Signmaking 101: Sharpening Chisels

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Signmaking 101: Sharpening Chisels

Post by Mike Jackson » Mon Jul 19, 2004 11:50 pm

Actually, this one is more of a question than an answer!

Back at the Oklahoma Bash, Dusty Yaxley (from Florida) demonstrated an interesting wheel he mounted in a drill press. The wheel had a lot of slots in it, allowing the chisel to actually show though as the grinding wheel spun. It was about 12" in diameter and about 1/4" thick with an arbor. He could sharpen a v-gouge chisel in no time.

When I visited Paul White's shop in Cape Cod back in 1986, he had a sharpening tool he purchased from Woodworker's Supply. It was basically a large, upside down belt sander with an arm attachment projecting out the front. The arm was adjustable based on the size and shape of the chisel, and the desired angle. Jay Cooke had one of those sharpeners, too. Paul would take a perfectly good, very sharp chisel and drive it straight into a vise, severely dulling it. Withing a few minutes, he had it ready for the final buffing. It was very impressive...and it had the advantage of getting a very precise angle.

When we settled in here in Jackson Hole, I tried to buy one of the sharpeners, but Woodworkers had discontinued them. Paul White kept an eye out for one for us, but no one ever wanted to give theirs up. I eventually bought a 1" wide Delta belt sander, but it ran the belt the wrong direction. I built a new holder for it and ran it upside down, plus I added an adjustable shelf to hold the heel of the chisel. It worked quite well, but not as good as Paul's and Jay's.

Interestingly, the belts were always very coarse: something like 60 grit and not 240 grit. The fine grit belts burned the tips, while the coarse paper cut the steel without burning. Once the "wire edge" appeared at the tip, it was buffed to a very sharp edge on a buffing wheel and shapening compound.

I still look through the Woodworker's Supply catalogs and see all kinds of sharpeners, most using a rotary wheel and some using some sort of water cooling system. I used to get a lot of Woodworking magazines and the craftsmen in many of their articles would spend hours sharpening each chisel (for the craft's sake?)

I am curious what others use now?
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Post by Mike Jackson » Mon Jul 19, 2004 11:57 pm

As an interesting side note, back at the Oklahoma Bash, a woodcarver from Bangor, Maine rode to the meet on a long series of Greyhound busses. He brought his roll of very sharp chisels and spent a good part of the meeting carving overseeing a carved sign panel.

During the carving, someone accidentally kicked the corner of the small table that held all his chisels. Just like a piece of jellied toast will always land on the jelly side if dropped to the floor, his chisels all fell point down, ruining the tip of each. Mike Seargent was literally in tears. He was one of the old school carvers who spent hours on each tool. Dusty Yaxley came to the rescue and had them resharpened in short order using his sharpening wheel. There was no way Dusty was going to take that wheel back to Florida with him. It stayed right there on my drill press in Oklahoma!
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Post by joe cieslowski » Tue Jul 20, 2004 12:15 pm

OK. I guess this is where I fit in..........

I don't have a lot of time at the moment to write the whole thing but here is something to chew on till I can get specific.

Sharpening a carving tool is not just about getting a sharp edge. When you sharpen a tool you are also SHAPING the tool. When I sharpen, I grind a bevel at the end of the tool to create the edge. This bevel serves three purposes.....1. as stated above, to thin the steel to create a cutting edge. 2. the bevel is the platform that will guide the cutting edge. 3. The bevel determines the angle of work.

Think about what kind of guide you want behind your edge.....concave? convex? or straight. Your answer will determine which kind of grinder is right for the job. Angle of work? Remember, the handle of the tool does not travel through the point....it travels at a consistant elevation above it which is determined by the angle of the bevel.....do I want the handle high....or as low as possible? Think of pushing a car out of a ditch.

I'll be back later.

