Hand Tools - Sharpening with Japanese Ceramic Stones

Blade and Honing Guide


I am a happy man! I have discovered a great regime for sharpening my plane irons and chisels. I use a honing guide, a simple Eclipse type one that costs about a thousand rupees. It takes just a few seconds to fit a blade and the results are consistent and repeatable. I find that if I use the same honing guide and the same angle on a particular blade, the bevel presented to the stone is consistent and requires very little effort to re-sharpen.

My regime requires the use of three moderately expensive Japanese ceramic stones:
the Sigma Power 400 grit (Rs 2900), Sigma Power #1000 (Rs 2200) and a Naniwa Ebi #8000 (Rs 3400). The prices quoted are for stones from toolsfromjapan.com and exclusive of shipping charges.

I follow this procedure for maintenance sharpening:
1. Fit the blade in a honing guide
2. Do initial honing on #400 stone to raise a burr. About 100 strokes.
2. Refine edge on #1,000 stone - 50 strokes
3. Polish edge on #8,000 stone - about 25 strokes

And Voila, the blade is super sharp once again.
Max time 5 minutes.

Japanese Ceramic stones: Sigma Power #1000 (left), Sigma Power #400 (Centre) and Naniwa Ebi #8000 (Right)

The key to this is the Sigma Power 400 stone which cuts like the devil and is way faster than diamond stones or sandpaper. The Sigma stones work exceptionally well with India made plane blades and the harder Chrome Vanadium chisel steels. Indian plane irons are usually if not exclusively made of EN42 steel, also popularly known as Spring steel. It takes forever to sharpen Spring steel blades on sandpaper and Diamond plates too are not great at taking down this steel either. Sigma Power appears to have been designed to wear down this steel in no time at all. It is a marvellous piece of work and hugely reduces sharpening time and encourages me to keep my blades razor sharp. It's so easy.

The downside is the cost - buying the three stones will cost about Rs 10,000. Not a small sum to drop on sharpening supplies. But for the serious woodworker there are few alternatives. Sandpaper in the long run is extremely expensive and so are Diamond stones. Clearly there is a cost for maintaining super sharp blades.

However, the 8,000 grit polishing stone could easily be left out of the equation without significantly reducing the final sharpness, which I suspect comes mainly from the #400 and #1,000 stones. The #8,000 stones gives a mirror finish to the bevel and produces a fine edge that is supposed to last longer than one created by lower grit stones. But the #8,000 is not essential and one can get very good results with just the first two stones.

Local Indian carpenters get by with a Rs 180 stone - one could go that route and add a strop with polishing compound. I have, however, tested the sharpness of those blades and the ones sharpened with Japanese ceramic stones; there is really no comparison. Local carpenters use a lot of forces while planing and chiselling which is completely unnecessary if the blades are super sharp. There is also the question of the final quality of a planed surface. The grit at which a blade is honed at will determine the smoothness of the planed surface - no question as it is a direct relationship.

Thin shavings can arise only out of the mouth of a super sharp plane

In other words, if someone is going to invest in hand tools for woodworking, I would advise they keep the number of tools to a minimum but spend on good sharpening stones.

It is better to have just three or four hand planes (Jack, Jointer, Smoother and Block) and about 6 chisels of different widths and a set of good stones. It is worth it if you can stop work and re-sharpen for just 5 minutes and then get back on the job.

I have been flattening small 15 inches square panels in between other work and my sharp planes are a huge help. They are quick, clean and satisfying. Nothing like a good sharpening regime!

Indranil Banerjie
11 October 2017

Comments

  1. Sir, how do you keep these stones flat? Are these stones better than diamond plates?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the stones have to be flattened. Diamond stones of a relatively low grit are often used for flattening but a thick piece of float glass with 400 grit sandpaper glued on works well. As for these stones being better than diamond stones, I cannot say for sure since many woodworkers find diamond stones to be very effective. Perhaps diamond stones work very well with the O1, A2 and similar steels used in good quality Western tools. I should not try to assert what is better; but my experience suggests that this combination of Japanese ceramic stones works wonders for me.

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  2. Getting a sharpened edge is a relief indeed for me which I realized after my initial struggle through various options I was following from Jan this year. I use sigma power #400,#1000,#6000 and #13000. I use #400 primarily for correcting geometry and first time grinding and back flattening. On subsequent resharpening I do my secondary bevel on 1000 through 13k.
    #400 is indeed a mater class stone by sigma power which I have tested through a wide range of tool steel which includes anant,shobha, local laminated/non laminated,narex and vintage steel made of O1. It supersede any other system I have tried including DMT.
    Resharpening from 1000 through 6000 produces a pristine edge which reflects like mirror, which I think should be enough I but take it through 13000 as well(as I have that) and my edge tool literally talks in my language and obeys exactly what I want.
    Sharpness is really the key...

