Sharpening Woes

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Forum topic by Jeff posted 11-01-2010 12:58 AM 2109 views 1 time favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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116 posts in 3990 days

11-01-2010 12:58 AM

Topic tags/keywords: sharpening chisels lie nielsen sharp

I’ve got all the gear, I’ve watched the videos, read the books etc.. but when it comes down to sharpening it never seems to go as advertised.

I’m trying to flatten the back of a new Lie Nielsen 3/4” socket chisel. I started on 400 grit sandpaper on a block of granite. This part seems easy, I get uniform scratches on the back. Good to go right? So I move on to my 1000 grit stone (which I just flattened). Here, the new scratch pattern grows larger from the middle of the chisel outwards (towards the tip and handle). Initially progress seems fast enough, although I still don’t understand why the pattern at 1000 grit wasn’t uniform.

However, there remains about 3/16” at the tip that is not taking on the same scratch pattern and dull grey of the rest of the back. I don’t get it, Lie Nielsen quality is top notch and I don’t doubt that it is a great chisel. Could be my technique… but again don’t see what I’m doing wrong here.

Frustrating to say the least as I still have the rest of the set to sharpen and I worked on this one at least 4 hours today with no end in sight.

Has anyone else had this same type of scenario where no matter how hard you work at it, there is one portion that just wont’ get in line with the rest of the chisel?

Thanks for any help.


-- Jeff

21 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


118162 posts in 4653 days

#1 posted 11-01-2010 01:12 AM

It seems like the angle your sharpening at is not correct .


View Jeff's profile


116 posts in 3990 days

#2 posted 11-01-2010 01:17 AM

That’s the thing though, this is just flattening the back, so there is no angle to screw up.

-- Jeff

View a1Jim's profile


118162 posts in 4653 days

#3 posted 11-01-2010 01:30 AM

Check to with a straight edge and see if the back is flat , If it is not you will need to start with a much courser grit to get it flat .


View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 4074 days

#4 posted 11-01-2010 01:43 AM

Go through the numbers. The coarse are for shaping. The fine grits are for polishing.

If it is not flat I would go down to something coarse (80 -100 grit) and get in the neighborhood (sometimes even coarser!).

Then step 200, 300, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, 2000. Switch when the surface becomes uniform.

If you don’t have it flat at the coarse grit, it is for sure you are not going to make any headway at 1000 grit.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Jeff's profile


116 posts in 3990 days

#5 posted 11-01-2010 02:58 AM

Update: put in another hour out in the shop this evening. I decided to try to use the sandpaper more than waterstones and it seemed to help. I suspect my waterstones were not as flat as I thought and I probably created the problem that I am now trying to remedy. So I’m stopping now before I throw something to the floor. Looks like I’ll have to start at the coarse grits and work my way up. I bet you the first few hours that I worked at it I was actually creating the concave back on it, so I say ”$#%#((@( !!”

What do you use to flatten your waterstones? I have a Norton flattening stone but apparently it becomes out of flat fairly rapidly.

I do appreciate the advice guys, sometimes I just need to vent some of my frustration.

-- Jeff

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 4074 days

#6 posted 11-01-2010 04:41 AM

I don’t have any waterstones but I have seen references that say to flatten them with a diamond stone.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 4047 days

#7 posted 11-01-2010 06:30 AM

I’m no sharpening expert, but as a jeweler I have done my fair share of sharpening. You think a chisel needs to be sharp to cut wood, you ought to try sharpening a graver (a hand engraving tool, like a very small chisel) to the point you can push it through gold or even steel.
- I don’t see the need to use any thing other than silicon carbide “sand paper” stuck to a sheet of glass or, more recently, a granite tile. Water stones, arkansas oil stones, hard arkansas oil stones, india stones; I’ve used them all. Most, in my humble opinion, are a huge waste of time and money. I can’t do any thing with any of these stones (with the exception of diamond) that I can’t do just as well with “wet-dry” paper. I do use a diamond card to touch up carbide saw blades and router bits. Diamond powder in a water slurry on a powered felt or leather lap will polish an edge to absolute mirror finish that you can’t get any other way.

As others here have said, you must not start on too fine of a grit. 400 grit is way too fine. That is the beginning of polishing, not useful for flattening. You can do in 10 minutes on 80, 150, 220, 320, 400 grit papers ( about 2 to 3 minutes each) what you would take 10 hours to do starting with 400 grit.

I find it hard to imagine a Lie Nielson chisel needed flattening out of the box. I would have probably have put a thin steel ruler under the back edge (handle end) of the chisel and just touched up the working end a little then lapped. Should have been all it needed.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20785 posts in 4752 days

#8 posted 11-01-2010 08:58 AM

water stones get out of flat really easy. That is why a lot of people don’t like them. Some guys flatten them everytime they use them.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View treeman's profile


208 posts in 4526 days

#9 posted 11-01-2010 10:52 AM


I also use the Norton water stones and found that the flattening stone is practically worthless. As you have found out, it gets out of flat and transfers to the waterstone. I have switched to 220 wet or dry sandpaper on plate glass to flatten my stones and this seems to have solved my problems. I flatten my waterstone after each use and now have good success.

View Marc5's profile


304 posts in 4418 days

#10 posted 11-01-2010 12:14 PM

One of the biggest reasons to buy a premium is so you do not have to spend several hours tuning up the tool. I have several LN chisels and needed no flattening at all. After I sharpened them a couple time I check the back on they were still flat.

You should call LN and see what they recommend. You may have a bad tool and it could be replaced.

-- Marc

View Sawdust4Blood's profile


408 posts in 4098 days

#11 posted 11-01-2010 12:43 PM

I love water stones and use mine religiously. Flattening stones on the other hand have never convinced me for all the reasons mentioned above (should we really need something to flatten the flattening stone?). Subsequently, I flatten my water stones with a diamond plate and have never had any problems.

-- Greg, Severn MD

View rance's profile


4278 posts in 4236 days

#12 posted 11-01-2010 12:44 PM

Jeff, I’m no expert either but I have visions in my head of you flattening the back of your Lie Nielsen using real nice sandpaper on a piece of granite from HF. If you use the sandpaper method for 400 grit, then why not keep with the sandpaper method on up? My guess is that the flatness of your granite is not the same as the flatness of your other aparatus. Check them all and report back.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View miserybob's profile


88 posts in 4120 days

#13 posted 11-01-2010 01:03 PM

As others have said, LN tools should require no flattening. If you got a bad chisel, call them – they’ll replace it, guaranteed.

View shopdog's profile


582 posts in 4561 days

#14 posted 11-01-2010 01:19 PM


I have a lot of chisels, and sharpen them with PSA backed sandpaper on 1/4” glass.
Your LN chisel probably came with a flat back. They are great chisels.
If not, you really need to concentrate on the first inch from the edge, as that’s all you need. If the rest isn’t flat, you can worry about that in 10 years, when you get there.

-- Steve--

View snowdog's profile


1179 posts in 5059 days

#15 posted 11-01-2010 02:34 PM

Sharpening tools is a skill that took me forever to not master. I am finally at a place where I don’t want to throw the tool across that room when I an done. Maybe in another 20 years I will master it <laugh>

Like they all said before me, flat is key. I went and bought the JET Slow Speed Wet Sharpener System, for the most part (bulk of my work) it works for me.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

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