Woodturning is a mesmerizing art form that demands accuracy and expertise. To attain optimal outcomes in woodturning, possessing sharp tools is indispensable. Sharp tools not only simplify the process but also yield neater incisions and sleeker finishes.
When to sharpen your woodturning tool
I understand you have made a valuable investment in a quality wood lathe and a set of woodturning tools. Now it might be the time asking yourself how to sharpen your woodturning lathe tools. Below, I have provided some methods to help you determine the sharpness of your woodturning tools and gouge.
Sharpness test methods
Thumb Test for Sharpness
The simplest approach is to run your thumb across the edge. By doing this, you can feel for the presence of a bur. The bur is responsible for the cutting action during spindle or bowl turning. However, it is crucial to never run a finger along the length of the sharpened edge to avoid the risk of injury. If the spindle or bowl gouge is sharp, you should feel a distinct bur and your thumb will catch as you glide it across the edge of the turning tool.
End Grain Sharpness Test
Secure a piece of softwood, like pine, to your workbench using a clamp. Take the gouge and run it along a corner of the end grain to observe its performance. If it effortlessly cuts shavings from the grain, your turning gouge remains sharp and does not require sharpening at the moment. However, if the gouge fails to produce shavings and merely pushes down the end grain, it indicates the need for sharpening. Always conduct this test on the end grain, as even a dulled tool can cut when moving with the grain.
Paper Test for Sharpness
Another method to determine sharpness is the classic paper test, primarily applicable to skews rather than spindle and bowl gouges. It’s a simple process where we check if the skew can cleanly cut through paper without leaving rough edges. Grab a piece of paper and hold it by one edge. Then, take the skew and attempt to slice along the edge. If it cuts smoothly and cleanly, you’re good to proceed. However, if cutting requires excessive force, it indicates that the skew needs sharpening.
How to Sharpen Your Woodturning Tool
Step 1: Gather the Necessary Tools
Before you begin the sharpening process, ensure you have the following tools ready:
- Belt sander with various grit sand papers. Coarse grits like 60 or 80 are good for shaping and repairing damaged edges, while finer grits like 120 or 180 can be used for honing and refining the edge.
- Sharpening jig
- Honing guide
- Leather strop
- Honing compound
Step 2: Assess the Tool’s Condition
Start by examining the condition of your woodturning lathe tool. Look for any nicks, chips, or dull areas on the cutting edge. If there are significant damages, consider reshaping or repairing the tool before proceeding with the sharpening process.
Step 3: Belt Sander Sharpening
- To maintain a consistent angle while sharpening, use a sharpening jig specifically designed for woodturning tools. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to secure your lathe tool in the jig. The jig will ensure that the tool stays in the correct position during sharpening.
- Set the tool rest of the belt sander to the appropriate angle. This angle is usually around 25 to 35 degrees, depending on the type of woodturning tool you are sharpening. Consult the manufacturer’s guidelines or refer to a reliable sharpening chart for the correct angle.
- Turn on the belt sander and gently bring the tool’s bevel in contact with the moving sanding belt. Move the tool across the belt in a controlled manner, maintaining a consistent angle. Apply light pressure and let the belt do the work. Be cautious not to overheat the tool, as excessive heat can ruin the temper of the metal.
- Once the primary bevel is established, you can switch to a finer grit belt or use a honing compound to refine the edge. Follow the same process as before, but with lighter pressure. This step will help achieve a sharper and more polished edge.
Step 4: cooling and polishing
It’s essential to cool down the tool to avoid overheating. You can dip it in water periodically or use a water-cooled sharpening system if available.To enhance the sharpness and smoothness of the cutting edge, polish the lathe tool on a leather strop. Apply a small amount of honing compound to the strop and make consistent stroking motions along the bevel. This final step refines the edge, removes micro-serrations, and results in an exceptionally sharp cutting surface.