Sharp chisels? Done.

As I was cleaning up in the shop this past weekend, I looked at the February to-do list and realized that every item was checked off.

February was tool prep month: mission accomplished. Never mind that it’s almost the end of March. I still paused to enjoy the 20% moment.

This weekend I finally finished sharpening my chisels, the last items on that to-do list. The boxes I built to hold the waterstones worked great. The jigs did not. So I employed a free-hand and attentive eye to the sharpening process.

When you know what you’re doing, the full process of taking a chisel from raggedy bottom-of-the-garage-sale-bin randomness to mirror-like, razor-sharp artisan tool probably only requires about an hour or two. It’s pretty simple and straight forward:

* The process of sharpening a blade is just shaving off bits of metal to shape the edge in the manner you want. You start out by shaving off “big” bits to form the edge and remove any significant flaws. Then you shave off progressively smaller and smaller bits to refine that edge. When using waterstones, this means starting with a 250 grit stone and working your way to 2000 or higher.

* You keep the waterstone wet at all times. These stones crumble as you use them, which is how the grit remains fresh and keeps on shaving metal. The water carries away the crumbling bits to ensure the stone doesn’t clog. What you end up with is a slurry of wet sand. Smells like an old beach bag. Use a tray, keep a towel handy.

Here’s some of the best advice that I’ve read about using a waterstone: As you move the blade over the stone, “think of sharpening as a process of constantly flattening the stone, keeping it flat by using its whole surface.” That’s because if you keep moving your blade in the same place, you’ll quickly dig a trench in the stone. And that does nothing to help you with getting a good edge. You want the surface flat and uniform.

* Continuously check to make sure the bevel is being formed to the correct angle and the edge is square. This is what a jig is for. If your jig doesn’t work (ahem) then you can check your blade against a template. I used a simple protractor and carpenter’s square. Standard bevel angle is 25 degrees from the back.

Of course, when you’re sharpening for the first time, there’s all sorts of additional fun:

* Pausing to make sure you’re holding a consistent angle of chisel to stone. And then pausing to check again because you just took a breath and might have moved the blade.

* Observing all the different off-kilter angles and curves you can put on a chisel.

* Going back to lower, rougher grits to correct the exciting errors you’ve made. Several times.

You can see how a calendar page might turn while doing this.

But here’s what I firmly believe: Don’t skimp on your tools. Don’t skimp on the extra bucks to get the best quality for your needs and don’t skimp on the time it takes to keep them in tip-top shape.

A workshop is the first real investment any homesteader should make of their efforts and resources, and your tools are an on-going extension of this. Being able to craft and construct at will makes everything so much easier.

Let the calendar page turn. You won’t regret the investment.

Additional Info:
Hock, R. (2010, May 17). Sharpening a chisel. Retrieved from

Kolle, J. (1999, November 1). Getting an Edge with Waterstones, Oilstones, and Sandpaper. Retrieved from

Wood Magazine (2007). Sharpening With Waterstones. Retrieves from

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