Using a Hand-cranked Grinder - Popular Woodworking Magazine
 In Chisels, Chris Schwarz Blog, Feature Articles, Woodworking Blogs, Woodworking Hand Tools

Many woodworkers fear the act of grinding. And “fear” might be too kind a word.

I’ve had several woodworkers send me tools to grind for them (please don’t do this). Other woodworkers spend hundreds of dollars on fancy tool rests or other grinding jigs to ensure that the tool will not catch fire, steal their spouse then go on a tri-state killing spree.

Grinding is easy, fast and totally a necessary skill. You don’t need a lot of money to learn to grind. And you don’t have to attend Grind U. (Which is not a college about tools. Well, maybe it is. Well maybe we should just get on with the rest of this entry.)

For some woodworkers, the fear of grinding relates to electric grinders. They have heard tales of how a fast-speed grinder will ruin their tools. So they spend extra money on a slow-speed grinder and fancy grinding wheels. Other woodworkers use a water-cooled grinding system, which is entirely too slow for the way I work.

Here’s the truth: Any dry-grinder can remove the temper from your tools and soften the steel. And if it does, then so what? Should you grind away the discoloration until you get back to good steel? Heck no. Finish your grinding job, hone the edge and get back to work. Yes the steel is softer and yes, it won’t hold an edge as well, but it is still a workable tool. Eventually, you’ll work away the softer steel and return to the good stuff.

I have an old Disco-era Craftsman fast-speed grinder that I use at work. And now, thanks to woodworker Bill Anderson, I have a nice hand-cranked grinder as well, which will be great for home. If you can grind on a machine, picking up the skills to use a hand-cranked grinder are cake. It doesn’t take much coordination. And the hand-cranked grinders work fast. They’re not as fast as a 3,450 rpm electric grinder, but they are much faster than a water-cooled grinder.

Plus, a hand-cranked grinder is variable speed. You can work as fast or as slowly as you like.

Hand-cranked grinders are widely available, fairly inexpensive and they accept modern grinding wheels. I have a Norton 3X wheel on mine – the same wheel as on my electric grinder. It’s my favorite wheel.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. The music from this video can be downloaded for free here.

Grinding and sharpening resources
• Larry Williams at Old Street tools is a grinding savant. Read his take on the process on the Old Street Tools web site.

• Ron Hock has written a great book on sharpening called “The Perfect Edge.” It covers, grinding, honing and polishing of all woodworking tools.

• See how I grind and hone a fore plane iron in this free article


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Showing 22 comments
  • JV Sullivan

    That steel nipple idea is a good one. I will go get some this week and see if I can fit them to my grinders. I have THREE grinders, all of different makes and sizes, and all with 1/4 shafts. What a pain.


  • JV Sullivan


    I have three hand cranked grinders. Must say, I can’t get a modern wheel to fit them. For some reason, the shafts on mine are of too small a diameter. The adapter rings don’t go down that far. I tried careful wrapping of the shaft with electrical tape, but couldn’t get a nice wobble-free fit. SO my grinders are living on a shelf for now.

    Any thoughts?

    Joe Sullivan

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      The shaft is smaller than 1/2″? I’ve never seen anything smaller than that.

      The Norton wheels (and others) come with plastic rings that shim the wheel in a variety of sizes.

    • Alex Comes

      Joe, I have one of those grinders too. I think it’s 1/4″ shaft off the top of my head. Mine takes a 4″ or 5″ wheel. Needless say I don’t use it; wheel diameter too small for hollow grinding. I use my grinder with a 6″ wheel.

      You could cut a wood ring to fit the inside diameter of the wheel with a hole drilled for the diameter of the shaft–this would be used instead of the plastic ring.

      • chayward

        I just picked up a grinder with a 1/4 inch shaft. Very quick fix to get my Norton 3×46 grit working on it.

        In the lighting department at Home depot they sell something called “Steel Nipples” (no joke) which are used somewhere in light fixtures. (My father in-law bought my wife a pair when she had our first kid and you can imagine that went down well…). I digress.

        Steel nipples have a 1/4″ inside diameter and a 3/8″ outside diameter. I hacksawed off a 3/4″ piece, files the ends, cleaned up the inside and outside cuts and this piece fix very snugly inside the smallest concentric plastic thingy that comes in the middle of a Norton 3x wheel. it took a bit of fussing to get it on the drive shaft. In all it was a 15 minute fix. Note – you need to oil the mechanism through the openings provided.

        And then I proceeded to use the grinder for the first time and as Chris suggested – burn the chisel.

