Learning to sharpen free hand

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Forum topic by Arminius posted 11-14-2012 02:06 PM 2537 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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304 posts in 3829 days

11-14-2012 02:06 PM

Topic tags/keywords: sharpening question chisel plane freehand

I am wondering if anyone knows any good resources (articles, tutorials, videos) on learning how to sharpen freehand? I am reasonably happy with my sharpening overall (waterstones w/Veritas and Kell jigs), but for chisels in particular I think developing the muscle memory to do a quick freehand touchup would help my use.

14 replies so far

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 3385 days

#1 posted 11-14-2012 02:28 PM

If you Google “freehand sharpening” or do a search for “freehand sharpening” in YouTube, you will be bombarded with stuff. There’s a pretty good video on YouTube with the guy from Lie Nielsen

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2172 days

#2 posted 11-14-2012 03:24 PM

This is the method that I follow for chisels and handplanes.

He does use a leather strop with chromium oxide honing compound, so you’d need to add that bit to your sharpening gear. The chromium oxide costs less than 10 bucks and a strop can be made with a block of wood and scrap leather.

I also like the method taught by Deneb Puchalski of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks.


View Arminius's profile


304 posts in 3829 days

#3 posted 11-14-2012 04:02 PM

What Deneb shows is very close to what I do now – however his basic bevel honing uses a honing guide and an angle-setting jig. I have made that jog, and I quite like it I am trying to develop no-jig/no-guide skills.

I like the Sellers video, exactly where I am trying to get to, but he does not go into how to get your hands to hold that perfect bevel angle he does so effortlessly.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2876 days

#4 posted 11-14-2012 04:10 PM

Just do it, Arminius, to quote a circle R phrase.

Get a good light nearby so you can see your results, have a chunk of wood handy for testing, and do a chisel until you’re happy with it. Use it. Next time one needs sharpening, you will do better. It’s a natural thing because your body is getting yes and no messages not only in the sharpening but also in the using. Nothing you do is even remotely nonreversible. No YT video can supplant this kind of experience. In fact, just because it’s on YT doesn’t mean it’s good or for you.

This is definitely a great opportunity to let your intuition guide you.




-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View Tedstor's profile


1643 posts in 2658 days

#5 posted 11-14-2012 04:25 PM

Yep. I’ve been weaning myself away from jigs. I initially practiced with my beater chisels until my results were acceptable.
And my results have continually improved with time.

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2172 days

#6 posted 11-14-2012 04:25 PM

Ahh, ok. I know exactly what you’re looking for. Rob Cosman has a method that he teaches for reinforcing muscle memory when sharpening freehand. Check it out here:

Of course, it’s Rob Cosman, so he’s trying to sell you something…


View Ripthorn's profile


1458 posts in 3011 days

#7 posted 11-14-2012 04:27 PM

I freehanded a set of 7 HF cheapies and it was very quick to get a feel for it. The thing is that there is no real right and wrong here. I do what Sellers does in making the bevel rounded instead of primary/secondary. The advantage here is that you don’t have to worry about whether your secondary is exactly 5 degrees steeper or whatever. Now, with my nicer chisels I use a guide, but with the cheap ones, I get plenty of pratice and the result is entirely acceptable.

How I started as like this: – Take the chisel, make sure the back is flat, and use the ground primary bevel as a starting point. – As you pull the chisel back, rock the handle up a little. Pay attention to how it feels when you are sharpening just the edge versus the entire face. – Only work on the pull stroke to start, once you are more comfortable with how it feels, then you can go back and forth – Don’t worry about how steep it is, just worry about making sure the edge is relatively square – As you work through the grits, you can take fewer strokes with the higher ones – Stropping is vital, without it, your edge is just not as good

I think that some times we fuss about the details entirely too much. Freehanding can be done very quickly and the difference between a 30 degree and 32 degree edge is not all that much. Just get out there and do it. No videos are really necessary, just good old experience. As the saying goes “Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment.”

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View Arminius's profile


304 posts in 3829 days

#8 posted 11-14-2012 05:33 PM

Definitely planning to throw myself into it – I have been prepping the backs of some DeWalt chisels I got with some tool a few years ago, so I won’t be too fussed with any mistakes.

I might make up an angle block, not quite to use the way Cosman suggests, but just as a way to set my hands. I just like the idea of being free to take 15 seconds to run the chisel I am using over the 8000 stone as soon as I feel like I am losing any edge at all.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18754 posts in 2593 days

#9 posted 11-14-2012 06:29 PM

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Brett's profile


660 posts in 2709 days

#10 posted 11-14-2012 07:05 PM

It’s not hard to sharpen freehand.

It’s important to remember that people were sharpening chisels and plane irons freehand for centuries before modern sharpening jigs and machinery came along. “Assisted” sharpening may produce an edge far sharper than freehand sharpening, but that extra sharpness probably goes away after the first few cutting strokes. I use a 6” bench grinder to grind my chisels and irons close to the cutting edge, two oil stones to hone them, and a polishing-compound-impregnated leather strop to touch them up.

Sharpening freehand, I can make my edges sharp enough to slice easily through the edge of a piece of paper. Sharpening only takes a few minutes, and the cutting edges work are plenty sharp for woodworking.

-- More tools, fewer machines.

View Brett's profile


660 posts in 2709 days

#11 posted 11-14-2012 07:10 PM


-- More tools, fewer machines.

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3134 days

#12 posted 11-14-2012 07:13 PM

This is a really good LJ blog by Paul Sellers on freehand sharpening.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Arminius's profile


304 posts in 3829 days

#13 posted 11-15-2012 11:14 AM


That is an excellent link – some really good stuff in there to underpin some of the videos.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7758 posts in 2940 days

#14 posted 11-15-2012 02:39 PM

Don and Lee +10 each.

The same goes for honing/burnishing… freehand. I have used leather and pastes, and I have and do use nothing more than contractor’s paper (brown grocery sac type) that I use to protect my bench. The latter works surprisingly well, after the initial stone honing.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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