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  3. The beauty about your articles are the 'specifics', what tool, where to buy etc .. its easy to get lost in overflowing information in the net. I have ordered few tools from toolsfromjapan, currently the status says 'Presented to customs'. Not sure how much hassle one has to go through getting these items from customs, you seem to have imported many tools from toolsfromjapan, may I know how was the experience once the shipment reaches India?

    Thanks, Rajan

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    Replies
    1. My experience with Customs hasn't been too bad although a couple of years ago I did have a harrowing time when one packet of stones was held up. I had to visit the Customs office in New Delhi to get it cleared. Generally, Customs is not a problem and if Customs duty is applicable on a shipment, your local postman will charge you the amount at the time of delivery. The system is way better today than it used to be.

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  4. Hello Mr. Banerjie, I happened to stumble upon your blog by googling for Indian woodworking. I am no woodworker, and the only experience I can claim of woodworking is cobbling together a chicken coop and a shoe rack. I was just wondering if it is really required to get those low grid japanese stones. I thought low grid stones were only to get meaterial off, to get a working bevel, which can easily be done with those cheap Indian stones that you mentioned. I assumed it was only for those razor edged sharpness that expensive stones were required. But like I said, I know nothing of woodworking. And regarding those local stones, any idea what grid they are? They dont mention any grid in the stone or the package.

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    Replies
    1. You are quite right in saying that local carborundum stones could be used for getting a working bevel; it will only take longer and an additional problem is that local stones these days are rarely flat which could damage the geometry of the blade. As for the grit, I believe it is 120 and 320.

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    2. Ok. I am eyeing a dual sided 1000/3000 japanese water stone on amazon India, hope that will be good enough to get me started. I'm looking forward to building myself a decent workbench, but the problem is that I cant find any decent seasoned wood. All I get is freshly milled green wood. Any suggestions?

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    3. Sorry, I seem to have missed this question of yours. Yes, the 1000/3000 waterstone should be good but may be a problem if it is the six inch variety which would make it difficult to easily work on plane blades. As for wood, it will depend on where you live. Seasoned wood is widely available but you need to connect with a honest timber trader.

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  5. I have followed ur previous blogs on sharpening and I ordered 3 dmt diamond stones. While it was far better than local sharpening stones, I was little disappointed with the result. Also I ordered 6 inch stones which are very inconvenient for sharpening plane blades. So I was slightly disappointed with the hype arround dmt stones . Now I am relieved with this latest finding and I am inching to buy a Japanese stone. Now my question sir is whether I have to buy all three stones or buying only 400 and 8000 stones and along with my existing diamond stone 1000 grit would work ? I want to buy all three but again investing another 10k just for diy seems little unjustified at moment.

    Thanks
    Subhrajit

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    Replies
    1. Subhrajit, I can understand your frustration with diamond stones as they aren't really magical. Also, as you have discovered, the six inch stones are not right for plane blades. I find diamond stones great for re-sharpening my blades. They do this very well - also let me tell you that diamond stones get faster after they have been used a bit. Also, there is no need to constantly flattenthem. As for Japanese ceramic stones, they are very fast particularly with the harder chrome vanadium and spring steel types so commonly used in India. If you want speed you would need the 400 and 1000 stones. You could skip the higher grit stone and use a leather strop with a suitable polishing compound. Best of luck.

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    2. Thank you very much sir for the lightning fast response !! I have seen sharpening videos where at the end they were able to get razor sharp edge which was cutting papers as well as removing body hairs like an actual razor. I was thinking of buying that 8000 one because with my Diamond stone 1000 grit I was not able to get that kind of result. Can you please let me know if with 1000 grit japanese stone , is it possible to achieve that ? I don't have a sharpening side , so should I get that first ? More than wood working , I am somehow more of a sharpening freak , So I am excited to get result equivalent to whatever they are getting in the youtube videos :)

      Thanks
      Subhrajit

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    3. What do you mean by "I don't have a sharpening side , so should I get that first ? " I didn't get it. As for achieving razor sharp edge capable of shaving hair, yes, you can get it with a 1,000 grit stone and some stropping on leather with a polishing compound.

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    4. Sorry my bad, I should have checked spelling properly before posting. I was trying to type sharpening/ honing guide. I am basically trying to learn free hand sharpening.
      Thanks again for you kind response.

      Regards
      Subhrajit

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    5. Get a honing guide and make your life easier!

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