Sharpening chisels—forget weaker micro bevels

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Blog entry by Paul Sellers posted 01-29-2012 11:14 PM 16014 reads 30 times favorited 127 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Sharpening chisels—forget weaker micro bevels

Controversial though it may seem, and though adopting micro-bevel methods for sharpening chisels may seem to make sense, a freehand convex bevel actually gives exactly the same sharpness as any micro-bevel method, but takes only a fraction of the time to develop. A convex bevel keeps its edge longer, is stronger than most other bevels and needs no special equipment beyond a pair of hands. Establishing the skill to sharpen the convex camber on the bevel of a chisel is amazingly fast and when you do, you have that skill for life. On the other hand, why take ten times longer using machine methods when simple non-electric methods prove ten times faster and produce pristine results in seconds every time?

While I was teaching this in this week’s foundational workshop I though it might be helpful if you saw the sharpening  technique we use and have been used for centuries in action.  Stones do not have to be flat to use this method, so there is no flattening of stones as with conventional water- and oil-stone methods. This is explained more in depth in two earlier blogs 13 December 2011 Sharpening on Hollow Stones and  11 December 2011 Going against the gods – myth busting.


Sharpening plane irons

We covered sharpening the cutting irons of bench planes too and so I have yet another video we made during lunchtime of Saturday’s class that will help you to do the same with your bench planes. That will be up in a couple of days.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

127 comments so far

View KTMM (Krunkthemadman)'s profile

KTMM (Krunkthemadman)

1058 posts in 4351 days

#1 posted 01-29-2012 11:25 PM

Paul, I got your working wood book and dvd set for Christmas. I am completely sold on your sharpening method. The best part is how easy it is and how little time it takes to get back to work. I hope to post my completed European workbench soon also.

-- Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Vince Lombardi

View buffalosean's profile


174 posts in 4544 days

#2 posted 01-29-2012 11:32 PM

interesting. yet another sharpening technique.

How long do you find it takes for most people to get comfortable enough to product a consistent convex bevel?

I’ve never tried this or seen it before. I just might try it. nothing ventured, nothing gained.

-- There are many ways to skin a cat...... but, the butter knife is not recommended

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 4331 days

#3 posted 01-29-2012 11:34 PM

I absolutely love it !

Thanks so much for putting this together, Paul.

At the risk of asking silly questions … why—in your opinion—would narrower-width chisels need fewer strokes than wider chisels ? Intuitively, I’d think they’d all need the same, or … thickness of the blade would be the driving factor ?

Dead brill, though. Thanks for sharing !

-- -- Neil

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4491 days

#4 posted 01-30-2012 12:02 AM

This is very interesting Paul. I too use only diamond stones and hone by hand, mainly because they are fast and stay flat and all I have to do is wet them a little with spray water bottle.

You have stated that you like your diamond stones partly because they remain flat, does that mean flat stones do have an advantage over hollowed stone? This seems to contradict what you are saying about water and oil stones which you say work great hollowed out. I don’t doubt that you know what you are talking about, but I just want to know if I am understanding this properly, as the there seems to be some inconsistency here.

I have never sharpened my chisels or plane blades with a convex edge before. This sounds interesting and I will certainly try it out. My only reservation is about how well it will work with the bevel down position. What is your experience with that? Another thing I noticed is that you have polished the entire bevel. What, if any, advantage is there to that?

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Brit's profile


8334 posts in 4000 days

#5 posted 01-30-2012 12:18 AM

Great post Paul. I was hoping you’d do a video about this technique on LJs.

Stefang – No doubt Paul will answer for himself, but I believe what Paul was getting at was that your stones don’t need to be flat to achieve the convex bevel. Of course, the backs of the chisels still need to be flattened to begin with and that is when it is critical to have flat stones.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View SamuelP's profile


793 posts in 3803 days

#6 posted 01-30-2012 12:19 AM

That is how my Dad taught me.

