Chisel Sharpening (Paul Sellers Method)

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Forum topic by Marc5 posted 01-13-2014 08:24 PM 5277 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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304 posts in 2759 days

01-13-2014 08:24 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I recently watched a video showing his method of sharpening blades. He rolls the blade actually putting a positive arc to the blade in his sharpening process. It looks like it works well for him. I was taught and have been using a hollow grind on my blades. I really have no complaints but I am very curious if this actually works better than hollow grinding. Do any of you sharpen this way and if so how is it working for you?

-- Marc

17 replies so far

View Vance100's profile


38 posts in 1668 days

#1 posted 01-13-2014 10:20 PM

Works great. I have had no issues. It is very fast. It takes about a minute to sharpen a chisel.

View TerryDowning's profile


1052 posts in 1534 days

#2 posted 01-14-2014 12:27 AM

Like most sharpening issues this boils down to personal preference. Following is my personal opinion only.

This becomes an argument of concave (hollow ground) vs. convex bevels, vs. flat bevels

All three have their pros and cons.

Less material to remove so sharpens faster, more acute angle so seemingly sharper
Easy to sharpen freehand
Less mass supporting the cutting edge so a weaker edge more prone to fracturing thus requiring more frequent sharpening

Convex (Like Paul Seller advocates)
More mass supporting the cutting edge so a stronger edge less likely to fracture requiring less frequent sharpening. This is why Katana (samurai) swords are sharpened convex with a high polish.

More material to remove = longer sharpening time
Less acute of an angle so may seem not as sharp.
Requires more practice for free hand sharpening.

Flat (Neither concave nor convex)
Easiest to sharpen with a honing guide/jig
sufficient mass supporting the cutting edge so less prone to fracturing.

Same Cons as Convex

As a general rule
Smooth and Jointer Plane irons, paring chisels (or bench chisels set aside for paring work) can be hollow ground with good result.

Mortising chisels (Or bench chisels that will be used for beating mortises and other high impact work) should be flat or convex on the bevel as the hollow ground edges won’t hold their edge as well under the impact of hammer blows.

Scrub/Fore plane irons should be flat ground to keep the edge alive longer. A convex edge on bevel down plane irons holds no practical benefit as the flat back is the cutting edge and a convex angle only reduces the clearance angle

For plane irons and chisels I find the flat bevels a good compromise as I tend to sharpen by hand using an inexpensive guide to get repeatable angles.

Again these are my Opinions, YMMV.

-- - Terry

View basswood's profile


261 posts in 1037 days

#3 posted 01-14-2014 01:04 AM

In the Sellers video he exaggerates the making of the convex curve. You will get a convex curve when sharpening without a guide, even if you try to get a flat bevel. To be fair to Sellars, he does mention that this is a natural result of physiology. The same is true of the action he takes to ease the corners.

For most mere mortals, the corners ease themselves as you sharpen by hand and by eye, try not to… I dare ya!

Oh and heck yeah, it works as advertised!


View Nicholas Hall's profile

Nicholas Hall

350 posts in 1523 days

#4 posted 01-14-2014 01:10 AM

Watching that video convinced me to try freehand sharpening for the first time. I got the sharpest chisel I have ever achieved on the first try. I’ve been a Paul Sellers fan ever since.

Sharpening takes half the time now, so I do it more often. That means my chisels are always sharp which is a huge upgrade. Now my Veritas MKII with the extra camber roller and skew angle jig sits collecting dust. I haven’t used it since. Your question reminded me that I’ve got to get that stuff on eBay, because I’m pretty sure I’ll never use it again. The same goes for my bench grinder and $200 worth of Sharpton waterstones. I guess the downside of that video is it turned $400 worth of sharpening equipment into paperweights.

If you’re on the fence, just try it, you’ll be delighted. I actually enjoy sharpening now!

-- Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. -Groucho Marx

View TechRedneck's profile


763 posts in 2274 days

#5 posted 01-14-2014 01:33 AM

I switched to the Sellers method (including leather strop) around two years ago. Haven’t looked back.

