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chisel sharpening

by Peter5
posted 01-13-2011 09:45 PM

20 replies so far

View Manitario's profile


2380 posts in 1726 days

#1 posted 01-13-2011 09:58 PM

You’ll get 50 different responses to what is the “best” way to sharpen…I bought a really good book on sharpening called “The Perfect Edge; the Ultimate Guide to Sharpening”-by Ron Hock. I couldn’t sharpen anything before reading this book and now so far have been achieving razor sharpness consistently on my chisels. I use an angle guide (pros may scoff at this but it works for me) and a series of sandpaper (400-2000 grit) on a granite plate and hone at each grit until I have a good wire edge, then I move up to the next grit.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View swirt's profile


1971 posts in 1815 days

#2 posted 01-13-2011 10:04 PM

A roller jig can be very handy for sharpening plane blades and chisels. Some chisels may not work well in the jig depending on their thickness (mortising chisels as opposed to dovetail chisels). If however you have a jig that fits your chisels securely, then use it.

Make things faster and more repeatable by setting up a gauge to always get the exact same bevel by getting the chisel to always protrude from the jig by the same amount. This way you will spend much less time re-sharpening and just a bit of time re-honing the edge.

Yes they can be sharpened well by hand, but the consistency of set-up makes it worth using a roller jig. The jig also helps if your shop is not well lit, and if your eyes are not as good as they used to be.

-- Galootish log blog,

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 1853 days

#3 posted 01-13-2011 10:22 PM

A good honing guide is really the only easy way to ensure the angle you’re looking for and the way I’ve seen most “pros” do it. Can you freehand? Sure, but that’s not very easy to do. And the fancy sharpening grinders and polishers all have some sort of jig to help you keep that angle. So I wouldn’t worry about anyone scoffing at this – this is how it’s done.

Whether you use the sandpaper method (“Scary Sharp”) or waterstones or oilstones, a rolling honing guide is going to be handy for the bevel.

Personally, I’ve settled on the following method for sharpening. After figuring out I wasn’t a sandpaper/scary sharp method kind of guy, I like the results I’m getting with the following system.

1000/6000 combo waterstone – $30
green compound from Lee Valley – $8

Flatten the backs of the chisels on the 1000 grit stone, then 6000. Use the roller guide to sharpen the bevel at 1000 and 6000. Rub some green compound on MDF. Flatten the back over the green/mdf, then bevel.

If you go the waterstone route, eventually you need a way of keeping the waterstone flat because it will wear unevenly. Different ways to do this – I’ve landed on a diamond stone.

I’ve found sharpening is a really personal thing. While woodworkers quarrel over the ways to get the sharpest edge, I think preferences really have more to do with which technique a given woodworker feels comfortable with and is able to execute efficiently and reliably. The easier it is for you to whip out your sharpening method and do it without dreading it, the more likely you are to actually do it in the first place.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View NBeener's profile


4806 posts in 2017 days

#4 posted 01-13-2011 10:24 PM

live4ever: Very well said !

-- -- Neil

View Peter5's profile


61 posts in 1647 days

#5 posted 01-13-2011 10:27 PM

Thanks everyone. I feel a bit overwhelmed now- I didn’t know about switching out grits and all that- I just figured I could get by with the $6 sanding stone I bought from Ace. Well if nothing else I now know that I don’t need to feel lame about using my angle guide, so I’ve at least got a place to start. Thanks again!

-- Pete, Long Beach, CA

View PurpLev's profile


8476 posts in 2492 days

#6 posted 01-13-2011 10:35 PM

Any method that will get your blades sharp is the BEST way to sharpen them!

that said when I hear “sharpening” I think of 2 stages:

1. Grinding/Shaping – resetting bevels and flatenning backs. This is usually done with coarse grits in the 100-400 range. trying to accomplish this with honing stones set in the 1000+ grit will help discouraging you from ever trying to sharpen anything.

2. Honing – polishing the already sharp/shaped edges (bevel side, and back side). this is done with high grits 1000+. the higher you step those up, the finer the edge will get.

Both steps can be done using a honing jig – I’ve done it when I started and it works great.

That said, I now grind/shape my bevels using a grinder (slow-wet) which leaves a slight hollow grind on the bevel which makes it easy to hone and do touchups to the blade freehand later on. Is IS also possible to freehand without a hollow grind if you just understand the concept and practice – it’s not THAT bad.

