Honing chisels?

I have your dovetail tape and am really learning and enjoying it. I have sharpened my chisels as sharp as I can get them, they feel razor sharp,  I am still crushing the soft wood I am practicing on, not getting a smooth cut.  Getting closer though, thanks for sharing your knowledge. 


Mcrae, AR

Our Expert

Using sharp hand tools can be very enjoyable as the cutting edge slices cleanly through the wood. In contrast, dull tools leave the wood torn, crushed and ragged. Although sharpening can sometimes seem clouded in mystery it is really just another set of skills that, when broken down into basic steps, are actually quite easy to master. 

Here are steps that I use: 

1. Grind the bevel---I prefer a "hollow grind" because it is more efficient to hone a concave bevel than one that is flat; there's no need for a honing guide because a hollow bevel is easy to position on the stones. A hollow
bevel can be quickly and easily created on a wet grinder. Avoid a dry grinder with small diameter wheels; the edge can overheat quickly and the small wheel diameter of a dry grinder will weaken the cutting edge.

The bevel angle is a compromise between sharpness and edge retention; lower angles are sharper and weaker, higher angles are tougher but often do not cut as cleanly; especially on soft woods. Although the most common bevel angle for a chisel is 30 degrees you can increase the sharpness by lowering the angle a few degrees to 25 or even 20 degrees. If the edge fractures easily during use increase the angle a few degrees. In order to avoid
continually changing bevel angles I have several sets of chisels and each have different bevel angles.

Once the bevel is established there is usually no need to grind the tool each time it dulls. I grind when the bevel becomes worn from repeated honing or if the edge becomes severely damaged. Otherwise I just hone the tool to
restore the edge.

2. Flatten the back---New chisels will require flattening on a coarse stone to remove scratches from the manufacturing.   Once the scratches disappear continue with progressively finer stones until the back has a reflective, mirror polish. 

3. Hone the bevel---Position the heel of the bevel on the stone first then lift the handle slowly until the edge comes in contact. Now pull the chisel across the stone. Examine the chisel edge carefully and switch to the next finer stone when the scratch pattern is uniform. The final stone in the set should be fine enough to create a mirror finish on the edge.   

Finally, examine the edge closely. Even though you think that it's sharp a close examination with a 10x loupe may reveal small serrations in the edge. For the cleanest cuts the edge must be completely smooth and polished. If
necessary repeat the honing process until the edge is polished from corner to corner.


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