Tool Review: Sharpening Systems
The fastest-growing category of sharpening systems, these powered units use self-adhesive sandpaper stuck to swappable spinning platters. By applying different grits to opposite sides of a platter, you can step up through the required three or four grits with only seconds between grits to flip or switch platters. Because of the coarse 60- to 80-grit abrasives available--and the ability to quickly flatten tool backs during sharpening--these systems excel at restoring a dull, abused, or misshapen cutter. The platters on these dry sharpeners deftly walk the line between turning fast enough to remove material quickly and slow enough to not overheat the tool steel. But they sling abrasive grit and steel filings over a surprisingly large area, so keep the unit isolated from the rest of your shop as much as possible.
What to look for: Again, unless you're adept at freehand sharpening, look for a tool holder that maintains the blade's bevel angle and a square edge. And the ability to add a microbevel will help your finest abrasive grits last longer. A powerful motor allows you to bear down hard on the tool for aggressive sharpening without stalling.
Best buys: That all depends on your skill level and budget. If your focus is on flat tools 2" wide or less, the Work Sharp 3000 (800-597-6170, worksharptools.com) does a great job at a low price. If you sharpen frequently, or want to hone a variety of hand tools, the Veritas MkII Power Sharpening System (Lee Valley, 800-871-8158, leevalley.com) works with wider tools--2-5/8" plane blades, for example. Finally, lovers of freehand sharpening will embrace LapSharp's LS-200 (707-473-0593, lapsharp.com). It has a foot-operated power switch, enabling you to keep both hands on the blade when turning the machine on or off.
With this style of sharpener, the spinning stone runs under a drip or in a bath of water that washes away the swarf (metal filings) and cools the tool, helping make these sharpeners aggressive. If the stone lies horizontally on the machine, you sharpen tools on the flat face of the wheel, much like the platter on a dry sharpener; on a vertical-wheel machine, you use the edge of the wheel, creating a gently curved bevel called a "hollow grind." Some woodworkers argue that hollow grinding produces a weaker cutting edge than the flat grinding produced by other sharpening methods. But we'll gladly make that minor trade-off for the ability to sharpen a larger variety of cutters (scissors, turning tools, scrapers, etc., using optional tool holders) than possible on a horizontal wheel.
What to look for: Power in spades and a rigid tool rest. Also, a diamond truing tool (for flattening the face of the stone) and stone grader should be included in the purchase price.
Best buy: Tormek's heavy-duty T-7 (800-586-7635, tormek.com); none of the lower-priced units even came close.
Learn the complete results of our testing in the October 2008 issue of WOOD magazine.