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The Power of Sharp

Struggle with sharpening your hand tools? Consider an electric sharpener to beat the dull-tool blues and get you back to work.

Let’s agree to a few accepted truths about sharpening:

■ Nobody really likes to sharpen tools. They’d much rather be using sharp tools.
■ Few tools are sharp enough to use right out of the box.
■ The more you use a tool, the duller it gets: You will eventually have to resharpen. 
■ There is no “best” way to sharpen. So find a method that works for you and run with it.
■ There’s also no agreed-upon answer to “how sharp is sharp enough?” If you get good results with your tools, then that’s sharp enough for you. True, tools honed to a mirror edge will be the sharpest, but nothing says you need that to cut wood.


So, armed with that information, is it time for you to get an electric sharpener? These units deliver consistently sharp tools with a lot less labor than using a handheld honing guide and some stones. And let us state this up front: We’re not sharpening snobs. We’ll use any system or method that delivers acceptable results. So we set out to find the best powered sharpeners on the market. Here’s what we learned.

Getting to know the grind

 A microbevel is a 1–2° variation from the primary bevel at the tip. This allows you to resharpen only this tip when dull, saving time versus resharpening the entire bevel.

Hollow Grind.jpg

Wet or dry?


With all of these machines, you can sharpen most widths of bevel-edge chisels and plane irons. For plane irons 2" or wider, for most machines, you’ll need to sharpen freehand or slide the blade side-to-side as the abrasive spins. You also can sharpen carving chisels, turning tools, and nearly any cutting-edge tool minus a flat edge, although you might have to freehand them. The nine tested machines all delivered sharp tools, but by quite different means. 


The six wet-wheel sharpeners use a stone wheel (shown in opening photo) turning at 90 to 125 rpm. A water bath keeps the stone lubricated as it turns and washes away metal filings (swarf), while also keeping the tool from overheating. With these units you can secure the tool in a holder to sharpen at an angle of your choice, rest the tool against the tool rest, or simply freehand the tool. No matter the method, the result is a hollow-ground bevel, shown above. Three machines (the Tormek T4 and T8 and the Triton TWSS10) come with accessories for cleaning or grading their stone wheels. All three have a two-sided dressing stone, with which you can flatten the stone and change the abrasive level to either coarse (about 220 grit) for shaping a tool edge or fine (about 1,000 grit) for sharpening. The T8 also comes with a diamond-tipped jig for trueing the wheel parallel to the tool rest.

After sharpening the tool on the stone wheel, you finely hone the edge on the leather strop wheel using honing compound. Bottom line: This method produces edges sharp enough to cut wood, but generally not as sharp as those sharpened with machines using sandpaper abrasives because of the many finer grits available. In our experience, a tool with a finely polished and refined edge stays sharper longer than one not sharpened to that degree. 

The three sandpaper machines use aluminum or glass plates with abrasive discs adhered to both faces. You then sharpen on the top or bottom of the plate at 180–650 rpm, flipping the plates as you progress through finer abrasives. By doing this, you get sharp tool edges as refined as you want to continue honing. The Veritas MK.II and WorkSharp WS3000 sharpen only with dry abrasives, but the Lap-Sharp LS-200 can be used dry or with a water/dish-soap mixture. This keeps tools cooler, but creates a bit more mess than dry sharpening. We found no sharpness advantage between the dry and wet methods.


Obviously, you’ll need to replace abrasives as they wear out, so plan on that ongoing cost. Sandpaper discs will generally sharpen 2–4 tools before needing replacement, depending on how much material you remove from each tool. And you might not use the full width of the disc if you sharpen in the same spot all the time (as with the WorkSharp). A stone wheel should last several years in a typical home shop.

Gauges and holders make setting bevel angles easy (and repeatable)

The gauge for wet-wheel sharpeners rests on the stone wheel and the tool. You set the gauge for the desired tool angle, and then raise the tool rest until the gauge sits flat on the tool. This Tormek gauge also accounts for the diminishing diameter of the wheel.

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WorkSharp’s tool rest tilts to the desired bevel angle and locks in place. You then insert the tool bevel up and sharpen against the bottom face of the plate.

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Lap-Sharp’s gauge rests on the abrasive plate and against the tool held in the tool holder. You raise the tool rest until the gauge rests flat on the tool.

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The Veritas tool holder hooks over the tool rest (set to the desired angle height), and you extend the tool until the bevel rests flat on the abrasive plate. An included gauge makes it easy to establish a new bevel angle.

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The Tormek T8 was a runaway Top Tool among the wet-wheel sharpeners. It comes with the most and best accessories, made sharpening chisels and plane irons easiest, and cleans up best. Granted, $700 is a big investment, but this machine should reward you for many years.

