As I mentioned in my previous post, chisels do not come sharpened. Sure, they’re sharp-ish. If you stab your arm, you’ll likely regret it. However, if you try to chisel a mortise out of a board before sharpening it, you’ll likely regret that too.

So here’s how I sharpened my chisels, in a nutshell. The following techniques were learned during a Hand Tool Basics and Sharpening class offered by Woodcraft stores. First, notice what the chisel looks like before sharpening, straight out of the box. You can clearly see the lines from whatever machine shapes the chisel into its, um, chiselly shape.

Unsharpened Chisel

To sharpen this puppy, I use Japanese water stones. You may also use Arkansas oil stones or diamond stones, but the process may be slightly different for those. I’m going with what I learned in my class. The stones I use go through four grits, from coarse (800 grit) to very fine (8000 grit).

When you start out sharpening, you first have to find the right angle on the stone. If you rock the beveled end of the chisel on the stone, you can very easily feel where it falls flat. Many woodworkers prefer to do all the sharpening by hand, going by feel. For now, I’m going to rely on a little jig which holds the chisel at exactly the right angle for sharpening. I do about six strokes, wipe off the gunk from the blade, and see how I’m doing. I repeat that process a handful of times. At first, you really need to monitor it to make sure that you’re taking off an even amount of metal on at least the first 1/8″ of the blade. So here’s a picture of me doing the first run at 800 grit (photo taken by my 4-year-old):

First Pass - 800 Grit

When you get up above 6000 grit on water stones, you need to use a nagura stone (the little stone shown above), which produces a slurry on the stone which aids in sharpening at those high grits. So for me, that’s only on the last pass, with my 8000 grit stone.

After doing all four passes, that chisel blade should look might shiny. In fact, it should be shiny enough that you can see your pearly(ish) whites:

Sharp at Last

After going through all four grits, I then put a “microbevel” on the chisel. This tiny bevel at the end of the chisel blade is handy because when the chisel dulls, you merely need to sharpen the microbevel instead of the entire blade. When the microbevel finally disappears after numerous sharpenings, then you do the whole blade again. To get a microbevel on the chisel, merely put the bevel of the blade flat on the stone (the 8000 grit), raise the handle very slightly, and push the chisel over the stone. Repeat as needed – I did several repetitions of 5-6 strokes. The microbevel looks something like this:

Microbevel

So there’s how I sharpened my chisels (and two plane blades, so far). I don’t claim to be an expert on it, so will always take pointers from those who’ve been there!

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