chisel sharpening

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by Peter5 posted 01-13-2011 09:45 PM 5110 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Peter5's profile


66 posts in 3074 days

01-13-2011 09:45 PM

This is probably a very silly question, but what’s the best way to go on sharpening chisels? I recently bought one of those tools that holds your chisel at a set angle while you take it back and forth across your stone, but I kind of get the feeling that a truly seasoned veteran would scoff at this. I don’t know, it seems like an airtight approach, but I’m pretty sure they don’t dedicate multiple days at my local city college on sharpening chisels with this device. Please advise.

-- Pete, Long Beach, CA

20 replies so far

View Manitario's profile


2725 posts in 3154 days

#1 posted 01-13-2011 09:58 PM

You’ll get 50 different responses to what is the “best” way to sharpen…I bought a really good book on sharpening called “The Perfect Edge; the Ultimate Guide to Sharpening”-by Ron Hock. I couldn’t sharpen anything before reading this book and now so far have been achieving razor sharpness consistently on my chisels. I use an angle guide (pros may scoff at this but it works for me) and a series of sandpaper (400-2000 grit) on a granite plate and hone at each grit until I have a good wire edge, then I move up to the next grit.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View swirt's profile


3676 posts in 3243 days

#2 posted 01-13-2011 10:04 PM

A roller jig can be very handy for sharpening plane blades and chisels. Some chisels may not work well in the jig depending on their thickness (mortising chisels as opposed to dovetail chisels). If however you have a jig that fits your chisels securely, then use it.

Make things faster and more repeatable by setting up a gauge to always get the exact same bevel by getting the chisel to always protrude from the jig by the same amount. This way you will spend much less time re-sharpening and just a bit of time re-honing the edge.

Yes they can be sharpened well by hand, but the consistency of set-up makes it worth using a roller jig. The jig also helps if your shop is not well lit, and if your eyes are not as good as they used to be.

-- Galootish log blog,

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3281 days

#3 posted 01-13-2011 10:22 PM

A good honing guide is really the only easy way to ensure the angle you’re looking for and the way I’ve seen most “pros” do it. Can you freehand? Sure, but that’s not very easy to do. And the fancy sharpening grinders and polishers all have some sort of jig to help you keep that angle. So I wouldn’t worry about anyone scoffing at this – this is how it’s done.

Whether you use the sandpaper method (“Scary Sharp”) or waterstones or oilstones, a rolling honing guide is going to be handy for the bevel.

Personally, I’ve settled on the following method for sharpening. After figuring out I wasn’t a sandpaper/scary sharp method kind of guy, I like the results I’m getting with the following system.

1000/6000 combo waterstone – $30
green compound from Lee Valley – $8

Flatten the backs of the chisels on the 1000 grit stone, then 6000. Use the roller guide to sharpen the bevel at 1000 and 6000. Rub some green compound on MDF. Flatten the back over the green/mdf, then bevel.

If you go the waterstone route, eventually you need a way of keeping the waterstone flat because it will wear unevenly. Different ways to do this – I’ve landed on a diamond stone.

I’ve found sharpening is a really personal thing. While woodworkers quarrel over the ways to get the sharpest edge, I think preferences really have more to do with which technique a given woodworker feels comfortable with and is able to execute efficiently and reliably. The easier it is for you to whip out your sharpening method and do it without dreading it, the more likely you are to actually do it in the first place.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3445 days

#4 posted 01-13-2011 10:24 PM

live4ever: Very well said !

-- -- Neil

View Peter5's profile


66 posts in 3074 days

#5 posted 01-13-2011 10:27 PM

Thanks everyone. I feel a bit overwhelmed now- I didn’t know about switching out grits and all that- I just figured I could get by with the $6 sanding stone I bought from Ace. Well if nothing else I now know that I don’t need to feel lame about using my angle guide, so I’ve at least got a place to start. Thanks again!

-- Pete, Long Beach, CA

View PurpLev's profile


8550 posts in 3919 days

#6 posted 01-13-2011 10:35 PM

Any method that will get your blades sharp is the BEST way to sharpen them!

that said when I hear “sharpening” I think of 2 stages:

1. Grinding/Shaping – resetting bevels and flatenning backs. This is usually done with coarse grits in the 100-400 range. trying to accomplish this with honing stones set in the 1000+ grit will help discouraging you from ever trying to sharpen anything.

2. Honing – polishing the already sharp/shaped edges (bevel side, and back side). this is done with high grits 1000+. the higher you step those up, the finer the edge will get.

Both steps can be done using a honing jig – I’ve done it when I started and it works great.

That said, I now grind/shape my bevels using a grinder (slow-wet) which leaves a slight hollow grind on the bevel which makes it easy to hone and do touchups to the blade freehand later on. Is IS also possible to freehand without a hollow grind if you just understand the concept and practice – it’s not THAT bad.

BUT, there is also nothing wrong with using jigs. as mentioned – it’s a foolproof system to get consistent bevels time and time again.

As long as you get a sharp tool, it really makes little difference how you got there. it boils down to personal preference nothing more.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View cut3times's profile


116 posts in 3277 days

#7 posted 01-13-2011 11:08 PM

The main thing, as Lev mentioned, is a consistent bevel which means using a jig. You will spend less time when you can get the same bevel angle every time. A secondary bevel also will save time (5°). I use an Eclipse jig for most chisels and a Richard Kell jig for small chisels. I use a Veritas MkII for plane blades. Most my sharpening is done on a Norton 1000/8000 water stone. Herbs “Yellow Stone” compound is an excellent final honing compound.


