Buy a sharpening jig at the get-go and learn to use it!
Learning to sharpen free hand takes a great deal of time and effort, time that could be spent at the lathe turning wood and having fun. When I first opened my studio, I succumbed to the lure of freehand sharpening and for the first five years, that’s the only way I sharpened my lathe tools. Back in the day, one of the measures of your proficiency as a professional woodturner was being a good freehand sharpener.
I vividly recall my early days with my 6” dry grinder trying to produce an Irish grind on my bowl gouges with the pathetic, teensy, tiny tool rest that came on my grinder. Let’s just say that after a lot of trial and error, I got the job done and I eventually became an excellent freehand sharpener. However, I was in the studio seven days a week, for 16 to 20 hours a day back then. Mind numbing repetition and thousands of trips to the grinder forced me to learn how to become proficient at the grinder.
My Oneway Wolverine jig mounted
to a Jet 8" high speed dry grinder
Sometime during the sixth year of my studio, I purchased a Oneway Wolverine jig and I never looked back. For me, there was no enjoyment in freehand sharpening – None, Zero, Zip, Nada. I just wanted to get the edge back on my tool as fast as I could and get back to my project. When I started using the jig and I found out how easy it was to produce consistent grinds without monkey-doodling around, I started to enjoy turning even more.
My Kel McNaughton sharpening jig
mounted to an 8" Baldor high speed grinder
Since that time, I now use several dry grinding systems including a Wolverine sharpening system, a Woodcut Tru-Grind system, a Kel McNaughton system, as well as a Tormek wet grinder. For me, sharpening jigs are worth every penny they cost because they allow you to concentrate on what matters most, your project. There is no romance or glamour in freehand sharpening for me these days. I can do it with the best of them, but I still prefer to use a jig whenever possible.
My Woodcut Tru-Grind sharpening jig mounted
to an 8" Baldor slow speed dry grinder
A sharpening jig is more accurate than freehand sharpening and it also helps to save your expensive tool steel as well (versus freehand sharpening). Turning tools are not getting any cheaper these days, so bite the bullet and get a jig, especially if you are a hobby woodturner who only turns occasionally.
A good friend of mine coined the saying “Life’s too short to turn ugly wood,” I would add my own personal coined phrase “Life’s too short to freehand sharpen woodturning tools.” – Steven Russell Maybe I should offer Tee Shirts on my website with that phrase emblazoned across the chest? Anyone interested?
My Tormek wet grind sharpening system
Tip: Keep your wet and dry grinding wheels clean and true. Accumulated metal on the face of your wheels is counter-productive to efficient sharpening. Clean and dress your wheels regularly, as soon as the black streaks become apparent across the face of the wheel. Clean wheels run cooler (dry grinder wheels) and cut faster, so it just makes sense to keep them clean.
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.