best way to sharpen chisels?

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Forum topic by apontecraft posted 05-27-2016 07:20 AM 2715 views 1 time favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 1653 days

05-27-2016 07:20 AM

Topic tags/keywords: chisel sharpening

HI am new to wood working and I just got my first set of Stanley Bailey Chisels any recommendation on best way to sharpen these nice looking chisels?

Thanks in advance

22 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10784 posts in 4561 days

#1 posted 05-27-2016 07:28 AM

Diamond stones. Brand prices vary a lot and I do not
think there is a strict correlation of higher price to greater
durability. There is some variance in manufacturing
technology however.

I say diamond not because I use them (I do somewhat)
but because I think they are the best value to a
beginner right now. If they were available when I
started that’s what I wold have bought. They were
available actually, but waterstones were a better
value and waterstones do have sufficient virtues
that I have not abandoned them.

View MikeB_UK's profile


163 posts in 1948 days

#2 posted 05-27-2016 09:39 AM

Oil stone, water stone, ceramic stone, diamond stone, sandpaper (scary sharp) – they all work, pick any one, practice.
Freehand or Guide, again pick one, practice.

People will jump on here soon telling you only one method is the best, ignore them :)

Read these two

To start off I’d not bother with anything fancy in the way of a convex or micro-bevel, just try to get the chisel sharp, after that you should have decided if you are going freehand or using a guide which will pretty much sort out the bevel style.

Keep both hands behind the pointy end, these things get very sharp :)

Personally I use sandpaper (scary sharp) for flattening the back and first sharpen, then an oil stone to resharpen.

-- If I say I'll fix something around the house I will, there is no use nagging about it every 6 months.

View Redoak49's profile (online now)


4949 posts in 2902 days

#3 posted 05-27-2016 10:47 AM

I will be interested in the responses. I am looking for a low cost method for someone who just wants to use chisels once in awhile. The person will not want to spend the time to learn to do by hand.

I am thinking a low cost honing guide and scary sharp with abrasive paper on glass. Or is a guide and two grits of diamond plate. Looking for something that works, is easy, and low cost if possible.

View Lazyman's profile


5942 posts in 2301 days

#4 posted 05-27-2016 01:12 PM

You may want to try a couple of methods to see which one works best for you but as a beginning sharpener myself, a good honing guide and sandpaper works pretty well for me. Just google “scary sharp” or “sandpaper sharpening “and you will find several good tutorials. You’ll always find people that think using a stone (which I have also done) or learning to hone without a guide is better, but for me, sandpaper was easy to learn, easily repeatable and quick to execute.
One good thing about the sand paper method is that trying it is relatively cheap to get started, especially if you have a piece of glass from an old picture frame lying around. Diamond and water stones are fairly expensive to try. A good single grit diamond or water stone can be $50+ each and you need at least 2 or 3 different grits to get a mirror hone. For $30, you can get yourself a piece of glass and 4 or 5 different grits of wet/dry sandpaper. The honing guides range from cheap to expensive. Just find one with good reviews that can handle the width of the plane irons you want to sharpen. There are also a bunch of examples of DIY honing guides.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View JBrow's profile


1368 posts in 1833 days

#5 posted 05-27-2016 02:23 PM


After settling on a sharpening method, the first step with a new set of chisels is flattening the back of the chisel. I like to mark the first 1-1/2” up from the tip of the chisel with a Sharpie pen. The back side of the chisel is laid flat on the sharpening surface and worked until all the marks from the pen are gone. Repeat the process through whatever grits you intend to use. The back of the chisel should never have to be dressed flat again.

Although the bevel can be sharpened free-hand, I find using a Honing Guide to be the most reliable method for preserving the original angle of the bevel. For some reason, I have a tendency to slightly lift one edge of the chisel when sharpening the bevel so I have to pay close attention when working the bevel. I also like marking the bevel with a Sharpie pen to keep track of progress. When done at one grit, tell-tale scratch marks should appear uniformly along the bevel. Work the bevel through the grits.