All three sandpaper sharpeners fared well, but the Lap-Sharp LS-200 and Veritas MK.II rose to the top. Ultimately, we like the Veritas unit best for its easier-to-use tool holder and fast results, and it sells for $420 less than the Lap-Sharp. It wins the Top Tool honor by a nose.

Earning the Top Value award is the WorkSharp WS3000. Selling for $200, this machine delivers quick, consistent, sharp results with little setup or learning curve. 

WET-WHEEL SHARPENERS

Tormek T8, $700

866-588-0395, tormekus.com

103036826.jpg

High Points
▲It displayed excellent torque and never bogged down.
▲We found the numbered microadjuster on the tool rest easiest for fine-tuning the tool rest’s height.
▲The water tray was easiest to use among the wet sharpeners: It adjusts up and down after sliding onto a pair of arms, and has a magnetic scraper to clean the tray.
▲It comes with a diamond trueing jig (below) and stone-dressing tool.
▲We liked its robust tool holder best, with adjusters that allow you to grind a slight camber (slightly rounded corners) on tools, if desired. 
▲Its angle-setting jig compensates for reduced wheel diameter for reliability as the wheel wears over time.
▲The stone wheel did not seem to load up with tool filings the way others did.
▲It has the best carrying handle of the group.
▲The leather strop and honing compound delivered the best final finish of the water sharpeners.
▲Includes a test-best 7-year warranty.
More Points
■ This unit has the most optional accessories available for sharpening other tools for the shop and home (many of which also fit the Grizzly and Rikon sharpeners).

103036841.jpg
Nothing trues up a stone wheel better than the Tormek T8’s diamond-tipped jig. It attaches to the tool rest, then you turn the thumbwheels to guide it across the spinning stone surface. The slower you go, the smoother the surface will be.

Grizzly T10097A, $130

800-523-4777, grizzly.com

03036827.jpg

High Points
▲Despite its small size, it displayed good torque and never bogged down.
▲A microadjuster makes it easy to fine-tune the tool rest’s height.
Low Points
▼Although rated at 220 grit, the stone wheel was the roughest and most porous of those in the test. As a result, it did not sharpen as well as the other models.
▼The tool rest was not square to the stone wheel, requiring adjustments to the mounting screws (a process not detailed in the owner’s manual).
▼The seam in the leather strop wheel has a bump, resulting in a “hop” each time the tool hits it. And the provided honing compound, more greaselike than others, proved ineffective.
▼Its water tray was difficult to remove and clean.
▼It does not come with a stone-dressing tool, but one is available as an optional accessory (no. T24707, $11.50).

Grizzly T10010ANV, $200

800-523-4777, grizzly.com

103036823.jpg

High Points
▲It displayed good torque, never bogging down.
▲Its leather strop wheel performed nicely, and comes with a better honing compound than the T10097A.
Low Points
▼The tool rest lacks a microadjuster.
▼When sharpening plane irons, water dripped off the blade’s edges, missing the tray.
▼It does not come with a stone-dressing tool, but one is available as an optional accessory (no. T24707, $11.50). 
More Points
■ The water tray was easy to clean, but fussy to remove and attach.
■ In use, the stone wheel ran longer than most before needing to be dressed.

Rikon 82-100, $250

877-884-5167, rikontools.com

103036829.jpg

High Points
▲Its angle-setting jig compensates for reduced wheel diameter for reliability as the wheel wears over time.
▲With better mounting tabs than the Grizzly and Triton models, the water tray was easier to remove and install.
▲A wide, sturdy handle makes it easy to lift and carry this unit.
Low Points
▼The tool rest lacks a microadjuster.
▼The stone wheel had a noticeable side-to-side wobble, but once we dressed it, we could sharpen effectively on its face.
▼It does not come with a stone-dressing tool.
More Points
■ The motor has an audible “throb” to it, and it heats up more than the other units. Still, it was not a problem in our testing.
■ Its leather strop wheel is spongier than others, but honed tools nicely.
■ You can run this unit either forward or backward, but we can’t come up with a reason why that’s an advantage.

Tormek T4, $400

866-588-0395, tormekus.com

103036825.jpg

High Points
▲This model shared the T8’s attributes for torque, tool-rest adjustment, tool-angle setting, leather stropping, and warranty.
▲The water tray is easy to install, remove, and clean.
▲The included two-sided grading stone flattens and cleans the stone wheel, letting you change the wheel’s abrasive level to coarse or fine. 
Low Points
▼The tool holder does not come with the machine, but is available as an optional accessory (no. SE-77, $66).
More Points
■ The smaller-diameter wheel spins faster than the Tormek T8, but it’s hardly noticeable in use.
■ Accessories sold for the Tormek T8 also work on this unit.

