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How to Sharpen a Chisel

You can't do a good job with blunt chisels. Learn how to quickly sharpen even damaged chisels so they cut like new.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Sharpening a chisel with a bench grinder

Some carpenters and woodworkers spend hours in search of the perfect edge, painstakingly hand-sharpening from one grit stone to the next. While that process may be necessary for some tasks, most projects require a speedier fix. In this article, you'll learn how to quickly fix a chipped edge and then reshape and sharpen it—all in about 10 minutes per chisel.

You'll need a bench grinder with a 100-grit wheel, some wet/dry sandpaper, a sharpening stone (with one medium side and one coarse side) and a lubricant. Follow our step-by-step photos to get a good sharp edge on your chisel, and if you're unfamiliar with your grinder, follow the safety steps below before you begin. If you've never used a grinding wheel before, practice this technique on one of your least-favorite chisels first.

Avoid burning the edge.

Avoid burning the edge.

Keep Your Tool Cool

Dunk the blade in water every two passes (three to four seconds) to keep the blade from burning. A straw or bluish color means you've overheated your chisel and ruined the temper. Practice with your least-favorite chisels first.

Grinder safety

Grinders spin fast and can grab on to loose clothing or fingers. Treat them with as much caution as you would a stray dog. Here are some things to consider before using your grinder:

  • Always wear safety glasses.
  • Never wear loose clothing or have long hair near the spinning wheel.
  • Inspect your grinding wheels. If they're cracked or damaged, replace them.
  • Stand to one side when you start your grinder. If the wheel is going to break apart, it'll probably do so as it starts up.
  • Never exceed the rpm limit that's printed on the side of the wheel.
  • Never drop the grinding wheel or overtighten the retaining nut. You could crack the wheel and set up a dangerous situation.
  • Never grind on the side of your wheel.
  • Position the tool rest as close to the wheel as possible.
  • Dress the wheel if it's clogged, out of round or glazed (see below). Wear a dust mask.
  • Wear gloves only when you're dressing a wheel. Keep your hands at least 10 in. away from the grinder at all times.
  • Unplug the tool when you're finished and keep young kids out of the shop when you're not there.

Dressing your wheel

A clean, well-dressed wheel is more efficient and less likely to burn the edge of your tool. Dress your grinding wheel to remove particles embedded in the wheel and to reshape it. Look for these special tools at hardware or welding supply stores. You can also find them online. (One type is the Grizzly H5944 Wheel Dresser #0, available through our affiliation with Amazon.com.)

Hard and soft grinding wheels

Hard and soft grinding wheels

Not All Grinding Wheels Are Created Equal

You can use two kinds of aluminum-oxide wheels to sharpen your chisels; one is blue-gray and the other white. We used the darker-color wheel, which is harder and will keep its shape longer. The drawback, however, is that it grinds hotter than the softer, white wheel. Too much heat will weaken the steel. The soft wheel will need more frequent shaping with a dressing tool, but you'll be less likely to burn the edge of your chisel while grinding. For best results, use a 100-grit wheel to shape your chisel blades.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Dust mask
    • Rags
    • Safety glasses

You'll also need a grinding wheel, a star wheel dresser, leather gloves and a sharpening stone.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Lubricating oil
    • Wet/dry sandpaper
    • Plate glass

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