Try as I might, I can’t seem to get a good edge on my bowl gouges. Are bowl gouge sharpening jigs worth looking into?
Bowl-gouge sharpening jigs do a great job. The jigs give many turners a higher degree of control and repeatability than they get doing it by hand. But don’t kid yourself; using a jig is not like using a pencil sharpener. The technique does involve a learning curve; it’s just not as steep as learning to sharpen by hand. You still have to know how to shape the tool and when to stop grinding by observing the sparks.
According to expert turner and instructor Alan Lacer, the motion used to sharpen a gouge on a grinder is very similar to the one used to turn a bowl on the lathe. As you master one skill, you’ll be learning the other. However, if you’re spending more time on the grinder than on the lathe, a sharpening jig can get you over the hump and allow you to concentrate on developing your skills on the lathe first.
There are a number of jigs on the market and all of them work well. The basic jig usually consists of a mounting plate that holds either an adjustable arm or a tool rest (not shown). (The tool rest, an adjustable platform used for sharpening chisels and plane irons, is far superior to most stock tool rests.) The adjustable arm has a cradle to hold the gouge handle to create a traditional grind (Photo 1). To create a fingernail profile, you need to purchase a tool holder to go with your basic set (Photo 2).
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1. To grind a traditional profile on a bowl gouge, you need a basic jig setup consisting of an adjustable arm with a cradle to hold the gouge and a mounting plate to hold the arm. To use, simply rotate the tool handle in the cradle.
2. To create a fingernail profile, you need a specialized tool holder. The tool holder pivots in a cradle on an adjustable arm. Rocking the handle back and forth creates the profile.
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August 2006, issue #123.
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