How to Sharpen Wood Lathe Tools

When it comes to working on the lathe, or any other power tool, you need to remember that there are certain maintenance tasks that you will need to be on top of. The tools that you use in accordance with these power tools must also be maintained.

When you are working with a wood lathe, you have tools like chisels, gouging tools, bowl gouges, and more. These wood lathe tools must remain sharp in order to work effectively. If they aren’t sharp enough, you will find they don’t work as well or perhaps could even ruin your project in the end.

Sharpening your wood lathe tools can be quite the chore. First, you have quite a number of tools but you also probably have a variety of different types of tools. Chisels and gouges are often different in shapes and sizes. Whether you simply sharpen as needed or schedule a sharpening time for all of these tools regularly is up to you.

How To Sharpen Wood Lathe Tools
Image by Alexei_other from Pixabay

In this guide, we will walk you through step-by-step instructions on how to properly sharpen your wood lathe tools. Once you have the basic process down, you can pretty much follow those steps for just about any tool.

Before we get started, here is a quick video tutorial for sharpening woodturning tools that you might find handy as well for a visual aid.

What You Need

When you look at tutorials and instructions for sharpening your wood lathe tools, it is typically recommended that you sharpen them using a grinder. This is because it just makes the process simple and so much faster. On the same note, you can sharpen them without a grinder and you will see both of those processes here.

In fact, there are some tools that will need honing so the grinding wheel won’t be able to do the full process for you anyway

For sharpening purposes, here are our recommended items.

  • Grinder that operates on slow speeds or a sharpening stone
  • An 80 grit wheel (if you are using a grinder)
  • A steady foundation for the grinder or sharpening tools
  • A platform rest attached to your grinder
  • Some sort of base and tool holder to make the process move smoothly

In addition, plan to have some of these on hand as well.

  • Diamond paddle set for honing
  • A Sharpie or felt-tipped marker
  • Protractor
  • Diamond truing tool
  • Sharpening stone
  • Oilstone

Tools to Sharpen

We’ve already discussed that you very well may have a number of different tools to sharpen. Your tools might also be in a variety of shapes and sizes as well. While you will most likely have your favorites and the tools that you use the most, you need to keep all of your tools sharp and be prepared to sharpen all of them as needed.

Here are the tools you are most likely to have.

  • Scrapers
  • Diamond parting tools
  • Roughing gouges
  • Spindle gouges
  • Bowl gouges
  • Skew tools

You very well may find that you have tools outside of these ranges or a number of tools that fall into each of these categories as well. We’re going to break down our instructions to cover these categories so you know if there is anything you need to do differently.

If you have tools that perhaps fit into other categories, you should be able to take the details and steps you learn here and put them to work with other types of tools as well. You will find the steps are primarily similar across the board with some different techniques that are designed to cater to the materials or the shapes of the wood lathe tool in question.

Let’s talk just a bit about what you should expect to sharpen some of these too as there are some specific things to know.

Scrapers

A scraper will most noticeably be sharper based on touch. With caution, you can easily run your finger over that rounded scraper edge and notice a significant difference to a sharpened and honed scraper as opposed to a dull scraper.

It is very important that your scraper be appropriately sharpened as that sharp edge is what allows you to really get a smooth surface when you are turning wood. If it isn’t appropriately sharp, you will find that your wooden pieces will not get as smooth and refined while you work.

A sharp scraper will have a wiry feel to it, or perhaps even a burr when it is nice and sharp. It’s the burr that does the work so this is good. Scrapers have to be sharpened the most often to maintain that burr but they are also quick and easy to sharpen as well.

Diamond Parting Tool

Parting tools are very unique and they serve a specific purpose. These tools separate waste from the actual project. You will use them particularly if you create a mortise for turning bowls, cups, and other similar items but they can have some other uses as well.

Parting tools have a sharp point at the end and then the rest of the tool is similar to a scraper. That edge allows the tool to cut but the unique design also allows the tool to scrape in motion as well. While we mentioned diamond parting tools here, just know that these also come in fluted and flat varieties as well.

The diamond is the best starting point, which is why we placed our focus there on this guide. Diamond parting tools are beveled to a 50-degree angle. You will find that they can be beveled to less but we recommend sticking close to this as they last longer and are easy to maintain as well.

A tool set that needs to be sharpened Tools to Sharpen
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Roughing Gouges

The roughing gouges are commonly also known as spindle roughing gouges for the most part. There are several types of gouges so be sure to watch the terminology to know what you are working with.

The roughing gouge is used to make a blank into a cylinder and can come in handy for turning shapes as well. These gouges are not meant for bowls but primarily for spindles, which is where the term spindle roughing gouge comes in here.

These can be sharpened to a degree anywhere from 40-55 and work just fine. They are very unique in shape so you have the square edge and then the large blade edge, which is what you will be sharpening to the proper degree.

Spindle Gouges

The spindle gouge is different from the spindle roughing gouge by design. Be sure to understand the terminology again and how they differ. Spindle gouges are used for cutting curves and coves and adding specific detail to things like bowls or spindles.

We recommend sharpening the spindle gouge to give you some extra length, as well as a curve on the bevel. Spindle gouges do not come this way but it can come in handy when you’re working.

Take the spindle going to a 25-30-degree angle at the tip and then create a swept back edge. You will find this very useful as you work!

Bowl Gouges

The bowl gouge is unique and is designed specifically for things like bowls and possibly even cups. For the best results, you can grind your bowl gouge similarly to the spindle gouge and it does some pretty awesome stuff.