BUT, there is also nothing wrong with using jigs. as mentioned – it’s a foolproof system to get consistent bevels time and time again.

As long as you get a sharp tool, it really makes little difference how you got there. it boils down to personal preference nothing more.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View cut3times's profile


116 posts in 1850 days

#7 posted 01-13-2011 11:08 PM

The main thing, as Lev mentioned, is a consistent bevel which means using a jig. You will spend less time when you can get the same bevel angle every time. A secondary bevel also will save time (5°). I use an Eclipse jig for most chisels and a Richard Kell jig for small chisels. I use a Veritas MkII for plane blades. Most my sharpening is done on a Norton 1000/8000 water stone. Herbs “Yellow Stone” compound is an excellent final honing compound.


-- And Still Too Short - "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." John Lennon

View mattjkafka's profile


5 posts in 1535 days

#8 posted 01-14-2011 12:06 AM

hello all even though this is about chisels this probably isn’t the right place to ask this but i’m new to the site and was wondering where can you buy new chisels? i don’t really like buying things off the internet to often but i need a new set of chisels and since i’m a bit of a beginner in the art i don’t really know where to go.

View Bertha's profile


12951 posts in 1537 days

#9 posted 01-14-2011 12:18 AM

Hey Pete, these are all excellent answers. I love how sharpening is like…nostrils, everyone having them and all. A single grit stone, unfortunately, isn’t going to get you where you want to go. The scary sharp system isn’t scary at all & for less than $20, it’s largely replaced my $800 wet-grinder with all its fandangled attachements (lathe tools excepted). Grab yourself a length of marble windowsill from your favorite box store, some spray adhesive, & some sandpaper. You’ll have a razor sharp chisel after a little googling & sweat equity. In my experience, failing to polish the back of the chisel flat is the most persistent error. Good luck!

And to Matt, I buy cheap Marples chiisels from the big box stores & lop an inch off their cheap plastic handles. It’s no vintage Butcher mortise or ink pattern Japan, but it’ll serve you well until you decide what you like in a chisel & upgrade. For $20.00 for several, that’s my $0.02.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View crank49's profile


3707 posts in 1814 days

#10 posted 01-14-2011 12:30 AM

Do you have a woodworking specialty store near you? If not, you may be stuck buying from the web.

I don’t know how well they will hold up, but I just got a “Buck Brothers” chisel from Home Depot to fill in a missing chisel size for my pieced together set of classic Stanley #60s. I thought it looked pretty close to the old Stanleys, but when I got it home I discovered two things. It was about 1” longer than the Stanleys and was pretty darn sharp right out of the package; better than my Wood River set from Woodcrafter. Then one last bit of shock; the Buck Brothers chisels are MADE IN THE USA. I’m not ready to recommend these chisels yet, not enough usage history, but I wish I had gotten a set of these instead of the Wood River “made in china” paint can openers.

-- Michael :-{| Don't anthropomorphise your tools, they hate it when you do that.

View NBeener's profile


4806 posts in 2017 days

#11 posted 01-14-2011 12:42 AM


I’ve got one of those, too.

If you care (lots of debate on the subject), you may want to spend some time flattening the sole plate.

Mine was WAY out of whack.

In theory …

Draw a line around the perimeter of the plate, using magic marker.

Then draw a big “X” across the sole plate, from corner to corner.

Then, using 400 grit sandpaper, on something good and flat (MDF, plate glass), spend some time running the plane (blade IN, of course) across the paper.

On mine, I found it was VERY concave. I kept flattening until all but the smallest part of the crossing-area of the “X” was gone, and then switched to higher and higher grits, polishing it.

Next, I’ll wax the sole plate, and—since my blade (iron) was pretty sharp, too—I’ll polish that, and be done.

