Sharpening on the cheap
there are lots of ways to get good results sharpening. i'm a cheap *******, so here is my method ...
i was originally doing it free hand with chisels and an oil stone i got from home depot, but my results were not nearly as sharp as the blade on the plane dave sent me, so i decided to try the inexpensive robert larson honing jig.
i also picked up a bunch of different grits of dry sandpaper cheap (i work for 3M) and a buffing wheel and polishing compound from a clearance table at sears.
my sharpening station is simply a piece of melamine-covered piece 1 1/4" thick particle board, like what they use for desks. it is flat enough for me. if i really wanted to be anal about a flat surface, i guess i could get a few of the tiles marble tiles at home depot, or go to a kitchen place for a piece of granite countertop, but this thing is definately flat enough for my purposes.
i set mine to give me a 28 degree bevel, what i consider a good compromise between the 25 and 30 bevels that are so common for chisels and plane irons. i simply glued a piece of a free paint stirrer to a scrap 1x4 to make it easy to insert the blade.
i hold the sandpaper down with a weight or my left hand and run the blade one direction only (away from the sharp edge) to help keep it from wearing down the sandpaper as fast.
i also put a magnet on the blade to catch the metal shavings/dust which helps keep the sandpaper clean. every so often, i wipe the grey dust off the blade onto a paper towel, which i throw away when it gets nasty. that is also when i check my progress.
on a new blade, i start with 100 grit paper to make sure blade is square. when it is square, the sandpaper will touch the whole bevel every stroke. you can put marker on the bevel and run it a few times to see that, but after you have done it a while, you will be able to tell without having to use a marker. depending on how out of square the blade is, this part can take a while, but at least you can see progress as you go, and eventually it's square.
also on a new blade, i make sure the back is flat.
then it only takes about 10-15 passes each on the 220, 500, 800 and 1500 grit papers to get it ready for the buffing wheel. i have 400, 600, and 1000 grit too, but they don't really add anything, so i skip them. plus, i have 50-100 packs of the ones i use, so they are what i use most.
between each grit, i run it on the back/flat side a few times to get rid of the burr. on the 800 and 1500, i alternate between the bevel and back sides a few times with only a few passes per side to make sure the burr is as small as possible.
then i use the buffing wheel with my drill. the sears didn't have the green buffing compound, only the red stuff, so that is what i use. but it still puts a great mirror polish on it.
for a strop, the cardboard from cereal boxes and the like is a good option. again, i'm a cheap *******, and we have an endless supply of cardboard.
now my blades are so sharp that i can shave the hair off my arm with them. even the home depot chisels and the buck brothers plane iron.