How to Sharpen Chisels Until They Are Razor Sharp – Quick Guide

If you want to know how to sharpen chisels, you need to understand that there are a few chronological steps you need to take.

But did you know that two very important steps in the sharpening process are ignored by around 80% of woodworkers, or that they are even unaware of them?

And let it be these two methods alone that guarantee you can get razor-sharp chisels rather than just sharp ones. Fortunately, you found this article, and I’ll explain these two stages to you here. After grinding, the back is flattened and polished in these two steps.

To give you a clear overview, I’ve listed all 5 steps you need to know to perfectly know how to sharpen chisels.

  • Flattening the sharpening stones
  • Flatten the back of the chisel
  • Sharpening the primary command
  • Sharpening a micro bevel
  • Polishing for a super smooth and sharp tip

In this article, you will discover everything you need to know about how to sharpen chisels. To do this, I made a list of supplies, answered a few frequently asked questions to give you more clarity in sharpening chisels, and I go deeper into all the steps.

Know that chisel sharpening gets better and better with practice. Start practicing on an old chisel and when you get the hang of the techniques you can move on to sharpening the chisels you use daily for your projects.

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Why do chisels need to be sharp

There are 2 very important reasons why chisels should be sharp, and that is because they cut through the wood better and a sharp chisel is less dangerous than a dull chisel.

The sharper the chisel is, the better it will cut through the wood, resulting in a clean cut. In addition to a clean cut, an additional advantage is that you will have to put much less force on the chisel to go through the wood.

In other words, sharper chisels will allow you to put in less effort and be able to continue with the task you were doing for longer.

Ok, a sharp chisel goes through wood easier, but why is a blunt chisel more dangerous than a sharp chisel?

Well, a dull chisel, even if it still feels sharp, will not slide correctly along the surface and will tend to slip. If you apply a lot of force at that time (more than you have to apply to a sharp chisel) the high speed and sharp tip can cause injuries.

Chisels, in addition to some other tools in the woodworking workshop, are dangerous and sharp objects anyway. So always make sure that you are well-prepared for any accidents and place a first aid kit in your workshop. All tips to put together the perfect first aid kit for a woodworking workshop can be found in my article, How To Make A Workshop First Aid Kit – N°1 Guide | FREE CHECKLIST.

Ebook part 1 woodworking basics

How to sharpen chisels

I’ll outline the materials you’ll need and the step-by-step process for chisel sharpening in this section. You can see that I’ve started using my hand tool sharpening jig in the video and pictures.

This jig makes it easy and safe to sharpen plane iron as well as sharpen chisels. You’ll save a ton of time when sharpening chisels thanks to the board’s tidy organization of all the supplies.

Learn how I created this jig for my workshop and download the free plans in my blog post, How to Make a Sharpening Jig for Hand Tools – FREE PLANS.

Watch the video here & learn how to sharpen chisels

Here you can watch the video and see how to sharpen chisels.
After watching the video, you can continue reading the step-by-step guide to sharpen chisels yourself. 

To start , the water stones should be soaked in water before you begin sharpening chisels. Once you notice them bubbling, you must continue to keep them in place until it stops.

These stones must never be used when dry. In fact, it is essential to keep them damp at all times during sharpening. You may have noticed from watching my movie that I occasionally spray the stones with water using a water nebulizer.

How to Sharpen Chisels - soak the water stones in water
How to Sharpen Chisels – Soak the water stones in water

How to sharpen chisels – step 1

Once the water stones are saturated, the first step, even before you start grinding your dull chisel, is to flatten the water stones.
So what I like to do is take a pencil and draw a grid. Then I take my diamond stone, put it on top, and go back and forth.
The reason I draw that grid is to see which places are flat and which are not. So, if you take this step, you have to keep rubbing the stone until the grid is completely gone.

How to Sharpen Chisels - Step 1
How to Sharpen Chisels – Step 1

How to sharpen chisels – step 2

The second step is the step most people ignore, and that is to flatten the back.
When you get new chisels it’s a super important step because if the back isn’t 100% flat, then you will never achieve a straight cut!

You have to rub the back of the sharpening stones until all original sharpening marks are gone.
Once this step is done, on future sharpening you will only need to repeat it by giving the back 3 or 4 strokes. That way, it will be an easy step that won’t waste a lot of time.

How to Sharpen Chisels - Step 2
How to Sharpen Chisels – Step 2

How to sharpen chisels – step 3

The third step is grinding the primary bevel.
The grit of the sharpening stone I use depends on the condition of the chisel. If there is a lot of damage, I always start with a coarser grit (400, or sometimes even on the 120 grit diamond stone). However, if it’s intermediate sharpening to keep my chisel sharp, I switch to the finer grit (starting with 3000 grit).

