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Scary sharp tools, without the aching arms

If you've read anything about tool sharpening in the past few years, you've no doubt heard about the so-called "Scary Sharp" method. Rather than expensive water- or oilstones, the technique involves plate glass, plain old sandpaper, and patience. (By the time you hone a shave-your-arm-hair edge onto the tool, your arms feel like wet noodles.) Some sharpening purists argue that sandpaper can't deliver a perfect edge, but I'm a big fan of Scary Sharp because it makes my tools exactly that, without spending a ransom on a powered sharpening system.

Now the folks from Professional Tool Manufacturing, Inc.—the same people who brought you the Drill Doctor bit sharpening system—have made Scary Sharp simple with an air-cooled power sharpening system called Work Sharp. The system includes a pair of 6"-diameter, dead-flat tempered glass discs to which you mount the 120, 400, 1000, and 3600 self-stick abrasives. The abrasive-covered glass disc spins; you hold a chisel, plane iron, or turning tool against it; it sharpens. It's just like Scary Sharp, but the sandpaper moves instead of the tool.

How it works

You sharpen tools from three locations on the tool:

1. Top of the glass disc: used for flattening the backs of chisels and plane irons, and the bevel of cutters more than 2" wide. I think the top tool rest is this tool's weakest link right now, but the manufacturer says tool-holding jigs will be coming in the future.

see through wheel


After using Work Sharp to tune-up every chisel and plane knife in the WOOD magazine shop (plus most of mine from home), here's what I like best:

  • Accurate set up. Being able to return to a precise bevel angle every time means I spent less time sharpening and more time woodworking.
  • It's so easy to restore an edge, I didn't wait until I couldn't use a tool anymore before I sharpened it. (Often, I went through only one or two grits, and I was back in business in less than a minute.)
  • Inexpensive sharpening supplies. Just some sandpaper when I need it.
  • You can sharpen very short chisels and small plane irons.

If your chisels are really out of whack, the jump from 120 to 400 grit seems a bit much. I would get the optional "Coarse Kit" of 80, 120, 220, and 400 abrasives for initial shaping of the irons, then set up three glass discs: 120/220 on the first for setting the initial bevel; 400/1000 on the second for touching up; and 3600 and the optional leather stropping disc on the last to add a microbevel and hone.

Bottom line: Razor-sharp hand tools make woodworking a joy. But most sharpening methods make it work. Work Sharp removes that drudgery so you can get back to the fun part.
–Tested by Jeff Mertz

Work Sharp WS3000 Wood Tool Sharpener, $200
Professional Tool Manufacturing

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