Last Updated on 2022-03-23 by Harry Masterton
The complete in-depth guide covering how to sharpen woodworking chisels from new chisel prep to oil and wet stone, bench grinder, sharpening jig to honing guide
A popular hand woodworking tools found in most woodworking shops is the chisel. Other traditional hand tools have declined in popularity, but the woodworking chisel still gets used for joinery, shaping and wood carving. That is why you need to learn how to sharpen woodworking chisels.
How To Sharpen Woodworking Chisels
I have bought several chisels over the years and observed the difference a sharpened chisel makes. There are three reasons I need to sharpen chisels in my shop:
- A new chisel needs to be prepared for use;
- The chisel has become dull while using it;
- It has a damaged edge from some misadventure.
Preparing a New Chisel – The Sharpening Process
When you get a new chisel (or set) home from the store, you will find that it needs work. It will not be sharp, the back may not be flat, the angle could be off, or various other issues.
These problems will exist no matter how much you pay or the reputation of the manufacturer (although I must point out that high-quality woodworking chisels will suffer from fewer defects “out of the box,” as they say). Preparing a new woodworking chisel is a must before it touches the edge or face of lumber in the shop.
Dull Chisel During Use
Believe me when I say the most common reason for learning how to sharpen woodworking chisels is that the edge wears down during use. Every time that finely honed edge slices into wood fibers, it is bending and curling.
Higher-quality metals will last a bit longer between sharpening chisels, but all of your woodworking chisels will need sharpening often. Thankfully, I find it is just the edge that needs this type of work and not the entire chisel.
Repairing a Damaged Chisel Edge
If you are new to woodworking, it might be surprising how delicate a woodworking chisel can be. The cutting edge and blade faces can suffer chips or gouges. You will find this step similar to preparing a new chisel as you might need to work the entire chisel blade.
How to Sharpen Woodworking Chisels With an Oil Stone
An early method I invested in while learning how to sharpen woodworking chisels was an oil stone kit that replaced my whetstone. The name comes from the honing oil used as a lubricant between the stone and metal you sharpen.
An oil stone combines abrasive particles with a bonding agent to form the sharpening stone. When you learn how to sharpen woodworking chisels with an oil stone, you must decide what material you will use.
The oldest material used for an oil stone is the natural stone Novaculite. These will produce a polish on your woodworking chisel, but it does take longer than compound-based stones.
One of the most common abrasive materials used in making an oil stone is Aluminum Oxide. It is a non-metal material (one of the oldest engineering ceramics) with a high melting temperature and is available in brown or orange colors. These tend to cut quickly with a Mohs Hardness Scale of 9.
Silicon Carbide (also known as Carborundum) is another material used in making an oil stone. It is rare in nature, so synthetic Silicon Carbide serves as a replacement (since the 1890s). These are the fastest cutting oil stones with a Mohs Hardness Scale between 9 and 10.
Silicon Carbide oil stones produce fast results because they are coarse, so you will not get a fine edge as you would using Novaculite or Aluminum Oxide.
Steps for How to Sharpen Woodworking Chisels With an Oil Stone
- Prepare the oil stone – Use the correct oil indicated by the manufacturer to lubricate;
- Start on the flat side – You want to make it flat and polished on the edge and sides;
- Work on the bevel angle – You can then establish or repair the beveled angle that starts from the edge;
- Create a polished finish/secondary-bevel – These are steps you pick up while learning how to sharpen woodworking chisels for better performance.
How to Sharpen Woodworking Chisels With a Bench Grinder
Do not think that power tools are not an option for helping you learn how to sharpen woodworking chisels. Beginning woodworkers are often surprised to discover that a bench grinder is a tool found in many woodworking shops. It helps establish an edge and sharpen all types of blades, making it popular with DIYers and hobbyists alike.
A bench grinder is a rotating tool that uses abrasive wheels to grind objects. The wheels act as the sharpening stone, and the rotation replaces you as the source of movement. Once you practice how to sharpen woodworking chisels with a bench grinder, it will become one of the fastest methods you can use.
Most woodworkers learn how to sharpen woodworking chisels on their bench grinders for new or damaged woodworking chisels. Smoothing the flat side, creating or adjusting the bevel angle, and establishing a secondary bevel is possible with a bench grinder.
There are two issues with this method that you should remember. First, heat builds quickly and can damage your chisel if you are not prepared to keep it cool. Secondly, a grinding wheel will remove material quickly, leading to mistakes if you hold the chisel at the wrong angle.
4 Steps – How to Sharpen Woodworking Chisels With a Bench Grinder
- Safety first – Wheels break, and metal filings fly around. Use a face shield, long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes. Also, make sure the shield and other safety equipment is working on the grinder;
- Adjust the tool rest – You want the tool rest to sit at the angle you want to grind;
- Use both hands – Hold the tool on the tool rest, allowing it to support the chisel as you work across the wheel;
- Use water often – Start with dipping the chisel, and then remove it from the wheel after four passes. Dip the chisel into the water to cool it and wet it again.
