DVD Review: "Precision Preparation of Chisels for Accurate Joinery"

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The opening sequence of David Charlesworth’s latest DVD shows him securing a chisel in a honing guide and putting the tool to the stone for four strokes. He adjusts the tool in the jig, cleans the jig’s wheel and takes four more strokes on a polishing stone. Two more strokes polish the unbeveled side of the chisel and then he shaves his left wrist for the camera.

Total elapsed time: 1:21.

It’s a compelling series of shots because it shows how quickly a chisel can be honed and put back to work if the tool is properly prepared and maintained from the get-go. And so, for the next 60 minutes, Charlesworth explains in detail how he takes a new chisel and turns it into a precision instrument that can be easily maintained at that high level of performance.

For woodworkers who have watched his DVD on preparing plane blades, “Hand Tool Techniques Part 1: Plane Sharpening,” this new DVD will feel like an extension of the lessons on that disc. That’s an important point. Charlesworth’s sharpening techniques are a fully realized and evolved system. The system is consistent throughout and operates on pure logic , nothing in his regimen is there because of mere tradition or idiosyncratic training. Charlesworth starts with the simple fact that a sharp edge is nothing more than two intersecting planes of steel that have been highly polished. And so everything he does , from the way he flattens his waterstones to the angle that the tool is held in the jig , follows from that.

If you’ve ever sharpened a chisel, you know that the biggest challenge with a new tool is in preparing the unbeveled side. If the tool is going to be used for precision work then this surface must be true because it is used as a guide when paring. Charlesworth walks you through this process with excellent attention to detail. He explains how your waterstones will respond to your hand pressure, and how you can use those wear patterns to your advantage when preparing your chisels.

The medium of video really shines when explaining operations such as this because you can see body mechanics and motion; this transmits as much information as thousands of words will. Plus with video you can see exactly how much effort and elapsed time is required to produce a desired result, and what the desired result looks like. It is the next best thing to learning sharpening face-to-face, which is the best way to learn this skill.

After discussing the preparation of the flat side of the tool, preparing the bevel is simple. Charlesworth explains why he uses a bevel that has three angles on it. It’s a compelling argument because it greatly speeds sharpening. I’ve prepared a few chisels this way (plus  many plane blades), and I can personally attest that it works as advertised.

The most shocking thing about the DVD for many woodworkers will be to see how few strokes Charlesworth uses when honing. Four or five on each grit, maybe. I watch some woodworkers do 50 to 100 strokes on a single grit. I’ve always thought this is an enormous waste of effort, so it’s good to see this lesson reinforced.

If there is one weakness to the DVD it’s the fact that grinding the primary bevel is only discussed and not shown. Many woodworkers are wary of the power grinder but when they are shown how straightforward it is they take right to it. They may mess up the first tool but they are old pros once they fix their first tool and pick up the second tool.

What’s also good to know is that this DVD is not for people who want to breathe new life into nasty old and damaged chisels. Charlesworth shows the defects of a vintage chisel that has been mis-sharpened typically, but he offers no solutions for how to fix it. Perhaps there are no easy solutions, except to use that tool for rough work and to purchase a high-quality tool for your high-tolerance work.

Charlesworth is , above all , a patient teacher. And his pace is slow and measured. Experienced sharpeners may kick up the playback speed on their DVD player a notch, but I found the pace to be perfectly correct for new sharpeners. There is a lot of information (visual and verbal) that has to be absorbed and understood, and the pace ensures that you will be able to digest each point before moving onto the next one.

Many woodworkers, both new and experienced, have been frustrated by their chisels. Perhaps the tool performs unpredictably in their work. Or the sharpening never goes as planned. These two problems are linked, and with the excellent instruction on this DVD, you will begin to unravel they mystery of this simple and versatile tool. The DVD is available from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks for $25.

, Christopher Schwarz

Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Christopher also has two DVDs that were produced by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, which produced this new DVD from David Charlesworth. Christopher receives no income from his DVDs. All his proceeds are donated to the Early American Industries Association.

4 thoughts on “DVD Review: "Precision Preparation of Chisels for Accurate Joinery"

  1. Christopher Schwarz

    John,

    A2 steel, which is the alloy in the Lie-Nielsen chisels, performs better with the bevel at 30°. I have found this to be true of all A2 tools from any manufacturer. The edge chips or folds faster at 25°.

    For bench chisels, I don’t think this steeper angle is a big deal. I grind bench chisels at 30° with a 5° microbevel. They work just fine for work-a-day basic paring and light chopping.

    With my Buck Bros. 1-1/4"-wide paring chisel, used for precision end-grain trimming, I keep it at 25°, perhaps even lower. It’s a plain high-carbon steel blade, which works fine at this sharpening angle.

    This point about A2 is also important with the bevel-up planes. If you are going to use a low sharpening angle with a bevel-up plane so you can trim end grain, you might want to sharpen more frequently or choose a high-carbon blade.

    ————
    Christopher Schwarz
    Editor

  2. John Clifford

    Good review Chris, I have the DVD and like it very much. One point I wish he would have gone more in depth on was bevel angles. He demonstrated sharpening a bevel edge chisel (a LN I believe) at 35 degrees which seem quite steep to me. I have the LN chisels and have heard that they need a relatively steep bevel to prevent the edge from folding over. Do you suppose that is why he chose this angle? I intend to use the chisels for both paring and choping of dovetails. Is this angle good for both uses? I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Thanks, John.

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