I have a chisel set and drill bits that have never been sharpened after purchased and I want to purchase sharpening equipment, but I'm confused by the variety of options.

So far I've found 3 possible types of sharpeners:

My dad does a lot of metal work and always used a bench grinder to sharpen drill bits and other tools, but that's metal not wood.

I assumed it was going to be the same for chisels and now I'm not so sure.

  • At a certain point, I had to be honest with myself and admit that I don't have the time/energy to handsharpen my chisels up to 8000 waterstones (even though I love the results). Good enough for most applications is a slow speed bench grinder with a fine (eg, Norton 150 white) wheel. Plunge early and often into water to avoid distemper. If it's gone dark, you're doing it wrong. – Aloysius Defenestrate Mar 20 '16 at 17:00

bench grinder is what I thought was the standard sharpening tool.

A bench grinder is considered a coarse tool when it comes to sharpening fine woodworking implements. The only time you should need to use a bench grinder on a chisel is to re-establish a chisel edge that has been badly mangled or chipped from misuse. A factory-ground chisel should not need any dressing on a bench grinder at all.

Note: it is standard practice to sharpen lathe chisels/gouges with only the bench grinder. This is a practice that I follow, and it works great for me.

sharpening stone with a chisel guide.

This will be your standard method to sharpen and resharpen dull chisels. You'll most likely want a medium and a fine grit stone for sharpening chisels. There are entire books written on sharpening chisels, so I won't go into that here (we also have another question about how to sharpen).

You might also want to pick up or make a leather strop for your sharpening tasks. @Graphus has a great answer about strops that you might have a look at.

sharpening machine that I haven't seen before.

The machine you linked is a WorkSharp, which is useful for sharpening chisels and blades if you don't want to go the stone route. I don't find that it works any better or worse than stones - it's just a different method.

My dad does a lot of metal work and always used a bench grinder to sharpen drill bits and other tools, but that's metal not wood.

You want your woodworking tools to be as sharp as humanly possible. I'm talking hair-splitting sharp. You only get to that point after stropping.

Metalworking tools don't have this requirement (for the most part), so just using a bench grinder is ok for those tools.

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It all depends. I use my bench grinder to sharpen some of my wood-turning chisels and I use a stone for others.

One thing to be aware of with a bench grinder is for flat chisels it will leave a concave 'hole' in the face, since you are using a round object, the bigger the wheel the smaller the concavity. Large sharpening stones on farms were big enough not to matter much.

I have had a sharpening machine on my wish list for years, in theory it is ideal for sharpening flat blades like chisels and planer blades, though I've heard mixed reviews on how good they are.

Some will depend on the quality of edge you are looking for. Planes for rough planing just need a decent edge. Planes for finishing work, should likely be done or at least finished with hand techniques, such as stone and strap.

I use the grinder on my rounded turning chisels, one it's fast, and I'll need to do it a couple times for a decent sized bowl, taking 5 minutes (or more) to do it 'right' and have a super edge will only save me a couple more minutes before I need to sharpen it again.

So the point I'm trying to make is that the quality of the edge you are looking for will greatly determine the tools you will need to get you there. Mechanical tools are faster and get you close much faster, but few can give a super edge. And in all things practice makes a huge difference for any tool. You can dull a blade with a stone with poor technique just like anything else.

Drill bits? I've never had any trouble when sharpening them with a bench grinder. Though one last thought, for sharpening on the grinder, you want a fairly fine stone or you might still have to use a flat stone.

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TL;DR warning.

Bench grinder, tool sharpener or sharpening stone?

Yes :-)

All of those are suitable tools for sharpening woodworking equipment, from chisels to plane irons to drill bits (certain types).

Note on sharpening bits: most woodworkers don't sharpen their drill bits these days. Partly this is because many won't dull their bits noticeably in any reasonable timeframe, but also because many modern bits are not user-sharpenable (at least not easily).

Traditional wood bits were made of relatively soft steel (soft enough to be filed), of a form that allowed access by a small file and last but not least an easy replication of the necessary angles. Modern bits are mostly shaped such that you couldn't file them freehand and expect to get anything like the required accuracy, and also some are high-speed steel (HSS) which will usually be far too hard to file anyway.

Some previous Questions and Answers with related information:
Is there a 'best' way to sharpen an edged tool like a chisel?
Does it matter what kind of diamond stone I get?
Sharpening grits -- naming and selection
How does one aggressively sharpen chisels and plane irons when damaged?
What criteria would want me to bevel my chisel in a certain way
How can I tell if wood turning (lathe) chisels are sharp?
DIY honing oil?

Bench grinder
These are considered the basis of sharpening for many, but equally other woodworkers don't have one after decades in the shop so as vital as one might seem it can be considered optional. Desirable certainly, but not vital for all woodworkers.

Why you'd need to use a grinder is very dependent on what tools you use (as well as if you buy secondhand tools which can require far more metal removed to get into serviceable shape) and how you use/abuse them. I stress need here because wanting to use one to reduce the time required to sharpen is a separate issue.

