becoming a skilled woodworker takes you down paths that didn’t seem important at first. Sharpening hand tools was one of those paths for me. Actually, there were two paths involved.

sharpening tools
Razor sharp chisel cleanly crosscutting the end grain of a basswood board. This is what a truly sharp chisel is capable of.

It all started when I got serious about woodworking in the early 1980s. There was a good woodworking program at my high school, but I noticed something strange. We were all taught what planes, chisels, carving gouges and knives were supposed to do, but none of these tools seemed capable of working like I expected them to. At first I thought this was my fault. “I just need to get better”, I told myself. But the funny thing was, none of these tools were working particularly well for anyone else in the class, either. Even the teachers weren’t getting great results.

Most people in the class gave up on the struggle of using hand tools once we were given access to power tools, but that didn’t make sense to me. “If hand tools are useless, how come I see all kinds of great woodworking that was made before power tools were invented? And besides, what do I do when I want good results and hand tools are the only way to make that happen?”

Eventually, I realized the obvious. Hand tools such as chisels, plane blades and knives really are useless unless they’re at least as sharp as a new razor blade. That’s when I knew that to reach my woodworking goals, I’d need to get good at sharpening. And to be honest, I really didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t afford power tools back then, so I had to make second-hand tools work for me.

Armed with white and black Arkansas oil stones, a honing guide and a leather strop, I learned to sharpen tools so they could shave hair cleanly. I was 16 years old then, and as happy as a young woodworker could be. Happy for a while, that is.

sharpening tools buffing
Steve Maxwell honing an antique chisel on a buffing wheel. An operation like this can make a dull chisel razor sharp in 60 seconds

The problem was how long it took to sharpen tools with stones and, conversely, how much it bothered me when a hard-earned edge got damaged and dull before it’s time.  Sharp edges seemed almost too precious to use, and this dissatisfaction led me on another quest that eventually brought me to where I am today. I  own and use lots of chisels, planes and knives in my shop, and I don’t even mind lending my best tools out to people that I know will return them dull. Why? Super-sharp edges are no longer all that precious to me. I can make them any time I want in just a few minutes. In fact, it usually takes me less time to hone an edge using my methods than it would take me just to drag the sharpening stones out onto my bench, lube them up, then get the honing guide adjusted. I still own my old sharpening stones, they still sit in the little wooden boxes I made for them. I can’t remember the last time I used them. It’s been decades.

Since the early-1980s I’ve sharpened all my edge tools on a buffing wheel setup I built in my shop. It’s simple, it uses a salvaged electric motor and it works so fast that I don’t even think about looking for a better alternative.  In fact, I don’t think there is one. How much better can it get than taking a chisel from dull to scary-sharp in as little as 60 to 90 seconds?

Over the years I’ve taught lots of people how to sharpen tools using my fast and effective buffing wheel methods at live, hands-on courses at woodworking shows. These days I do my teaching mostly online. Check out RAZOR SHARP, my downloadable video tool sharpening course. It covers my super-fast sharpening methods, and you’ll see why I’ve taken super-sharp woodworking tools for granted for a long time now. I keep the price on this course low – just enough to cover my costs for producing and hosting it – and it comes with a money-back guarantee. If you’re interested in upping your woodworking game, I know you’ll love this sharpening method. It makes woodworking way more fun because it makes sharp tools abundant.

BONUS: For January 2019, I’m offering two free bonuses to go with the RAZOR SHARP sharpening course – my EASY-BUILD TABLE PLANS & VIDEO COURSE, and my BUILD YOUR OWN WORKBENCH plans package. Both are selling now for $19 each, but I’m including them free with RAZOR SHARP this weekend. Click here to check it out.