How To Sharpen Your Tools
What You Will Learn
In the fist part of this article we will go though the basics of sharpening. Some things that is good to know no matter which one of the sharpening methods you eventually choose. Later on we will have a close look on two sharpening methods using Japanese Waterstones and the other using the Tormek Grinder.
The methods will work on all types of chisels and planes. But in this article we will use the chisel as an example.
This is one of those things where you don’t have a choice, you have to have sharp tools to be able to make any sort of work, even bad work. So I would recommend investing in a system that works for you. Trust me you will thank me later.
Is it the first time?
We all know that wonderful feeling of buying, or receiving a brand new chisel. It’s really exiting and you’re eager to use it only to be disappointed that it isn’t what you thought it would be. Thats because no chisel, no matter how high end it is, will be flat or sharp.
How to sharpen and what tool to use
You can sharpen a chisel in many different ways with different tools for different purposes. Two of my preferred methods of sharpening in this article. One by hand and the other using a power grinder.
This is the traditional way of sharpening your chisels and its still a preferred way of sharpening by many woodworkers. The general idea is that you have a set of stones with different grit. Some goes up to 40,000 witch is just bananas and you never have to go that far no matter what some people say.
The semi professional sharpening station, Tormek T7 is a great quality product from Sweden. This takes the efficiency of a grinder with the result of waterstones. The risk when using a regular grinder is that you heat up the steel too much and compromise the hardening, effectively ruining the steel. This is not a risk with the Tormek since it uses water to cool the stone.
Flatten the back side
If the back side of the chisel isn’t flat, how do you know your wood is flat? You need a completely flat reference surface to work from. We can achieve this by putting the chisel with the backside on the sharpening stone and moving it back and forth.
How much is enough?
So how do you know when it’s flat enough for the next step? You just have to check the backside for any irregularities in the pattern of the steel. This isn’t hard to see
As I said before, you never need to go to 40,000 grit. But witch ones do we actually need? I would say one around 250grit. This is for when a chisel is new or a chip has gone out of the steel and you need to resharpen. It makes quick work of removing quite a lot of steel so be a little bit careful.
After that you can go straight up to 1000grit to efficiently remove all the scratches in the steel and prepare it for honing. Spend a little more time on this step than you might think at first. If it isn’t done well enough you just have to go back and start again.
Establish a bevel
Before you decide which angle you want your chisels edge to have you need to know how they perform differently. This is pretty straight forward. With a low angle the chisel takes a sharper edge and cuts cleaner, but on the other hand doesn’t hold the edge for as long and is more brittle. The opposite can be said about a chisel with a steep angle.
Use a jig
Let’s be honest, no matter how good you are or how many times you have sharpened by hand, you don’t have the degrees in your wrist. To establish a new bevel you need some sort of jig to help you out. You can get a really simple ones that’s basically two wheels and something that firmly holds your chisel in place, all the way up to professional stuff like the Tormek I wrote about earlier.
If you already have an established bevel and just need to touch up on it, that can be done without a jig to hold it in place. Just keep it flat with a steady hand and you should be alright.
What is a micro bevel
Let’s say you just received a new chisel and the angle is too flat for what you want. It can seem like a waste to grind away all that material to change the angle. And you’d be right. Just like with the flattening process, you really don’t need the whole surface to be flat, just the very tip you’re cutting with. This is called a micro bevel.
Now you can have a lower angle and be able to get in tighter corners but the durability of a steeper angle. The best of both worlds! And after a lifetime of using the chisel you might be half way up the bevel after years and years of honing.
Do you need one
Now that you know what it is and how you make one, should you? That depends on what kind of chiseler you are. If you pry and bend a lot, and is a bit aggressive a beveled edge might suit you well. Also on like a paring chisel, I wouldn’t put a beveled edge. That is for the most delicate work and you need it to be as sharp as it can be.
A mortise chisel on the other hand, you would be stupid not to put a beveled edge on those. The whole thing with a mortise chisel is durability and toughness, so you can whack on it all day long without having to worry about damaging the edge.
Speed can be an issue
There is a significant difference in how fast you can get a dull chisel to a sharp one with a micro bevel. Once you have established a flat backside and a micro bevel, touching up the edge can be done really fast since you just have to hone that tiny bit of material at the very edge of the blade. A few passes on a whetstone and you can be good to go.
Honing the edge
There’s a difference between sharpening and honing an edge. Sharpening refers too taking off material to establish an edge, change the bevel angle or flattening the backside of a chisel. Honing on the other hand barely removes any material, rather polishing or manipulating the material you got.
So if you cut corners on the sharpening stage thinking that the honing process will take care of any irregularities, think again. You can literally spend hours on one chisel trying to get it perfect only to go back to sharpening to do it right. Trust me I’ve done it!
Get rid of the burr
When sharpening the material of the chisel curls around the edge to the other side creating what’s called a burr. Now we haven’t spent all that time flattening the back side to have a burr messing up our edge. Make a few passes on the finest water stone to remove the burr.
The extra mile
If you really want to be sure that the burr is completely gone and also get a nice polished mirror finish on your tool you should get a leather strut and some fine honing compound. Put down the honing compound on the leather strop and make a few passes on either side of the chisel and finish off with one stroke on each side.
This step doesn’t remove any material so you can to this freehand without having to worry to much about it.
Keeping it sharp
Now that your edge is there and you have honed it to perfection, you can do touchups really fast. You don’t have to go through all the steps every time. You just have to do the honing process with a few passes to bring up that crisp edge again. And we all now that a sharp edge is a fun edge, or something like that.
