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I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I can’t sharpen chisels. For years I’ve fought this inadequacy. I’ve had many different sharpening stones and magic devices all aimed at allowing me to conquer the honed edge.

Here’s the trouble. I cannot lock my elbows. I think it’s a genetic situation. I blame my parents (of course I do). Every time I attempt to pass a tool over a water or diamond-impregnated stone I get such a rounding effect that I’m sure were I to continue, the result would be a new type of tool that could remove wood from around a corner.

Please, all you hand-tool gurus don’t write to me with directions on how to stand, where to place my arms or how many times to pat my head as I rub my stomach. It won’t help.

I want my chisels sharp like my Dad’s. There were times when Dad was sharpening his tools, that he’d have perfect 1/4″, 1/2″ and 3/4″ patches of skin on his arms that had no hair on them at all. I don’t know if he was testing his sharpening abilities , please don’t try this at home , or just showing the young guy a thing or two about woodworking.

As a result, I turned to machines. If I can lock the chisel in place or at least hold it square as I move it into the wheel, I can obtain a fairly sharp edge , something that would cut when and where I needed it to. These machines produce easy-to-achieve, consistent results.

The water-cooled hollow-grinding appliance became my best friend. Finally, I was able to get my chisels as sharp as Dad’s. But, I wasn’t fond of the messy water and I know that some sharpening experts feel a flat bevel is stronger and holds an edge longer than those that are hollow ground. But with this machine, I could get great results and go back and touch up the edge whenever I felt it was needed.

These past few weeks, Popular Woodworking has had a Work Sharp Tool Sharpener ($200 at many retailers) in the shop for review. Work Sharp is a dry-sharpening system that uses tempered glass wheels and abrasives to put an edge on chisels and other flat tools. And, it has an attachment for sharpening rounded edges, too. It’s a product by Professional Tool Manufacturing (PTM) , the company that delivered the Drill Doctor.

It was time for me to clean up and sharpen my chisels (pictured here with one already through the process). I turned to the Work Sharp and was happy with the results.

I followed the methods that the guys from PTM showed us during a demonstration. I started by reshaping my tools. I used a P120-grit, 6″ adhesive-backed disc applied to the glass wheel. In a short time, I had perfectly square ends on the chisels and the bevel was a consistent angle (provided by setting the sharpening port).

Next, I worked through the P400-grit disc and the P1000-grit disc and finally I reached the Micro-Mesh disc that is graded at 3600. After using the abrasive on the bevel, I flattened and honed the back of the chisel on top of the wheel.

This picture shows the end result of my efforts. I can tell you that the cut of each chisel is very good and I’m well pleased. I do notice a few fine lines remaining after the last phase. I’m planning on pushing sharp to the next level using a 6000 Micro-Mesh. I’ll let you know how it goes. I might even try shaving my arm hair. How about that Dad? (Look for more information on the Work Sharp Tool Sharpener in our August 2007 issue of Popular Woodworking)

Here’s a tip: I find it most helpful when sharpening to use a black Sharpie (what else would you use when sharpening?) and color the bevel on the chisel. When you begin the next sharpening phase, you’ll notice the black being removed. This tells you when you’ve worked over the entire surface.

, Glen Huey

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  • kurt

    I ordered the Work Sharp and received it last week and I have to say that I love it. In the past I had used various wet/dry stones with varying degree of results and never found the the time to really give my tools any justice. I also had access to an industrial sharpener that would produce a hollow grind. Most of the time I would just head over to the belt sander to do quick touch ups. Within 15 minutes of unpacking the Work Sharp I had all of my chisels and planes sharpened to a mirror finish – even the cheapo nicked up ones that I use to pry out nails. It inspired me to finally buy a decent set of bench chisels knowing that I can easily keep them in mint condition. What I like the best about it is that out of the box its ready to go. Everything you need is included in the box, and at half the price of other sharpening systems. The only thing negative I could say about it is that it doesn’t seem as industrial strength or heavy duty; but not in such a way that I would be looking for an upgrade. The motor is certainly heavy duty enough that it did not bog down with anything that I did. I guess I was expecting a little cast iron….

    Some other notes… The wheels are 6" in diameter, so you could use adhesive backed abrasives picked up from the local home improvement warehouse. Integrated angle jig works well for setting bevels. There is a good video on their site (WorkSharpTools) going over the procedures for sharping. The rotational speed and integrated cooling in the tool holder work well and I had no bluing or overheating on the tool edges (unlike when I use a grinder or belt sander).

    As far as turning tools are concerned, I have a setup at my grinder for for my chisels. I suppose with a holding jig for the gouges that it would work fairly well, but my preference would still be for sharpening them at the grinder. You can get a fairly good grinder setup for around $200. For a flat grind, the Work Sharp is definitely what I would recommend.

  • Dennis

    You know that the average woodworker would never get his/her money out this machine. If you do a lot of lathe work it might make a little more sense to buy this gizzmo but for just chisels and plane irons, I don’t think so. Honestly, during the average woodworking project how many times do you grab for a chisel? I don’t think that there are very many Roy Underhills out there anymore. Most woodworkers don’t have the time to use purest methods so the power tools get the nod. Sad in a way but still true.

  • Joe

    Looks pretty good – but not very in depth. I for one would really like to see how it works on turning tools. I need to finally get a good system and this one does look promising. But show me more.


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