Joe
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Post by joe cieslowski » Wed Jul 21, 2004 9:08 am

OK, I give up!!!!! :x

I just spent the last 1/2 hour typing the next instalment....I hit submit and it got tossed...ERROR ON PAGE

Lets try this.... There was a thread on the Letterville Web Site http://www.letterhead.com/ubb/index.html do a search for "notes on sharpening carving tools" Through the thread (among the BS) I describe the grinding method I use and which machine and why. Try that if you are interested.

Also, I wrote a 2 part article on this topic for Sign Business Mag in2001, the July and Aug. Issue. Lots of good pics! :) If you don't have it and want a copy, send me $2.00 and I'll send you a B+W photocopy.

Also....the machine that Paul and Jay have is the Mark II sharpening system that was available in the early 80's.

The Delta Sharpening System which she now uses can be purchased for about $160

The thread on the Lettervill site died before I described the honing process. If I can get a couple of yes votes....I'll describe it here.

Boy, I love technology...... :x

Have a GREAT DAY! :)

Joe
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Post by Rick Sacks » Wed Jul 21, 2004 10:14 am

Gary Rhoads turned me onto the visible grinding wheel. They seem to be hard to find items now, but I use mine regularly, both for my chisels and Megan's kitchen knives.

I don't find any advantage yet to useing a hollow grind instead of a flat. I do find that a shallower angle works better on redwood and a steeper angle works better on oak.
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Post by cheryl » Wed Jul 21, 2004 10:19 am

Hi Joe.....all your carving/sharpening info is helpful ! My chisels are getting a bit dull and I was wondering what to sharpen them with. :?:

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Post by joe cieslowski » Wed Jul 21, 2004 12:22 pm

OOPPPPS! :oops:

Image
(Photo of Joe's Spanjer style R inserted by Mike Jackson 7-21-04)

I just re-read Mikes first post. The question is "what do you use" and I was thinking "how do you"

I'm back on track now.....

I use a slightly modified Delta Sharpening System for grinding.

I use arkansas stones for honing.

I use a buffing wheel with white rouge and a strop for stroping.

Cheryl, Email me your address.

Joe,

Joe
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Post by Mike Jackson » Wed Jul 21, 2004 12:30 pm

Joe,
You are welcome to make a NEW thread and describe you YOU sharpen the chisels. Otherwise, feel free to add any information about chisels here in this thread. I was just trying to get some discussion going on the subject. Thanks for you input!

Mike
Last edited by Mike Jackson on Wed Jul 21, 2004 5:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by joe cieslowski » Wed Jul 21, 2004 4:53 pm

Rick,

I've heard others say the same thing about increasing the work angle in harder woods. Why do you do that? Its just seems you would want a low angle to get behind the edge as much as possible????

Thanks,

Joe
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Post by Rick Sacks » Wed Jul 21, 2004 10:14 pm

perhaps I'm describing it bass-ackwards?
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Post by Doug Bernhardt » Thu Jul 22, 2004 8:48 pm

Hi Joe and Rick...I also have heard the discussions on hollow grind and the change of angle for hard versus softwoods. From what the cabinet makers say...hollow ground is the way and a blunter angle used for hard woods is supposed to conserve the edge.....although looking at that beautiful "R" by Joe here, I'd take his advice. Is hard to tell from the photo but is that oak or pine? Can't see any rays so am guessing a softwood.

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Post by Jon Harl » Fri Jul 23, 2004 1:54 am

A hollow ground tool is not supported at the cutting edge the same as a flat bevel. That said I use a Tormek grinder to shape or grind my angle. It's a slow grinder cooled by water so there's no chance to burn the tool. For honing/sharpening I use a Koch Thermal Reactive Sharpening System. This is a special wheel and buffing compound that reacts to the heat created by the spinning wheel. It'll give you a razor sharp edge in about 30 seconds. The only problem, after repeated use the edge will be sharp but blunt (if that makes sense). Taking more force to push the tool through the wood. At that point it's back to the Tormek to shape the edge. I also will use a leather strop glued to a block of oak, it's about 12" long. It's charged with Zam compound or a Japanese buffing compound. I keep these on the carving bench while I'm working so I can hone as I go and I don't have to go to the buffing wheel.

