Tool wear and tear is one of every craftsman’s daily challenges, and tool maintenance is key to achieving good results without exhausting or injuring yourself.

This guide will show you what to look out for when maintaining each tool and how to improve your tool’s performance. 

Click here for the shortcut to the sharpening guide

2.1 Regular checks

Be aware of the condition of your hand tools

Take the time to check on your tools once in a while. 

Since most woodworking tools have parts made of carbon steel, they’re bound to pick up rust at some point. Tools like chisels and saws can also pick up dents and scratches which will reduce their effectiveness and efficiency.

These are chisel blades in different stages of rust. The middle chisel is quite heavily rusted and is in definite need of maintenance.

Additionally, tools like try-squares and calipers can become misaligned so it is important to check them for error.

2.2 Rust & damage prevention

Proper tool storage and use are essential

Hand tools can last very long when well taken care of.

When exposed to moisture tools with elements of carbon steel will begin to rust over time. Therefore, proper storage is the first line of defense, followed by regular oiling and waxing.

Moist locations can accelerate rusting, and keeping tools in a crowded box will easily blunt and dent blades. Pick a dry location with sufficient spacing, and use tool sheaths if they are provided.

Appropriate and careful use of tools will also slow down wear and tear. Dropping chisels repeatedly can easily chip the cutting edge, and poor sawing technique can twist or snap saw blades. Your tools will last longer if used for the right purposes and in the right manner.

Do refer to Part 1 of our video tutorials for guidance on proper tool usage!

2.3 Keeping it sharp

Dull cutting edge = Less efficiency

Blunt tools can prevent you from getting the desired result. For example, blunt chisels will not slice material smoothly and can make for a frustrating experience with carving or paring during joinery.

Sharpening is therefore a very important aspect of tool maintenance. 

A regular sharpening routine is ideal, such as before starting on a project. As a general rule of thumb, you can sharpen your tools when you sense they are blunt and not working as they should – this will also develop your sensitivity towards tool effectiveness.

An example of a sharpening routine would be to give each tool a quick clean up and sharpen each chisel’s cutting edge with 240 grit sandpaper and follow it up with 400 and 800, minimally. Feel free to continue with higher grits after.

Rust, glue, or other sediments on parts of the tool other than its cutting edge can be cleaned off by rubbing the surface with sandpaper. You can use a rougher grit for this, such as 120.

A quick guide to Sharpening

Sharpening the cutting edge of the blade requires some technique and practice. There are many ways to sharpen a tool (e.g. whetstones, grindstones, wet or dry sandpaper). In the tutorial below, dry sandpaper taped to a flat surface of plywood is used.

Step 1: Clean and flatten the bottom of the chisel

Keeping the bottom of the chisel flat against the sandpaper’s surface. With a forward and backward motion, you can remove rust and stains from the bottom of the chisel. This will clean and flatten the surface.

Achieve this appearance before proceeding to Step 2. You may also notice metal filings accumulating along the edges. This is evidence of effective flattening against the sandpaper.

Step 2: Observe the chisel’s bevel angle

Once you have flattened the bottom of the chisel, you can start working on the top of the chisel. This mainly involves observing and maintaining the angle of the bevel.

Different chisels may have different bevel angles. To maintain these angles, the chisel must be sharpened with its bevel flat against the sandpaper. As depicted, apply light pressure to keep the bevel of the chisel flushed against the sandpaper.

Step 3: Begin sharpening without losing your bevel angle

With the bevel flat against the surface of the sandpaper, pull the chisel towards you in a consistent and comfortable motion (you can also achieve the same result with a push motion, but this runs a risk of digging into the sandpaper).

An unstable motion or rocking the chisel in this process may blunt the cutting edge, alter the bevel angle, or create a hill on the bevel.

The picture below/on the right shows the bevel of a chisel that has been properly sharpened. Notice that there is no rounding of the cutting edge, and the bevel has not developed a convex shape.

Step 4: Polish and Oil

Again, metal filings should have accumulated. Burrs may also have formed. These are both evidence of proper sharpening. (Burrs are small pieces of material clinging to the cutting edge resulting from the reshaping during the sharpening process).

Use a small piece of leather as a strop to remove the filings and burrs. You can also use a flat piece of wood (e.g. the surface of your bench) as a strop. The action of stropping involves lightly sweeping the cutting edge back and forth until the burrs fall off. This polishes the cutting edge. 

Wipe the carbon steel portion of the chisel down with oil or wax as a finishing touch, this will slow down the occurrence of rust.

1. Introduction to Woodworking tools

Understand the safety aspect, and features of your hand tools first!

Learn more..

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