Before putting the chisel to work, the wire edge formed on the back of the chisel at the edge is removed. Place the back of the chisel flat on the sharpening surface and make several passes (less than 5 passes is usually enough) moving the chisel in a direction that is parallel to the cutting edge. Lightly passing a finger across the cutting edge will reveal whether the wire edge is gone.

I made a set-up block for my chisels so that the chisels can be set in the Honing Guide quickly and easily. It consists of a base and a stop. First set the chisel in the Honing Guide to achieve the correct bevel angle. Lay the chisel on a small block of flat wood (mine is a 3” x 3” x ¾” plywood), the base. Move the edge of the Honing Guide to the edge of the base and mark where the beveled end of the chisel lands. The stop is screwed to the base with the straight edge of the stop on the mark and parallel to the edge of the base against which the Honing Guide was placed.

When it is time to re-sharpen a chisel, the chisel is laid flat on the set block with the bevel end against the stop. The Honing Guide is placed on the chisel and positioned to contact with the base. The Honing Guide is tightened down to lock the chisel in place.

If your sharpening method uses soft stones, keeping the stones flat produces good results. A flattening stone is used to make sharpening stones flat. Sandpaper on glass (or granite) and diamond stones backed by a steel plate require no flattening.

The Honing Guide I use is similar to the one pictured here:

View TheFridge's profile


10861 posts in 2399 days

#6 posted 05-27-2016 02:36 PM

I’d recommend using a strop to remove the wire edge on the back.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View apontecraft's profile


8 posts in 1653 days

#7 posted 05-27-2016 03:15 PM

wow thanks everyone for the great post!

View Kelly's profile


3156 posts in 3857 days

#8 posted 05-27-2016 03:46 PM

You will see some insist you have to do it free hand and develop muscle memory. As said above, ignore them. They don’t have real lives where we sharpen carving knives, chisels, pocket knives, lawn mower blades, kitchen knives, a draw knife, lathe knives . . . .

In short, though doing a lot of one thing may make you good, that isn’t practical for the majority of us (except in a dullish emergency).

This is not to say don’t focus on free hand sharpening. I do that with my lathe knives a lot and get good results. I also get bad results and have to take another shot at the profile or sharpening. It is to say, listen to others who say try a few ways and see how it goes for you and which you prefer.

I will be buying an expensive system for my lathe knives. This is because I have learned, from sharpening pocket and kitchen knives, shifting your hand even one degree can add a lot of work to the task. Conversely, using my Edge Pro gives me “drop through the potato” edges on my kitchen knives in just minutes.

I have a wall of grinders and buffers. Most are garage sale or craigslist scores. Some, I’ve modified to make them more sharpening friendly. For example, my four stone grinder now has a 3/4 hp DC, variable speed, reversible motor, to reduce speed so I don’t heat metal as much, or as easily.

I also have a dental lathe, which is a strange name for a buffer. I use it to touch up my fine edges all the time and it works quickly and well,but only after I get to a good edge I can touch up. A little jeweler’s rouge is all it takes, or a bit of chromium oxide for serious work.

I also have some 3/4” MDO I cut into 8” diameter wheels then trued on my lathe. These take polishing compounds well, can be formed to convenient shapes and work wonderfully for touch up. Making these was inspired by Flex, which sells carving knives and a little chunk of soft wood you apply their gold paste to. I does a quick job of honing edges. These MDO chunks could also be used free hand, for fine honing, or formed to run on a lathe.

On the so called scary sharp system, some of us were doing that decades before the so called creator became known. It works.

If you can’t find glass, any reasonably flat surface will get you going. After all, it isn’t a “all or nothing” deal.

If you like the sandpaper approach, you can drop by granite places and rescue scraps from their discard pile. If that doesn’t work, buy a single tile from a big box and have it cut.

I have a slew of diamond stones that allow me to do flat or serrated things. Some are cheap (e.g., HF) and get me to point B, before going on to point C. I also have wet stones. I love both. If you go either route, use water liberally.

P.S. To keep your stones flat, consider going on line to Edge Pro or another source of inexpensive carbide granules. Use this on your granite and you can make short work of truing your stones.

