Dry Grinder Wheel Maintenance

8" Baldor slow speed dry grinder
with sharpening jigs installed

Let’s face it, we all love turning wood, not sharpening our tools. However, to enjoy our true passion, we must learn to master each aspect of the sharpening process. One important area that is often overlooked by new woodturners is wheel maintenance.

Your wheel must be periodically maintained for optimal performance. This means that when necessary, the wheel should be cleaned and trued so that it can deliver the performance we all demand. A wheel that is not running true, or is dirty and clogged with metal residue will only serve to increase your frustration with the overall sharpening process.

Next to finishing, sharpening is the second most popular area of concern with woodturners that have emailed me, or spoken to me at one of my demos. Fortunately, keeping your dry grinder wheel in tip-top shape is easy and requires very little in the way of effort, or tools. This article will assume that you are starting with a balanced wheel that is in need of cleaning or truing of the surface.

If you are using some type of jig sharpening system, you probably already have a jig included with your system to keep the wheel clean and flat. If you do have a diamond jig for this, you’re all set. If you are freehand sharpening, or you have not purchased one of the jig diamond dressers (they can be expensive on some systems), then you still have options.

There are several styles of diamond dressers available that cost approximately $40.00 USD. Most feature a “T” type of head that contains diamond chips embedded into the metal face. I have used these dressers for years in my studio and they work very well. I also have several single diamond point dressers that work in conjunction with one of the five jig sharpening systems I use to sharpen the tools in my studio. No matter which style you prefer, the key to good wheel maintenance is to use the dressers when necessary to keep the wheel in good running shape.

A multi-chip diamond dresser
for cleaning and truing wheels

The Need To Clean…: As you use your dry grinder to sharpen your tools, most of the metal that has been removed blows away with the abrasive dust. The tiny amount that is left is deposited on the face of the grinding wheels. This typically shows up as black streaks, or smears on the round face of the wheel. If this metal builds up too much on the surface of the wheel, it will compromise your ability to efficiently sharpen your tools.

In addition, the wheel will transfer more heat to your tool if it contains a significant amount of the residual metal particles on the face of the wheel. When you use a dirty, clogged wheel and you try to sharpen your tool, you have the metal (from your tool) hitting the metal particles clogging the wheel surface. This creates lots of heat - but it will not sharpen the tool effectively

Most turners prefer a diamond dresser for keeping the dry grinder wheel flat, true, and clean. I prefer to use the “T” style diamond dressers freehand to clean the face of the wheel when it begins to get dirty and only use the single point dressers occasionally. In a normal day of production turning, I might clean the face of the grinding wheel 10 – 15 times over and eighteen-hour day of turning bowls. That may sound like a lot of cleaning, but your wheel and your tools will appreciate your efforts.

Various dry grinding wheels

Only a tiny amount of the face is removed each time you clean the wheel. This is also true for the occasional truing of the face that is necessary. If you clean and resurface your wheel frequently, you will learn to take off the minimal amount necessary to complete the maintenance. Get in the habit of habitually cleaning your dry grinder wheel and truing it when necessary. With the good quality 8” grinding wheels available today, most will last hobby turners for many years, even with repeated cleaning and truing.

If the face of the wheel is starting to show lots of black streaks, clean it. If any dips, or angles show up in the face of the wheel (usually caused by improper sharpening), then true the face as needed. Working with a wheel that is not flat and that has quite a bit of metal dust on the surface will increase the overall sharpening time necessary and produce a less than ideal sharpened cutting edge.

A quick and easy to tell when you need to clean the surface is to observe the spark trail from a freshly cleaned wheel. You will notice that it is quite full and long when the stone is clean. As you resharpen your tools, the spark trail will get smaller and thinner. That’s your key to stop and clean the wheel. This is a bit subjective, as is looking at the colour, but if you make a point to observe these conditions you will quickly learn when to stop and clean your wheel for maximum efficiency.

For more information, "Basic Setup of Dry Grinders for Sharpening" is also available on my Volume II ebook.

Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.

Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.