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Basic Sharpening Kit for Guitar Making

The tools of the traditional country chairmaker were few and simple, in keeping with the technology of the time.

Jack Hill, Jack Hill's Country Chair Making, 1993

Sharpening tools is a personal thing, you discover what works for you.

Many years ago, more than I care to count, I sharpened everything on those wonderful, good old fashioned Carborundum dual sided stones.

I miss the smell of the "4-in-1" oil/kerosene mix I used to lubricate the stone, that gritty sound of high carbon metal on silicon carbide. I spent 10 minutes at least to raise a wire edge on plane blade, and then another ten minutes stropping the edge of that plane iron on an old razor strop heavily charged with jewelers rouge.

If I had to today, I'd go back to those stones, for general wood working and traditional green wood working there is nothing wrong with them.

I used sand paper stuck to thick plate glass for about 10 years, but I got tired of driving the 40 miles to the nearest paint store that carried 800 to 2000 grit wet/dry sand paper. Did I mention buying sand paper every 2 weeks got old?

Then I tried Japanese synthetic water stones, and I spent good money on them. How did I like them? I traded them to Terry Kelly for a vintage Atkins panel saw. I know I got the better end of the swap.

DiaSharp Stones, a Lee Valley MKII honing guide and 1500 grit wet/dry sandpaper

When I was a historic preservation carpenter for the National Park Service at Yosemite National Park, there was a set of DMT sharpening stones locked in one of the shop cabinets. I quickly fell in love with them. Why? They cut quickly and they were the only stones in the shop that could sharpen the Barr slicks that we used. Every summer, I would put on a sharpening demonstration, for new seasonal workers and interns, with those DMT stones and sharpen a new plane iron to razor sharpness in less than five minutes.

My opinion, as a professional historic preservation carpenter, is that those DuoSharp stones are some of the best sharpening stones on the market. Period.

For my own shop, I bought a fine and an extra fine DMT brand DiaSharp stones from Lee Valley. God, I love them. They cut quickly, all I need to do after sharpening is to hone the cutting edge on some 1500 and 2000 grit wet/dry sand paper, then follow up on a piece of typing paper charged with jewelers rouge. Nice and simple.

Using a General brand six inch ruler to flatten the back of a plane iron

Several years ago I read an article by Dave Charlesworth about how to sharpen hand tools. In the article he mentioned that he used a small metal ruler to elevate the plane iron (or chisel, etc.,), this extra bit of height would flatten the back of the iron. It made sense to me, why spend all that time trying to flatten an entire inch of the back of the iron. I tried the technique on the waterstones, the result was I thought that Charlesworth didn't know what he was talking about.

The same technique on the DMT DiaSharp? The man is brilliant!

I am not a fan of Chris Schwarz, but I was surprised (and happy) to see that he went back to using those real old fashioned Arkansas stones! One wood working blogger was actually mad that Schwarz did that, to me it makes perfect sense. Old technology will always work, because at one point that technology was cutting edge, it didn't fail when it was needed.

So here it is, a basic sharpening kit for Classical Guitar Making:

A soft Arkansas bench stone

A black hard Arkansas stone

A translucent Arkansas stone

A horse butt strop

A bar of jewelers rouge or other honing compound

Oh, and a Veritas® Mk.II Honing Guide. We wood workers need all the help we can get!

Spend what you can afford and these stones will last your lifetime.

You can bet that I am saving my money for a new set of Arkansas stones.


  1. I think I got the better end of the deal, but that was a sweet saw to let go. I like the waterstones, and I too got sick of sandpaper, althought I sharpen my drawknives on paper as they dish the water stones wicked.
    I tried DMT and didn't really like them, but I was wearing a halo and had a broken neck so maybe that had something to do with it.
    Point is use whatever works, and ditto on Schwartz.

  2. I'm glad that you are enjoying the waterstones, they were good ones, but I just couldn't get along with them! The Atkins is a great saw, I use it for all the smaller crosscut work in the studio. As I stated at the beginning of the post, sharpening is a personal thing and you find out what works for you. Glad to have you among the living again, Terry!


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