The Exile Files

Raging Against the Outrageous. Laughter and Insanity Abound.

Living On the Edge

Posted by Exile on January 25, 2019

I had a merry Christmas last year. I even got some presents and, what’s more, I even got one I wanted. A set of chisels for woodworking.
Now, I am no carpenter. Never was. I served an apprenticeship as a fitter so most things steel and mechanical are no mystery to me. I can spanner my way through almost anything, but wood is a different proposition.
I can use use a hammer and nails and I can turn a screw and use a saw but the finer elements of woodworking are not yet at my command. I intend to change that in my autumnal years. So, to get me started I wanted chisels. As I said, I have them now. And fine things they are too. Made by Irwin Marples, a boxed set of 6 shiny new implements of a relatively high grade steel with tough plastic handles. Apparently, one can hit the handles with a mallet and do no damage. We’ll see. The box is wooden. Very nice and good for storage.


One would hope and believe that these things were ready to use straight out of the box. But no.
Not quite. OK, they appear sharp and I daresay they are but only to a certain degree. One has to ‘initialise’ a chisel. Which basically means that if you want to use it effectively then you have to, well, sharpen the thing. This is not as easy as it may seem.

Scientifically, the edge of a chisel is the result of two faces meeting each other at a sharp angle all along an edge. That edge is created by the back of the chisel which has to be flat all the way across the chisel and the bevel, which as to be equally flat all across the chisel and these two flat faces meet each other at around 30 degrees. The actual angle is not that critical but 27 – 30 degrees is recommended by those that know.To grind the back of the chisel, take a flat, hard surface. I chose a piece of plate glass that I have in the shed, recovered from a rubbish skip years ago. I thought it might make a window in my shed. It never got there. Lay abrasive paper on the flat surface and start by laying the chisel on that and running it backwards and forwards over the abrasive. It doesn’t take long before one can see a polished surface on the chisel. I used 1000 grit so it really took a polish, even if it was hard going. The important bit is the leading edge of the chisel so keep going until it is polished there from one side to the other. As long as that is good, the rest is not that pressing. Having achieved that, one turns the chisel over and polishes the bevel in the same way by lifting the chisel to get the edge of the bevel down on to the abrasive until that too is polished all across the edge. This will raise a burr on the back of the chisel so give it one swipe across the back when the polishing is done to remove said burr. If you did that right, your chisel is now sharp. Repeat for the other five in the set. Consider it an upper body workout…

I must have done something right, All my chisels work! Many thanks to the people on Youtube, especially a guy called Paul Sellers.

OK. Bring on the wood…

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