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Post by joe cieslowski » Fri Jul 23, 2004 7:40 am

Just a couple of comments....

Yes, cabinet makers use hollow ground edges but they use the back (flat) side of the blade to guide the edge. For carving, it's the opposite. The bevel is used for the guide.

I used to do the hollow grind too untill I got the Delta. I used a 8" lapidary wheel....the same size as the Mark II. However, after grinding, I then honed it on a flat stone. This flattened the hollow grind at the edge and heal of the bevel which gave me the flat bevel I needed. This is the same technique that is used for sharpening plane irons. (I studied this stuff in college....wood technology major). I suggest that those of you with hollow grind systems give this a try. Then before stropping, I put a micro bevel on the inside of the blade (the concave side).

With a 15 degree grind on the main bevel and a 15 degree micro bevel I bring 30 degrees of steel to the edge, keep a low angle of work and an edge thats durable and sharp enough to carve ANY wood without resharpening. My test is a baby butt smooth cut on the end grain of a piece of pine.

In any case.....stick with works best for you! I'd rather be carving than sharpening :D

Joe
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Doug Again...

Post by Doug Bernhardt » Thu Jul 29, 2004 9:30 pm

Hi Joe...read the article in sign biz with interest last year or so but would love to hear how you grind gouges on that "gizmo" of yours. Can see how it would be terrific for plane and even jointer blades but a gouge might be a pretty tricky customer?

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Post by joe cieslowski » Thu Jul 29, 2004 9:57 pm

Gizmo???????


If you have the article.......please tell me what gizmo you are talking about....please.

except for the stop made from PVC....everything else is standard with this machine....

PLEASE, tell me what you mean by GIZMO........

Joe
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Post by joe cieslowski » Fri Jul 30, 2004 7:03 am

I guess I shouldn't post late at night..... :oops:

I'll assume that the "gizmo" is the sharpening center...

Here goes....
1. Turn on the machine and start the water drip
2. Place the gouge (with the pre set pvc jig attached) on the flat tool rest on the inside of the wheel. (This is the wet wheel)
3. I start on the left corner of the gouge and as I draw the gouge across the wheel (inside to out) I rotate the gouge to the right corner. I time it so that so that one pass gets the whole edge.
4. Repeat

Basically, it's the same thing I would do on any wheel except I move the gouge across the wheel so that the wheel wears evenly.

Hope this makes things clearer.

Joe
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Post by Doug Bernhardt » Fri Jul 30, 2004 6:49 pm

Hi again Joe...yes gizmo...or might have called it a "fancy rig" with same intent...a little humour and a question together. Would love to be reminded of which month(s) the article appeared so's I'm better prepared for next time. Myself I have a system from LeeValley that has worked out well. A belt sander with steel cutting belts although with out a tool rest/jig which would be INCREDIBLY handy for parting tools. Honing is on a hard felt wheel that is well charged with compound and quite old. I get a sharp tool but it isn't "scary" sharp which I have seen only a few times.

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Post by joe cieslowski » Fri Jul 30, 2004 8:32 pm

D. Bernhardt,

As I stated in my second post on this thread the article was in the July and Aug. issues in 2001 of Sign Business Magazine. The July issue was on the grinding....Aug. was honing and stropping.

This setup is perfect for parting tools. The setup with the pvc stop on and against the flat platten of the tool rest is the key. It's something I haven't seen on any other grinder.

Now, as you have stated, honing is is the real key to scarry,and DURABLE sharp. The honing is THE key!

When I sent the article to Eddie, I sent him a sample of white pine that had a knot in the end grain. Using the gouge from the article, I made a single chip across the end grain....thru the knot and then thru some more end grain......smooth as glass all the way. BTW, I left the chip attached to the sample. There aren't too many woods harder than a pine knot......soft wood, hard wood, softwood......same result.....smooth as glass. Pretty scarry.... :D ??

If you can find the article and read it, you will then be convinced that I am truly insane.

Hey, I'm sure your method works great for you....why change? Personally, I'd rather spend my time carving....not sharpening.