  • Alex Comes

    Thanks for the sweet little post, Chris. I think a lot woodworkers would appreciate owning one. Just set up one a few months back myself. Put a new 6″ Norton medium grit on it. I definitely recommend getting one. Only time I need to grind is to reestablish the primary bevel when honing begins to take forever. Sure at some point grinding’s a necessity but doesn’t warrant anything more than my 6″ hand-crank grinder.

    Here’s some pics of it:

  • renaissanceww

    I started using one of these (and a treadle version too) while volunteering at a period museum this past summer. I love sharpening this way and have been keeping an eye open for one for a few months now. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about this post because everytime I have an old tool in mind, Christopher blogs about it and drives the prices up. I’m staying away from ebay on this one. As of this morning it is the number one suggestion when you type grind into the query box.

    Oh and ditto to everything with regards to DC and old tools. Go to a PATINA show or the Brown auction in a month. No problems finding top quality stuff there.

  • Andrew

    I guess you don’t subscribe to the approach Deneb Puchalski suggests in some articles? His recommendation is to regrind using 80-120 grit sandpaper on a reference plate with a honing guide.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      That approach works great. I believe in anything that gets you grinding.

      The only downside to Deneb’s approach is the expense. A roll of that sandpaper costs $80 or so. I can find these grinders for $20. And the wheel, which can last for years, is another $35.

      • griz

        Good god find me one :). The Wash DC are is difficult for old tools and I don’t think I would trust ebay for this…

        • Christopher Schwarz
          Christopher Schwarz

          Washington, D.C.? Talk to Lee Richmond at The Best Things. He might know some people.

          • Mark Maleski

            DC difficult for old tools?! Join PATINA (just in time for the March auction). Join the WW guild or one of the local SAPFM chapters. DC is not difficult for old tools.

            PS – Lee also helps run PATINA.

            • griz

              OK, looks like I have some research to do…. Ill look around. Sadly my experience around here is all you find is junk or people that think their #5 is a rare collectors item and want a fortune for it…. Hopefully this will change my mind :). Thanks…Griz

              • Tom Dugan

                The PATINA show and auction is March 19 at the Damascus MD fire hall. Lots of dealers are set up inside, but the real action is in the parking lot, starting about 6 AM. Google PATINA for more info.

                If you can’t find good tools cheap there … well, you will, no question.

        • rfield

          Grinders are fairly easy to find with a bit of dedicated looking a flea markets, garage sales and estate sales. The key to a good grinder is not the stone but the tool rest! So often I find hand grinders and the tool rest is long gone? The stones are easy to come by and I prefer the pink stones from the Pacific Stone co. which do not over heat the tool steel when I am grinding my new plane irons or old chisels. Best, Robbie

      • tbucket62

        I wonder if anyone has tried to use re-positionable spray adhesive with sandpaper instead of the expensive sandpaper?

    • tsstahl

      I’ve done/do that and find it very slow. Also, the courser grits play havoc on the honing jig wheel.

      I still use sand paper on a granite tile for plane blades because I have a tough time free handing a consistent bevel on the grinder. However, the initial blunting of the edge I do on the grinder. I felt guilty about it until I saw Chris do it at WIA 2010. So, the process is to blunt and rough in the bevel on the grinder, then go to the sandpaper to complete the bevel. Secondary bevel and camber is done on the stones. I only go to 6000 on stones. Some people tell me I’m still too course, but it works for me.

      Chisels, wide or narrow, get done on the grinder. Don’t shoot me, but I’ve been known to use the side of the wheel on occasion, too.

      I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but they’re my tools, my work, and ultimately my satisfaction that matters.

  • Jonathan Szczepanski

    Hmmm…. the price of hand-cranked grinding wheels just went up 300%. I wonder why?


    • George West

      No Kidding, glad I bought mine BEFORE it got Schwarz pricing, wishin I would have bought several. I think it would be a good thing to have prior knowledge to upcoming “posts”

  • griz

    Oh great…. I have been in the market for one of these and haven’t quite found the one I want. Now these things will cost as much as a darned miter box :(. OK kidding of course but I am looking and really am having trouble finding one that is in good working order….

    • rfield

      Dedicated looking this summer will yield some good results! Look at the tool rest closely when you stumble across one out in the field. The tool rest is the most important part of the hand grinder. So often when I actually find one for sale the tool rest is long gone or damaged so that you cannot easily crank the grinder and hold the chisel or plane iron to accurately grind the edge. If you are real lucky you will luck into a treadle grinder that you can easily attach to a bench which will free up both hands to more easily grind your chisel or plane iron. Best, Robbie

  • robert

    Those are great – be sure you find one that hasn’t been dropped, bending the wheel axle. I use a Norton White 150 grit 6 inch wheel on mine.

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