Sharpening stone (with or without a guide)
Stone here refers to both stones and diamond plates which are used similarly.

This is the default way to sharpen in many, perhaps most, woodworking shops today. In almost all cases you can effectively sharpen any dull hand tool in a few minutes or less — the goal should be to return to work in 2-3 minutes, and it is possible to do it faster (30 seconds or so).

Whether exclusively hand sharpening is an efficient use or your time is dependent on various factors.

  • The way you sharpen, e.g. honing a secondary or micro bevel or working the whole bevel.
  • The type of stone/diamond plate. Some are much more abrasive than others but note that this isn't necessarily because they're harder. Waterstones are famously fast-cutting but this is not because they are very hard but because fresh abrasive particles are exposed often as the surface wears away.
  • The type of woods commonly used. Hardwoods in general are much harder on cutting edges than softwoods and some species in particular are extremely wearing, often due to a high silica content.
  • The type of tool, e.g. turning chisels need to be sharpened much more frequently because of the way they're used.
  • The steel the cutter is made from. Some steels are far tougher than basic high-carbon tool steels and can also be harder in some cases.

Note that sharpening guides (also called honing guides) are not a must-have. You can sharpen very effectively freehand. But if you struggle to get good results, if you sometimes get a good edge and other times not, it is a good idea to make or buy a guide to help get good edges now when you need them.... not at some indefinite point in the future when you get good enough at freehand sharpening.

If you want or need a guide I strongly recommend making your own as they can be very cheap and effective, and believe it or not can work as well as any commercial guide irrespective of price. This is the best type IMO because it is so simple to make, costs nearly nothing and is capable of extraordinary accuracy:

Shop-made sharpening guide

Sharpening machines
Note that there are multiple types:

  • some water-cooled, some not;
  • some have vertical wheels, some horizontal plattens such as the WorkSharp 3000 you linked to, some use abrasive belts;
  • some are very low-speed machines (so work slowly to very slowly), others are faster but use cool-running abrasives or design features to keep temperature in check (including water cooling).

For most woodworkers any machine of this type should be considered a luxury. As with any luxury get one if you can afford one, but don't sweat it if you can't. They are very much in the Not A Necessity category for most of us.

You didn't ask about stropping but as you're setting up to sharpen from scratch some mention of it should be made.

Stropping (whether using a bare strop or one loaded with compound) is an adjunct to other sharpening methods and as touched on in one of the links above, should broadly speaking be considered a honing or refinement process, not a sharpening process in and of itself. However, a 'dull' tool can be brought back to razor sharp just by stropping (esp. if using a stropping compound) so the distinction is a little blurred.

What matters on a practical level is just how dull the edge has become. Past a certain point — when the edge has become too rounded — you won't be able to get a good sharp edge only by stropping. It's for this reason that people who are big proponents of stropping for edge maintenance (e.g. many whittlers and carvers) will have a strop on hand at all times so that touch-ups can be done as often as needed (every 20 minutes in some cases).

If you strop frequently you'll rarely need to sharpen your chisels in the conventional meaning of the word, so they'll rarely see a stone or diamond plate. With regular use and a bit of luck you can reduce the need to sharpen by a factor of ten or more, stretching the interval from days or weeks to months.

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  • Excellent answer, as usual. Can you provide some links to those DIY sharpening guides, or are they already contained in one of the links you already provided. (I haven't re-read them all yet...) – FreeMan Mar 21 '16 at 15:04
  • @FreeMan, thanks. There is a link in one of the links I posted I'm pretty sure. But you can reverse-engineer them from the pics, they can be literally as simple as they appear. – Graphus Mar 21 '16 at 20:01

Traditional bench grinders also heat the metal a lot, which can cause loss of temper if you aren't careful. Slow-speed grinders, especially those with water cooled grinding wheels, reduce that hazard greatly.

There are also sharpening systems based on fine sandpaper....

Sharpening preference is something of a religious debate, and a trade-off between quality of result, speed, and effort/skill. I haven't made any firm decisions yet myself, but the answer seems to be too start by picking any one, then find someone who will let you try the others and decide whether it's better and for what tools and tasks.

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(1) If your dad is sharpening drill bits by hand, he is a real treasure. Few people have that ability any more.

(2) There is no difference between the principles of sharpening tools depending on the material. The geometry of the tool edges will be different depending on the material, but the grinding process can be the same.

(3) Skill is a lot more important than equipment. A togishi with a rock pulled out of a stream bed can make a machinist with a $10,000 grinder look like a fool.

(4) There are other posts on this forum describing how to do sharpening. Use search.

(5) I find cheap sharpening guides to be difficult to use.

(6) The Woodsharp 3000 (the linked tool) seems to be a fairly decent appliance for easy sharpening. Key characteristics: it goes the right speed (580 rpm); you can easily switch out different abrasives; you can hold an exact angle consistently. These kind of flat wheels are the right starting point for someone starting out sharpening or faceting.

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