-- And Still Too Short - "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." John Lennon

View mattjkafka's profile


5 posts in 2962 days

#8 posted 01-14-2011 12:06 AM

hello all even though this is about chisels this probably isn’t the right place to ask this but i’m new to the site and was wondering where can you buy new chisels? i don’t really like buying things off the internet to often but i need a new set of chisels and since i’m a bit of a beginner in the art i don’t really know where to go.

View Bertha's profile


13551 posts in 2964 days

#9 posted 01-14-2011 12:18 AM

Hey Pete, these are all excellent answers. I love how sharpening is like…nostrils, everyone having them and all. A single grit stone, unfortunately, isn’t going to get you where you want to go. The scary sharp system isn’t scary at all & for less than $20, it’s largely replaced my $800 wet-grinder with all its fandangled attachements (lathe tools excepted). Grab yourself a length of marble windowsill from your favorite box store, some spray adhesive, & some sandpaper. You’ll have a razor sharp chisel after a little googling & sweat equity. In my experience, failing to polish the back of the chisel flat is the most persistent error. Good luck!

And to Matt, I buy cheap Marples chiisels from the big box stores & lop an inch off their cheap plastic handles. It’s no vintage Butcher mortise or ink pattern Japan, but it’ll serve you well until you decide what you like in a chisel & upgrade. For $20.00 for several, that’s my $0.02.

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

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3242 days

#10 posted 01-14-2011 12:30 AM

Do you have a woodworking specialty store near you? If not, you may be stuck buying from the web.

I don’t know how well they will hold up, but I just got a “Buck Brothers” chisel from Home Depot to fill in a missing chisel size for my pieced together set of classic Stanley #60s. I thought it looked pretty close to the old Stanleys, but when I got it home I discovered two things. It was about 1” longer than the Stanleys and was pretty darn sharp right out of the package; better than my Wood River set from Woodcrafter. Then one last bit of shock; the Buck Brothers chisels are MADE IN THE USA. I’m not ready to recommend these chisels yet, not enough usage history, but I wish I had gotten a set of these instead of the Wood River “made in china” paint can openers.

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3445 days

#11 posted 01-14-2011 12:42 AM


I’ve got one of those, too.

If you care (lots of debate on the subject), you may want to spend some time flattening the sole plate.

Mine was WAY out of whack.

In theory …

Draw a line around the perimeter of the plate, using magic marker.

Then draw a big “X” across the sole plate, from corner to corner.

Then, using 400 grit sandpaper, on something good and flat (MDF, plate glass), spend some time running the plane (blade IN, of course) across the paper.

On mine, I found it was VERY concave. I kept flattening until all but the smallest part of the crossing-area of the “X” was gone, and then switched to higher and higher grits, polishing it.

Next, I’ll wax the sole plate, and—since my blade (iron) was pretty sharp, too—I’ll polish that, and be done.

My quick review OF reviews found that lots of people scrapped their Buck Bros. planes because they couldn’t GET their sole plate flat enough. I “got lucky” ;-)

-- -- Neil

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 3322 days

#12 posted 01-14-2011 06:51 AM


First, what do you care if oldtimers scoff at your method? If it gets your tools sharp, it works. I have a wet, slow speed sharpner, a high-speed grinder, and a $7 roller jig. Like Purp-lev and others, I use them all. Mostly I use the roller and sandpaper on mdf. Really bad edges I start with 120, get the bevel right, then come up through the grades to 2000. Make sure the back is flat and polished, and be careful. I didn’t realize how sharp they were till last night. My finger will heal in about a week. The one thing to remember; the MORE YOU SHARPEN, THE LESS YOU WILL HAVE TO SHARPEN. In other words, don’t wait until theyre beaten to death; use a while and sharpen a while. Less work and more consistent service.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View Steven H's profile

Steven H

1117 posts in 3331 days

#13 posted 01-14-2011 07:24 AM

View Wiljoy's profile


2 posts in 2961 days

#14 posted 01-14-2011 07:57 AM

I was brought up in the “old school” and always use a 8X2×1 for sharpening all my woodcutting tools,PLanes Spokeshaves chisels,you name it…I have NEVER used any gadget to hold my cuitters for sharpening,after a while you instinctively hold the cutter at an angle suitable and I think nowadays I cut sharpen a chisel in my sleep:)..........I am retired now and live in a retirement villagewhere we have just had a workshop built for the use of our villagers who want to potter around making gadgets for their homes & toys for their grandkids and I am hoping to be able to help them as much as I am able.

-- Always measure twice--then cut once.

View devann's profile


2246 posts in 2963 days

#15 posted 01-14-2011 08:18 AM

Pete, I agree with Steve. If it gets your tools sharp, who cares. Jigs in the workshop are for achieving consistent results. You’ll get to spend more time cutting, less time sharpening. And after you’ve sharpened you chisels you want to protect them. The covers that come with them don’t last very long, I lose them or they slip off to easy in my toolbox resulting in damaged chisels. I use the tops off qt. size gatoraid bottles. Take your coping saw and cut a slot in the side and slip over the end of the chisel. They stay on pretty well. Cut the slot only as big as you need. When using at the workbench they’ll keep your chisel from rolling off onto the floor.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

showing 1 through 15 of 20 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics