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Water-Cooled Sharpening Machines


Water-Cooled Sharpening Machines

A look at 4 models from Tormek, Grizzly and Jet

By Dave Munkittrick

Today's water-cooled sharpening machines, also called wet grinders for short, can reshape and sharpen almost any cutting tool you own. Like their foot-powered ancestors, they get the job done without the risks associated with a bench grinder. Overheating and blueing tool steel is impossible with a wet grinder because its slow speed and constant water bath keep the tool cool. There are no flying sparks or superfine grinding-wheel dust to worry about either.

In this article, we'll look at wet grinders that come with a leather honing wheel, making a one-stop sharpening machine. Other types of wet grinders don't have honing wheels but come with additional high-speed dry wheels, or are simply horizontal wet-wheels.

These one-stop systems are self-contained. There's no need to switch wheels to change grits. You use the wet-wheel for coarse and medium-grit grinding and the leather wheel for final honing. They're also compact and easy to store. 

Wet grinders have a couple downsides, though. Wet grinding is slower than using a bench grinder when it comes to reshaping a tool or removing a nick in its edge. If you're in a hurry,  you'd use a bench grinder for shaping, then move to a wet grinder for sharpening. 

Like waterstones, these machines make a wet mess. Keep that in mind when you choose a place for your machine. It's best to mount it on a plywood base with a lip to capture the water. A large cookie sheet will also do the trick. 

There is a vast array of accessories available for these machines that allow you to sharpen just about anything: planer and jointer blades, axes, knives, scissors, even hard-to-sharpen carving chisels and turning tools. Most of the accessories are interchangeable between machines because all the guide bars that the accessories mount on have the same diameter.  

We looked at four models: two from Tormek and one each from Grizzly and Jet.  All four produced a good, sharp edge on chisels and plane irons. 

The price range is pretty dramatic: from $160 to $590. But there are considerations that explain that spread. The more expensive the machine, the less hassling and tinkering around you have to do to get the job done. Things like microadjustment knobs, well-designed tool holders, and easy-to-use angle guides make setup quick and easy. Another price factor is the number of accessories included in the basic package. At the base price, some machines leave out essentials such as a wheel trueing device and a dressing stone. These are hidden costs that a buyer should be aware of. 

All four machines come ready to go. All that's needed is to mount the wheel, add water and charge the leather honing wheel with compound, and you're ready to sharpen chisels and plane blades.


The Sharpening procedure is similar on the four machines we tested.  The way in which the following features perform can make using the machine more of a pleasure and less of a chore.

Guide Bar 

A solid bar with two posts guides the tool across the face of both wheels. Raising or lowering the guide bar changes the bevel angle of a tool.  The guide bars on these  machines aren’t exactly the same. Three have a microadjust for setting the bar’s height–one doesn’t.  A micro-adjust takes the hit or miss out of the setup and makes it easy to add a microbevel. A microbevel is a short bevel at a steeper angle that’s honed only at the final grit.

Tormek’s guide bar features a calibrated micro adjust knob for accurate height adjustments in .01" increments. Tormek uses Acme threads on the guide bar to prevent damage from the locking screws.

Jet's microadjust knob also simplifies height adjustment, but a larger knob with calibration would make this setup better. In place of Acme threads, Jet uses standard threads and grinds a flat on the post for the locking screws.

Grizzly has the same sturdy two-post design as the other two guide bars. This machine doesn’t have a micro-adjust knob, though. The guide bar’s height is a little trickier to fine-tune.

Trueing Tool

The surface of any grinding wheel eventually gets uneven. A diamond-tipped trueing tool is a must to restore the surface so that the wheel is round and flat. The most accurate way to do this is to mount the truing tool on the machine's guide bar. The Tormek T-7 comes with such a guided diamond trueing tool; the T-3 and Jet offer one as an accessory. Grizzly offers a handheld diamond trueing tool as an accessory. While you could get by with this, a guided system is much better. Fortunately, both the Tormek and Jet trueing tools fit on the Grizzly guide bar.

