April 21, 2022

How to sharpen wood lathe turning tools

Sharpening lathe turning tools is a skill every turner must master. It is a skill that will make turning more accessible and enhance the finish of your work. Sharpening tools do not have to be a daunting task but can be a satisfying and straightforward task if you take your time and do it right. Knowing what tools need sharpening when to sharpen them, and how to do it successfully are the keys to successful tool sharpening. Sharpening wood lathe tools, in particular, is more challenging because, unlike conventional tools, there is no apparent surface to sharpen, and the surface of the tool piece is hard to see because the tool being used has a thick, dull finish.

How to sharpen lathe tools

  1. Ensure that you have protective gear in place. Start by putting on eye protection like goggles. These protect you from small metal fragments dispersed into the air during the sharpening process. For hand protection, put on protective gloves. Use breathing protection, and do not position the lathe tool below the centre of your wheel. Keep the sharpening platform close enough. The lathe tool does not get caught between the wheel and the platform.
  2. Keep your bench grinder still, and secured to a bench before you start sharpening operations. 
  3. Set up the tool support appropriately. When using the grinder on a workbench, use clamps.
  4. Dress the grinding wheel. A grinding wheel is a tool that needs attention. That implies prepping the grinding wheel for the project.
  5. Prepping helps grinding wheels develop a build-up of metal fragments. These may affect its overall performance. That involves its sharpening capability.
  6. Use a diamond sharpening tool to dress the lathing wheel, as you rub the wheel’s outer edges to get rid of any debris and evening it out.
  7. Different lathe tools have different angles at which they cut, meaning the sharpening angles will be different. That is on spindle gouges and bowl gouges, depending on the user’s skill level and type of turning. The shallower the sharpening angle, the more tool control required to guide the lathe tool without any catches. You can start with a steeper angle and reduce the angle as your tool control gets better.

How to sharpen lathe tools on a grinder?

  1. A grinder is a power tool with a spinning abrasive disc, used for grinding, smoothing, and shaping materials, usually metal (Yourdictionary). Push the grinding tool against the wheel and limit contact of the grinding tool for not more than 10 seconds. Few sparks emerge if the angle and contact level are right. 
  2. Move the lathe tool from side to side while sharpening it. Check the pattern in which sparks burst. They should be visible along the edge.
  3. Repeat the 10-second sharpening interval a few times. If the lathe tool appears sharp enough, dip it in water for cooling. Grinding sometimes causes the grinding tool to become hot due to the extreme friction. 
  4. Allow your tool to cool, and repeat the process with the opposite side. Ensure the tool surface is dry before placing it on the wheel. Do not over-grind any side of the tool since this will increase the risk of making your grinding tool weak and prone to cracking.

How to sharpen lathe tools by hand?

  1. If you do not own an electric grinder, sharpen your lathe tools by hand. You need a sanding stone of about 1000 grit.
  2. Hold the stone in one hand and place your lathe tool at a 45-degree angle. 
  3. Apply a little pressure.
  4. Scrape your tool back and forth on this sanding stone.

How to sharpen lathe tools with a belt sander?

  1. Gather the items you need. Use a belt sander with a 2-inch belt, belt grit from 80 to 120, and the dull lathe tool.
  2. Prepare the belt sander as you install a belt of two-inch. Using a 1-inch belt does not grind the turning gouges evenly.
  3. Do not install the belt too tightly. Keep the belt not too tight and not too loose.
  4. You can now move to the sharpening stage. Sharpen the lathe tool. With gentle pressure, put the lathe tool on the belt sander. Keep the grinding tool away from the cutting edge.
  5. Slightly turn the tool as the belt sander hones the turning tool on all the sides. Explore sharpening a knife with a belt sander to learn more about belt sander usage.
  6. Allow the lathe tool to cool down. Due to constant friction, the turning tool on a belt sander turns hot. Allow the turning tool to cool down after finishing the job. You may as well dampen it a bit if you do not want to cool it. 
  7. Run a test first when you feel sharpened enough. You may use walnut to make sure it is sharpened.
  8. Always put on goggles and gloves for self-protection. The flying metal pieces are harmful to your skin in the long run. 

Woodturning tool sharpening jig

  1. Cut all the plywood pieces with the table saw and make an adjustment groove with the router table in several runs. 
  2. Mark and cut the main piece again to make it more comfortable when sharpening.
  3. Glue a piece of plywood to the bottom. It will let me place the jig on the lathe more accurately. 
  4. Drill another piece of plywood to secure the jig on the lathe.
  5. Cut the piece the chisel handles will rest on.
  6. Place screws on its sides and drill holes to slide it and lock it on the jig. 
  7. Change the grinding wheel sandpaper. 
  8. Straighten the edge with the jig. 
  9. Find the right angle and push the jig’s support piece. 
  10. Mark on the jig the position of each chisel. 
  11. Set the jig again and repeat the same steps with the rest of the chisels.
  12. Test out one of the chisels. Sharpening jigs will allow you to sharpen and get on with your work (vsctools.com).

Sharpening woodturning tools for beginners

As you start, know what woodturning tools you need. That determines the quality of your work and whether it is a success or not. Toolsets are a starting point as they come to the ground and are ready to be sharpened. 

The steel blades perform better as they are fitted to smooth with well-shaped handles. M2 HSS blades hold a sharper edge for longer than cheaper carbon steel, meaning less time sharpening and more time turning.

How to sharpen lathe tools with a stone?

  1. Apply lapping fluid to the stone. 
  2. Locate the two points of reference on the wood lathe tool that includes the bevel’s heel and edge. Use a clamp to keep the lathe tool in place, so it does not move while you sharpen it. 
  3. Place the stone on the bevel, while ensuring that both references point to contact with the grit.
  4. Apply light pressure, moving the stone around the bevel. On flat items, there are no extra steps to finish sharpening the tool. On gouge tools with rounded bevels, account for that as you move the stone back and forth. 
  5. Repeat the process every 5-10 minutes during a project. 
David D. Hughes
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