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    How to Sharpen a Chisel

    Learn how to hone your chisels and plane irons to a razor sharp edge with nothing more than a few different grits of sandpaper.

    Chisels tend to be one of the first hand tools most beginner woodworkers purchase. Trouble is, folks tend to fork out the cash without having learned about proper sharpening technique. Knowing how to properly tune up your tools is one of the single most important aspects of effective woodworking. A dull chisel or plane iron can frustrate a novice woodworker to the point of throwing in the towel.

    That said, honing a chisel to a razor sharp edge isn't as difficult as you might think. Better yet, you don't have to invest hundreds of dollars in sharpening stones and super-fancy honing guides. Woodworker and teacher Bob Van Dyke, of the CT Valley School of Woodworking, advocates what he calls a "Scary Sharp" sharpening method that requires nothing more than a few different grits of sandpaper, some sheet glass, and WD-40 as a lubricant.

    What About a Honing Guide?
    While a more experienced woodworker can sometimes hold a chisel's bevel perfectly even against his/her sandpaper or sharpening stone, for those lacking experience in this area, it's best to use a honing guide. A guide will help ensure that your tool is held firmly as you slide the tool's edge back and forth along the sandpaper. While some honing guides sell for well over $100, the simple tool I use, known as a "Kell Honing Guide," can be had for less than $60. It's well-built and will last you for decades.

    What's a Micro Bevel?
    How to sharpen a chiselYou might notice that Bob applies what's called a "micro bevel" to the edge of his chisels and plane irons. Sounds fancy, but a micro bevel is simply a secondary, narrow bevel applied to the tool's cutting edge. It will provide you with an excellent cutting edge AND, it makes sharpening a bit faster, since you don't have to worry about honing the entire beveled surface of your chisel (that's a lot of steel to worry about). The picture at left ought to give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

    Complete Supply List
    Here's what you'll need to get started with the Scary Sharp Method:

    • Small piece of 1/4-in. thick plate glass
    • Small piece of MDF or high quality plywood to stick the glass to
    • Double stick tape
    • Spray adhesive
    • WD-40 spray lubricant
    • Sandpaper in the following grits: 600, 1,200, 1,500, 2,000