Takes only a few minutes to freshen an edge freehand. I still have the grinder and honing guide but only use them when I get an iron or chisel that needs a new bevel.

Micro bevels and “ruler trick” are fine and work for a lot of people, however I personally do not like to sharpen, I like to make things. After viewing his video several times, I realized that sharpening tools to a razor edge has been going on for hundreds of years with excellent results. Mostly done freehand.

Most men would sharpen their own straight razors, knives, axes and other tools. They did not have all the fancy honing guides and other modern equipment, yet kept a great sharp edge on their tools using stones and leather. This is not rocket science.. two highly polished sides come to a keen edge.

It is worth the time and effort to learn how to quickly and easily hone an edge to steel, keep it razor sharp with minimal effort, and get on with what you want to do without firing up a machine or clamping on a jig.

my 2 cents.

-- Mike.... West Virginia. "Man is a tool using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.". T Carlyle

View wtnhighlander's profile


10 posts in 1043 days

#6 posted 01-14-2014 03:34 AM

As long as the cutting edge contacts the work before the bevel behind it does, the shape of the bevel should make no difference at all.

View Nicholas Hall's profile

Nicholas Hall

350 posts in 1523 days

#7 posted 01-14-2014 03:07 PM

“As long as the cutting edge contacts the work before the bevel behind it does, the shape of the bevel should make no difference at all.”

I think TerryDowning had the definitive reply from a technical standpoint. The bevel does make a difference with respect to the strength of the edge. One thing that I really like about the convex bevel is that it is so much stronger, you can use a traditional chisel in lieu of a mortise chisel.

Paul Sellers also has a video about chopping mortises with a traditional bevel edge chisel; in fact it’s how he chops all of his mortises. I haven’t used my mortise chisels since I switched to his method, which is quicker and more accurate for me. So that’s another set of tools I can put on ebay…

If you don’t hand chop mortises, the bevel doesn’t matter. If you do want to hand chop mortises, and don’t want to spend $ on mortise chisels, the convex bevel is a hell of a lot stronger.

Just my 2 cents.

-- Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. -Groucho Marx

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1172 posts in 1527 days

#8 posted 01-14-2014 06:38 PM

Along with Terry’s comments, I do not like convex bevels on very many of my tools… I’ve tried them, along with hand and power stropping over the last 21 years, so they’ve had their chance… I’ve power ground concave bevels, too… but settled on flat, as described below, as my favorite. ;^)

On bench chisels, I don’t like the way the tools handle with a convex bevel when used bevel down. I also prefer not to strop, as I prefer a perfectly flat back, at least in the 1” closest to the edge, for trimming, This lets the rest of the back guide the cut when cutting bevel up. Stropping often adds a slight curve to the very edge of the back that makes it not work as well for me.

What works for me is an XC-C-F-XF pair of double sided DMT’s, an XXC DMT (or flattening plate), 4000 and 8000 grit waterstones, and a $10 side clamp jig with a simple shop made angle setter. Once the edge is formed and the back flattened on the XXC-XF DMT’s, 95% of my sharpening time is on the 4000 and 8000 grit stones, simply keeping the edge honed.

By “time”, I mean maybe 8-10 strokes on each to sharpen a micro bevel, and 30 seconds to set the jig, totalling maybe 60 seconds. When the micro gets wider than ~ 1/16”, the next sharpening starts with 5-10 strokes on the XC-F DMT’s at the primary bevel, then I slip the blade to the micro position and do the 5-10 on each waterstone. This totals maybe 2 minutes, with the angle jig and micro bevel setting shim.

What makes this system really come together efficiently, is the durability and flatness of the DMT’s and the speed in setting a repeatable angle with the shop-made setter. The XXC DMT flattens the two waterstones in seconds, and shapes all but the most beat up flea market chisel in a few minutes.

There’s 500 ways to sharpen, and it’s important to use whatever works for you.

View RichInSoMD's profile


14 posts in 1739 days

#9 posted 01-02-2016 05:21 AM

I have some wood chisels that I bought recently. I looked at a video, on line, to see how to sharpen them with a stone. I notice that the corners of the chisel get rounded. I don’t know what I am doing to make that happen. How can I prevent the corners from rounding? Any advice would be appreciated.

