How to Sharpen a Chisel: A Basic Guide

How to Sharpen a Chisel: A Basic Guide

Chisels are tools for those who love to do woodwork. But chisels, while handy, can be dangerous and cause injuries to the user or damage the wood. The best way to prevent getting hurt and damaging the grain is to ensure that the chisel’s blades are always sharp. This is why it is crucial to know how to sharpen a chisel properly, which, fortunately, is a simple and easy task to learn. Those who are newbies to sharpening this tool should not worry as the steps in doing this job are easy.

How to Sharpen a Chisel: The Steps

Step 1: Gather the Tools and Materials Needed

The first step in sharpening the blades of a chisel is to gather the tools and materials needed.

For the tools, one needs the grinding wheel, leather gloves, dust mask, rags, sharpening stone, star wheel dresser, and safety glass. A lubricating oil, plate glass, and wet and dry sandpaper are the materials required.

Step 2: Attach Sand Paper to Glass

Grab the sandpaper, which should be of high-quality as the cheap ones tend to wear out fast and cut slow. Now, grab the glass, which hopefully is one-fourth inch thick. Cut the sandpaper as it should fit the glass. Using a low-tack adhesive, glue the sandpaper to the glass. Make sure the entire glass is covered as having the paper on only one side may prevent the glass from moving around.

Step 3: Flatten the Back of the Chisel

It is best to have chisels with a flat back as it would make carving or cutting of wood grains easier. Flattening and smoothing the back of a chisel is called lapping, which should only be done once. Practically, every chisel on the market requires lapping. Others, however, may require more time and effort to do so.

The first thing to do in lapping is to determine how much of the blade must be removed and which grit should go first.

Rub the chisel’s back against the 220 grit while pressing hard. Turn over the tool and look at its back. If the back is almost covered with scratches, then continue the lapping against the 220 grit. If there are only a few scratches, then a coarser paper should be used. One can try using a 150 grit or even an 80 grit until the chisel’s back is fully scratched.

Step 4: Set Up a Honing Angle

Sharpening an edge can be quite tricky, and it is best to use a honing guide that can hold the chisel at a fixed angle. The angle is often determined by the distance between the blade and the guide. One can also measure using a ruler.

Step 5: Sharpen on the Sandpaper

The worker should sharpen the honing guide using 80-grit sandpaper to sharpen the chisel. There is no need for water or oil for lubrication.

Continue honing until one can see a slight ridge of metal forming all the way across the back of the chisel. This ridge is often referred to as the ‘wire edge’ and indicates whether the chisel’s end is already sharp.

Step 6: Remove the Wire Edge

The wire edge has to be removed, and this is done by rubbing the chisel’s back against 220-grit sandpaper. It would only take a few strokes to complete the removal.

The workers should hone the bevel using a 150-grit paper until a new wire edge emerges to produce a sharper edge. When this is done, hone the bevel in six strokes against the 220-grit sandpaper, and turn over the chisel. The back should be rubbed against the sandpaper in six strokes again. Repeating this around four or five times will result in a sharp chisel.

Make It Even Sharper

Some woodworkers prefer having razor-like sharp chisels as ultra-sharp ones make their jobs easier and faster. Fortunately, this is easy to achieve as one only needs to continue honing using finer sandpaper. There is also the option of buffing compounds.

Keep in mind that these buffing compounds have different grits.

Pull back the chisel about one-sixth inches in the honing guide so that the chisel’s tip is the only one being sharpened. Now, rub the compound against a piece of plywood, then proceed to pull the chisel and the honing guide across the buffing compound. Do this around 12 times or more. The buffing compound creates a polished tip that is extra sharp.

Additional Steps

Sharpening a chisel is easy to do, but there are extra steps needed if the chisel is already rounded over or nicked. Using sandpaper to sharpen such a tool would take too much time and effort. After all, removing a lot of metal can be quite challenging with merely a sandpaper. As such, it is best to use a power tool, particularly a bench grinder.

The woodworker or the person sharpening the chisel should keep in mind that grinding will heat the chisel and heat can also kill. This means that applying excessive heat will kill the steel’s temper and will make it unable to have a sharp edge. An edge that turns blue because of the grinding means that it is cooked and the only way to sharpen the blade is to continue grinding. The soft, blued steel should be removed.

Easy Sharpening

A dull chisel cannot produce great results. And having a dull blade can only cause additional work and even injuries to the worker. This is why those who are serious in woodworking should also know how to sharpen a chisel. Fortunately, this is easy to learn and do.

One, however, needs the right tools when sharpening this tool. Contrary to popular belief, it is not enough to have a rock or sandpaper to sharpen the chisel. It is best to have all the materials and tools needed on hand to make sharpening a quick and hassle-free job.

Just because the chisel is new does not mean that its blade does not require sharpening. In fact, each chisel, even those newly bought requires lapping or the flattening of the back. Keep in mind that chisels should have flat backs. Fortunately, lapping is normally done just once.

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