How to Sharpen Chisels

A good chisel set is one of the best investments that you can make for your guitar building workshop. The quality of the steel in a good chisel is evident when you both sharpen the tool and even more so, witness how long you can keep an edge on a good chisel. I prefer the chisel made by 2-Cherries. I have had a set of these for years and they are incredible.

First things first. Do Not Work With Dull Hand Tools!. This is an open invitation to serious injury because you force the tool to cut and eventually it will slip and your hand and or fingers will be in the exit path. Then off to the emergency room you go for some stitches.

Properly shaping and honing a chisel is an important task that every luthier or wanna be luthier should know inside and out. So let’s start with a poorly shaped chisel. Let’s say you picked up a great set of old chisels with great tool steel, but they are a bit worse for wear. You look at them and the edges are crooked and uneven.

Tools and Materials:

Dewalt 8-Inch Bench Grinder:
Wood Chisel Set
Honing Guide:
Honing Oil:
Medium Diamond Sharpening Stone:
Medium India Sharpening Stone:
Fine Arkansas Sharpening Stone:
8,000 Grit Water Stone:
Leather Sharpening Strop:

Square Up The Edge:

The very first thing you will want to do is to square up the edge. This is very easy to do. Take a Try Square and place it along the blade of the chisel and strike a line about 1/16″ or 2 mm from the front edge of the tool.

Now take the chisel over to an 8-Inch Bench Grinder and set the tool rest angle to match that of the chisel, or choose one that you prefer. Gently grind the tool on the wheel, being careful not to overheat the tool. Be sure to quench the tool often in an oil bath to keep the temper. Do Not grind so hard that you turn the edge cherry red – this will mean you are loosing the temper and the hardness of the very edge of the tool. Grind right down to the center of the line. Quench the tool one more time in the oil until it is cool.

Medium Diamond Stone:

If you are inexperienced you may want the aid of a chisel honing guide, which will keep the tool perfectly positioned at the angle you select. After some honing experience you will want to do this by hand as it is a lot faster.

Squirt some Honing Oil on the stone. Use a medium diamond stone and hone the chisel until you have a fine wire on the very edge of the blade. You can check this by rubbing the edge very carefully with your thumb, perpendicular to the edge – don’t do it parallel to the edge as you will almost certainly slice your finger!

Medium India Stone:

Next in order to get the wire edge off the edge you will want squirt honing oil on a Medium India Stone, which is equal to about a 1000 grit. Work the chisel about a couple of dozen times on this stone and feel the edge every so often to check your progress.

Fine Arkansas Stone:

The Fine Arkansas Stone has a grit of about 5,000, so it is very fine. In fact when you hone the tool edge, you won’t feel like you are doing anything – but you are. You are putting an extremely sharp edge on your tool that will slice through the wood like butter. Just be sure to use a good grade honing oil and keep your blade angle exactly the same when honing.

Next, flit the chisel and hone the backside of the tool a few times. Do this just enough the remove the very fine wire edge you may develop from sharpening. Also you can hone the backside at a 45 degree angle to the stone direction. Do about 5 or 6 back and forth strokes on the backside and return to the frontside if needed.

Optional 8,000 Grit Waterstone:

If you want to put the sharpest edge possible on the chisel edge repeat the above process with an 8,000 grit waterstone. You should be able to shave with this edge by now. But wait! you can do one more step by using a leather strop to hone the edge even further. You can now even cut end grain of hardwood with relative ease. Believe me, it makes a huge difference if you use this method and keep all of your chisels in top-top condition.

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