-- RichInSoMD

View OSU55's profile


1039 posts in 1406 days

#10 posted 01-02-2016 06:34 AM

I pretty much follow the same routine as Oggie, but use honing film instead of waterstones – no flattening. Unless one carries the hollow grind all the way to the edge, which is not common, the flat created at the edge from free hand honing or micro bevels makes the edge just as strong as a full flat bevel (not the whole bevel, but the edge). I was never able to produce as sharp or durable of an edge free hand as using a jig. Lots of different opinions on sharpening.

View Don W's profile

Don W

17869 posts in 1984 days

#11 posted 01-02-2016 02:25 PM

I’ve used both convex and concave. I like the hollow grind because i find it quicker and easier. I’m definitely not saying it is quicker and easier, just with my setup, “I” find it is.

I think the argument about which is stronger is a bit more theory than practice. I think in practice it would be insignificant from a woodworking stand point.

I like Terry’s explanation though.

I use a grinder to make the initial hollow grind. Note this is due to the fact I restore about 100+ planes a year. I need something quicker to regain the bevel and get a good straight edge. If I had a set of handplane, and only did woodworking, I can understand a different approach, although my grinder gets used for a lot more than just sharpening in my shop.

I don’t get too excited about what method someone uses, sharp is sharp. I just hate the hype about very expensive equipment a lot of new woodworkers hear they need.
My experience has been a lot of young hungry writers have feed on the inexperience of new woodworkers. I like it when a woodworker finally figures out all that equipment wasn’t necessary and tried to spread the word. If you’ve got the disposable income and want to drop $800 on a worksharp, I’m fine with that, but please don’t try to make the newcomers think it’s a necessity.

I don’t buy Swartz’s argument for a minute that he can’t hand sharpen. He chooses not to because it sells tools, and that’s how he makes a living. I’ve seen a few other writers suddenly decide the Veritas honing guide is the cat’s meow. Coincidently it’s right after they became a writer for a known publication. Huh! I wonder how that happened?

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

View shampeon's profile


1705 posts in 1600 days

#12 posted 01-02-2016 11:45 PM

I agree with Don: sharp is sharp, and there’s more than one way to get there. I personally use the convex bevel a la Paul Sellers because a) it’s easier to free-hand it and b) I like the idea that there’s a little more support behind the cutting edge to prevent fractures. But it’s not like I did some variable-limited test to determine that. I’ve been putting convex bevels on my kitchen knives for years, so I sort of naturally came to it in woodworking later on.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View rwe2156's profile


2110 posts in 898 days

#13 posted 01-03-2016 12:42 AM

Dittos on Oggie and DonW.

I would add

1. I find the angles gradually creeping upward and I periodically have to regrind the bevel. With the concave method, I think you will increase the angle even faster.

2. You are increasing the wedge effect of the chisel, which alone is a reason for me not do it.

That being said, I find Seller’s sharpening techniques unique and they apparently work for him.
But “Sharpening to 600 grit” is something I just can’t see working for me.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View bandit571's profile


14045 posts in 2100 days

#14 posted 01-03-2016 12:51 AM

Usually, I will grind only to restore the edge
Usually, a Veritas MK1 MIGHT get used to set the angle I want
I will sharpen on 600 and 1K grit oil stones, the onto
A Wet or Dry 1K, 2K, and 2.5K paper, with oil.
Then, an OLD leather work belt is used as a strop…dry.
Then…back to work.

Like DonW, I rehab a LOT of planes and chisels….

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View shampeon's profile


1705 posts in 1600 days

#15 posted 01-03-2016 01:19 AM

The only thing you need to remember when doing convex bevel sharpening is that you’re spending most of your stroke on the bevel, not the edge. That way it doesn’t increase the edge angle. There’s a sound difference when you get to the edge. Getting the hang of this takes a little bit of practice, but isn’t a super big deal if you’re starting with a flat bevel.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

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