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Sharpening lathe tools

TELEMIKE's picture

A book I read recently when I got my first lathe said not to bother getting the tools really sharp.  It emphasized keeping a concave or straight bevel and avoiding a convex bevel.

I've got sharpening the scrapers down now.  A burr like a card scarper - big for soft wood, small or none for hardwood.

What about the gouges and chisels?  My natural bent is to get a mirror stropped finish on the tools like a carving tool or a plane iron.  How do the experienced turners sharpen?  How far do you go with the edge?  Are different tools sharpened differently?

Thanks in advance for the information.  I'm a real neophyte turner - I know about enough now to get some real value out of a basic lathe class. 

Right now, I'm turning wet olive into bowl blanks that will be dried in supermarket brown bags and final turned later.  (P.S. - I[m terrified of the chisel after a few rough catches - that's what I need the class for.)

kennedy136's picture

(post #81425, reply #1 of 7)


        You needn't hone the edges if you get a nice finish off the grinder, these aren't paring chisels or plane blades.  It is critical that the bevel not be faceted but be a straight or hollow ground(very shallow hollow grind) surface.  This is easily accomplished with a jig like oneway sells.  Even highly experienced turners such as Ernie Conover say that it produces superior results to grinding freehand.  You will notice a pronounced difference once you have turned with a sharp edge properly ground vs. a factory edge.  Once you have experienced a sharp edge you will be able to recognize very quickly when your chisel is getting dull.  You may find a light honing benificial if you are turning very soft wood or green wood, but it is CRITICAL that you do not round over the bevel even a little, as it will affect the way in which the chisel cuts, which usually results in a catch. This is because of the natural tendency to lift the chisel to engage the cutting edge resulting in much less bevel contact and therefor control.  Another thing to avoid is holding the tools with a "death grip" as this does not foster good control.  Practice,Practice,Practice.  I must warn you that the lathe is addicting.It is the only machine in the shop with which it is possible to produce a finished project using only that machine, even down to the finish.  And from a chunk of raw wood at that.  Have fun and be safe.  Don't turn your pieces down too thin at first and use shorter sections of wood until you learn to control the tools.  Found that out the hard way, had a piece blow up and hit me in the lip.  Also catches WILL occur, learn from them and get back to turning just like you got back up when you were learning to ride your first bike.

jako17's picture

(post #81425, reply #2 of 7)

I agree with what you've read keep the bezel slightly concave but really try to go for a flat bezel on a skew.Though it is'nt recommended I even use the side of the grindstone to keep it flat. The only tools I hone are spindle gouges and skews ,then only with a light touch on a hard felt wheel

IanDG's picture

(post #81425, reply #3 of 7)

My lathe tools are HSS and are used straight from the grinder (belt-sander, actually)
I also have a small set that I use on my mini-lathe and these are touched up between grindings on a diamond hone.
The difference in cutting time between ground and honed is so small as not to make honing worth the time it takes.

PlaneWood's picture

(post #81425, reply #4 of 7)

I sharpen all my scrapers on a home made vertical belt sander using VERY worn 220 grit cloth backed paper.  What few chisels I have that aren't scrapers, I sharpen there too.  Just a few passes is all I do.  Have never bothered with honing.  My belt sander is right behind my lathe and all I have to do is turn around and turn it on.  Usually have the chisel back in the wood within 30 seconds or less.  Don't even bother to turn off the lathe.  Takes a little longer on the gouges cause I have to adjust the angle on the sander table.

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy (maker of fine sawdust!)

TELEMIKE's picture

(post #81425, reply #5 of 7)

Thanks everyone for the responses.  It's harder to sort of sharpen than to get that surgical edge, at least phsycologically.  But, everyone seems to be in agreement, and everyone knows more about turning than I do!

Also, yes to the deathgrip suggestion.  My turning is sometimes limited because my hands get tired very quickly.  I'm trying to hold the tools accurately, but not in the deathgrip.

Yes, this machine is addictive.  For me, it has the added benefit of turning firewood into fine crafts (relatively fine, anyway!)

IanDG's picture

(post #81425, reply #6 of 7)

" ---- it has the added benefit of turning firewood into fine crafts "

Careful, it also has the ability to turn fine timber into firewood -- usually as you make the last cut with the skew chisel.

Sumter's picture

(post #81425, reply #7 of 7)

I tried to tough it out by grinding freehand at first before I got serious about turning, and it quickly became frustating.  The Oneway grinder jig gives you more time to turn by making the sharpening chore a walk in the park. Also, as someone said earlier, a proper bevel results in fewer catches.  This was definitely the case with me.

Happy Holidays.

Sumter Tisdale

Maryville, TN