How to sharpen a chisel – Easy & Inexpensive Methods

Chisel is one of the oldest woodworking hand tools. It has survived all these years thanks to its effectiveness and ability to provide control cuts. It’s a versatile tool. You can clear out corners, chop out mortise & dovetails in a jiffy. To get effortless and clean-cut, it’s mandatory to have a really sharp chisel. In this article, I am going to talk about how to sharpen a chisel.

So bring yourself to the bench and roll your sleeves. It is time to sharpen the chisel, and I will be your chisel sharpening guide.

Various Ways of Sharpening Wood Chisels

Carpenter sharpening a chisel

Things You Will Need for Sharpening Wood Chisels

»»» You can do sharpening chisels by hand or use a jig. I would recommend using a jig. A jig gets very good and very helpful for repeatable results. There are also lots of different inexpensive options out there. And if you’re new to sharpening, a jig will be very helpful.

»»» There are a couple of different types of stones and sharpening methods. There are water stones, which I really like to recommend when your chisels are already sharp or just need to be touched up.

»»» There’s Diamond Stones, which are great because they’re always flat, and remove a lot of material quickly. Also, you can use a rough diamond plate to flatten your water stones.

»»» The next thing you will need for sharpening is the strop. You can just use a piece of rough leather with a fine stropping compound on it. I will highly recommend it. A strop is excellent for touching up an edge when you’re done.

After you are done with the sharpening, you should be able to shave or cut a piece of wood very efficiently. So let’s see how each of these works.

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The Sharpening Stones

So when it comes to Stones, you have two types that can be used for different reasons. The great thing about Diamond Stones is they’re always flat, they don’t wear away, and they’re great for removing lots of material. You will also need to use water stones. The water stones are fabulous because of the slurry development  &  fast sharpening. These stones are better for getting a very very sharp edge.

If you are sharpening from the get-go, you will need to start with diamond stones and then go to 8000 grit stone. And to finish it up with strop. So these take different types of lubricants.

And with water stones, obviously, soak them in water. The way that works with water Stones is like a bucket of water, and you put them in. You’ll see they’re going to start to bubble up and leave them in there until they stop bubbling. If you see they’ve stopped bubbling, then they’re ready to use. For Diamond Stones, You can just use a glass cleaning solution as a lubricant. Just put a little Spritz on thereafter every 30 Strokes

Setting Up the Jig

When it comes to setting up your jig, Look for a jig with a guide plate attachment. With this guide plate, you can set the blade to different degrees. The roller attached to the jig can be used for sharpening micro bevel.

While setting up the jig, the most important thing to look after is the chisel. Your chisel should be square.  You can use any square/scale and make sure that the chisel lines up with the jig. You want to be roughly in the middle.

You will have to set the chisel to 30 degrees. Typically for a chisel, you would start sharpening it at 25 degrees and then do your micro bevel at 30 degrees. So set the chisel at 25 degrees with your jig and begin sharpening. Take the chisel, put it right against that reference and tighten it in there. You are all set to go.

Sharpening Wood Chisels with Diamond Stones

Now you need to start with the core stone. You want to make sure you use even pressure while sharpening. Just go down the middle of the stone using a uniform pressure. You will be starting to get wear marks. You can see the stone itself developing scratch patterns.

One great technique you can use a pencil and put some black marks on the blade for reference. Then you can see if it’s removing the spot; if you need to keep going. You would want to go until you have a burr. You can just feel that on the back by slightly rubbing your finger.

Just do about 30 Strokes per stone. You will need to get to the very top and work your way down to the bevel. You will see a little burr forming. It’s like small pieces of metal right there. It’s tough to see with your eyes, but you can feel that with your fingers. And now that you have gone through every grit on the diamond stones, It’s time to move over to the 8000 grit water stone.

Sharpening Wood Chisels with the Water Stones

Water stones, they need to be flattened. Getting these flats is really important because obviously, you want your chisel to be flat.

To flatten the water stone, just take a pencil and draw a grid.  Take a diamond Stone & go back and forth. This action will remove all concaves on the water stone.  So just keep rubbing the stone. Add some more water. You need to do this until the pencil mark is gone. Then you know that it’s completely flat. You are now sharpening wood chisels with 8000 grit Stone. You have got a burr on the body, the chisel wholly done.

Let’s switch it up a little bit. Let’s do a micro bevel. You want to create a micro bevel that makes sharpening in the future easier. If you have a jig, you can simply just turn the roller wheel and just have a clamp on it. That does like a two-degree micro-bevel, or you can move your chisel back just a little bit.

Add in some water from time to time while working with a water stone. This water will act as a lubricant. Remember, just a little bit is fine. You will need to do 30 Strokes for the micro-bevel. Try to keep the stroke limited to the middle of the stone.

You can see the chisel is starting to form a micro bevel. If you end up with an uneven bevel, then you are probably pressing a little too hard. Try to make it even by adding a few more strikes. The chisel should have a pretty good burr by now. Even if you got a little wonky on the side, it absolutely does not matter because all that matters is just the tip.

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Flattening the Back of the Chisel

Now it’s time to make sure the back is flat. The reason a chisel back needs to be flat is for getting a better reference while working. So when you reference on your chisel, you’re referencing off the back. So you need that to be flat. Don’t go more than an inch and a half tops with a chisel.

It is critical that the back is flat for your chisel to cut. A bevel has two sides at the back, and the cutting angle is 30 degrees.  If the back is not flat, this 30-degree bevel it’s not going to cut. So what you need to do is to use the 8000 grit Stone. Just go back and forth.

Try to work with all sides of the stone. And hope you have started to see or feel a little burr. Just go and check the back if it’s perfectly flat or not. Once you are done, you will see that the chisel back is almost looking to a mirror finish. So you are just going to polish it a little bit more.

The chisel is already pretty sharp, but it is not scary sharp. It’s not shaving sharp yet, and you can tell by a simple test.  Use a piece of paper to test its sharpness. It should give a smooth cut.

It’s time to Strop

There are lots of different ways to strop. You can use a self-made one. You would just need a piece of leather and wood and an old piece of plywood. Add stropping compound now. Here’s a great little tip for the stropping compound; you don’t want it to be caked or extremely smooth. So when you have new leather, what you need to do is make a few random rough patterns on it.

So what you want to do is basically you find your bevel by going up and down. You find what it’s riding really get in there and push.  Do about 30 strokes. And you want it not to angle because that’s going to round over and mess up everything.

When you sharpen your blade, you want to lock your wrists. The more mirror-like finish it gets, the better it is. You can do 60 to 30 strokes on that leather. After you have done the top of the chisel,  it creates a micro bevel on the back. So now you want to do the back. Both sides of the micro-bevel should look good. And also, make sure there’s no burr left whatsoever.

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Final words

I hope after reading the article you got an overall idea about how to sharpen a chisel.

While working, you can use cheap chisels for clearing out a majority of the waste and then use your really good sharp chisel when you get down to the line for a smooth finish.

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