When I get a chance, I will start a thread on honing.....trying to justify my insanity I guess........


Make Chips!

Joe,
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Post by joe cieslowski » Fri Jul 30, 2004 11:41 pm

Hey Doug,

I just talked to Darryl and Dave and found out you are from Ottawa...why don't you see if you can make the Letterhead Roundup in Mocton, NB.....we can compare notes! :)

They showed me some of your work......awesum!

Make Chips!

Joe,
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Post by Doug Bernhardt » Sat Jul 31, 2004 8:52 pm

Hi Joe....would love to talk sharpening and the art in general...will do some checking to see if it can be done. Am busy with something big right now.....and have a small wookshop I give every year at a local woodworking school. Unfortunately these all seem to happen this month coming! For me sharpening is one of those things that I can never see/learn enuf of....and am always ready to watch/learn another method and would love to see your work....the "R" above is top drawer!. Will you have your stuff(riggs and gizmos) with you?
Till later Doug

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Post by Mike Jackson » Sat Jul 31, 2004 9:02 pm

Image

Doug, I cropped one of your photos from your shop showing these two tools. The grinder on the left doesn't have a belt on it in this picture, but is this the tool you use?

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Post by joe cieslowski » Sat Jul 31, 2004 9:38 pm

Doug,
Yes i will be doing a sharpening presentation along with two other carving presentarions.....Nancy and Noella will be there too!!! :) Thanks Mike for the shots......seems Doug likes the flat bevel too!

I'd be honored if you could make the meet, Doug!!!
I don't get a chance to get together with pro carvers too often...:(

Joe,
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Post by Doug Bernhardt » Sun Aug 01, 2004 5:09 am

Hi Mike and Joe...yes thats the belt sander I have on the left. The belt turns from top to bottom (direction) and have 3 belts for it, 120 grit ,500 grit and 1200grit. I should get something to hold the tool in the place for it when grinding parting tools. It's really the only system I've used. What is also there (sort of)and not seen is a slow turning bench grinder with a stone for chisels and another felt wheel on the bench grinder which gets experiments in compounds. There are a few waterstones slip and flat and a piece of glass to flatten the bench stones when needed.

Years ago when Lee Valley moved to thier new showroom Leonard Lee gave a sharpening demo. I watched that very closley and basically my set up is the same. As mentioned I do get a good sharpness but always looking to have "scarry" sharp. Joe's tools sound like that...going across the end grain and a knot. The only thing harder than a spruce knot is a landlords heart.

Well, was trying to keep this under my hat but yup, I will be going to the Moncton meet in a few weeks. Wife and I will use this an excuse to take a weeks vacation as well. Have never travelled the east coast of Canada and am looking forward to it.

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Post by joe cieslowski » Sun Aug 01, 2004 7:35 am

Great news, Doug!!!!! :D

Looking at your set-up It's easy to see, that in essence, our two systems do the same job. I think you are going to like the PVC jig....it holds the tool at a right angle to the tool rest and at a constant length. That's gonna make sharpening your parting tools a lot easier. It would be great if you could bring that puppy with you to Mocton.....I love it when people can see that there are options......What does that puppy sell for?

I use the arkansas stones.....I like the grit #'s and I only use the yellow or white rouge......according to my information, it's the finest compound that is hard enough to cut steel. But I'm always open to new information. (actually, I think there are some diamond compounds that are good too!)

BTW, You are scarry close to scarry sharp!!!!!!! You only have about a ten minute learning curve.... :) Bring your slips too.

I'm really looking foward to meeting you and your lovely wife!

Joe,
Makin Chip$ and Havin Fun!

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Post by cheryl » Mon Aug 02, 2004 7:04 pm

:D Joe......thanks for the packet you sent in the mail! Cheryl
I posted this one time before......but it didn't show up??????

