Sure, it’s one of those questions people tend to ask themselves a lot. For me, I can remember asking my wife this question. I can remember thinking this after my first taste of a quality pinot noir.
I asked it again this past weekend using the Tormek.
OK, let me start off by saying that I love working with sharp tools. They need a lot less force to use. They give clean results. And, they are just so darned cool…
But, getting there has always been a hassle. I have a high-speed grinder. Used it once. Created a multi-faceted mess of a bevel on a chisel. I have a flat platen grinder. Works very slowly and leaves a mess. It also heats up the metal in the edge I’m working on, leaving a blued spot that I have to grind off. I have two honing jigs. Three diamond stones of different grits. A hard Arkansas oilstone. Float glass with sandpaper glued to it. Yeah, you name it, I might have it. And, so far, I have been able to get good edges with the diamond plates, but the effort I have to put out – especially in a steaming hot garage – well, let’s just say I don’t relish the sharpening chores in the summer.
The Tormek jig is going to revolutionize how I sharpen.
First, this thing is heavy. I have the T–7 model in my shop, and it took a little bit of muscle to get the darned thing up to the workbench. The basic kit has everything you need to get going right out of the box. The unit itself, which runs on a powerful yet quiet induction motor. The sharpening stone itself is a large affair that screws to the unit’s drive shaft with a stainless steel cap. There is a leather covered strop wheel that goes on the other half of the spindle. A universal guide bar can go from the front for sharpening ‘with’ the rotation of the stone or the top for sharpening ‘against’ the rotation.
A jig for sharpening straight-edged plane irons or chisels comes with the unit, and it fits easily on the guide bar, allowing the user excellent control and mechanical leverage over the sharpening operation. The jig is very well thought out, even storing the stops that prevent the jig from slipping off the guide bar.
An ABS water trough slips under the sharpening wheel, holding about a pint and a half of water to clean the sharpening debris off the surface, cooling the tool and lubricating the cutting action.
The folks at Tormek even included package of band aids in the kit, assuming that the first few times you try the jig, you might want to try the edge to see just how sharp it is.
I wanted to get a good idea of how well the sharpening system worked, so I put it to the test immediately. Last Christmas, I bought a set of Hirsch firmer chisels for my shop, and had yet to truly hone them. I pulled out the 3/4″ model, and followed the instructions by the book.
The sharpening stone is kind of interesting – it can be graded with a grading stone to be rough for initial grinding and, by using the fine edge of the grading stone, can put a mirror shine on the bevel. Once I had graded the stone to the fine setting (the bevels were already in great shape from the factory), I measured the bevel on the tool’s bevel guide setting tool. This plastic gizmo takes the guesswork out of setting the sharpener, the jig and the guide bars. It allows you to set the bevel you want, and can make allowances for the stone’s size as it wears after numerous sharpenings. I followed the instructions to set the 30 degree bevel, and soon had everything read to grind.
The machine is quiet but powerful. I couldn’t press down hard enough to make the wheel stop. The effect was so cool, watching the the blade of the chisel slide over the face of the stone, with the cooling water just gliding out of its way.
After a minute of guiding the chisel’s bevel side to side across the face, I took it off the jig and held it up to the light. It was a nice shiny bevel. I rubbed my finger over the flat back of the chisel and could feel the wire edge. The instructions told me that the next step was to unmount the chisel from the jig and knock the burr off on the strop wheel. I had to charge the wheel with a little bit of oil first, and then put the supplied paste on the leather. I flipped the machine on, applied chisel bevel and back to the strop, and bingo. That chisel was sharp enough to slice through paper.
It took me maybe ten to fifteen minutes, but most of that was due to the fact that I was reading the steps and ensuring I did everything the way I should have. I’m sure that number will drop considerably with a little bit of practice.
Clean up was just as easy. The plastic water basin unhooks to be dumped, and the instructions indicate that you should empty it at the end of every grinding session and not down the drain – the crud that the stone throws off sinks to the bottom and sets up like concrete. I had also read that there is a magnet built into the basin to catch the metal filings. Sure enough, a big clot of magnetized filings had grown amoeba-like around the magnet. I had to scrape that off with my fingers and throw it into the trash separately, but that was pretty darned cool.
Now, I know the Tormek is an investment. There’s no doubt about that. But, looking back at all of the money I had spent on the other gadgets, gee-gaws and gizmos to get sharp tools, if I had saved my pennies instead, I could have easily purchased one of these babies – and saved myself countless hours of work trying to get sharp tools.
If a lunkhead like me can set this up and use it quickly and effectively, I’d say it would be worth it!