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Why I like dull chisels- and you should too!

the most difficult cutting and pairing jobs usually require the sharpest chisels in fact keeping your tool sharp is one of the fundamentals that is constantly hammered into the consciousness of woodworkers but believe it or not there are times when a blunt chisel may actually be a better choice this is an old largely forgotten trick that not many of today's woodworkers seem to know about until today because not only am i going to show you why you may wish to keep one or two blunt chisels in your set but just this morning i happened to open the october issue of popular woodworking magazine and i saw that logan has a brief article about this idea too so great minds think alike i suppose really the idea long predates any of us blunt chisels have been used by plane makers and pattern makers and joiners for centuries as i said it's somewhat of a lost technique in this modern world where so much emphasis is placed upon achieving edges that you can shave with but there are a couple problems that come from that level of sharpness for one thing the microscopically thin steel at the cutting edge can wear away fairly quickly it takes almost constant stropping to maintain such an ultra keen edge that's not a big deal if you have a power strapping wheel like i have on my tarmac but it'll get old if you have to hand strap on leather every few minutes the second problem is the tendency for that wedge shape of a standard 25 or 30 degree bevel to dive beneath the wood grain particularly when you're working across the grain or against the direction the wood fibers lie a blunt edge can solve both of these problems though let me show you i don't blunt my good chisels because i don't always need this type of edge instead i keep a few old chisels and gouges around for this purpose and the sharpening process really couldn't be easier i simply set a tool rest perpendicular to the grinding wheel it doesn't take much work at all to create a flat facet on the end of the tool that facet doesn't have to be very wide but a sixteenth of an inch or so will do it i'm essentially creating a scraper all the cutting will be done along the square edge where the new front facet on the end meets the back of the tool note that i said it's a square edge what i mean is that you don't want the front facet to be angled forward it's not going to cut like that a slightly backward angle is fine but try to get it as square with the back of the tool as you can now depending on the direction that your grinding wheel spins it may leave a ragged bur on the underside of the tool my tormek doesn't because i have it set up so the wheel is spinning upward but a regular bench grinder might and if that's the case you have to remove that burr i just do it on the side of the tormex wheel but you can't do that on a regular grindstone so you might have to use some fine sandpaper another way to deal with the burr is to place the tool upside down on the tool rest when you grind that way assuming your grindstone is rotating downward toward the rest any burr left behind will be on the top of the tool where it won't matter instead of the bottom where the cutting occurs if you use that method though be sure to account for any wedge shape of your chisel by tilting your rest a tiny bit more otherwise you may end up with that bevel that slanted forward as i described a moment ago a clean blunt edge is not the same as a dull edge a dull edge is rounded over but where the end facet meets the back of this blunt tool it is sharp and crisp that makes a world of difference in many situations imagine you rough cut a curve on the band saw and it needs more refining you could use sandpaper but that could be a little slow and it may be difficult to see what you're doing a chisel can be more precise in a lot of situations and if you're working with the grain you may be able to do that with a regularly sharpened chisel but working across the grain can be problematic as the bevel tries to dive deeper into the fibers than you may want it to go working against the grain with a regular chisel nearly impossible but a blunt chisel is not so much affected by grain direction you can shave in a very controlled way both across the grain and against the grain this works particularly well with hardwood the harder the better doesn't work so well in softwood because the fibers are more prone to tearing i'm working with some hard hickory and i'm able to refine my shape fairly easily working from multiple directions once the shape is established the surface can then be smoothed with the finer grits of sandpaper a blend chisel is also useful for cleaning up hardwood end green in this case despite the extreme toughness of this hickory the surface left behind is pretty darn smooth and because the edge of a blunt chisel is not ultra thin like a regularly sharpened chisel it's going to stand up to that abuse much longer it's not going to stay sharp forever though eventually that 90 degree edge will start to round over and you'll notice the tool will begin to skate across the wood more than cutting the fibers that's when you want to just slightly touch it on the grindstone again not too much especially if you're using a more aggressive bench grinding wheel as that front facet grows wider through successive sharpenings the performance isn't going to be affected but there's no reason to grind away more of the tool than is required to just crisp up that 90 degree edge again a blunt chisel is not for every project but there are some situations when it comes in really handy in fact you may also find it useful to keep a couple blunt gouges of different sizes around for various shaping tasks it's an old-timey trick that will serve the modern workshop well see you next time i've been a proud tormek user for years i've never seen so many clever innovations from just one small company and the quality is simply uncompromising even if you're not in the market for a new sharpening system you should check them out and see what they have to offer at the link below this video there's a reason they're regarded as the best of the best

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