Chisel Restoration

In my last post, I showed the three chisels I bought from an antique store to restore.  Now I’m going to show how I cleaned them up.  I put them in the electrolysis tub to derust them and then oiled them to keep the rust from returning.  I made sure not to clean and oil the insides of the sockets for a reason I’ll explain below.  In the picture below, the top chisel is a firmer, followed by two paring chisels which are ground for paring work.



Two of the chisels had handles already.  One of the handles was worth reusing while the other had a large crack in it.  I decided to clean up the good handle by stripping off the finish using the lathe.  I put it on the lathe and sanded back to bare wood.  Here’s the handle before I started.


Once I was happy with it, I put a coat of boiled linseed oil on it. The end of it was a little beat up so I touched it up using the belt sander.



The firmer chisel had the cracked handle that I didn’t want to reuse.  To make a new handle I found a piece of wood that had been drying since October.  I don’t recall what kind of wood it is but it was very tough.  I cut out a block of it and roughed it into a cylinder.


These types of chisels are called socket chisels due to how the handles fit into the chisel.  The inside of the socket is tapered which means, if you want your handle to stay attached, that your handle must have a matching taper.  To do this, I get the cone on the handle close to the right size and then use a trial and error approach to fit it.  I take the handle on and off the lathe and try fitting it in the socket.  With the handle in the socket, twist the handle.  This will leave a mark on the handle showing where it is contacting.  If the inside of the socket is still a little rusty it will leave marks for you.  If not you will need to find something that will show the contact area such as soot from a candle or a marker.   If it marks up the cone uniformly along the length then you’re done.  If not, go back to the lathe and remove a little material where the marks are.  Repeat until the marking pattern covers all of the cone.  Here’ a pic showing a test fitting and the resulting marks.

Ch5 Ch6


Here’s the handle after I finished sanding it.



I made another handle for the wide paring chisel using the same technique described above.  Next, comes sharpening.  First, I ground the edges of the chisels perpendicular to the sides using the grinder.



Next, I freehand ground the bevel on the grinder being sure not to burn the edge which will make the metal soft.  If you look close at the top left corner of this chisel, you’ll see a small bluish area where I got it to hot.  This has to be ground off to get a good edge.



Here are the edges off of the grinder.  The wider paring chisel had a decent bevel on it that didn’t require the grinder.  These bevels are used only to clean up the surface.  The cutting edge will be created using stones.



To make a sharp edge you need to surfaces that intersect along a line.  I first start by flattening the back near the edge.  I used some 150 and 220 grit wet-dry sandpaper on my granite block because they removes metal faster than my sharpening stones.



After that, I used 800, 4000, and 6000 grit water stones to polish the backs.  They aren’t perfect I think they’re good enough.



With the backs flat and smooth I turned my attention to the front of the chisels.  Once again, I roughed out the bevel on the sand paper and then turned to the sharpening stones.





After this you can strop the edges if you feel the need to.  Here are the restored chisels.  I really wish I remembered what kind of wood I used for the larger handle.  The thinner, middle handle is red oak from a dowel I had in the scrap bin.  All in all, not bad for $9 and a bit of time.   Ch15

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6 Responses to Chisel Restoration

  1. Jean says:

    I have doubts about the value of electrolysis and its effects on the metal, but have no evidence of it. I have however had considerable experience, as a tradesman, sharpening chisels unsing grinding wheels. I did it to prove to my world class cabinet maker father (now dec.) that I could do it without burning…on a fast wheel.That said, hollow grinding it is not the correct way to sharpen chisels especially at the angle used in this project. For normal use chisels have ‘correct’ angles and that’s what one should aim-for. A slow large diameter wheel should be used to resurface a chisel. Ideally you would use a flat grinder, but they don’t spin so well !!…and only an ignoramus uses the side of a grinding wheel.To make a flat grinder takes simply some time…to drive it vertically so you have a spinning flat surface.Using a hand driven large wheel is better but if you must go electric stay at 300-600 peripheral rpm and use water copiously, to cool the bit regularly not when it is overheated.Then you will be far less likely to burn the tip. Said kindly the way this is done here is amateurish. and dry’ used dry when betetr used wet,(continued)

  2. Jean says:

    The rear of the chisel is only important insofar as it affects the perfection of the cutting edge…unless it needs to be carefully cut back to a blunt edge for a completely new edging using a slow grinder you should patiently work on it on a stone until it is clear of defects at the blade edge, then work on the two angles of the chisel…wiping the back on a fine stone just to turn the edge. You never use sandpaper other than on wood and that doesn’t look like sandpaper but ‘wet and dry used ‘dry’ when it should be ‘wet’. I do not like the timber used in the handle but will not go into that here…I suggest you have a look at the close straight grain on most chisels and find some similar wood. You may so find a wheelright with the correct tool to taper the end or even to fit it for you. Shrinkage will be an issue on the type of timber and the ageing of it..You can make a model or even a mould for the taper from one of several epoxies with the iron treated or papered thinly so the epoxy will not stick. It all takes time. As your edge angles become more correct you can go to finer and finer stones but not sandpaper emery or w&d.The true safety nightmare hamfist uses cutting discs to sharpen tools…don’t go there.The edges on each chisel here looks poor.Unfortunately the hollow grinding started the damage. You cannot by a fully sharpened chisel today to my knowledge but you can get an idea of the anglesand the width of the edges

  3. Pottsvillain says:

    I’ve done many old chisels and they take a lot of effort, but its well worth it. My method was similar, but we all use the tools we have at hand. I skipped the electrolysis and used wet dry 220 lubed with mineral spirits for general polishing, may have gone to 400 on some. New handles were turned for all of mine using black locust from an old post that was kicking around. I re-beveled on an aluminum oxide wheel, cooled them in water as needed. Flattened the back on a coarse diamond plate as well as reestablished the bevels. Many of the bevels I flattened completely to remove the hollow of the wheel, then on to the water stones; 1000, 3000, 10000. My backs came out about the same as yours, you could spend a day if you wanted them perfect. In fact all my chisels are recons. Some started worse than others, but I use them all and I’m happy with all of them. They all hold a good edge that I can shave with.
    Nice job. Enjoy your chisels.

    • davidjbod says:

      It sounds like we use a similar method successfully. I can shave with mine as well and the cut wood cleanly. What more can you ask for? Besides I like restoring old tools. So, it’s a double win!


  4. billlattpa says:

    Nice work. I personally don’t hollow grind, I don’t care for it, mainly because I don’t have a grinder that is really suitable for that type of work, and I’m always worried that I will destroy the chisel. But if you can get it sharp and holding an edge the use whichever methods you like.

    • davidjbod says:

      I usually don’t use the grinder on anything but my lathe tools. But, the edge on the firmer chisel was just so poor it was either that or spend a long time using wet/dry paper on the granite block. Overall, it works well if you use a light touch and dip the tool in water frequently.


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