Tormek's diamond trueing tool is the best of the bunch. It uses a foolproof screw-feed system to slowly draw the diamond-studded tip across the stone.  The tool’s depth of cut is controlled by the guide bar’s microadjust.

Jet's truing tool is sold as an accessory. The tool rides on the guide bar and uses a stop bar to control the depth of cut.  The Jet tool relies on your hand to guide it across the stone.

Dressing Stone

A dressing stone is used by all the systems to alter the wheel’s grit.  This must-have tool is only included with the Jet and the Tormek T-7. The dressing stone has a smooth side and a rough side. When sharpening, the normal progression is to dress the wheel with the rough side of the stone to expose fresh grit for your initial grinding. This creates a roughly 220-grit surface. After that, the wheel is dressed with the smooth side of the stone to create a finer surface (about 1,000 grit), which puts a sharper edge on the tool. The tool is now ready for a final polish on the honing wheel.

Honing Wheel

All the wet grinders have a small leather-covered wheel for putting the final edge on a tool. It can be used freehand or with the guide bar. The leather is charged with a polishing paste that contains a very fine grit. Honing puts a mirror finish on the tool’s edge. The wheel can also be used to polish the backs of chisels and plane irons.

Chisel and Plane Blade Tool Holder

When you sharpen a straight-edged chisel or plane blade, you’ll clamp it in a holder. This maintains a constant angle and guides the tool across the stone.

Tormek's holder eliminates the chance of clamping the tool unevenly. The back of the blade registers against the fixed upper part of the holder.  An alignment ledge automatically squares the tool and accommodates short chisels.

Jet’s  holder works well for standard chisels and plane irons. Alignment can be a problem, though. The upper part that registers the chisel’s back isn’t fixed, but can rock. In addition, the holder’s two small alignment tabs are spaced too far apart to easily position a chisel with a short blade.

The Grizzly holder does a fine job on standard chisels and plane irons. This holder also clamps the top of the chisel against the fixed part of the jig. This arrangement can cause misalignment of the chisel in the holder. As with the Jet holder,  a two-tab design makes short chisels difficult to align.

Angle Guide

An angle guide is critical to setting the height of the guide bar. You’ll use the angle guide to repeat a specific bevel angle or create a new one. The Tormek and Jet guides adjust to compensate for a shrinking diameter as the wheel wears.

Tormek T-7 

Wheel speed: 90 rpm

Wheel size: 2'"x 10"

Weight: 37 lbs.

Power:  115V, 1.5 amp continuous duty motor

The T-7 sets the gold standard in the field. All the accessories I tried are well thought out and perform their tasks admirably. They didn’t require a lot of tinkering or adjustments. Swapping accessories is quick and easy. 

The T-7 incorporates several new improvements over previous models. Tormek now uses stainless steel for the drive shaft and wheel-mounting hardware to eliminate corrosion. They switched to Acme threads on the guide bar. The standard tool holder is redesigned and better than ever because it clamps the back of the chisel against the fixed portion of the holder. A continuous alignment ledge allows it to handle short-bladed chisels.

Tormek offers accessory jigs to sharpen planer and jointer knives, long or short knives, scissors, axes, scrapers, spokeshave irons, turning tools and carving tools. The T-7 also offers two accessory wheels:  a superfine Japanese waterstone, primarily for carving tools, and an extra-hard stone for sharpening high-speed-steel turning tools.

The hardcover handbook included with the machine is fully illustrated and covers all the operations and use of the  accessories in the Tormek line. Tormek's website is also a great resource.

The T-7 includes: hardcover handbook, DVD, square-edge jig for chisels and plane blades, diamond trueing tool, dressing stone, an angle guide, honing compound and a 7-year warranty.

