Tormek T-4 Water Cooled Sharpening System - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

The easiest and quickest way to sharpen all your woodworking tools.

Tormek T-4 Water Cooled Sharpening System

Tormek T-4 Water Cooled Sharpening System

It goes without saying that sharp tools produce better work – sharpened chisels, planes, carving tools, and the like, require much less effort to use, and the cuts they make are more precise, crisper, and cleaner. But, sharpening can be time consuming, messy, and, particularly for novice woodworkers, frustrating. If, like me, you'd rather maximize your time working wood, and minimize your time sharpening, then a Tormek Water Cooled Sharpening System just might be the ticket.
Tormek machines are 'wet-grinders' in contrast to conventional 'dry grinders'. They are also specifically designed to meet the sharpening needs of woodworkers. Because the grindstone is water cooled, and spins at a slow 90 to 120 RPM (compared to the 1,750 to 3,450 RPM for a conventional grinder) there is no risk of overheating metal and compromising it's temper. Additionally, the grindstone can be quickly configured to work as either a 220-grit or 1000-grit grindstone, and coupled with a leather-faced honing wheel, means you can complete your entire sharpening and honing on a single machine. So you can get back to work sooner.

There are two Tormek models to choose from – the top end Tormek T-7 that we reviewed a couple of years ago, and the T-4 (which replaces the T-3). 

The T-4 package

The T-4 comes with a basic set of accessories, plus, of course, the grindstone. As shown in the photo above (clockwise from top left) you get a: water trough, stone grader, T-4 (leather honing wheel pre-mounted), universal support with micro-adjust, 200 mm grindstone, AngleMaster, honing compound, bandages, DVD and Tormek handbook.

Before you begin using the T-4 you really should watch the DVD, as it details the machine's full capabilities and will help you decide which additional jigs you'll need to purchase. Until you become fully conversant with the T-4, the manual will be an indispensable reference guide that describes, and amplifies with copious illustrations, how to use the T-4 and it's accessories to the fullest advantage. The manual is coil bound, making it easy to open and lay flat on a workbench. Plus, plastic front and back covers protect the contents from dirt and moisture. 

The T-4 comes with the grindstone un-mounted. Attaching it to the arbor takes all of 5 seconds, and once installed there's no reason to remove it again. The grindstone measures 1-5/8" by 8", providing a much wider bearing surface than the typical 3/4" wheels found on most dry grinders. The T-4 grindstone is made of aluminum oxide, which is particularly effective for grinding high speed steel. Because of the high friability of the aluminum oxide grains, the grindstone cuts quite fast, whether configured as a 220 or 1000-grit stone.
Universal support can be mounted vertically (L) and horizontally (R)

The universal support serves both as a tool rest and a support arm for the various jigs that you can use with the T-4. Installed vertically the grindstone will be grinding towards the edge of the tool. Almost all the sharpening that I do (plane blades, chisels, spokeshave blades, cabinet scrapers, and shop knives) is done in this orientation. For turning and carving tools the universal support is installed horizontally. Honing, which is done on the leather honing wheel, is always done in the horizontal configuration.

The T-4 has a small, 8" by 9" footprint. Because the grindstone is water cooled you'll need to take appropriate measures to protect the work surface you use it on. You can cover your workbench with a plastic sheet, place a plastic tray underneath the T-4, or, as I do, place the unit on a narrow board atop a pair of work supports or saw horses. Some water sops out onto the floor, but not all that much – but that's ok, as it's the only cleaning the floor ever gets. There's no need to clamp or otherwise secure the T-4 to the work surface – the T-4 runs vibration free. Whatever minute amount of vibration the motor generates seems to be absorbed by the rubber feet under the unit. 

As well as having a small footprint, the T-4 is only about 10" high and weighs less than 20 pounds, which makes it convenient to store when not in use. 

A totally enclosed 120 Watt induction motor turns the grindstone at a nearly silent (52 decibel) 120 RPM. The motor has a 50% duty cycle, which means you can run it for 30 minutes, but then have to let it cool down for 30 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised at how much sharpening I could do in 30 minutes.

Each time you use the T-4 you need to 'prime' the 
grindstone by letting it absorb all the water it needs. I fill the trough with about a litre of water and then slowly turn the grindstone by hand - it only takes a couple of minutes for the grindstone to absorb most of the water. Replenish the trough with more water and you're good to go.

The universal support as tool rest

You can use the universal support as a tool rest for sharpening a limited variety of tools, including adzes, hatchets, and very short carving chisels. I sharpen my knives freehand, with the universal support removed.

However, the universal support
doesn't enable you to maintain a consistent blade angle or keep the cutting edge square to the face of the grindstone. For this, you'll need to purchase a jig – the type of jig you select will depend on the type of woodworking you do (there are 13 various jigs to choose from.)

To sharpen plane blades and chisels you'll need to purchase the 
SE-76 square edge jig ($76). The SE-76 accommodates tools from as narrow as 1/8" wide up to 3". The other jig that I find quite useful is the SVD-110 tool rest ($30), which makes it very easy to sharpen spokeshave blades and cabinet scrapers. If you turn, it's useful for scrapers and parting tools. Eventually you'll also have to purchase the TT-50 truing tool ($96), as it's the only way to true and dress the grindstone exactly round and flat.

