Chisel Sharpening Questions

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Forum topic by FaTToaD posted 02-23-2011 09:10 PM 2967 views 1 time favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View FaTToaD's profile


394 posts in 3383 days

02-23-2011 09:10 PM

Topic tags/keywords: sharpening scary sharp chisel iron bevel micro bevel

I finally decided to get serious about sharpening my tools, particularly my chisels. Last night I cut a couple through mortises for a bench I’m making out of redwood and I realized that I needed a sharp chisel to clean up the edges. I have a set of chisels from the borg that I thought were sharp until I tried cutting through the end grain of 1.5” mortise. Anyways, I got out my sharpening station and my honing guide and went to work. After flatting the back and sharpening the bevel up to 2500 grit wet/dry sandpaper the chisel was really sharp. Sure made cleaning up that mortise a lot easier. I still have some questions I’m hoping you sharpening experts can help with.

1.) I know a lot of people put a micro bevel on their chisels and plane irons, I liked to try that put I have no way to reference the change in the angle. I thought about putting a business card or two underneath my honing guide wheel but I’m not sure if that’ll work. Is there any way to get a consistent micro bevel while using a cheap honing guide?

2.) Setting the correct bevel took a little trial and error, I placed it flat against my glass and then tightened my honing guide. I was off a little the first couple tries but I eventually got it. I know some fancier honing guides have a jig to reference the distance between the chisel or iron from the guide to give you the angle you want. I’ve also seen people make their own which is what I’d like to do, but is there any guides out there that explain the distance needed for different bevels? I have a minor in math so I know I can calculate it, but I’d rather not. After getting a degree in it, I now hate math…

Any help will be appreciated! Thanks.


-- David

10 replies so far

View chrisstef's profile


17803 posts in 3248 days

#1 posted 02-23-2011 09:21 PM

I have been on a sharpening mission myself over the last few days and after reading a few books on sharpening techniques i found the proper angles for particular planes and chisels. Most of my plane irons needed to be totally reground at a different angle than what was there. (I picked most of them up from tag sales). I ended up using a sharpie on the back side of the iron to label each one with the angle i sharpened them at. This should take away the guessing game for next time. You could do the same with your chisels.

As far as a micro bevel ive read that a 2 degree increase would be just fine.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3889 days

#2 posted 02-23-2011 09:49 PM

1) if using a wheeled honing guide with no height adjustment, just
reposition the chisel in the guide to make the angle more obtuse.

2) It’s basic trig.

The exact angle isn’t too important. I seldom use a honing guide, I
just feel the bevel, lock my wrists at the angle I want, and hone away.

I don’t use micro-bevels that much.

For paring redwood I’d go about 25 degrees because the wood is
quite soft and a more obtuse bevel will crush it more than cut. I
doubt most chisel edges would crumble even mortising redwood at
25 degrees, but 30 to 35 is probably a better angle for general
heavy pounding.

View rwyoung's profile


409 posts in 3713 days

#3 posted 02-23-2011 10:16 PM

Eclipse side-clamp style jigs are usually marked with the projection distance to get 25 and 30 degree angles. Or you can experiment and find the projection angle or calculate it. Not hard.

Next make a set up block so you don’t have to keep measuring. Or use the edge of your workbench and make a line 38mm or whaterver the projection distance is in from the edge.

Finally, supposing you wanted a microbevel of around 3-5 degrees on the end of your 25 degree primary bevel. OK, simple, just set up the chisel projection to give you a 25 degree bevel, then pull back, that is lessen the projection, about 1/8”. You can make a little wedge block to go with your projection jig so that you can make this differential distance the same every time or just sight it.

Ultimately you won’t need the honing guide at all as creating a microbevel by hand is quick and easy. The guide will just slow you down.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View Dan's profile


3635 posts in 3122 days

#4 posted 02-23-2011 10:22 PM

David – I had a hard time figuring out the bevel angles when I started sharpening a few months ago. I ended up buying a Digital Angle Cube from Rockler tools. I think its 30 dollars when not on sale but it is a very handy tool for figuring out your bevel angle. I have a cheaper honing guide and I just move the blade until the cube reads the bevel that I want and then I lock it in and go.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View FaTToaD's profile


394 posts in 3383 days

#5 posted 02-23-2011 10:27 PM

Dan, that’s a brilliant idea! I would have never even thought of that. I’ve got a little bevel gauge I picked up a couple months back.

rwyoung – thanks for the advice, I’l probably end up making a little blocks with stops.

