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The Ruler Trick

September 30, 2013

In my last video, The Funeral Chair Part Two, I began by sharpening my plane iron.

I have since told you about the inexpensive, vise-type honing guide I prefer using.

And then, I shared some thoughts on water stones.

This time around, it’s all about the ruler trick.

Incidentally, I was never fond of the name ‘the ruler trick’.

It just doesn’t have enough oomph.

I say we give credit where credit is due and start calling it, “The Charlesworth“.

Sounds like an exotic dance or something.

Here’s a bit of history.

“The Charlesworth”

In the not so distant past, wood workers would spend hours, dressing the entire back of their plane irons.

Sweat and blood, poured out over polish.

Finger-crick-convulsion, while wrist and elbow cramped.

The back of the tool brought-up to a mirror-like finish.

Hours spent slaving over whetstone, and why?

Does anything more than the leading tip need to be polished?

The answer, quite frankly, is no.


Since 1973, David Charlesworth has been a maker of fine furniture in the United Kingdom.

In 1977, he began teaching the craft at his Devon workshops. Sometime thereafter, he had a most brilliant idea.

He took an inexpensive, 6-in. metal rule, about 0.5mm thick, and placed it in the slurry, down the edge of his polishing stone.

The ruler acts as a wedge and elevates the iron across the width of the stone.

Working the backside of the blade onto the stone by no more than 5/8-in., the polish occurs only at the tip.

A dozen short strokes,( NOTE: SEE DAVID’S COMMENT ON THIS BELOW ) up and down the stone, leaves a mirror like strip across the tip, no wider than 1/16-in.

Fast and sufficient.

A simple stroke of genius.

This of course, is a simplified explanation and I would encourage you to watch David’s DVD,

Hand Tool Techniques Part 1: Plane Sharpening available on David’s website.


My sub-title of course, was written in jest.

But I do wonder if anyone out there is still polishing the entire back of their plane iron.

And if they are, what is the reason behind it?

Perhaps a place, to steal a glimpse, and see if your salad is caught between your teeth?

If this is the first time you’re hearing about the ruler trick  the Charlesworth, then rejoice.

From this day forth you’ll save hours, polishing the backs of your plane irons.

And a note to the wise-




Do you use the ruler trick or any other time saving technique while sharpening?

I’d love to hear about them.

Join the conversation and leave a comment below!


 NOTE: Well it’s been about 24 hours since I posted this and I’m blown away from all of the discussion both here and on my Face Book page about the topic. There have been some great comments to support the ruler trick and many that were against it.

I think it demonstrates again that there are many ways to tackle a technique.

What may work for me, may not work for you.

Having input from so many respected wood workers is truly humbling and I deeply thank everyone who left their opinions and comments.


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