Sharpening and Giving Hand Tools Fine Edges

The cutting edges of hand tools need to be kept sharp and honed. Apart from being more efficient, a sharp tool is far safer; it is the blunt tool that slips rather than biting into the wood.

Saw teeth are sharpened with files; knives, planes and chisels with an oil-stone; scissors with a slip-stone.

Planes and gouges

Sharpen plane blades and woodcarving gouges on an oil-stone as for chisels. Check the angles of the cutting edge of a plane with a protractor or use a honing guide. Sharpen the outer bevel of a gouge with a side to side movement on the oil-stone. Rub the inside with a tapered slip-stone.


Clamp the saw blade in a vice, teeth up, between two pieces of scrap wood positioned with their edges no more than 6mm below the teeth. Make sure that a long saw is clamped at both ends as well, to stop it whipping.

If sharpening a well-worn saw, look along the level of the teeth, or place a straight edge on them, to check that they are all the same length. If they are uneven, run a flat file down the length of the saw blade to level them.

Reshape the points with a triangular saw file. For a ripsaw first file the back of the teeth angled away from you. Start at the handle end of the saw, and with smooth, light strokes, keeping the file at right angles to the blade, work along the blade. When you reach the end, reverse the saw blade in the vice and sharpen the remaining teeth.

File a crosscut, panel or tenon saw in a similar way to a ripsaw, but angle the file across the blade at 60 to 70 degrees to sharpen the teeth leaning away from you first. Then reverse the saw blade to sharpen the other teeth.

To ensure the correct ‘set’ of the splay of the saw teeth, use a saw set. It is a small tool resembling pliers, with a head that adjusts to suit the size of the teeth. A dovetail saw does not have to be set.


Many craft knives are supplied with disposable blades, or with blades marked in sections that are snapped off in turn as they become blunt to expose a new cutting edge.

To sharpen a knife with a permanent blade, stroke both sides of the knife blade on an oil-stone, using a circular motion. Keep sharpening until the blade will slice cleanly through a sheet of paper held by its top edge. Finally strop the blade on a leather strap dusted with polishing compound.

Secure the strap at one end and pull it taut, then draw the knife down the strap, blunt edge towards you, with the cutting edge pressed against the strap. Turn the blade over and go back up the strap again, with the blunt edge away from you.

Drill bits

The angles on a drill bit are critical. If you plan to sharpen your own, use a sharpener that fits your electric drill and buy a drill sharpening guide from a tool shop. Most good tool shops will sharpen bits for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 − = six