Generally speaking, if a hand tool isn’t working well consider the sharpness of its cutting edge. A sharpening stone is used after a grinding wheel and will remove small amounts of steel from both the bevel and the back of a blade, causing those two edges to meet at a very fine point.
Price Range (full-sized stones): $40 – $200
Dimensions (full-sized stones): About 3″ wide x 8″ long x 1″ thick
Types of Cutting Materials: Ceramic, Diamond, Aluminum Oxide
Some stones are double-sided, offering a different grit level on opposing sides. These stones can offer good value. In the west, sharpening stones traditionally used oil to lubricate them. Today, more and more stones use water. Though there are slight differences between oil stones and water stones, both types will allow you to obtain a sharp edge. Some water stones require you to submerge them in water for up to 30 minutes prior to using, in order to saturate the stone with water so it will be properly lubricated. There are many powered sharpening systems on the market that will assist with getting a sharp edge with minimal effort.
Many new woodworkers start with a basic full-sized two-sided stone (in grits about 1000 and 4000), and then add other stones as needed. Flat and curved slip stones will help you sharpen tools like carving gouges and router bits.
At first sharpening can be frustrating, but with practice you’ll find a sharp edge can be obtained with little fuss. Stick with it because a sharp edge is crucial when using hand tools.
Many sharpening stones will break if dropped, rendering them useless for most tasks.
Sharpening can be wet and messy. Create a small area that will protect against water or oil so you can focus on the task of obtaining a sharp edge.
An older stone that has been dished out due to frequent usage will not provide you with good results. Use another stone, or an abrasive on a flat surface, to flatten a dished stone face.
A honing jig will allow you to accurately sharpen most cutting edges to precise angles. They also go a long way to keeping you from digging into the stone with the cutting edge while sharpening.