-- -Sam - FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View Brit's profile


8334 posts in 4000 days

#7 posted 01-30-2012 12:21 AM

I’ve seen old oil stones that are concave from craftsmen using this technique.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View KTMM (Krunkthemadman)'s profile

KTMM (Krunkthemadman)

1058 posts in 4351 days

#8 posted 01-30-2012 01:05 AM

This method works great. My biggest fear was to screw up, so I started out by sharpening one of the worst chisels in my shop. It was sharper using this method on oilstones, than some of my best chisels sharpened on my tormek. It was also easier to clean up. I have a full set of diamond stones coming in this week I’m just itching to use.

-- Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Vince Lombardi

View Bertha's profile


13624 posts in 3850 days

#9 posted 01-30-2012 01:28 AM

You really work the strop much more aggressively than I do. I may have to reconsider my methods. Thanks for this!

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

View Broglea's profile


694 posts in 4248 days

#10 posted 01-30-2012 01:37 AM

This may cause me to rethink my method. Looking forward to the plane iron video. Thanks Paul.

View Paul Sellers's profile

Paul Sellers

278 posts in 3728 days

#11 posted 01-30-2012 01:58 AM

you guys pull out the best from me.

I am glad these work for you and I know you will enjoy the compactness of this bench. It really works and it’s one I use all the time. I just travelled in the States doing masterclasses with one and have done this for about 20 years. Enjoy!

It takes about twenty minutes because it is so body-natural and intuitive too. be careful. Once you try it you’ll be hooked and become controversial like me. You’ll do what feels right to you and be doing it of your won free will instead of doing what everyone else expects of you.

It’s not so silly. Distributing the weight over a wider surface seems to take more effort, which according to laws like “Equal and Opposite Forces make sense of silly things.

What I am saying is that when someone uses a hollowed stone they don;t technically need to flatten the stones, but someone some years ago said that you do. That wasn’t true then and Its not true now. I went to woodworking shows and watched all of the Gurus you know and respect and watched them create a hollow and then flatten it. it became a ritualistic sharpening that was more Eastern than real. If anyone insists on using natural stones then why not simply let it hollow and use the other flat side for the flat face. At ;east that way there would be only minimal need for flattening as the flat face of the chisel rubbed over the whole face will hollow the blade on a much lesser scale.
That said. In reality we never need to flatten the large flat face once it’s done initially during restoration or the first preparation of the chisel. I always flatten and polish the chisel when new or restored. Once that’s done it’s over. The only part that wears, and it’s not even wear but fracture, is the very cutting edge. We get to new unfractured steel by abrading the bevel only and not generally the flat face. That’s that fastest way to create the new cutting edge. The large flat face simply gets polished more and more with each sharpening.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

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Paul Sellers

278 posts in 3728 days

#12 posted 01-30-2012 02:07 AM

You are of course right. If an existing stone is hollow and you don;t want to buy a new flat stone, flatten the large face with abarasive paper until flat. I go to 1500 grit wet and dry on a tile I prove to be flat. After that I polish the face with car polish until I see my face and the chisel is done and dusted forever pretty much.
Hope you are well. Greta getting together last year. Been in the US working on the new school in New York. had a great time with a bunch of woodies there.

Hello Al,
Yep. My son Joseph does a neat trick. He goes to 25,000 grit for his gouges and planes because he makes violins and cellos. He has a 3” x 3” x 10” block in a stopped cradle that clamps low in the vise. The cradle is 3 1/8” wide and 12” long with a stop at one end so that the square strop anchors against the stop. He covers each face with leather and charges each face with 15,000 chromium oxide and the next face with 18,000 and the last face with 25,000. The last face is hard leather only which he keeps free of any grit and uses purely for stropping and polishing or should i say buffing.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

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Paul Sellers

278 posts in 3728 days

#13 posted 01-30-2012 02:13 AM

I suppose when I think about it there is marginally more need for additional control, but I have done this for 48 years now and find one the same as the other now. Practice makes permanent.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

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Paul Sellers

278 posts in 3728 days

#14 posted 01-30-2012 02:14 AM

You had a good dad.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

View SASmith               's profile


1850 posts in 4144 days

#15 posted 01-30-2012 03:05 AM

I will have to try this.

-- Scott Smith, Southern Illinois

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