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Post by Doug Bernhardt » Tue Aug 03, 2004 9:23 pm

Hi again Joe and all,

Image
I found this on the Lee Valley Site http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.asp? ... ry=1,43072
and is the set up I have. The sander was cheap at least 10 years ago, and added the motor after the fact.
Joe, will see you in a few weeks and look forward to seeing you work your stones and "fancy rig" ;=)

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Post by Mike Jackson » Wed Aug 04, 2004 9:31 am

Doug,
I inserted the photo in your post for you.

I have a couple of questions. The sander is fairly inexpensive, but it doesn't come with a motor or switch from what I read. They suggest a counter clockwise motor, but to me it seems that would bring the sanding paper down into the chisel point. I think I would prefer the rotation opposite that, with the sandpaper running away from the tip.

How do you have yours set up? Did you buy your motor from them, or was there any special requirements for the motor mount?

For anyone interested, Danny Baronian sent me this link after my original post:
http://www.kovalknives.com/

They have a couple of sharpeners, along with all kinds of wheels, compounds and so forth.
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Post by joe cieslowski » Wed Aug 04, 2004 12:44 pm

Mike,

Not to answer for Doug but he did state that the belt rotates down.

This is the preferred method for cabinet makers. When the wheel rotates into the edge there is support behind the the wire edge and there is less "tear out" of steel. You will notice that most, if not all, bench grinders rotate towards the tool rest. It's also the way I was taught 35 years ago by craftsmen 3 times my age. All cabinet makers/woodworkers and patternmakers.

That being said: From "Cassell's Wood Carving" published by Cassell and Company, Limited, London, 1911....On grinding,"The stone should always be revolved away from the tool, as shown.... To turn it the other way wears away the tool edges too quickly. To ensure an even and accurate edge, the steel requires wearing away somewhat slowly."

BTW, Cassell suggests using a 36" wheel..... basically a flat grind on a 3/8 - 1/2" bevel.

This is also where I learned about what we now call a "Micro" bevel.

Just my $.o2.....I hope I didn't step on Dougs answer :oops:

Joe
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Post by Mike Jackson » Wed Aug 04, 2004 1:53 pm

Just for reference, the Mark II that Paul White used ran the belt away from the chisel. Seems safer to me, and he certainly got a sharp chisel fast.
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Post by Doug Bernhardt » Wed Aug 04, 2004 9:09 pm

Hi Mike and Joe, I wouldn't worry about safety here and yes mine turns down. When re-grinding gouges I have my hand set to the right on the tool rest and watch as it occurs, you know...reflections on the edge etc etc......for fine tuning so to speak with a finer grit...like 500 or 1200 belts i do hold the tool at the bottom and run it into my tool, the angle being the most consistent. There is so little material being removed with these fine belts and there is absolutely no pressure being applied...just a whisp over the abrasive. I also have dowels with the 1200 abrasive on it to take off the "wire edge" although running into the tool creates less of one.
The switch is on the motor which was installed after the fact. I stopped in at Lee Valley (on my way to work)the first thing to buy the sander and belts....went to a local electric motor place and said...set me up with a 1750 motor...(nice and slow) picked it up a little after 4pm and by 6pm I had no dull tools. If I were to do it again would just get a motor from an old furnace and do it myself. Was way too easy and takes me only a couple of minutes to go from dull as . to sharp as a tack although I never use this for chisels....only gouges. When it comes to sharpening and the subsequent processes from what I've seen, the secret is maintaining a constant angle. Whether honing or grinding the secret is to stay as close as possible to a consistent angle. Also the slower the speed the better....the foot trodden stone being so ... slow!
Chisels are done with a slow speed grinding wheel and a small stone and angle jig....hence the hollow ground chisel (not gouge). If you like will take a photo in the next day or so and forward the whole ... set as they are working...one way or the other the road to discovering true sharpness has been a load of fun and am always ready to see another or better idea! Using oil stones and a proper jig for parting tools (which LeeValley dosen't have)has been high on my list for awhile...so am looking forward to a demo from Joe in a big way!
The compounds etc they sell am not so happy with...very aggressive. Have a black compound that I got a few bars of several years ago at a wood show that I love. Next year will get a lifetime supply of these for about $30.

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