How to Sharpen Woodturning Chisels

Written by finn mccuhil
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How to Sharpen Woodturning Chisels
A sharp chisel makes turning easier. (Woodman at work image by CJD from

When you consider the distance your chisels travel over a turned piece by the time it's finished, it's amazing you don't spend half your career as a wood turner sharpening your tools. If it takes you one hour to turn a 10-inch diameter bowl with your lathe averaging 1,200rpm, your chisels will cut a groove almost 36 miles long. With that kind of wear, learning how to sharpen your tools quickly and accurately is important.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Bench-mounted belt sander
  • Fine-grit sanding belt
  • Buffing wheel
  • Polishing compound

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  1. 1

    Turn on your belt sander.

  2. 2

    Place the bevel of the chisel flat against the surface of the sander. Use only light pressure. Point the cutting edge of the chisel in the belt's direction of travel. It should take no more than two seconds to dress the bevel of a flat or skew chisel.

  3. 3

    Lift the back end of the chisel handle slightly to increase the angle of the bevel. Lift no more than 5 degrees from the main bevel. Lightly press the chisel to the belt again. This secondary bevel will create a sharper edge. It will also create a small burr on the backside of the blade, which you will remove with a buffing wheel. Don't leave the chisel on the sander any longer than necessary to smooth the bevel. Over-sharpening can overheat the tool and remove an excessive amount of steel from the edge.

  4. 4

    Turn on your buffing wheel, and apply a small amount of metal polishing compound to the wheel.

  5. 5

    Hold the flat side of the chisel against the buffing wheel to remove the burr, which should take no longer than two or three seconds. The burr is gone when you can slide your thumbnail slides easily off the chisel's tip without catching.

Tips and warnings

  • Do not polish the back of your scrapers. A small burr is necessary for them to do their job properly.
  • Effective sharpening requires a steady hand. If you are new to sharpening tools, consider using a jig to hold your chisels until you develop a feel for the process.
  • Only use the process above to sharpen an edge that is otherwise in good shape. Do not try to grind nicked or damaged chisels with this method. You could overheat the edge and ruin the tempering on the blade.
  • Use eye and hearing protection when working with power tools.

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