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If your chisel isn’t sharp, don’t expect to do any good work with it. Most tools are ready to use once their manufacturing process is complete. however, chisels don’t fall under that category.
After manufacture, chisels tend to be ground to a bevel of between 25 to 35 degrees. However, you need to put the final edge on it before it’s ready.
So, this guide is here to help you do just that. Note that there are alternative sharpening methods with more complex tools, such as grinding wheels in the mix. However, this series of steps focus on a bit of a simpler alternative with more easily accessible components.
Still, this is not the most barebones method you could use. Some people sharpen their chisels exclusively by hand. You can think of this as a midpoint.
Gather Your Materials and Tools
Before getting started, it’s important to gather everything you’re going to need for the task. Having a chisel goes without saying, but there are three more elements that are required for this methodology to work period
The first is your honing guide, which maintains the blade angle as you sharpen. Of course, if you have a ton of experience, then you can get the angle by feel. However, if you did have that much experience, you probably wouldn’t be reading this guide.
Sharpening stones are necessary as well, and they’re probably going to represent the costliest component of the operation. Two combination stones (800/4,000 and 1,200/8,000) should do the trick.
With a water stone grit of 6,000 or greater, a nagura stone is needed to create the slurry that helps with chisel sharpening.
The first thing you want to do is have your water stones sit in some water. That one was probably kind of obvious. You don’t need to have them submerged for ages as some people may think.
In less than 20 minutes, they should be good to go. The jury is still out on if storing these stones in water is a good idea or not. Just in case you may not have realized, your nagura stone should also be submerged here.
Now, you set up your honing guide by putting the chisel into it with the bevel face down. You want to tighten the guide just enough to hold the chisel, but you don’t want it too tight. When you’re done, you should be able to adjust the chisel.
You don’t have to worry about pinpoint accuracy, as you just need the bevel to lay flush against the stone. Once you’ve achieved your desired level of adjustment, you need only tighten your honing guide screw, which should then lock the chisel in place.
Water stones can be slippery, so remember to put them somewhere that prevents them from sliding around unnecessarily.
With your chisel in the honing guide, you want to set the whole arrangement onto the stone, with even pressure on the chisel blade’s back. Here, you want to give it five to six passes forward and back. At this point, you are using your 800-grit stone.
For maximum usability, don’t have all your passes go over the same area of the stone. Distribute things as evenly as possible. If you start developing grooves in your stones, you have a problem.
Every three passes, wipe your blade clean, check your progress, rinse any residue that accumulated on the stone, and go again.
The next step is to move to your 1,200-grit stone, repeat the process above, then move to the 4,000-grit stone. It’s at this point that you’re going to notice your blade beginning to shine.
While the larger water stone grits are fine on their own, when you get to 6,000 and above, these finer water stones need some help to produce the slurry that is essential in sharpening the chisel effectively.
That was the whole purpose of your getting a nagura stone. Now that you’ve passed the 4,000-grit level, only the 8,000-grit sharpening procedure remains.
If you’ve been following along so far, your nagura stone should be wet at this point. Take the 8,000-grit stone and rub atop it in a circular motion. With that, you’re going to notice this slurry starting to form atop the stone.
Once done, you can take your chisel/honing guide assembly and repeat the same process you did above. The only difference is that after rinsing the 8,000-grit stone each time, you want to do a nagura stone reapplication.
You’re approaching the finish line here, so just press on for a couple more steps!
The second bevel is sometimes called a micro-bevel. While it’s not mandatory, you can save yourself a lot of time in the future by having one.
Why would you want to do this? Well, your chisel is inevitably going to get dull over time, which requires subsequent sharpening. All you would need to do is sharpen your micro-bevel, and you’re good to go.
Of course, at some point, your micro-bevel does flatten and align with the rest of the bevel. but it takes quite some time, meaning that you are not going to have to do this whole process every time.
Start by creating the slurry on your 8,000-grit stone with your nagura stone. With your chisel and honing guide assembly on the stone, you want to raise the chisel’s handle a bit. Push forward from one side of the stone to the next with a smooth and steady stroke.
You don’t want to pull the blade backward on the stone after each pass. Instead, lift the chisel and bring it back to the nearer side. Each time you do this, raise the chisel handle in small, fixed increments by the same angle.
When done, the end of your chisel blade should feature a thin line.
While you’ve done well so far, you’ve also created a burr on the back of the blade’s edge. Get your 800-grit stone and lie the back of the chisel against it. Make several passes, ensuring that the chisel is completely flat against the stone.
You only need to flatten the end here, but keeping more of the chisel along the stone helps you to keep things flat. Repeat the process moving to the 1,200-grit and then the 4,000-grit stone.
Now you know what it takes to flatten a chisel. Remember that there are other methods you can use, but this one is fairly simple, and the tools are easy to acquire.