How to Sharpen Chisels - Step 3
How to Sharpen Chisels – Step 3

If you are experienced, you can do this step by hand, but I always use my honing guide for this. That way, I’m always sure the chisel is at the right angle on the sharpening stone. Thanks to the jig I made in my previous video, setting the right angle is very easy. Just pick the right angle, (check the angle chart below) and clamp your chisel in the honing guide. Make sure it is well tightened, there is a groove in the knob where you can add a screwdriver to make sure it is really tight.

Hand toolDistanceAngle
Chisel Primary bevel40 mm / 1.57″25-degree
Chisel Micro bevel30 mm / 1.18″30-degree
Plane iron (low angle plane, 12 degree bed plane)50 mm / 1.96″25-degree
Plane iron (standard angle plane, 45 degree bed plane)38 mm / 1.49″30-degree
How to sharpen chisels – Angle chart

The number of strokes depends on the condition of the chisel. Make a few strokes and look at the bevel of the chisel, if it is smooth, you can move on to the next step, if not, keep rubbing the chisel to the stone or take a step back and use a coarser stone.

How to sharpen chisels – step 4

For the fourth step, I move the chisel in the honing guide so that I can now cut a micro-bevel at a 30-degree angle (again, check the angle chart above). This micro bevel will ensure that the chisel becomes sharper, but also that the sharpening will be faster in the future. When you already have a micro-bevel, all you have to do is grind the micro-bevel, and you’re done.

How to Sharpen Chisels - Step 4
How to Sharpen Chisels – Step 4

Now, to make a new micro bevel, make a few strokes over the water stone, check, and repeat until you get a smooth tip.

You will also feel like you are getting a burr on the back. To get rid of this, place the chisel with his back on the sharpening stone and go back and forth for a few times. You can feel if the burr is gone by sliding your fingernail over the back of the chisel towards the tip. If your nail gets stuck on the edge, the burr is still there, and you will need to continue sharpening the back. Taking away that burr ensures that the back is completely flat. If not, the back will not meet the bevel perfectly and the chisel will not cut as it should.

How to sharpen chisels – step 5

The last step is the second extra step that most ignore, and that is polishing the chisel. Your chisel will already cut very well, but it could be even better. That is when polishing comes in.

The polishing is done with a leather strop that removes the small scratches from the sharpening stones.
Place the chisel on the leather strop and find the bevel by going up and down. Then press the chisel into the leather and make a few strokes, working backward. I usually do between 20 and 30 strokes.

Doing this creates a micro burr at the back, so now you need to make a few strokes at the back as well. Just like with sharpening, place the back of the chisel on the leather and polish the back by making a few strokes, working backward.

How to Sharpen Chisels - Step 5
How to Sharpen Chisels – Step 5

Now you know how to sharpen chisels, the next step you can take is learning how to sharpen a hand plane blade. The technique differs a little from the technique to sharpen chisels, and you will learn all about it in my article, How I Sharpen A Plane Blade Until It Is Razor Sharp – Quick Guide.

How to tell if a chisel is sharp?

To test a chisel to see if it is sharp, there are a few different ways you can use it. See below which one works best for you, or combine a few for an even clearer result.

Shaving method. You can test the sharpness of the chisel on, for example, your arm hair. If the hair doesn’t shave or just shaves a few hairs, your chisel isn’t sharp enough.

However, you have to be careful if you are going to use this method because if you go in too much, you can cut yourself.

Paper test. To achieve this, place an upright piece of plain copy paper in your hand. Now, cut along the edge of the paper. If your chisel is sharp, it will effortlessly cut through the wood. It will take some work and a sharp chisel cut to get it.

Fingernail test. Lightly stroke your fingernail with the chisel. Chips should appear if it is sharp enough. A dull chisel will slide over the nail.

Light test. Bright light will obscure the reflection of a sharp chisel.

How to maintain a wood chisel?

Once you have a sharp chisel, it is important you maintain it well to keep it as sharp as long as possible. I’ll give you a few pointers to get you going in order to assist you with this.

Keep using the protective cap that came with your chisels to provide the chisel with the best possible shielding. The protection prevents the wood chisel’s cutting edge from dulling or getting damaged in between applications.

In order to keep their cutting edges sharp between uses, store your chisels. A chisel should not be left unattended on a workbench. It is too likely to be harmed by falling to the ground and being knocked off the workbench. It is also simpler to locate the precise size chisel you require fast when the chisels are always stored appropriately.

Grease them to prevent rust. Be cautious with this, though; the oil shouldn’t be leaking off. I use a nice, clean towel and WD40 sprayed on it to rub the chisel. This makes sure that a thin layer of oil coats the metal and prevents rust from growing. I go through this process again each time I put the chisel aside.

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