​How Sharp Is Sharp Enough When You Sharpen Woodturning Tools?
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​How Sharp Is Sharp Enough When You Sharpen Woodturning Tools?

How Sharp Is Sharp Enough When You Sharpen Woodturning Tools?
Many beginning woodturners and even some experienced ones are confused over the question of sharpening their tools, in particular wondering how sharp a tool needs to be. This tends to be further confused by the tendency for woodworkers to not restrict themselves to only one kind of woodworking. In other words a woodturner may find themselves at the wood lathe one hour and using a hand plane or a wood chisel the next. Now the question becomes whether the lathe tool needs to be as sharp as the hand tool. The answer may lie in considering the type of wood and work each will do.
Hand planes are designed for removing wood leaving as smooth as surface as possible. They move across boards that are progressively flatter and flatter as well as smoother and smoother and will leave a surface only as fine as the edge on their blade. In addition, they are propelled with the motion of arms and hands and cover a fairly small area in a relatively large segment of time compared with a wood lathe.
The wood that planes work with is generally fairly clear with few knots and irregularities. It has also been brought to a point of relative flatness and finish before the planes start their work. Hand planes are really the finish tools of the modern cabinet maker. As such they need a very fine edge that leaves a finished surface ready for fine sandpaper or a cabinet scraper.
Woodturning tools on the other hand are the roughing tolls of the woodturner as well as the finishing tools. They will attack a rough piece of wood that may include bark complete with grit from felling on the woodland floor, all sorts of knots that add character to the finished piece or even cross grain and bark inclusions found in many burls. A fine edge will last only seconds rather than minutes in such circumstances.
In addition, a wood lathe moves the material so quickly that the fine edge of a wood plane would dull very quickly under the friction of the movement. Rather a more robust, thicker edge is needed. Instead of the edge from water stones and leather strops, the rougher edge from a grinding wheel is sufficient for the woodturner.
Grinders using eighty grit aluminum oxide wheels will leave an edge that is sufficiently strong and sharp enough to remove a lot of wood and last well. The surface that is left behind is ready for sanding or scraping. In fact, many spindle turners will use a skew chisel to leave a surface that will not need any sanding or only that of papers higher than two hundred grit of finer. Some bowl turners use scrapers with a fine edge to achieve similar results.
The answer to the question of how sharp is sharp enough really is the sharpness that works for the tools and the work at hand. It will vary for the tool used but the end results speak for themselves.

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