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.

    Joe

  • JV Sullivan

    Chris:

    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

  • 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.

    –Alex
    Here’s some pics of it:
    http://alexsjoint.blogspot.com/2011/01/hand-crank-grinder-cleanup-and-setup.html

  • 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.

  • Jonathan Szczepanski

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

    Jonathan
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  • 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….

  • 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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