-- David

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3512 days

#6 posted 02-23-2011 10:54 PM

Most chisels and such are rough machined prior to sale…..some are sharpened and honed….but not many come good enough to use out of the box. I sharpen all my tools prior to use….and especially after I just bought them.

Borg chisels typically have a pre-machined bevel….but as you get more in tune with types of wood, uses of the chisel…etc….you might want to do as Loren suggested and create a custom bevel for your own purposes. The bevel is the angular face – typically a blade is sharpened in tandem with the bevel…there are methods that sharpen the edge at a different angle….but that is also custom and should be only done when understanding what uses are being made of the tool.

To sharpen the blade with a pre machined bevel – have a level and flat surface on whatever you choose to use as an abrasive (wet stones, oil stones, ceramic stones, diamond stones, sandpaper….there are many methods – all of them will get you there – some quickler then others). I use diamond stones. I place the blade on the stone and tilt up or down until I can feel the bevel sitting flat on the stone (i also have some small wood triangles I use as guides for different attack angles). Once the angle is correct… can either move the tool back and forth or in a circular motion…do this until you can see and feel a coarse burr along the entire edge (you can check for sharpness by lightly rubbing on a fingernail….if it slides easily it is not sharpened…if it hesitates it is most likely sharp.

You can use a coarse grit…and graduate to finer grits – depending on how dull the blade is….if you are just tuning up a blade…use a medium grit….and then the finest grit. After using the finest grit, I will hone the blade on a leather strop with some diamond paste (you can use jewelers roughe or any other suitable honing product). You hone by pulling the tool towards you, with the blade facing away….and holding it at the same angle as you did on the sharpening stone. It typically takes only a few passes….you are done when the edge is shiny and smooth to the eye.

On a chisel, one side is flat and the other is beveled. The flat side must be honed flat. You can use the finest grit stone and do a few passes….then to the strop.

There are tons of videos and instructions on how to sharpen….you get better with practice and not by just watching or reading. There are also lots of machines and tools designed to help you sharpen….I have always gotten great results by hand sharpening (the only assistance I use are the wood triangles I make to help set up the angle)...and the benefit is I don’t have to haul a machine around with me to sharpen tools….and I don’t have a big outlay for the equipment and for the consumeables it uses.

Grinders – good for making the bevel – repairing or changing – NEVER for sharpening…...I do not recommend them for sharpening as most inexperienced sharpeners (even some experienced ones) end up grinding way too much material off and also have a tendency overheat the metal or to round over the edge (bad news for sharpness and for holding an edge).

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View swirt's profile


3574 posts in 3214 days

#7 posted 02-23-2011 11:20 PM

As others have mentioned, definitely make the depth jig for quick and easy repeat setups. An added strip of wood that is an 1/8” thick is an easy and repeatable way to adjust a microbevel. You can get the depth measurements here for the standard eclipse style roller jig.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Bertha's profile


13551 posts in 2935 days

#8 posted 02-23-2011 11:34 PM

I use a wet grinder to hog out an older chisel to a hollow grind at my desired angle. I use a cheap Eclipse jig & a notched piece of HMW plastic to set the primary then scary sharp away. If the back’s polished absolutely flat, a pass over the strop will usually get me back chiseling. I rarely employ a secondary on chisels, rather I just eyeball it quickly on some 1000 and 2000 grit. I’ve got the fancy jigs but for $10, the Eclipse is my favorite.

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

View FaTToaD's profile


394 posts in 3383 days

#9 posted 02-23-2011 11:35 PM

Thanks swirt, that’s exactly what I was looking for!

Thanks everyone for the information. Now if I can just make time go faster so I can get done with work and go home and sharpen…

-- David

View Roger's profile


20965 posts in 3046 days

#10 posted 02-24-2011 05:59 PM

I agree with all of thee above

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

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