How to Sharpen a Chisel

Chisels are among the most versatile woodworking hand tools you can own. 

According to The Family Handyman, they’re perfect for shaving rough edges, scraping off crusted glue, cutting mortises, and so much more.

The catch is that your chisel must be sharp. Using a dull or dinged up chisel makes an otherwise simple project a difficult, time consuming, and possibly dangerous one.

Luckily, sharpening a chisel is a straightforward task. Read our guide to learn everything you need to properly prepare your chisel for your next project. 

Here’s exactly how to sharpen a chisel to a razor-sharp edge. 

What You’ll Need:

There are a lot of different ways to sharpen a chisel.

Although the most efficient is likely with diamond fret levelers, it’s also the most expensive.

Those that work with wood frequently, and thus must sharpen their chisels on a regular basis, will benefit from investing in diamond fret levelers.

Most home DIYers, on the other hand, are better off using the inexpensive sandpaper method described below.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Sandpaper (80-grit, 150-grit, and 220-grit)
  • ¼ inch Thick Sheet of Glass (a glass shelf works)
  • Low-Tack Spray Adhesive
  • Honing Guide
  • Access to Running Water

For chisels in extra rough condition that require a little pre-preparation, you’ll need the following extra tools:

  • Belt Grinder

Step I: Prepare Your Tools

If you opt for the low-cost sandpaper method over buying a set of diamond fret levelers, be prepared for a little setup and preparation.

Start by securing the sandpaper to the piece of ¼ inch thick glass.

Use the spray adhesive (low-tack is best) to secure sheets of 80-grit, 150-grit, and 220-grit sandpaper to the glass sheet.

A useful tip is to apply sandpaper to both sides of the glass sheet. Not only does this give you more sandpaper to use, but it also prevents the glass from sliding around.

The sheet of glass with the sandpaper glued to it is the tool you’ll use to sharpen your chisels.

Step II: Prep the Chisel if Necessary 

For most chisels, you can jump straight to Step III by using your new sandpaper tool.

Chisels that are in extremely rough condition, such as filled with dings or rounded over, require a little extra preparation.

You’ll most likely need a power tool for this step. It makes getting these major dings and nicks out much more time efficient.

A belt grinder is your best bet. Gently press the chisel’s edge into the belt grinder to grind away any major blemishes.

It’s important to remember two things during this step.

  • Keep the chisel cool. Only run against the belt grinder for a few moments before cooling the chisel off in running water.
  • Never grind more than you have to. Use the belt grinder to grind off the roughest bits before using sandpaper for the rest of the job.

A honing guide is a useful tool that will help you use your belt grinder to sharpen your chisels with much more precision.

Step III: Flatten the Back 

Now that your tools and chisels are prepared, start by flattening the back of the chisel.

Simply rub the chisel’s backside against the sandpaper. Start with the 80-grit sandpaper and move up to the 150-grit and 220-grit sandpaper.

The goal is to get the flattest possible finish on the backside of the chisel so that all cuts you make will be straight.

Step IV: Hone the Edge

Move onto the edges of the chisel.

You can complete this step of the process by hand, although it’s much easier when you use a honing guide.

The honing guide will hold the chisel at a set angle against the sandpaper so that you end up with a more precise finish.

Most chisels have a roughly 30-degree angle on the edges. Match the honing guide to the chisel’s edge angle for the best results. 

Like flattening the back, move through the sandpaper from 80-grit to 150-grit to 220-grit for the smoothest possible finish.

Step V: Polish the Edge

Chances are that simply flattening the back and sharpening the edges is enough for your woodworking project.

However, some projects that require the utmost in precision will benefit from an even sharper chisel edge.

You can do this by continuing your sharpening/honing with finer grit sandpapers. Don’t just stop at 220-grit.

You can also use your honing guide to ensure that you’re only sharpening the very edges/ends of the chisel to create the sharper finish you desire.

Final Thoughts

Anyone with a set of these popular woodworking tools must learn how to sharpen a chisel.

Using dull or dinged chisels isn’t just inefficient, it can damage your woodworking project – and even your hands.

So, follow the steps outlined in our guide to a T to get the sharpest chisels possible and stay safe in the process.

About Gus Donaldson

I built houses for over 30 years and recently retired. I've made lots of mistakes and hopefully teach you not to make the same ones. I still love to build and have a garage workshop that I use for hobby projects like the walnut bookshelf I made for my wife. I like to write and let people know that working with your hands and tools does not need to be intimidating.

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