How to Sharpen a Chisel Quickly and Easily





Introduction: How to Sharpen a Chisel Quickly and Easily

About: I have had the good fortune of being able to work with wood for a living as a Carpenter & Joiner. My family have been professional Carpenters & Joiners since 1926 when my Great Grandfather started the busine...

This instructable is going to give you a quick and relaible way to put a sharp edge on your chisels.

You will need;

Norton India cobination stone size 8" x 2". This has a grey "coarse" side and an orangey brown "fine" side. This method works just as well on other mediums such as sandpaper, water stones and diamond stones.

Honing oil. Norton make their own product but I find baby oil is much cheaper and works really well.

I you don't fancy freehand honing buy a "side clamping" honing guide. 

A piece of leather stuck to a block of wood.

Some metal polish like autosol.

A clean cloth.

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Step 1: The Set Up

A piece of melamine faced MDF makes a great way to locate your sharpening stone. The melamine facing makes it very easy to clean and the MDF stays nice and flat. If you don't have any, fear not, any scrap will do.

If you are able to cut two pieces of hardwood the same thickness as your stone do so. This must be done very accurately, if you don't feel able to do this just use some scrap or the like to locate the stone prevent it slipping around. The concept with these blocks is that they prevent you falling off the end of the stone while learing, ensuring full use of all the stone. The bigger piece nearest us allows the honing guide to use more of the stone.

Screw a batten to the underside to allow you to secure the sharpening station to the bench.

Many honing guides have information on them regarding how far the chisel needs to project to create a sharpening angle. The two white blocks nearst the camera are set to give a 30deg and a 25deg bevel. Having these blocks helps save time when setting. 

Step 2: Work the Back

First off you will need to work will be the back. The first photo shows clearly the swirly marks from the factory grinding process that are present on most chisels.These need to be removed, especially behind the cutting edge to give good results. Some people like to flatten the whole of the back of the chisel and if you wish to do so please do however I normally don't. For general purpose work I simply hold the chisel back flat on the stone and work it over the whole stone as you will see in the video. Once the factory marks are removed behind the cutting edge work the back on the leather strop with some autosol. The second photo shows a chisel back ready for use. Note all the scratch marks behind the cutting edge are gone. There are however some marks still on the back, these will not effect the sharpness of your chisel.

Step 3: Honing the Edge

Now it's time to hone the edge. The normal chisel you would buy has a factory ground angle of about 25deg. This angle is too shallow for normal work. We need to hone an angle of about 30deg. We do not need to change the whole angle. As you will see from photo 1 we only need to apply the 30deg angle to the tip of the blade and create a small secondary bevel. Offer the 25 bevel to the stone heel first (not the cutting edge) and then lift by about 5deg. Hold the chisel steady and move if over the face of the stone. The video shows how to do this both free hand and with a honing guide. After a few light passes you will create a burr that can be felt on the back edge of the chisel we worked on in step two. Remove this bur by holding the back of the chisel flat on the stone and drawing it backward. This will then move the burr back to the other side. Very lightly and briefly hone once more, flip the chisel over and and pull back ward for the last time.
Now move to the strop, apply some more autosol if required and work the small 30deg honed bevel then turn it over and pull the chisel back. You should now have a small 30deg polished bevel as shown in the second photo which is ready for work.

Step 4: Test the Edge

Caution! You have created a sharp edge. When using a chisel ensure your hands are always BEHIND the cutting edge and that you are pushing AWAY from your hands.
Secure a piece of wood and try to pare end grain. If you can pare nicely like the photo you are done, if you can't, hone again.

Step 5: Maintaing the Edge

Once your edge is good, use it until it becomes dull. When it does go to step 3 and repeat. You can do this until the edge looks like the photo on this step. It has become thick. In the video I set the honing guide to 25deg and use the honing guide to redo the 25deg factory bevel using the grey coarse side of the stone. Do this until the edge is very fine again like the photo at the end of step 3. Now hone the edge and you are good to go again.

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    34 Discussions

    What about About plaiting some of your shavings in copper and moulding them? What a creation it could be!

