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Choose the Right Grinding Wheel


I've been told that the gray wheels that came with my grinder will burn my woodworking tools and that white wheels are better. True?

The stock wheels that come with most grinders are designed for the metalworking trade. They're way too hard for grinding the hardened steel used for chisels and plane irons. It sounds strange, but the harder the steel, the softer the bond in the wheel should be. Here's why: Hard steel quickly dulls the abrasive particles in a wheel. With a soft bond, the dull abrasive sloughs off quickly, leaving fresh, sharp abrasive to do the work. A hard bond, on the other hand, holds tight to the abrasive particles, even after they're dull. The dull or “glazed” wheel rubs as much as it cuts, creating friction and heat that will toast your tools. The best all-around grinding wheel for woodworking tools is an 80-grit aluminum oxide wheel with a relatively soft bond designated by the letter H, J or K on the wheel label (Photo 1). An H bond is the softest and will provide the coolest grinding. Turners tend to prefer a J grade wheel; its harder bond resists grooving by gouges and parting tools. Smart buyers read labels. Look for a series of numbers and letters that usually comes after the wheel size. It's best to be color-blind when you are buying a new wheel (Photo 2). Instead, trust the label to give you the precise information you need.

Look for three things on a grinding wheel label. First, the letter A, which stands for aluminum oxide, the abrasive you'll want. Next is the grit size; a 60- or 80-grit wheel is best. Finally, a letter right after the grit size represents the hardness of the bond. Letters from H to K are considered soft bonds, with H being the softest.


Don't let color be your guide. Aluminum oxide is made from bauxite, a naturally white mineral that can be given any color in manufacturing. The only way to really know what you're getting is to read the label.

Lee Valley and Veritas, (800) 871-8158,, Grinder wheels: 6-in. x 3/4-in. 80 grit, #08M18.02, $20, 6-in. x 1-in. 80 grit, #08M18.01, $23, 8-in. x 1-in. 80 grit, #08M19.01, $30


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Jack S. Gruber wrote re: Choose the Right Grinding Wheel
on 03-01-2009 5:09 PM

Good to know.

Joseph C. Sublett wrote re: Choose the Right Grinding Wheel
on 03-10-2009 9:46 AM

It seems that some sort of consistency should be added to the grading of grinding wheel colors.  How about a grassroots effort to get the industry to come up with standards that would allow the consumers (you and I) to simply look for or ask for a given color wheel.  Add comments to show your support.  Remember the world is watching.

jhdodd wrote re: Choose the Right Grinding Wheel
on 03-21-2009 10:50 AM

Color coding the wheels makes sense as long as there are enough colors to cover all the combinations of grits and bonding.  It may need to be label color indicates bond and wheel color indicates grit.   At least you can walk up to a grinder and know at a glance what wheels are installed.

Hank Hansen wrote re: Choose the Right Grinding Wheel
on 05-09-2009 6:29 PM

Color coding sounds good, only so long as it was not governmentally imposed or enforced.