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This week’s blog from Rob Stoakley
Some time ago, one of the comments arising from the blog entry, ‘A Royal Spanner’,  requested the idea of discussing the various steels used for tool blades and the appropriate grinding and honing angles for each.

I make the assumption that many readers will be familiar with this sort of stuff, but there might be relative newcomers to woodwork to whom this article is pertinent.

Going right back to basics, a look at a plane or chisel blade will reveal two bevels: a large ground bevel and a smaller honed or ‘micro’ bevel. It’s the honed bevel which is of concern as this is the bit that actually comes into contact with the wood.

Back in the days of yore, there was only one type of metal commonly available and to simplify the metallurgy (and I’m not a metallurgist!) it was a high carbon, oil quenched steel, referred to as O1, where ‘O’ stands for oil. Over decades of practical experience, it was found that the best grinding angle was 25° with a honed bevel of 30° and these angles are still recommended for everyday use with this type of steel.

Enter Lie-Nielsen into the fray, who in the last few years introduced their A2 steel, which is a much tougher material and consequently can be more difficult to hone. The grinding angle for this steel remains the same as for O1, e.g. 25°. However, due to the metallurgical make up, it is not recommended to hone it at 30° as the edge will crumble. Instead, it should be honed slightly higher at between 33° and 35° where the edge is more robust and not quite so friable.

The latest steel to hit the woodworker’s bench is Veritas® PM-VII, which I believe stands for ‘Particle Matrix, Version 11’. Now this is an immensely complex area to talk about within the brief context of an Blog, but I recommend you to read about it on the Veritas website.

pmv11-1
PM-V11 blades
PM-V11 blades

I use this steel in all my Veritas® planes and I’ve found it to be really excellent. Briefly, it holds an edge far longer than A2, but is as easy to hone as O1. I’ve stuck to the tried and tested grinding and honing angles (though slightly higher for a low angle plane) for this stuff and it still works very well with a much higher honed bevel, but this can only be done with low angle planes.

To summarise:
O1 steel – grind at 25° and hone at 30°
A2 steel – grind at 25° and hone at 33-35°
PM-V11 – grind at 25° and hone at 33° for low-angle planes; grind at 25° and hone at 30° for ordinary Bailey planes.

I hope this has gone some way to explain the different grinding and honing angles for the various types of steel, but if you’re still befuddled, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment and I’ll attempt to clarify.

  • Alex Jeffries

    Bonza article, thanks. Here are two further questions for you for completion’s sake.

    What about Quangsheng/Wood Rivers/Clifton planes and Narex chisels?
    Are the angles different for blades you push (planes and pairing chisels) compared to blades you hammer (cabinet maker/firmer/butt/mortice chisels)?

    • Rob Stoakley

      G’day Alex from somewhere hot and sunny! To answer your question, QS, WR and Narex all use their own variants of O1 steel, though it’s called something else. The metallurgy of the metal may be slightly different in each case but Clifton planes use (as far as I’m aware) use a traditional O1 high carbon steel where the billet is hammer forged, in much the same way as a Japanese plane or chisel blade.

      O1 blades for delicate work can be honed to 25 deg, in fact all the blades on my Japanese d/t chisels (from Axminster, but not longer stocked) and my Japanese paring chisels are honed at this angle, but the edge is very fragile so the tool can’t be struck…however it can be honed super sharp…and I do mean supersonic sharp!

      O1 blades intended to be given some grief with a heavy maul can still be sharpened and honed at the conventional angles, i.e. 25 deg grind and 30 deg hone, but as ever, these angles aren’t set in concrete so it’s worth playing around to suit the material you’re working with. For example if you’re doing something in a nasty,iron hard bit of jarrah from the land of Oz, you might want to up the honed bevel to say 35deg.

      Generally though, the standard angles are usually fine for any tool that’s going to be belted. The other issue is the quality of the steel…’site’ chisels tend (though this is not always the case) to use inferior steels which don’t cut the mustard, so I think it’s probably fair to say that the more your pay for a chisel, the better will be the quality of the steel…but as I said, that ain’t always the case as you can get hold of some very good ‘site’ chisels.

  • G

    Hi Rob, thanks for being delicately concise with a very deep subject. I am wondering if Cryogenic Treatment affects (increases) the performance of the PM material, in terms of lengthening use between sharpenings of either Chisels, or Plane Blades? (Vs O1, S7, or A2)

    • Rob Stoakley

      As you rightly say, this area of discussion is very complex and as I’m not a metallurgist I’m not really qualified to offer an opinion on your question. That said, we stock a good selection of the Crown Cryo turning tools and I recently got hold of a couple, one being the large, thick scraper (506472) which does seem to perform very well and appears to remain sharp for quite a long time. I’d suggest that to obtain a more detailed answer to your query, you email Veritas themselves in Canada.

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