Giving yourself that swept back edge simply gives you some more cutting edge to put to work. In this case, you can go with a higher angle, grinding to about 75-80 degrees. Once you get that initial bevel, you can always sharpen freehanded and it’s pretty easy.

Skew Chisels

Finally, we have the skew chisel to discuss. Most wood workers use these chisels primarily for spindles but they can offer a lot of versatility. They are great for shaping and finishing purposes. Try using a skew chisel for things like beads, grooves, and even concave curves.

The skew chisel does take some skill to use and it can be difficult to learn but once you get used to it and hone that skill, you will find it very useful.

Skew chisels always need to be perfectly sharp because they are used as finishing tools. Your bevel will be sharpened to approximately 35-40 degrees on this one.

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How to Sharpen Wood Lathe Tools Using a Grinder

How to Sharpen Wood Lathe Tools Using a Grinder
Photo by Ono Kosuki from Pexels

Now, let’s get down to business! You know the basics of what you are going to sharpen, the bevels, and the type of edge you should be sharpening to. It’s time to learn the primary sharpening processes so you can get your wood lathe tools perfectly sharp and ready for your tasks.

In this part of our guide, we are going to strategically walk you through each step of grinding to sharpen your wood lathe tools. When it comes to knowing your bevels and angles, you can refer back to our previous section where we broke that down for you based on the type of tool.

1.   Preparing for Sharpening

You need to prepare yourself and your workspace for sharpening. As a woodworker, you are most likely familiar with the necessity of using proper protective gear but we want to touch just slightly on this part of the process anyway.

You should plan on wearing eye protection in order to prevent flying fragments from finding their way into your eyes. We also recommend wearing hand protection as well. Of course, this should be combined with following appropriate machine handling and safety protocols as well.

Since you are using a grinder, you may need to consider breathing protection because of the particles that could be in the air and breathed in.

Finally, always be sure your grinder is steady and stable. It’s best if it is secured to some sort of work area or bench. Put your tool support in place and be sure that it is ready for action.

2.   Prepare the Grinding Wheel

Your grinding wheel is going to be doing the work for you here for the most part so you need to prepare it for the task. Preparing the grinding wheel is a vital step so don’t skip it! In order for it to work properly, you need to be sure the grinding wheel is dressed.

Dressing the grinding wheel helps to remove any debris that could cause imperfections or challenges while you are sharpening your wood lathe tools. One of the easiest ways to do this is to grab your diamond sharpening tools and rub it along the edges of the wheel. This will remove debris as you go.

This will get your wheel dressed and prepped and ready to go. We also recommend using an 80-grit wheel so you may need to change it if that is not what you have on your grinder.

3.   Grinding Angle Preparation

A major part of sharpening your wood lathe tool is understanding the appropriate sharpening angle. We provided you with the typical bevel angles in the previous portion of this guide. You will find the details broken out based on the type of tool you are sharpening so we recommend you refer back to that.

Here is a quick overview table as well that you might find useful.

Wood Lathe Tool

Bevel Angle

Scraper

No angle, sharpen to burr

Diamond Parting Tool

50 degrees

Spindle Roughing Gouge

40-55 degrees

Spindle Gouge

25-30 degrees

Bowl Gouge

75-80 degrees

Skew Chisel

35-40 degrees

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Before you start sharpening, know the tool you are working on and know the angle you need to or plan to sharpen to so that you can work appropriately from there.

You will use the tool rest in coordination with the grinder to make proper contact with the grinder. Get your placement set on the tool rest before you actually make contact. One thing to keep in mind is that your blade is going to make very little contact with the grinding wheel in this process.

Don’t press hard and don’t press it up against the wheel completely. This can cause issues with bouncing, vibration, frustration, loss of control, and a messed up sharpening process altogether.

4.   Begin Sharpening

Now you’re ready to begin! As you start sharpening, press the tool very gently against the slowly moving wheel. It is important that you use a slow grinding speed for this process.

You are not going to make contact for long periods of time. Your tool will make very light contact and never for more than 10 seconds at a time. There may be some sparks when contact is made. In fact, it is normal to see sparks when the contact is correct.

As you sharpen and make contact, move your wood lathe tool gently from side to side to get the entire edge. A good thing to watch for is sparks that are along the edge. This lets you know you’re making appropriate contact.

5.   Finishing Up

The sharpening in 10-second intervals may take several intervals to do, particularly if you are not yet practiced in the sharpening department. While those 10 seconds can add up, it really won’t take you very long to complete the entire grinding and sharpening process.

Once you feel as though your wood lathe tool has reached the appropriate sharpness, there are some minor finishing steps to complete. Grinding can heat up the blade of the tool because of the friction. If your tool looks or seems to be hot, go ahead and dip it into some water to help cool it.

You don’t want to leave it in the water. You may need to dip it in water halfway through your sharpening process even, so watch for a hot tool and act appropriately. Always be careful not to over-grind or over sharpen the tool. Take it slow and steady.

Complete additional honing by hand if necessary. This will be most likely needed for your diamond parting tool more than any other tool.

Sharpening Wood Lathe Tools by Hand

Sharpening Wood Lathe Tools by Hand
CTTO

If you do not have a grinder and do not want to invest in a grinder, you can use a sanding stone or sharpening block instead and sharpen by hand. You will still need to be familiar with your angles but your motions will be fluid and controlled by your own hands.

If you decide to sharpen by hand, we recommend a 1,000 grit sharpening stone to do so. Be sure to not apply excessive pressure as you work!

Conclusion

We hope that you find this guide to sharpening wood lathe tools to be an informative and helpful resource. It’s a pretty simple process but it may take a bit of practice to really get the motions down so you can sharpen your tools in no time.

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