Sharpening with Waterstones: Step by step
What you need
This is what I recommend in order to properly sharpen your chisels using Waterstones.
Step 1: Flattening your stones
Take out your diamond plate, then one by one take the stones, put them down on the diamond plate and start flattening. Every once in a wile turn it over to se your progress. The goal is to not see a hollowed out middle.
Step 2: Flattening the backside
If your chisel is brand new or have a chip in the edge start this way down on the 250 grit stone. Put the chisel flat on the stone and start moving it back and forth. If you’re feeling fancy, move it in the figure of eight to remove material more quickly.
Turn the chisel over to check if it’s flat enough. You don’t have to get the whole thing flat, just the edge. A Japanese chisel is hollow on the back side in order to make the flattening faster.
When its flat you can switch to the 1000 grit stone and start the same process by moving it back and forth. With this stone you will get those nasty 250 grit scratches out. This is a step you should spend a little more time on than you think in order to get a great result.
Step 3: Putting your chisel in your honing guide
This step is very important because this determines the bevel angle and how square it will be.
Step 4: Flatten your stones again
You know what to do, the same as step one.
Step 5: Sharpen the bevel
With your sharpening stones flat and your chisel turned upside down in the honing guide, there is nothing more to it than to start rolling the chisel back and forth on the 250 grit stone. Turning it over every once in a while to see if it’s flat. Then changing over to the 1000grit stone and repeating the process. Going back and forth back and forth, checking regularly to se the progress. You are done when you have a uniform pattern along the cutting edge.
Step 6: Honing the bevel
We will continue with the honing of the bevel straight away because it’s already in the jig. If you are doing this by hand you can switch between backside and bevel however you like. This is just for efficiency and ease of setup. Make sure your stone is flat before you start then it’s just a matter of honing away. Check your edge regularly and when you have a polished edge its time to change stone. You can move on app to your finest stone on the bevel. We’re looking for a nice mirror finish.
Step 7: Honing the back
This step is the same as for the bevel. Make sure your stone is flat, then start the honing. We are looking for that same mirror finish as on the bevel. Check regularly and move up through the stones.
Step 8: Make a micro bevel
Now that we have established the foundation of the chisel, you can choose to make a micro bevel if you want a more durable edge. All the other steps before you can do freehand but for this stage you really need to use a jig to get a good result. (If you can do this freehand, stop reading this article because you are a way better sharpener than me!)
Put the chisel in the jig 1or 2 degrees higher than the beveled edge. Start at the 1000 grit and make a few passes. You don’t need much because there is so little material to remove. Then you can quickly move up through your stones until you have that micro bevel polished and nice.
Step 9: Get rid of the burr
After all that sharpening and honing you are bound to have a quite substantial burr that have curled around the edge of your chisel. This needs to be removed! You don’t want to remove to aggressively because then it can snap of and you’re left with a dull edge again and need to restart the sharpening process.
So when putting it down on the stone, make sure that the burr is outside of the stone and gently drag it in a few times over the stone. This should remove the burr slowly enough to not break it.
Step 10: Polish with leather
This step isn’t really necessary but if you want your chisels to look immaculate, take a strip of leather and run both sides of your chisel over it a few times. This makes the edge shiny and beautiful. You might just want to do this for Christmas or something.
Sharpening with Tormek: Step by step
What you need
Step 1: Setting up the machine
If it’s brand new you have to take it out of the box and put it on your workbench, or in the kitchen. Where ever you do your sharpening. Fill the container with water so the stone doesn’t run dry. Plug it in. This is basic stuff but who knows it might help someone troubleshooting why their new Tormek doesn’t work.
Step 2: Flattening the stone
There is a jig you can use to flatten the stone.
Step 3: Flatten your chisel
Flattening on the Tormek is a little bit tricky because the stone is round. So you have to use the side of the stone to get a flat reference surface. To be honest this is not ideal for the reason that there is no easy way to make sure that the stone is flat on the side.
Step 4: Choose your jig
The Tormek comes with a vast array of jigs, each one with a special task of sharpening specific tools. We are interested in the chisel sharpening one. So find it and put in the chisel and mount it on the machine.
Step 5: Calibrate the angle
You get a specific angle finder with the Tormek. So just choose your angle and lock your chisel down in the jig.
Step 6: Sharpen the bevel
When the chisel is in the jig you can start the machine and apply light pressure on the chisel. Move it from side to side a few times before checking your progress. Remember that using a grinder you remove a lot more material very quickly. So don’t waste your steel and be gentle.
Step 7: Change the grit on the stone
The sharpening wheel on your Tormek is most likely around 250 grit, but you don’t need to change the stone to change the grit. You also receive a
Step 8: Sharpen again
With the grit changed your can repeat the sharpening step again. Moving the chisel side to side under light pressure for a few seconds then check your progress.
Step 9: Hone the edge
On the other side of the machine you have a different wheel that you can put honing compound on to polish that edge to a nice finish. As you know with this fine honing you don’t really need the jig since you hardly remove any material. Just polish both sides of the chisel a few times. This don’t just give you a nice finish, it also removes the burr created by the sharpening.
You will get good edges with both of these methods, but they each have their advantages. The Tormek is better at removing material, so to bring life in to an old chisel och fixing one with a chip in it. Wetstones on the other hand takes a bit longer but in my opinion leaves a better result.
If you have the Tormek set to the right angle and standing on a workbench, you can get back to work very quickly. But if you have to set up the sharpening station every time you might not be so efficient. And having a few Shaptons ready to just spray with water and hone the edge isn’t exactly slow either.
So you see, it all depends on the setup you are able to have. You will just have to find a way that works for you. Stay sharp!