In summary: Play

View DrDirt's profile


4615 posts in 4656 days

#9 posted 05-27-2016 03:48 PM

+1 Fridge – - use a strop.

I got a piece of tooling leather from Hobby Lobby for about 4 bucks.

NOTE – - if you have a smart phone you can get a coupon fo 40% off any item.

I copied what Gary has – (pic) and in the video at the ~4 minute mark.
I have also used a buffing wheel charged with compound, but this is handier and less mess than the wheel.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View HokieKen's profile


15311 posts in 2052 days

#10 posted 05-27-2016 04:40 PM

I’ve used scary sharp for a long time. Recently, I got a good deal on a set of diamond stones at an estate auction so I picked them up. With both methods I use the leather strop ^ with green compound to finish the edge.

Which is better? Well, the diamonds are faster. I don’t have to cut paper and spray adhesive and fix it to my granite tile. But, I can’t honestly say I get a better edge with diamonds than I do with scary sharp. I just get there faster.

I’d say whichever method suits your budget is the right one. They’re all abrasives and will all do the job. As far as a honing guide, I freehand my chisels but have never been able to get the hang of free-handing plane irons. So I use a guide for those. Again, free-hand is faster because there’s no extra equipment and no setup time but if a guide helps you get a sharper tool then use it.

Just my $.02 FWIW.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Loren's profile


10784 posts in 4561 days

#11 posted 05-27-2016 04:44 PM

No problem with stropping as a honing method. It works
well if the geometry of the tool is where it needs to be.

The man does have a new set of chisels. The backs
will want dressing.

That’s why I said diamond stones. I checked the price
on EZE-lap, which is what I have. They seem to have
gone up in price…

View HokieKen's profile


15311 posts in 2052 days

#12 posted 05-27-2016 04:51 PM

Yeah Loren, the EZ lap and DMT are both pretty high. I have an old Norton diamond bench stone that was cheap some 15 years ago but when I last looked, they don’t make diamond bench stones any more. Economically, if you’re buying new, it’s probably cheaper to go with waterstones. At least for the up-front cost.

Personally, I plan to continue to dress/lap new tools (and old ones that require it) with wet/dry paper to try to prolong the useful life of the diamond plates.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Kirk650's profile


680 posts in 1662 days

#13 posted 05-27-2016 05:59 PM

I used to use oil stones. Then the wife and I took a woodworking class. I wanted to see if she wanted to get more involved in woodworking (didn’t) and I wanted some hands-on time with an instructor on hand cut dovetails. What I didn’t expect to learn was chisel and hand plane blade sharpening. The instructor was into spending as little time sharpening and as much time woodworking as possible. He used diamond plates. He could freestyle an edge amazingly fast. I was stunned, but I sure paid attention. He’d start with a Medium grit, go from there to Very Fine, and then to a strop with a sharpening rouge. Said he didn’t need a grit between medium and very fine. He made a believer out of me, and I have followed his approach since then.

I really hate to waste time sharpening, so the ‘very sharp and very quick’ approach works for me.

I should sell the oil stones. They just take up space now.

View OSU55's profile


2658 posts in 2903 days

#14 posted 05-30-2016 12:46 PM

I’ll cast my vote for diamond plates vs any other stones. No flattening. Many end up buying a coarse diamond to flatten stones anyway so I don’t see other stones as a good value (oil stones are way too slow – I have used them). For scary sharp, for medium (30 um) and up use lapping film. The film doesn’t flex like sandpaper and there are much finer grits available. Look here for a shop made guide. I have a smaller version than what’s pictured for chisels.

View TheFridge's profile


10861 posts in 2399 days

#15 posted 05-30-2016 01:13 PM

I’d use stones or plates for the backs. After that, it doesn’t matter. The only thing I use for honing is a small piece of 2000g on a piece of granite and a green charged strop. No guide.

Edit: free hand is pretty easy and it doesn’t take years of practice. Took me maybe a half dozen times before I got the feel for it.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

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