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A Treatise on Grinding

Grinding the edges of cutting tools is another of those areas of woodworking, like sharpening and cutting dovetails, that have taken on an almost mystical aspect. Here too, the truth is far less glamorous. Having a grinding wheel designed to run cool with hardened steel will solve most all grinding problems. As previously mentioned in the sharpening treatise, the grinding angle is not nearly as critical as the consistency of the angle. Shoot for 25 degrees for plane blades and most chisels, and 35 degrees for mortise chisels, but don't obsess about the angle. Do obsess about keeping the bevel flat by not changing the grinding angle during the process.

Some people buy expensive grinders that run at half speed, hoping to keep from burning tools. These grinders are nice, but they won't compensate for having the right wheel, and once you have the right wheel, you probably won't feel that you need the slow speed grinder any more. The Norton white wheels are designed for this purpose and run very cool. You can still burn an edge, but with a little care you won't.

The most difficult blades to grind are complex molding plane and carving chisel blades. For these we recommend a Dremel tool, and a steady hand. Do as much as you can by hand, using sharpening slips. Norton offers a complete line of sharpening slips, we recommend you start with a few sizes of medium Crystolon and Fine india slips. It takes longer, but you won't ruin a tool with a stone like you can by grinding too much. With antique molding planes, only the cutting edge is steel, laid onto a soft iron foundation. With these, you can often use needle files instead of a power tool. If possible, this is a safer and preferred solution. If your files can't cut the steel, you can still remove the soft iron behind the steel and then just finish up with a stone.

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