    1 reply

    its nice to see someone
    who actually knows how to sharpen a chisel properly, being a carpenter I’m am usually
    the one to sharpen my crews chisels, although I ditched the hand method
    and went for a tormek, so worth it if you do a lot of tool use. I think the
    only thing you missed is that every chisel (including Japanese hollow backed chisels)
    need to go through the back grinding to ensure a perfect edge. No chisels come
    set from the factory, they all need some TLC. All in all this is the
    perfect instruction on sharpening and anyone who doesn’t know how should follow

    2 replies

    Working the back can be a bit tedious but is the most neglected "essential" step found in sharpening. Spending time on not just removing the factory grinding marks but getting a real mirror finish is so worth the effort in later time saving. I use different grades of automotive "wet & dry" (called Waterpaper in my country) working through 120, 180, 320, 400, 600, etc up to 4000 grit and then only moving to the stone. (The Waterpaper sticks fine with just a bit of water itself to a sheet of 4mm glass mounted on a bit of plywood)

    Finishing off on a buffing wheel is tempting but I learned the hard way not to go there. It is too easy to round the tip of the back which you then have to recover from by grinding the bevel back.

    In the same way, your strop needs to be made from the thinnest, hardest leather you can find (if you are using leather). Otherwise you end up rounding the edge by pulling it along in a "travelling dent", thereby negating all your hard work creating the edge in the first place. In fact your strop doesn't have to be leather at all (although it certainly feels so right). It just needs to be of a material soft enough not to scratch the metal and rough enough to hold the stropping compound. I sanded flat the end grain of a thick Basswood plank and it's the best strop I have (after I again learned the hard way to first make sure that I'd carefully got rid of loose grit from the sandpaper - tip - use Waterpaper next time - the grit doesn't come off so easily)

    If you can afford it, a diamond Whetstone not only removes metal very quickly when grinding back a bevel, but is absolutely great for truing up a hollowed carbide stone as well as cleaning up a clogged one. Just use water as a lubricant, maybe with a drop of dish washing liquid, and your stone will come up so beautifully you won't want to use it again cause you won't want to spoil its looks.

    Sorry for being so long winded. Just wish someone had told me their secrets 50 years ago


    Hello hsnester, I really appreciate the kind feedback, especially from a fellow craftsperson. We love our Tormek we use here in our workshop. However, the cost of the Tormek unit might be out of the reach of many woodworkers. The Norton India is however well within the reach of most people who own a chisel. Keep thiose edges keen :-)

    I like making stuff but I'm not very good at woodworking, lack of tools and space (probably common to many people?)

    I often can't find specific storage for 'other stuff 'so I make 'custom' things but I'm rarely if ever satisfied with the way they turn out. Your instructables are really helpful particularly .the little things you mention are most useful (baby oil, Solvol Autosol, etc)



    For a final step, polish it to a mirror finish on a buffing wheel. My wife learned this from a carousel horse carver.

    1 reply

    Brilliant video. I have a bunch of tools from my dad that are almost rounded. I can't wait to build this and do this. I have a carburundum stone and used oil on it once. I've read that ruins it. Do you have any idea if that's true? I took it on the sidewalk and rubbed it which I read removed the dishing. It seems to have done a decent job. But would you recommend getting a new stone and if so, then what kind? Finally, you cite using the fine edge for the secondary bevel and the rough only for the primary. I never knew this. Is it the same for knives? I've always sharpened first with the rough and finished with the fine. Now I assume all I've been doing has been to remove more metal than is necessary and perhaps do too much work.

    2 replies

    Also, on knife sharpening, there are many people doing that many different ways, yours sounds fine. Most of my sharp edges are chisels and planes, less so the knife.

    Thanks and I'm glad you liked the video. Your stone should be fine, the type of stone you have is perfect for use with oil. Carbarunbum (however that's spelled) is a trade name for silicone carbide. The grey side of an India stone is in fact silicone carbide, the orangeish side is I think aluminium oxide (need to check that). If you have flattened the stone well (the method you describe is actually a method I have read about!), try it before buying a new one. If you do need a new one a Norton India is a perfect starter stone and the one demonstrated on in the video. If your tools are very very dull grinding them true will take a long time on a stone. If you have it a bench grinder it will save a great deal of time. I will do an instructable on using a grinder but I did not want to get into restoring or heavy grinding yet. The reason you can hone on the fine only is because you are working just the tip, a small surface area. This is the reason I grind back the primary bevel once the fine edge gets thick. This is the most common practice in western woodworking text for the past 150 years or more. If you want any more advice just let me know.

    I was always taught to drag my fiinished blade backword's over a thick leather sufuarce. IE mariea and Wolfgang Floulr. 1985 The agusta festival Elkins WV.Try it! it's like a razor!

    1 reply

    Yep, that's exactly what the strop is in the video. I use a bit of metal polish with my strop but raw leather works too, making sure the burr is properly removed.

    I use psa silicon carbide sand paper on plate glass in place of wet stone I find it works better