They will purchase expensive diamond plates or (worse perhaps) a ream of belt sander paper and an expensive granite plate all to avoid stepping up to an electric or hand-cranked grinder.
This is not just a fear among hand-tool users who avoid electricity. I’ve met guys who will use an unguarded shaper with 1970s insert tooling who won’t go near a wee 6” electric grinder. It baffles me.
Instead of trying to explain why, however, I have only this to say: Get over it. Today.
The grinder has always been an essential piece of kit for woodworkers. The reason it is so important is that it fixes problems that honing and honing and honing create. If you’re a computer person, think of the grinder as the way you unplug an electronic thing to make it reset itself.
Honing – the part of the sharpening where you create a polished and fine edge – changes the geometry of the edge a bit every time you do it. After repeated honings, the geometry can get wonky at the micro level. Stuff you cannot see. Grinding fixes that.
Grinding fixes a chipped edge. Sometimes the chipping is difficult or impossible to see (especially if your eyes are older). So you hone and experience the same problem. You hone again with the same results. Meanwhile, you are changing the geometry with every honing. Soon the tool becomes a frustrating mess.
Get thee to a grinder. Hit “reset” on the tool and your troubles will almost always go away.
What Grinder to Buy
What sort of grinder could you get? Buy one you can afford and one where the arbor runs true. High speed? Low speed? Variable speed? Bah. Doesn’t matter. The high-speed (3,450 rpm) machines are the cheapest and most common. What about 6” vs. 8”? Doesn’t matter. I prefer the 6” machines because they are cheaper and more common.
What about the grinding wheels? It matters. A decent wheel cuts fast. I like the Norton 3X grinding wheels (#60 or #80 grit). For most woodworker who aren’t toolmakers or turners, a 6” wheel will last a decade. No need to invest in anything more exotic unless you take up turning. You’ll also need a tool to dress the wheel so it is slightly convex.
What about training? Buy a cheap $10 chisel at the home center and practice on that. Learn to set the tool rest. Learn how long you can grind before the tool gets too hot. Learn to grind square without a jig.
But most of all, when something goes wrong with a tool, don’t be afraid to grind it.
— Christopher Schwarz
Want more straight talk on sharpening? Check out my video “The Last Word on Sharpening” available through ShopWoodworking.com.