In Shop Blog, Techniques

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The circumference of a 12” bowl (2πr) is about 38”. Multiply that to a lathe’s speed and you’ll realize that wood turners are making almost a mile of shavings a minute. I think it’s fair to say that turners sharpen more than any other woodworkers.

Like other areas of the craft, religious sects have developed around sharpening in the turning world. Yet few fanatics outside of skew maniacs ever discuss honing.

Five years ago I borrowed a diamond slipstone (Diamond Hone by Alan Lacer – – $88) and fell in love. I haven’t used a sharpening tool that works so easily and quickly in the turning world. And it’s sharpening agnostic. It wasn’t until this stone that I realized how sharp turning tools could get and how spoiled sharp tools make you. I bought my own as soon as I could because after using this stone I was disappointed with grinding alone.

This #600-grit slipstone has two different radii on the edges and two palm-sized flats, these features match your wrist’s range of motion. Since these are used in your hand, diamonds work better than CBN (cubic boron nitride) because heat generation is not an issue. It’s rough at first but breaks in beautifully. This design allows you to work both sides of a bevel on all your tools. The stone also comes in a nice leather case, which doubles as a strop if placed on your lathe’s rails.

To use the stone, tuck your gouge/skew/scraper under your arm, place the stone on the bevel and start moving it. (Note: I hollow grind turning tools.) Keep all your pressure on that lower bevel and never leave it. You won’t touch the cutting edge on every stroke but you will kiss it occasionally and that’s all you need to hone. The other benefit is this rounds over the lower bevel so when it rubs the wood it doesn’t bruise. Flip and repeat on your skews. The radii let you work that burr back and forth on gouges. Working a scraper’s flat lets you reset the burr.

This takes seconds to do and lets you re-hone on finish cuts. The more you hone the less you’ll bog down the machine, the less you’ll need to sand and the less vibration will be transferred to your hands.

– Shawn Graham

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