How Larry Williams Hones a Chisel – Don’t Blink

On my recent visit to Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking, in Berea, Ky., Larry Williams of Old Street Tool took a few minutes away from his planemaking students to show me how he hones the 30° secondary bevel on a chisel – no fuss, no honing jig. And without the talking and my making him stop for a few pictures, it takes him less than a minute. Larry says that most people spend too much time on sharpening. If you learn to recognize when an edge is not performing as well as you’d like, that’s when to stop using it and head for the stones. The longer you wait, the more work needs to be done on the cutting edge – and that’s a waste of time. If it needs sharpening, just do it. And don’t be too long about it.

Larry uses oilstones (he recommends Dan’s Whetstone, in Pearcy, Ark,), and prefers WD-40 to other oils (it’s cheap, easy to find and it works) – but he’ll use whatever is available. After honing, to remove the wire edge, he takes a few passes on a leather strop charged with yellowstone or green compound. And done.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

• For in-depth sharpening instruction for all sorts of edge tools, check out Christopher Schwarz’s DVD “The Last Word on Sharpening.”
• If you want to learn more about steel and sharpening than you could shake a (sharp) stick at, read Ron Hock’s “The Perfect Edge.”

5 thoughts on “How Larry Williams Hones a Chisel – Don’t Blink

  1. rfblanchette

    Check out Paul Sellers sharpening methods on youtube. He does chisels and plane irons freehand start to finish in about a minute. I have used his technique and it works well (with practice).

  2. Megan Fitzpatrick Post author

    Ooooo – I should have mentioned that after honing, he does take a few passes on a leather strop charged with either yellowstone or green compound, to remove the wire edge. And I’ll add that above.

    1. lwilliams

      Megan,
      I must have been pretty tired and distracted when I failed to stress that the real work in sharpening is on the flat face. Maintaining a flat face and flat, freshly dressed stones are a big part of what allows so little work on the bevel. Grinding to maintain a small 30º honed bevel is the other part of the equation.

      The work on the bevel was just to raise a small uniform wire edge which was then removed with a couple passes with the flat face on the stone. The few strokes on the strop were just to remove any remnant of wire edge that might remain.

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