The old adage “Tools do not make the craftsmad” contains a degree of truth. Still, sharp tools although they will not make you a craftsperson-will greatly improve and enhance your skills. In fact, in my opinion, a great deal of skill displayed by today’s craftspeople is based largely on their ability to create and maintain a keen edge on their cutting tools.
My wood turning travels throughout North America, Australia, and New Zealand have brought me in contact with many first-class woodworkers, carvers, wood turners, and just plain “hewers”of wood. They have worked in schools, home workshops, and craft fairs,with a variety of tools from the very best high-speed steel to the crudest homemade implemens. Still, they all had one thing in common: They used sharp tools.
As varied as the crafts and craftspeople are, so are their methods and tools used for sharpening. Each one, used correctly, will create a keen cutting edge. The best are those that do not overheat cutting edges. This is probably the most common problem experienced by novices when sharpening tools. It is especially serious if the tool is made of carbon tool steel rather than high-speed steel. When carbon tool steel is heated until it turns blue the “temper” or “hardness” is removed, and the tool becomes soft and will not hold an edge for more than a few seconds. High-speed steel, on the other hand, will sustain a great deal of heat without damage.
The simple solution to”tip burning”is to use sharpening equipment that does not generate high heat or to use equipment that is constantly cooling the cutting edge as it is being ground. Wet grinding will assure the woodworker a cool cutting edge for two reasons: First the grinding wheel is flooded with a coolant (usually water) to prevent heat buildup and second, the wet grinding wheels usually turn at a very slow rate which reduces the heat generated by the grinding process. Personally, I find the wet grinding system both too slow and too messy. My experience with wet grinding has been one of constantly cleaning the slurry of sawdust and water from the stone.
My preference for sharpening is white aluminum oxide grinding wheel followed by a quick touch-up on an extra-fine neoprene honing wheel. I choose the aluminum oxide wheel simply because its porosity makes it a very cool grinding wheel compared to old gray stone or the standard sanding belts or discs. It is also very fast-cutting, thereby reducing the time at the grinder and reducing the time allowed for the heat to build up on the cutting edge. To hone my tools I use a neoprene wheel because it is fast and it maintains the hollow grind formed by the grinding wheel.
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