How to Sharpen Woodworking Chisels With a Wet Stone
When I first learned how to sharpen woodworking chisels, it was with a wet stone. These will be quarried from natural stone or made with synthetic materials. If you plan to discover how to sharpen woodworking chisels with a wet stone, be prepared for lots of tradition and opinions.
Natural wet stone has two traditional sources, Belgium and Japan. The stone from both sources is softer than Novaculite, so these will wear down quickly. That wearing creates the advantage of faster sharpening as old abrasive falls away to expose new material.
Synthetic wet stones use similar abrasives as oil stones, mostly Aluminum Oxide. The difference between the two is the binder that holds the abrasives together. It is softer and will wear down more quickly than the binder used for an oil stone.
These stones use water as a lubricant instead of oil. Water (or water-based honing oils) helps dissipate heat, keep the stone surface from becoming clogged with metal filings, and create a smooth action between the metal and the stone.
4 Steps – How to Sharpen Woodworking Chisels With a Wet Stone
- Prepare the wet stone – You need to soak the stone in water for 5-10 minutes before it is ready to use. These stones can be used dry, but the process and results will suffer (not to mention more wear on the stone itself;
- Flatten the wet stone face – These stones need to be adjusted because they wear quickly and unevenly. Most hobbyists use a flattening stone designed for this purpose;
- Start with the flat side – Begin with the back of the woodworking chisel, just like you would using an oil stone. The purpose here is to help create the best edge with the bevel angle;
- Move to the remaining surfaces – You will move to the bevel angle in a process that becomes faster as you practice how to sharpen woodworking chisels.
Wood Chisel Sharpening Jig
Learning how to sharpen woodworking chisels can also be a chance to build something! If you are new to woodworking, rest assured that you will create several jigs to improve during your woodworking journey. A wood chisel sharpening jig is something that gets used often.
A couple of wood chisel sharpening jig projects come to mind, each using different :
- Stand-alone jig with stone;
- Sharpening jig for a bench grinder.
Sandpaper Chisel Sharpening Jig
If you are starting in woodworking, you probably have limited tools. I know that a bench grinder is not on the top of most hobbyists' woodworking power tool list. You can create a sharpening jig that does not require other tools.
- Start with a base – Create a base as wide as the stone. You can then surround it with smaller pieces to envelope the stone. Glue or brad nail the base together;
- Create a wedge – I've used 2×4 lumber to make mine. Cut the bevel angle you want the chisel to rest at onto two pieces of wood glued together to provide the size to hold several blade widths.
Place the chisel bevel angle down and flat on the stone. The chisel rests on the wedge while you hold it in place. Keep it at the bench while learning how to sharpen woodworking chisels when they dull as you shape wood or add joinery.
Bench Grinder Jig
Some bench grinders provide no support. You can make a simple adjusting jig by:
- Build a base – Build a base with triangular wedges sticking up on the sides;
- Add tool rest – Create a tool rest block and drill holes for a threaded rod to run through it and the tops of the wedges;
- Add wings nuts – Place wing nuts that thread onto the rod on each side. Use them to tighten the tool rest once you adjust to the correct angle.
How to Sharpen Woodworking Chisels With a Honing Guide
Another item that can assist you while learning how to sharpen woodworking chisels is a honing guide. It is an accessory that holds your woodworking chisel at a predetermined angle while grinding a bevel angle for a sharp edge. The honing guide uses a single wheel along the bottom to create smooth action back and forth while you work.
Practicing how to sharpen woodworking chisels with a honing guide is easy.
- The honing guide has adjustment knobs on the side that open the guide. You can place different sizes of woodworking chisels (or hand plane) blades in the guide and then tighten the adjustment knobs to close the guide. That keeps it secure while you work;
- Creating the proper bevel angle is the most challenging part of learning how to sharpen woodworking chisels with a honing guide. I move the honing guide up the chisel blade until I can rest the bevel angle flat against the stone. I tighten the adjustment knobs to secure the chisel, and it is ready to go;
- Learning how to sharpen woodworking chisels on a guide with one wheel is not as hard as it first appears. The wheel sits in the middle of the jig, providing contact on the sharpening surface where the most pressure occurs. It allows you to move the guide in two directions, giving you the option for a back and forth motion as you sharpen.
Two-wheel guides prevent tilting as you sharpen, but I recommend against them. A single-wheel product includes a wheel with enough width to support stability while providing an option to tilt the guide.
A nice trick with a one-wheel honing guide is placing pressure on one edge of the blade to create a chamfer while removing metal. It does not come into play with chisel blades, but removing the sharp corner is crucial on hand plane blades used for smoothing.
These are reasonably priced and produce accurate angles.