Sharpening Narrow Chisels (the Problem & Solution)

how to sharpen narrow chisels square

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We’ve all done it.

Turned a smashing chisel into a left-handed skew.

Getting a 90 degree edge on narrow chisels can be troublesome.
Particularly if you’re free handing the job.

So I thought I’d give you a couple of tips that may help with sharpening narrow chisels squarely, (ish) freehand…. catchy.

The first thing is to understand why you’re struggling.

The Problem

This is all down to reference, or lack of it.

A narrow chisel won’t sit itself on the stone and stay stable like a wider one.

We set out to establish the bevel –
Take a few strokes. Have a check. Return to the stone. Repeat.

Every time we lift the bevel then sit it down, we’re guaranteed to place it differently.
The reference surface is just too narrow.

The result is a multi-faceted edge.

This makes it unclear where we need to adjust.

The process is frustrating and unpredictable.

sharpening narrow chisels - the primary bevel

A coarse diamond stone is ideal for creating a primary bevel quickly. This is your biggest aid when sharpening narrow chisels.

The Solution

Use The Right Stone
The biggest aid in getting this square is going to be choosing the right stone for the primary grind.

Use the coarsest, fastest cutting stone you can muster up.

A coarse diamond is perfect.

Why fast cutting?

It allows us to completely reset a cocked up bevel in as few a strokes as possible.
The less stokes we do, the less room there is for error.

With a narrow chisel aim to completely re-grind or reset the bevel before lifting the tool to check it.

This is the most important part.

It prevents two things.

The first is stopping that whole multi bevel thing.

The second is being able to observe how far out of square you’ve gone.

The Method – Sharpening Narrow Chisels

Spit on the stone.

Re-establish the primary grind, without lifting the tool.
(Remember, this is the important part)

Work it long enough that the whole surface of the bevel is completely reset.

Then lift it and have a jolly good look.

It might not be square.

But we’ll have a single, straight edge.

the problem with narrow chisel sharpening

A skewed edge (exaggerated!). But it’s nice and straight, and we can see exactly where material needs to be removed.

Lets say it’s skewed.
Not by much, but enough to be troublesome.

Sit the chisel back on the stone, trying to feel it reference on that nice consistent bevel you’ve created.

Repeat as before, taking enough strokes to fully re-work the bevel.
The only difference this time, is a tad more pressure is applied to the side that needs more material removing.

It shouldn’t take many strokes on your coarse stone to get it fully reset again.

Have another check.

Twice is normally enough to get it right.
If not keep repeating, to sneak up on it.

Every time work the entire edge.

By doing it like this you always have reference and progression on your side.

If you go at it willy nilly instead, the outcome will seem random. Which leaves very little room for you to progress your skills.

With time you’ll get this in less and less attempts.
And having a bit of a system will allow you to develop.

sharpening a narrow chisel - the secondary bevel

Move to a finer stone for a quick primary bevel.

Creating the cutting edge.
To refine the cutting edge we move to a finer stone and ensure that the bevel is fully registered before taking any strokes.

Again, it’s still important here to use minimal strokes.
This will reduce the chance of it all going south.

How square?
Most jobs won’t care even if you’re well out.

Other jobs, like morticing, will. There’s nowt worse than a wandering mortice chisel.

But still, I only ever go to what’s visually square.

Don’t, whatever you do, get a square out.
You’ll chase your tail ’till the end of time.

PS. We’re gearing up for our latest video series – ‘Build A Hall Table’
Chapter one will be up on the 21st November – Don’t miss your pre-order discount!

morticing with a square, narrow chisel

Cutting mortices is a perfect example of a job that requires a nice square chisel. Still… don’t go over board!

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