I find that the more I think about sharpening and trying to get a perfect edge, the worse the edges get. Here's my current routine.
1) For REALLY BAD edges. Big nicks, incorrectly skewed blades, and chisels with inconsistent bevels.
I hate bench grinders (though I'm thinking about trying to find a good hand-cranked one), so I don't use one. I have a collet that's designed to attach flat sanding disks -- almost cutoff wheels -- to an electric drill. I put that in my drill press, and hold the blade to a ramp bolted to the drill press table. The ramp is cut at whatever angle I want to grind at. The disk is about 80 grit, and leaves the blade a huge mess, but it also cuts fast, and it's easy to make short, controlled cuts by lowering the disk onto the blade.
2) Until the last month or so, I used an old, old Brookstone oil stone. The company no longer has any record of ever having produced it, by my father had it for well over 20 years before he gave it to me. It's still flat to within the limits of my ability to test. It's got a coarse side and a fine side, and it works well. The coarse side is good for starting out a badly dulled blade -- or one that was ground with my drill press jig -- and the fine side gets a blade almost sharp enough to use.
I still have that in my travel kit, but I was given a DMT three-stone diamond set (one of these
) which has replaced the oil stone for bench work. My shop has been packed up to move, so I haven't had a chance to play with them much, but I suspect they'll remain the replacement for quite a while.
3) Finally, i have a strop for final polishing and mid-job touch-up. I'm currently using a yellow compound the guy at WoodCraft talked me into, and it seems to work. He claimed it was far better than the green stuff, but I really don't know.
As for technique... I've written about this a couple of times recently, and I'm beginning to think I should just type it up as a blog entry and start posting links to it. I started out trying the scary sharp sandpaper method with a side-clamp jig. Yeah, it worked, sort of, but I had a lot of trouble with consistency, and it never felt like I was getting things as sharp as they really could be. Fortuitously, I attended a talk given by Paul Sellers at a Wood Show about a year ago, and he talked about how he sharpens. I figured it couldn't be worse than what I was doing, so I pulled out the old oilstone and gave it a try. Go look up "Paul Sellers sharpening" on YouTube for his explanation, but the short version is this, with the same technique on the fine and coarse stones (he has three, I had two until the end of December).
Start the blade at the edge of the stone nearest you, with the blade at about a 30 degree angle to the stone. Push forward, letting your hand drop until the blade is around 20-25 degrees to the stone. Pull back and raise it to 30 again. Repeat. When you're done with the coarse stone, do the same thing with the medium and the fine.
When you're done with the three stones, pull the back of the blade across the stone once to remove the burr. Then move to the strop: hold the bevel down hard against the charged strop, and pull back 30 times. After that, put the back of the blade flat against the strop, press down hard, and pull it across a few times.
Using this method, I've been getting a better edge every time I sharpen for a year or so. As I said, most of my shop has been packed up for quite a while so I haven't gotten perfect results, but it's clear that the tools work better each time I sharpen them, so I'm going to keep on with this method.