Tormek Sharpening

A few years ago, I watched a master turner demonstrating his craft, and if you know the name Ian “Robbo” Robinson, or have heard of his monster lathe you will know who I mean. At the time he would touch his tools up freehand on a high speed grinder and continue turning.  When turning powerpoles (he literally can turn powerpoles on his lathe), or bollards, he apparently employs a couple of workers with shovels to try to keep up with the amount of sawdust he generates.  That’d be a sight!  He also can turn a very fine goblet (one I have in my cabinet at home), so that really covers either end of the spectrum.

It bothered me that I was interested in slowly rotating water cooled sharpeners as a way of achieving a fine edge, and yet it didn’t appeal to professional turners.  After all, copying those more experienced than you are is a great mentoring method of learning.

However more recently it turns out that even Robbo has been sold on a Tormek T7, and now swears by it, and considers it to be no slower than his old technique, yet with the advantage that the shape of the tip is duplicatable time and time again.  This is especially important when hosting a class – you don’t want good steel being sparked away, or burnt blue.  This was a real revelation for me.  Not only does the whole concept of watercooled, slow speed wetstone sharpening appeal to me where I don’t have time to learn the finesse required to produce a perfect edge, but it is also being used by the experts in the field.  Who am I to contradict that?!

Square Edge Jig

When using the folded steel standard jig on the Triton, I found it very easy to end up with a skew chisel without meaning to, caused by an uneven tightening, and because the reference edge was at the bottom, which for a chisel is the narrow face, and thus makes it easier to cause the chisel to rotate slightly in the mount.  Tormek have had this problem as well, and so developed this new Square Edge Jig, with the reference being the top edge, and it is tightened against this face instead.  To the right side in the photo, you can also see the corner which is the edge that the tool is mounted against, keeping it perpendicular to the stone.

The discolouring of the stone should be ignored btw – I didn’t want to redress the stone just because of the colour – wasting good stone!  I imagine it is some steel that has become embedded in the surface that has rusted.

Plane Blade

A mounted blade with an edge being formed.

Using the Reference Material

The T7 comes with a full reference manual, and this is worth a lot when you are learning how to set up each tool, including who would use the specific profile choices and that is a real relief not having to guess.  It lists all the variables, and so setup is quick and accurate.

Turning Tool Setter

The support arm is set the required distance from the wheel and locked down.

Setting the angle

The angle of the gouge jig is set – in this case to the #2 position.

Setting tool extension

Next, the amount of extension is set and locked in, so sharpening is ready to go.  Once experienced with these steps, they are very straight-forward.

Recording the settings for repeatability

Finally, the settings used are recorded on a slip which is wrapped around the tool, so there is no guesswork involved in maintaining the tool profile.

Ready, Set, Sharpen

The gouge jig set, ready to go.

Perfect Shape

Rolling the angles

Rolling the tool from side to side, and moving it over the surface of the sharpener to get the perfect edge.

If it looks really simple, and hard to get wrong, you’d be right.  It is a great system, and completely repeatable which is important for speedy retouching the tip to maintain the edge once the tool has been shaped to the desired profile.

The combination of the large, wide wheel that is very smooth during operation and that is very hard to stall, the superb collection of jigs results in a top-shelf tool that is a pleasure to use, and delivers results.  It may be an expensive wetstone grinder, but you can absolutely tell where your money has gone, and like many other purchases, that becomes a distant memory long before the tool itself needs to be retired.

If you’ve never used a Tormek, be careful.  Once you use one (especially if you’ve experienced other grinders/sharpeners), you will find it very hard to walk away from it!  Check them out at Carrolls Woodcraft Supplies, either at their Drysdale store, or at one of the wood shows.

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