Triton TWSS10, $340

800-624-2027, tritontools.com

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High Points
▲The 10" stone wheel seemed to be of a finer grit than its rated 220, and it sharpened tools better than all the wet-wheel units except the Tormeks. But this also resulted in longer sharpening times for harder steel alloys.
▲The included two-sided grading stone flattens and cleans the stone wheel (below), letting you change the wheel’s abrasive level to coarse or fine. 
▲A microadjuster on the tool rest lets you better fine-tune a tool’s bevel angle.
▲A torque adjuster lets you increase or reduce the motor’s ability to spin the wheels as resistance calls for it.
▲Its angle-setting jig compensates for reduced wheel diameter for reliability as the wheel wears over time.
▲A sturdy handle makes it easy to lift and carry this unit.
Low Points
▼The water tray is difficult to install and remove, resulting in a mess when removing it full of water.
More Points
■ The owner’s manual has good directions and tips, but it’s written in such small type you’ll likely need magnification.

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A grading stone flattens the surface of a wheel and clears away metal filings. Use the coarse side to create a more aggressive surface, or the fine side for a smoother surface for honing.

SANDPAPER SHARPENERS

Veritas MK.II, $380

800-871-8158, leevalley.com

 103036831.jpg

High Points
▲Stops for setting the tool rest to common bevel angles make angle setting easy and precise.
▲Securing the tool in the holder proves easy, and the holder grips solidly against the tool rest for quick, repeatable honing.
▲Two aluminum discs come with this unit: a thick disc for coarse abrasives on each face, and a thin one for fine abrasives. Switching to the thin disc automatically creates a 1° microbevel on the tool you’re sharpening.
▲Comes with a 5-year warranty.
Low Points
▼Ongoing cost of abrasive discs: selling for $3.70 to $6.90 per replacement disc.
▼Running at a higher speed (650 rpm) than the Lap-Sharp, this dry-sharpening unit heats up tools more quickly.
More Points
■ We could not bog it down, so power is not a concern, but you might have to replace the drive belt down the road.

WorkSharp WS3000, $200

800-597-6170, worksharptools.com

103036832.jpg

High Points
▲Stops for setting the tool rest to common bevel angles make angle setting easy and precise.
▲You get two glass plates, allowing you to use four different abrasives—a handy and quick way to sharpen through several grits. 
▲A small strip of fine-grit abrasive on the tool holder removes the burr from the back of the tool as you slide the tool in and out.
▲An included gum eraser cleans metal residue from the abrasive.
Low Points
▼Discarded metal residue created during sharpening builds up beneath the abrasive wheel and must be cleaned periodically.
More Points
■ Ongoing cost of abrasive discs: selling in multipacks for a little more than $1 per disc. And if you sharpen tools of mostly the same width, you’ll use only that corresponding portion of the disc before wearing it out. Still, they’re the lowest-priced discs, and for the lowest-priced sandpaper sharpener.
■ It can be tippy when not secured to a workbench, but built-in bolt holes on the base make it easy to attach to a solid surface.
■ Using the included slotted plastic disc and abrasives, you can freehand-sharpen tools, such as carving and turning gouges, below. It takes some getting used to and longer time, but is effective.

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To sharpen tools with curved cutting edges on the WorkSharp, use its slotted disc. The abrasive on the underneath side hones the edge as you roll the tool, viewing it through the slots as the disc spins.

Lap-Sharp LS-200, $800

707-527-3358, woodartistry.com

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High Points
▲The direct-drive disc never bogged down.
▲You can sharpen wet or dry with this unit; the manufacturer recommends spritzing the disc with a mixture of water and a few drops of dishwashing soap.
▲Running at the lowest speed (180 rpm) of the sandpaper sharpeners, tools heat up less.
▲Aluminum discs maintain a flat surface for sharpening.
▲A foot switch controls the on/off function, letting you keep both hands on the tool. (You can also use the unit without this switch.)
Low Points
▼The plastic angle templates make setting tool angles fussy, and tiny thumbscrews on the tool holder can be difficult to operate.
▼Stubby butt chisels can be difficult to sharpen with the tool holder.
▼Ongoing cost of abrasive discs: selling in multipacks or singles from about $1 to as much as $25 per disc, depending on the abrasive type.
More Points
■ A reversible switch lets you operate this sharpener backward or forward, but we can’t see an advantage in this.

Download PDF chart of Grinders and Sharpeners

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