In Tricks of the Trade

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Chisels don’t wait to get dull until you’ve finished a job—do they? The trick is to keep them sharp while you’re working.

Rather than pull out my stones to renew an edge, I keep a piece of MDF charged with honing compound close at hand. It works just like a leather strop—only I skip the leather.

I don’t use a honing guide, either. My chisels are hollow-ground, which makes it easier to find the bevel angle by hand. I just lift up the handle until I feel both the heel and toe of the bevel touch the MDF, and I’m good to go. A few strokes on both sides of the chisel does the trick.

I renew my edges this way as a matter of routine. After every 10 licks or so on the wood, I take a 30-second break and strop the tool. Since the honing compound doesn’t remove much steel (unlike a stone), you can’t let the chisel get too dull before stropping. This technique won’t work if you wait too long.

Of course, the MDF board doesn’t replace my stones. When a chisel gets really dull or the bevel gets too steep from stropping, I go back to the grinder and pull out the stones. –David Robbins

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