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I’m looking to improve my sharpening technique when sharpening my hand plane blades and chisels. I use a Veritas honing jig and diamond stones and can get a nice edge that cleanly shaved the hairs on my arm.

Currently when sharpening I apply pressure on both the push and pull stroke and I’ve been wondering if this is the best approach.

When sharpening a blade when should I apply pressure to the blade (pull stroke, push, or both)?

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  • Further to one of the things I say in my Answer, are you happy with your edges and don't feel you need to look at something extra to take them up a notch? I became almost an exclusive user of diamond plates a few years, although I do usually strop to finish off the edges. I always strop chisels, but sometimes skip this step with plane irons.
    – Graphus
    Dec 6, 2021 at 20:57
  • I use a strop on both my chisels and my planes. I’m generally happy with my results since I got the Veritas honing jig and just looking for other things I can do to improve my process. I’m watching a lot of YouTube on the subject I noticed no one ever talked about push/pull. Dec 6, 2021 at 23:11
  • I stopped looking at sharpening vids regularly a number of years back once I got my technique dialled in so I could always be sure of a sharp edge (prior to that it could be hit or miss because I wasn't using a honing jig). Anyway, I am surprised you haven't come across any reference to push/pull, almost any "scary sharp" vid will at least have to make a passing reference to it. Others I'm less surprised there's no mention of it because they'll be using a media which doesn't care; if they don't say anything it may be that they sort of assume you know already... [contd]
    – Graphus
    Dec 7, 2021 at 15:19
  • ...or you can tell unequivocally from the demo that both are going on (you can usually see, and sometimes hear, if pressure is being applied equally in either direction). Three vids that I think might be worth you looking at just in relation to this are Paul Sellers's earliest sharpening video where I think he first demonstrated his diamond plates in use, this one from Crimson Custom Guitars and this one from Rex Krueger.
    – Graphus
    Dec 7, 2021 at 15:50
  • BTW the second and third aren't about sharpening with diamonds but I promise you this is not to make you question your choice! I think diamond plates, with or without stropping, are unquestionably the sanest choice for the modern woodworker because they can't dish and will sharpen anything, up to and including carbide if you need it to which some other media basically can't touch (you might get a shiny spot if you're lucky LOL).
    – Graphus
    Dec 7, 2021 at 15:51

2 Answers 2

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When sharpening a blade when should I apply pressure to the blade (pull stroke, push, or both)?

Yes :-)

This is one of those things where if you ask 10 woodworkers you might get 11 answers.

As you'll discover the more deeply you delve into sharpening (rabbit hole warning!) some of the supposed reasons for doing X and Y are merely Old Wisdom handed down unthinkingly from one generation to another, as a lot of modern mythbusting has shown conclusively — certain practices and proscriptive admonitions are just lore, they don't have any sound reasons behind them other than "it's the way my teacher/grandpappy always did it".

There is however a sound reason to only hone on the pull stroke1 with certain sharpening media, but diamond plates aren't one of those2.

Currently when sharpening I apply pressure on both the push and pull stroke and I’ve been wondering if this is the best approach.

Diamond plates are perfectly happy to cut equally on both the push and pull stroke, so just continue to do what you're doing if you're getting uniformly good results.

Remember in sharpening, as in a few other areas, results are what matter; how you got there is of lesser or no importance.


1 So you don't press downwards when pushing forwards, rock the tool back very slightly or lift off completely (as you do when stropping).

2 This applies to softer sharpening stones, both natural and synthetic, abrasive sheet material of some kinds and strops, where the tool has a tendency to or can be guaranteed to dig in on the push stroke.

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The general rule I've been taught is even pressure unless you are cutting a cambered profile into the tool.

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