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How do you sharpen a chisel?

The chisel is an incredibly popular tool amongst woodworkers and handymen. You use it to make cut-outs or to remove pieces of wood. There are, of course, also chisels you can use to work on stone or even metal. All incredibly practical, but on one condition: they need to be sharp. Razor-sharp!

Because you often use chisels for the more demanding tasks the edge often has to endure quite a lot. Especially when you use a chisel and combine it with a heavy hammer to cut into wood. Depending on how often you use a chisel, you need to sharpen it regularly. There are several methods to do so, something we love to share!

Sharpening a chisel on water stones

Our favourite option is sharpening chisels on water stones. No matter how you look at it: it will leave you with the sharpest results. If you do it right, that is. Because, granted: sharpening on water stones requires some skills. This applies to knives, scissors and also to chisels. But you can easily learn how to do it.

Restoring the fold – determining the sharpening angle

After lapping the flat side – you can check it by placing it in a dark room on a flat surface and shine a light underneath it – it is time to restore the fold. This is the bevel of the chisel, the actual working part. How much it needs to be restored depends on the state of the chisel. If the chisel hasn’t been sharpened in quite some time or if it has been exposed to very demanding tasks it is wise to start with a coarse sharpening stone (grain 100 to approximately 400). With it you remove quite a lot of material and straighten the edge.

Before you start sharpening it is key to determine which angle to use. When you sharpen a chisel this is approximately 30 degrees, but it can differ per chisel. The shape and size of the cutting surface of the chisel are a big advantage compared to sharpening knives. After all, the edge is clearly visible. It could, however, be more difficult to maintain the right angle while sharpening. There are, however, holders you can use to secure the chisel. You could, of course, also make these holders yourself, and when you have some experience you will no longer need them.

Use the length of the sharpening stone

When lapping the flat side you use the width of your sharpening stone. However, when you sharpen the edge you use the length of the stone. You will sharpen vertically. Make sure you use the entire length of the sharpening stone. As such you prevent the stone from becoming hollow, which will also affect the edge of the chisel. In addition, when sharpening a chisel it is no problem if you apply some pressure, especially when it is really blunt. We strongly discourage this when sharpening knives because of the thin and fragile blades. Chisels, however, are a lot thicker and can definitely handle quite a lot. 

Detailed sharpening and polishing

After restoring the fold it is time for the more detailed work. With a sharpening stone with a high grain size you can sharpen the chisel. Depending on which sharpening stones are at your disposal and how sharp your chisel needs to be, you can decide to only use a 1000 stone or to divide the detailed work over multiple stones. After restoring the fold you could, for instance, first start with an 800 grain, continue with the 1500, 3000, 6000 and increase as you see fit.

As a finishing touch you can use a leather strop with diamond paste to make sure the edge will start to shine. You can accomplish this by placing the edge of the chisel at the top of the strop and pull it towards you. Don’t apply too much pressure and don’t do it the other way around, don’t push! Assuming that you were already left with a razor-sharp edge after sharpening on the stones, you will, after all, cut straight through the leather.

Removing the burr

After sharpening the edge a burr has emerged on the front side of the chisel. You can remove it by slightly sharpening the long, flat side of the chisel. With it you also remove any rust. You place the flat side of the chisel horizontally on the sharpening stone and move it with a pushing movement over the stone. Afterwards you pull the chisel back and repeat this movement.  

Do, however, make sure you always keep the chisel flat and never move it diagonally over the sides of the sharpening stone. The result could be that you hollow out the chisel. By placing  your free hand on the spine of the chisel you apply some counter pressure. If this is tricky because the chisel is considerably longer than the width of your sharpening stone and a type of leverage effect emerges, make sure you at least lap the end of the chisel (the side of the edge). This is, after all, the part that you use most. 

Other sharpening methods

Of course sharpening stones aren’t the only solution for blunt chisels. You could, for instance, use electric sharpening machines such as the Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener and the Work Sharp Multi Sharpener Ken Onion Edition. Or if you own an Edge Pro sharpening machine you should use the scissor sharpening accessories, which are also great for sharpening chisels. 

Do you prefer sharpening by hand, but not on sharpening stones? The famous Spyderco 204MF Sharpmaker could be a great option. An alternative would be the Work Sharp Guided Sharpening System. As you can see, enough options!

Want to learn more about sharpening pocket knives, kitchen knives, scissors, fixed knives or about sharpening in general? Continue reading via the links at the bottom of the page!