When I started woodworking six or seven years ago, all my tools were usually dull. I sharpened them will a mill file. Yes a mill file. I clamped the tool in my metal working vise and went at it. Maybe that was a blessing because I learned to sharpen with a steady hand. Anyhow, the file produced a sharp edge good enough to cut adequately.
Then I acquired a 4″ bench grinder. It removed metal faster than the file, and with due care, didn’t ruin the temper and created a good edge.
At school, the shop teacher used to touch up chisels on the belt sander. That produced a workable edge in a couple seconds. Just mind the heat build up. While he used the 6×48″ stationary horizontal belt sander, a 1×42″ belt vertical belt sander is a better choice, in my opinion. They have nice adjustable tool rests as well as an unsupported area to sharpen gouges.
Digging though my dad’s stuff, I found a sharpening stone (oil, I think). I bought an Eclipse-style honing guide and spent an hour going back and forth on the stone. My chisels were sharper, but also cambered because the stone was dished. To flatten it, I stuck a piece of 60-grit sandpaper on a scrap of laminate flooring and rubbed the stone on it, which lead to…
The scary sharp sandpaper on glass system. Wet-dry automotive sandpaper on plate glass or other flat surface becomes the sharpening medium. The beauty of the system is that it never needs sharpening and starting-up costs are comparatively little. However, the ongoing purchasing of sandpaper got tiresome.
So I got a diamond stone. Fast cutting, long-lasting, but expensive. It put a nice keen edge on my tools. I was happy.
But then I had a desire (maybe more external than internal) to put a finer edge on my tools. My diamond stone was the finest grit available at 600x/1200x. So I bought a Norton 4000x/8000x water stone. And it cuts quickly and leaves a nice finish and a super sharp edge. Water stones wear quickly too, but I stay on top of that and keep it flat with the diamond stone.
Then I got into carving. Most carving tools are not flat, rendering my wonderful stones suddenly lacking. It was then that I was introduced to the strop and honing compound. Wow, a simple piece of leather and a green “crayon” sure put a keen edge on a tool. This is the sharpening method I use for all my carving tools. They cut so the end grain of pine so cleanly.