My quick review OF reviews found that lots of people scrapped their Buck Bros. planes because they couldn’t GET their sole plate flat enough. I “got lucky” ;-)

-- -- Neil

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 1894 days

#12 posted 01-14-2011 06:51 AM


First, what do you care if oldtimers scoff at your method? If it gets your tools sharp, it works. I have a wet, slow speed sharpner, a high-speed grinder, and a $7 roller jig. Like Purp-lev and others, I use them all. Mostly I use the roller and sandpaper on mdf. Really bad edges I start with 120, get the bevel right, then come up through the grades to 2000. Make sure the back is flat and polished, and be careful. I didn’t realize how sharp they were till last night. My finger will heal in about a week. The one thing to remember; the MORE YOU SHARPEN, THE LESS YOU WILL HAVE TO SHARPEN. In other words, don’t wait until theyre beaten to death; use a while and sharpen a while. Less work and more consistent service.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View Steven H's profile

Steven H

1116 posts in 1903 days

#13 posted 01-14-2011 07:24 AM

View Wiljoy's profile


1 post in 1533 days

#14 posted 01-14-2011 07:57 AM

I was brought up in the “old school” and always use a 8X2×1 for sharpening all my woodcutting tools,PLanes Spokeshaves chisels,you name it…I have NEVER used any gadget to hold my cuitters for sharpening,after a while you instinctively hold the cutter at an angle suitable and I think nowadays I cut sharpen a chisel in my sleep:)..........I am retired now and live in a retirement villagewhere we have just had a workshop built for the use of our villagers who want to potter around making gadgets for their homes & toys for their grandkids and I am hoping to be able to help them as much as I am able.

-- Always measure twice--then cut once.

View devann's profile (online now)


1876 posts in 1536 days

#15 posted 01-14-2011 08:18 AM

Pete, I agree with Steve. If it gets your tools sharp, who cares. Jigs in the workshop are for achieving consistent results. You’ll get to spend more time cutting, less time sharpening. And after you’ve sharpened you chisels you want to protect them. The covers that come with them don’t last very long, I lose them or they slip off to easy in my toolbox resulting in damaged chisels. I use the tops off qt. size gatoraid bottles. Take your coping saw and cut a slot in the side and slip over the end of the chisel. They stay on pretty well. Cut the slot only as big as you need. When using at the workbench they’ll keep your chisel from rolling off onto the floor.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View Dan's profile


3564 posts in 1724 days

#16 posted 01-14-2011 08:25 AM

Neil – When I flatten a sole I always start with a 180 grit paper. If you start at 400 its going to take a lot more time and effort. I have a buck bros block plane and if I remember correctly the sole was quite a bit off but it didn’t take that long to flatten it when starting with the lower grit paper.

As far as sharpening I agree with what everyone has been saying. What ever works for you is fine and don’t let anyone make you think you HAVE to do their method.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View agallant's profile


491 posts in 1730 days

#17 posted 01-14-2011 04:01 PM

I don’t know how people feel about David Marks around here but he did a pretty good epesode on hand tool sharpening the first 10 min is on chisels.


View crank49's profile


3707 posts in 1814 days

#18 posted 01-15-2011 04:39 AM

Neil, I agree the Buck Brothers planes are pretty low on the food chain, but I was talking chisels. Stanley #60 chisels were good carpenters chisels back in the 1960s, when I got my first one. Then they came out with the cheapo Handyman line and eventually just forgot about quality tools for craftsmen. I was trying to put together a somewhat matched set of decent yellow handled chisels starting with my four old Stanleys. I was just pointing out the buck Brothers chisels seem pretty nice; I was plesantly surprised.

For sharpening I’m one of the silicon carbide paper on granite guys. But I been using this method for about 40 years. I just got me one of those roller guide thingies because my arthritis cramped wrists & crappy eyesight dictated I find an easier way to get consistent results; and it work just fine.

-- Michael :-{| Don't anthropomorphise your tools, they hate it when you do that.

View swirt's profile


1971 posts in 1815 days

#19 posted 01-15-2011 05:50 AM

Recently (within the past month or so) one of the magazines (I think popular woodworking) wrote highly of the American Made Buck Bros chisels. I tried a quick search with Google but couldn’t find it.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Woollymonster's profile


31 posts in 1084 days

#20 posted 04-14-2012 11:03 PM

I cheat. I use a Tormek T-7. Pricey but makes sharpening almost anything (with proper jig) a fast and simple task. I use it on chisels, plane blades, planer/jointer blades mainly. After initial shaping, getting a razor edge only takes seconds. I use the “sharpie method” to set the same angle. Instructions for the T-7 go into great detail on sharpening.

I also have several 1000/4000/8000 Norton water stones on hand, a flat piece of granite, and a couple of diamond plates. They are fine for a quick touch up and I prefer to polish the backs of blades with them after using the side of the Tormek wheel for rough hone.

What ever works for you is the way to go.

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