Newsletter Article: My Number One Woodworking Machine - And its not what you think!
My Number One Woodworking Machine - And its not what you Think !
My number one woodworking machine is not one that you would find on most folks list of their top 5 woodworking machines. My number one choice of machine is the bench grinder! Let me explain my reasoning.
I label myself a hybrid woodworker, meaning I use both hand tools and woodworking machines, however; I do consider myself more of a handtool woodworker than a machine woodworker. I use the traditional woodworking machines, table saw, band saw, planer, and jointer for coarse work and I use my hand tools for the medium and finish work.
Regardless if you are a hybrid woodworker or a traditional handtool woodworker, if you are going to use hand planes and chisels, you must know how to properly sharpen them. I believe sharpening is the most important skill that a hand tool or hybrid woodworker must have. The reason is simple, if you don’t have sharp hand tools, they won’t work.
There are a lot of systems and materials to choose from to sharpen your hand tools. The important thing is to master one of them so you can get a razors edge on your tools. I personally use Rob Cosman’s sharpening method. But no matter what sharpening system you use, at some point in sharpening plane irons and chisels you will have to re-establish the primary bevel of the blade. This can happen because you get a pretty bad nick in the cutting edge, over time you have skewed the cutting edge and need to bring it back into 90 degrees with the blade’s edge, or you have created such a large secondary bevel over numerous sharpening you need to re-establish the primary bevel.
A grinder makes short work of re-establishing your blade’s primary bevel. The good news is that a grinder is much cheaper that the other big woodworking machines. In fact, I recommend saving money and purchasing a used grinder, you can find lots of them on the used market. I recommend an inexpensive 8-inch variable speed grinder (note: I am still using a 6 inch grinder and I hate it). If you cannot find a variable speed grinder get a slow-speed grinder. The grinder itself is not that important, it just makes the grinding wheel go around. Therefore, I recommend just getting a used grinder. What is very important is the grinder stand, the grinding wheel, and a tool rest.
When grinding you want to minimize heat build-up on the blade, so you don’t temper it. Keeping the wheel turning slowly helps keep the blade cool. Buying a coarse wheel also helps reduce heat as does the type of material the wheel is made from. The tool rest can also help if it’s made from thick metal and can act as a heat sink. All my recommendations for these are explained below.
The grinder stand needs to hold the grinder rock steady with no vibration. If you have a large bench or counter, you can bolt your grinder to this. I do not have such an option in my small shop, so I have my grinder on a metal stand. I did not like all the lightweight grinder stands on the market, so I had my local metal shop make me a grinder stand. The key to a good stand is it must be heavy to dampen any vibration from the grinder. My stand is made from scrap metal parts welded together. The bottom is a thick, heavy steel disk the metal shop had laying around, a part from a tracker trailer truck is what they told me. That forms the base to which a cut up drive shaft is welded to form the upright. A small metal plate is welded to the top of that and my grinder is bolted to this plate. The metal shop drilled and tapped five equally spaced holes near the outer circumference of the base that bolts are threaded into so I can level the base as needed. The thing must weigh 100 pounds – it’s not moving.
Next is the grinding wheel. Regardless of what type of wheel you use choose the coarsest wheel you can find is what you want to use. At least 120 grit or less. A coarse wheel cuts faster and cooler than finer wheels. That’s what you want when re-grinding a primary bevel. The newest wheels on the market are called CBN wheels and they are nice. A bit expensive but well worth it. They come perfectly balanced and don’t wear down like a stone wheel requiring you to dress them plus the CBN is super hard and very slow wearing. These are huge advantages and why I recommend CBN wheels.
Finally, you need a nice tool stand to hold your blade steady and at a consistent angle to the wheel. Throw away whatever cheap stand came with the grinder and purchase the only stand that I think is worth buying – a Wolverine grinding stand. It’s a beefy, simple, and a well-made tool rest. The plate you hold your tool onto is thick aluminum and acts as a heat sink. Also, its relatively inexpensive.
If you outfit your grinder as I have described, you will have a grinding stand that you can easily, accurately, and repeatably re-grind your primary bevels onto your tool blades and get back to work.