Tormek T-3 

Wheel speed: 120 rpm

Wheel size: 1-1/2" x 8"

Weight: 16.4 lbs.

Power: 115V,  .97 amp 30 min./hr. duty motor

The T-3 became available in September of 2008. It offers Tormek quality at a lower price. Its wheels are smaller than the T-7’s, and unlike the T-7, it’s not powered by a motor rated for continuous duty.  The T-3 body is made of ABS plastic rather than steel. None of these changes should matter a great deal to the woodworker who wants a machine for occasional sharpening. 

The T-3 is designed to take most of the accessories available for the T-7.  Tormek does not recommend using the planer blade attachment or the molding knife jig on the T-3 because these accessories are too big. 

Unlike the T-7, the T-3 does not come with a wheel truing tool or a dressing stone.

The T-3 does use stainless steel hardware and has a 7-year warranty. The warranty does not include commercial use.

Tormek's website is available to T-3 owners as well. It's kept up-to-date with information for the Tormek owner and features a moderated forum where you can ask questions and receive expert answers. 

The T-3 comes with a square-edge jig for straight chisels and plane blades, an angle guide, honing compound, a DVD and instruction book.

Jet JSSG-10

Wheel speed: 90-150 rpm

Wheel size: 2" x 10"

Weight: 36 lbs.

Power: 120V, 1.8 amp continuous-duty motor

The Jet was easy to set up. I found the included video by Ernie Conover very informative and useful. Ernie covers everything from setup to use of the optional jigs.

The Jet has some unique features. The wheel speed can be adjusted from 90 rpm to 150 rpm. The idea is to keep the rim speed constant as the wheel diameter shrinks with use. I also found it useful to speed up wheel trueing, rough grinding and honing operations. 

Jet has the best water reservoir of the bunch. The large, flared edges do a great job of catching the water slung from the stone and make it easier to fill without spilling. Jet uses a a gutter at the top of the machine to  funnel fugitive water back to the tray.

The Jet uses a manual torque control to compensate for drive shaft slippage when pressure is applied to the wheel. Torque is automatically adjusted on the other machines.

The Jet has a handy storage drawer built into the base for the dressing stone, tool holder and honing paste.  An optional stand is available that features two additional drawers and a wrap for cord storage. The stand also serves to catch and contain spilled water. 

The machine comes with a dressing stone, straight edge jig for chisels and plane blades, angle measuring device, angle setting guide, honing compound and a well-done instructional DVD.

Grizzly t10010

Wheel speed: 90 rpm

Wheel size: 2" x 10"

Weight: 41 lbs.

Power: 110V, 3 amp continuous-duty motor

The German-made Grizzly gets the job done at a low price. The wheel runs true and the motor has plenty of power. The paddle-style power switch was the easiest to operate of all the machines. Given that the grinder is frequently turned on or off, this is a nicer feature than you may think. The instruction manual is very brief, but it's enough to get you going on the basic operation of the machine.

Grizzly does not include a dressing stone or trueing device. Grizzly sells a hand-held diamond dresser. It costs less than a trueing tool, but you'll need to make a holder to accurately true the wheel. The guide bar is a little touchy to fine-tune in the absence of a microadjust.

The straight edge holder does a good job on standard bench chisels and plane irons. If you want to sharpen short butt chisels or Japanese-style chisels, look at Grizzly's T10024 Accessory kit. It has a chisel holder designed for carving tools that also works on short chisels. The kit includes a stone dresser, which you need anyhow, and a tool rest and jig designed for sharpening scrapers and screwdrivers. The rest can be used to help guide Grizzly's handheld diamond dresser.

 The Grizzly is a tremendous value.  You can add the diamond tool and the T10024 Accessory kit to round out the package. You might consider buying Tormek's diamond dressing tool rather than a handheld tool because it fits on the Grizzly guide bar. The Grizzly comes with a straight edge tool holder for chisels and plane blades, an angle guide, and a tin of honing compound.

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