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JOEL Joel's Blog

How to Grind


How to Grind 4I am really proud to say that after reading Fine Woodworking Magazine since Issue 4 I have finally have an article in the June 2008 issue of the magazine. The article is about grinding using a dry grinder.
I am a big fan of the dry grinder. I think it's one of the most important tools in the workshop and saves oodles of time in sharpening. Unfortunately a lot of people of scared of burning their tools and as a result there are tons of strategies around to avoid grinding and the market for expensive, slow wet grinders is pretty big.
I was taught grinding by Barry Iles in the space of about 5 minutes. It's actually pretty easy to learn and I think one of the weird things I have discovered about a lot of traditional techniques is that people don't believe it's that simple. They want a more complicated formula, a scientific approach. I'm not usually a fan of that approach. I'm believe more in simple technique, training your hands and learning to observe what you are doing. Then a little practice and you can quickly become an expert.

Asa Christiana did a fine job editing down my 8000 plus word manuscript to something manageable and it is very interesting to me how the article is designed to be understandable on many levels. Depending on whether you look at the pictures, just read the headlines and captions, or actually read it word or word, the goal is that a coherent level of information will be conveyed and at each level there is stuff to be learned.

In the editing process a lot of peripheral explanation was left out but overall the material is pretty well covered and I'm proud of the result. Of course unlike a blog, a magazine article starts out with my draft but ends of the product of a lot of people, Asa, the art director, the page layout people, the illustrators, I asked Asa how many people worked on my article but I forget the exact number - but it's a lot. I'm amazed it all came together the way it did.

How to Grind 3In the excitement I did leave out one useful tip. By leave out I don't mean it was left on the cutting room floor, I just never got around to putting it in the draft in the first place. When grinding back to a line the goal should be to grind to as straight a line as possible however freehand you won't get a perfect line. This doesn't actually matter as after you grind and hone the edge the honing stones will even everything out, but sometimes after I grind to the line, with the rest squared, before I switch to grinding the bevel, I hold the blade perpendicular on a stone (diamond stone works great for this) and give is a few stokes just to straighten up the edge. Not a big deal if you don't do this, but it does give a more even reference to grind the bevel too.

If the proceeding paragraph makes no sense I guess you have to read the article, which is at the newsstand now, or you can visit Fine Woodworkings website and get a copy (if you have an on-line subscription.

By the way if you are in the market for a professional grade grinder we just became Baldor distributors and we also stock the 3X Norton Wheels that I use and run cooler than a hipster at a poetry slam. You will of course need a quality multi-point wheel dresser and we stock several models.

Note: I just got off the phone with Matt Kenney, an editor at Fine Woodworking who was wondering if I knew anyone who did woodworking in an apartment. He figured being the only woodworking shop in NYC we might have a few leads. He is generally interested in finding people who do woodworking under very constrained space and logistical accommodation. There are interesting questions on how you manage to get stuff done, what about noise and dust, etc. Anyway if you can help please drop me or Matt an email. His email is:

Join the conversation
04/04/2008 mark
Sweet! I've been waiting for this article to come out.

Is there any way we could possibly see some of the peripheral explanations in future posts?

If you have any specific questions I'm happy to answer them but the article is pretty complete. As you know I have a tendency to pontificate on minutia and one goal of a good editor is to keep the article focused. Asa did exactly that.
04/05/2008 Andy
Hey Joel,
I just got the magazine yesterday, and it was my bedtime reading. Needless to
say, your article did NOT put me to sleep! I enjoyed the way that you taught
what you had learned (from Barry Iles) -- this was a great way to pass on the
craft. I look forward to trying out a crowned wheel.
Hi Joel,

I feel the timing for your article is perfect. With the prices of slow speed
grinders going up, the affordability of using them for many woodworkers is
growing beyond reach. You have done a lot to unveil the secrets of sharpening
Joel, and this article unveils yet another efficiency, which people can afford, and
really use! Thanks for sharing!
06/01/2008 Phil Jones
Hi Joel,

Your article was the first time I've ever seen a reference to crowning the wheels; always before I've dressed them straight across. And I've never had good luck grinding chisels, plane irons, etc. on my dry grinder (which is why I bought a Tormek and a Makita wet grinder, but that is another story).

Anyway, down to the shop I went and dressed the wheels of my 6-inch dry grinder with a crown as you suggested. What a difference! Your article now joins the ranks of a small few that have really made a huge improvement in the way I work. Thanks for passing this valuable information along.
12/03/2008 wm brown
Phil Jones'6/1/08 comment on your grinding blog ends with.......

"Your article now joins the ranks of a small few that have really made a huge improvement in the way I work. Thanks for passing this valuable information along. "

This made me very interested in what his other few articles are. Any chance of getting his reply?

Thanks much,
Ahoskie, NC
01/08/2009 ken
Did you mention Maurice? That is, after all, where we all started.
01/09/2009 Doug Brummett
Great article. It was just prior to my subscription, but it is available online to subscribers of the online service. Are you ever going to release the pontificated version for the internet geeks, or does FWW own the content?

The rounding of the stone is an excellent recommendation. I have been flat prepping my wheels and by the end of a grind it is pretty easy to overheat the very corner. The rounding makes perfect sense. Kind of makes me smack my forehead in a why didn't I think of that kind of way.
05/02/2011 Bill Nenna
Three years late, but I just read the article today. It couldn't have come at a better time. I am in the process of restoring several old planes and have been preparing myself for the task of sharpening everything from plane irons, chisels to scrapers and anything else in line as I set up a shop. Grinding, has always scared me. I know just how easy it is to burn an edge on a standard grinding wheel. I've also shied away of what I thought was a complex problem of controlling an angle without an elaborate setup.

I want to say your article addressed every doubt I had about grinding. What's more, I understood everything straight away!
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