What is Sharpening? And Tools for Sharpening

Sharpening is the process of grinding or polishing an edge onto a hard material for the purpose of cutting. 

Sharpening woodworking tools

The woodworker will sharpen a chisel to effortlessly cut wood. As a woodworker, I will sharpen my tools multiple times during my day. How often will depend on what I am doing? If I am chopping in a mortice I will be cutting against the grain which is harder on the chisel so it will require more sharpening than if I am paring with the grain. 

Henry taylor Diamic paring chisel 640 360 Best chisel sets for woodworking

Henry Taylor Diamic paring chisel

Other skills will sharpen their tools for other reasons for instance

  • A man may use a strop to sharpen a cut-throat razor so he can get a close shave.
  • A cook would sharpen a chopping knife so they can quickly prepare vegetables.
  • A hunter will sharpen a knife for the quick kill

Sharpening is a pastime

For centuries tools have been sharpened so artisans can perform various cutting tasks. From the first tools made of bone to present day where we use Hi-Tec materials or steels that have gone through specialist hardening and then sharpened.

There is a variety of different sharpening materials.

There is a huge array of different natural and manmade sharpening materials. Here are a few options available:

Oil Stones

Traditionally Oil stones have been the first choice for most woodworkers. My prefered choice because the oilstone is the sharpening tool I started out with also a good oilstone such as the Norton India is cheap and will last a very long time. Oil stones can be messy but if you keep a rag nearby you can quickly mop up any excess oil. Oil is used to lubricate the oilstone as a medium to transport any metal swarf away. 

what is sharpening?, plane iron in guide

Oil stones are the traditional Western stones that many people grew up using. These stones are made from one of three materials (Novaculite, Aluminum Oxide, or Silicon Carbide) and use oil for swarf (metal filing) removal.

  • Novaculite 
  • Aluminum Oxide
  • Silicon Carbide

Water stones

Fast cutting Waterstones are becoming very popular especially fabricated ones. Waterstone contains similar abrasives to an oil stone but the filler that bonds it together is much softer in the Waterstone. 

Water stones wear faster than oilstones

The softer filler or bonding agent wears away faster which exposes more abrasive during the sharpening process. 

A Water stone will become misshapen

You will need to use a flattening tool before every sharpening session

Will a Waterstone rust my tool?

Exposing any steel except stainless to water will corrode it. When using a Waterstone you should carefully dry your tools. There are sharpening liquids which do not rust your tools

Natural Water Stones

  • Natural Japanese water stones are quarried in Japan from sedimentary rocks containing a fine silica abrasive.
  • Natural Novaculite from Arkansas is another stone that contains high levels of Silica
  • Natural Belgium Blue but also Coticule stone is a clay bound volcanic ash with tiny abrasive Garnet crystals

What do you use to sharpen with?

Sharpening can be performed with a

  • sharpening stone
  • Waterstone
  • Diamond sharpener
  • Chefs steel
  • Leather strop
  • Sharpening system

Woodworkers are experts at sharpening!

An artisan who regularly works with wood will have developed expert sharpening skills. Woodworkers will use either their own manual skill to sharpen a tool on an oil stone. Sometime they will use sharpening AIDS. Sharpening AIDS or guides can help a novice woodworker to repeat the sharpening angle. Making it easy to produce a super sharp edge on their tools similar to the professionals.

How do you sharpen?

Leave it in the comments below

By Marcus Kett, Woodworking since 1989

head wood malcolm kett memorial

Malcolm the Boat ‘RIP’

Woodworking for me is in my blood as a son of a traditional boatbuilder. My Father Malcolm Kett was highly skilled and inventive individual often referred to as ‘Malcolm The Boat’.

selfie with mortar board

Marcus Kett and my Mortar!

Although I have spent a considerable portion of my life seeking further education and gaining qualifications in woodworking, electrical installations, bricklaying and to top it a degree in photography.

Yes, it is a medley of possible career choices but the one that I felt truly at home with was Woodworking. Woodworking has been my staple career choice that has given my family stability.

Why do I write these guides?

selfie workshop bio

Well that’s Me

We started to write these guides to help our customers. The idea was to provide the information needed to install our made to measure wooden products that we sell on this website and directly to our local customers.

We soon received feedback from people abroad and interested readers not local to us. I like to help people and I am excited that fellow woodworkers or keen DIYers found guidance in my articles. I intend to carry on writing and producing youtube videos for the purpose of providing useful content. Please share our blog with your friends and anyone that could find interest in the magic of working with wood.


I am happy to inform you that we have included some links to related products. If you decide to purchase any product we receive a modest commission from Amazon. This is not considered as our main income but any commission earned is used to provide more tutorials. I thank you for your support.

“As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.”

The content in this article is provided for free but we retain all copyright. We do encourage you to borrow this content but only if you cite us as the original content with a link to our site.

About Wallybois

wallybois mascot christmas

Wally is the middle one

We have lived and worked here in the Limousin Nouvelle Aquitaine since 2010, building window shutters and external doors. Our Volet manufacturing business is based at our home property as a ‘Cottage Industry’. We are a small business operating partly (60%) off the grid and try our best to practice our woodworking ethically.

How did we come up with the trading name ‘Wallybois’? Well, it is simple really, my best buddy ‘Wally’ and the fact that ‘Bois’ is French for wood and we live in France.

Please Comment

If you have any corrections or topics you think that we should add please leave a comment. If you think we deserve it a Share would be nice.

Thank You for visiting

By Marcus Kett, Woodworking since 1989

Based in the Nouvelle Aquitaine of France