Dual sided stone grader alters the grindstone grit

One of the major advantages of the T-4 is that you can alter the cutting efficiency of the grindstone with the stone grader. One side of the grader is coarse, the other side is fine. Pressing the coarse side onto the grindstone configures it to cut as a 220-grit stone; pressing the fine side against the grindstone smooths the grit so that it cuts as a 1000-grit stone. You only need to move the stone grader sideways across the surface of the grindstone for about 25 seconds to effect the change. And, you can do it as often as needed without any risk whatsoever of damaging or inducing excessive wear on the grindstone

Getting used to the stone grader didn't take all that long. The key is to hold it flat against the grindstone, and not tilt it to either side. I found that placing my hands against the universal support makes it easier to keep the stone parallel to the face of the grindstone.

The SE-76 square edge jig ensures perfect tool alignment

The square edge jig has a couple of interesting features that enhance its functionality. Nylon bushings (top, left photo) enable the jig to glide very smoothly along the universal support. On one end of the SE-76 is a registration shoulder (top, right photo) against which the blade butts up. This ensures the tool is aligned a perfect 90-degrees to the grindstone. And, there's no fiddling around – insert the blade, push it up against the shoulder, and tighten the locking knobs. The locking knobs force the upper side of the blade against the jig, ensuring that that the cutting edge of your tool (the bevel) remains parallel to the face of the grindstone.

The jig can accommodate just about any plane blade or chisel that you're likely to have, up to 11/32" thick and 3" wide.

Safety stops keep the tool over the grindstone

There are two stops that keep the tool from sliding off either end of the grindstone, which might damage the edge of the grindstone and also muck up your tool. Both of the stops are conveniently stored right on the SE-76.

One stop installs on the universal support 
(top, left photo) and is adjusted to compensate for the width of the tool. The other stop attaches onto the end of the universal support (top, right photo). You have to unscrew this second stop every time you want to remove the SE-76 from the universal support – a tad inconvenient.

In the bottom photo you can see that the blade always retains contact with the surface of the grindstone. 

Measuring and setting the right bevel angle is a breeze

The T-4 comes with a clever jig – the AngleMaster – that enables you to quickly confirm the existing angle on any blade or chisel, from 10-degrees to 75-degrees. Additionally, the AngleMaster assists you in establishing the correct height of the universal support, so that the SE-76 is configured for the right angle. You do this by turning the micro-adjust dial on the universal support – either upwards or downwards.

I really like how effectively this systems works, and how quickly I can set the bevel angle of any tool.

Make short work of flattening backs

If you've laboured over benchstones trying to flatten the backs of plane blades and chisels, you'll love how quickly the T-4 does the job. It now takes me less than half the time. Flattening the back doesn't take very long, so check your progress every 30 or 40 seconds.

You really only need to flatten about 1" back from the cutting edge. The key is to keep the tool flat against the grindstone. You don't want to tilt the tip towards the stone, otherwise you'll round the back of the cutting edge. If this happens you'll find it quicker to regrind a new bevel rather than continuing to flattening the back. Fortunately, getting the knack of this is not all that hard. If you're a bit nervous, make a few practice runs with an old chisel.

Hone to perfection

Once the back of the tool is flat you then hone it on the leather honing wheel. Honing is done freehand, so again, you want to keep the tool as flat as possible, paying particular attention to the tip. I find that resting my left hand on the universal support helps to steady the tool. I spent about 90 seconds to get the result shown in the photo above.

Ink the blade to monitor progress

Tormek recommends using a magic marker to colour the bevel before you begin sharpening. While not mandatory I find it helps me monitor the sharpening process. Once the ink is gone, the tool is pretty well done. I confirm this by running my thumb across the back of the tool – if you feel a consistent burr, then you're read to hone.

Firm pressure, side-to-side motion makes for quick sharpening

The key to getting the tool sharpened, so you can get back to work sooner, is to apply firm, even pressure downward on the tool as you glide the SE-76 back and forth across the surface of the grindstone. The length of time you spend sharpening will depend on how much metal needs to be removed. I've found that, when I'm resharpening to the same consistent bevel angle, it takes only a couple of minutes to establish a new edge. Once I've removed the ink I reconfigure the stone to cut at 1000-grit. 60-seconds and I'm done.

Ready for work

At this stage you can go back to work, or you can hone the bevel. I always hone my plane blades, and the chisels I use for dovetailing. For most of my other chisels, particularly mortise chisels, I don't bother with honing. 

The finish you get on the honing wheel is pretty darn good. I've no doubt that you could move on to a 10,000 or higher grit benchstone to get a 'scary sharp' cutting edge, but I'd rather get back to work. 

If you work in a production shop then the larger, 100% duty cycle T-7 is the better choice. But, for the rest of us, the T-4 (or the T-3) is the way to go. The Tormek system is just so quick and easy to use. There is no steep learning curve (you can use it 'right out of the box'; it produces excellent results all the time; you can purchase additional jigs to accommodate virtually any cutting tool; both sharpening and honing are done on the same machine in one continuous flow of work; you'll never damage your tools through overheating; the machine is easy to store; and, the massive grindstone will last for years, if not decades.

If you work out the cost of purchasing a conventional benchtop grinder, along with a decent tool rest, and the various benchstones and accessories you'll need for sharpening and honing, you'll quickly find that the T-4 is comparable in price.

I'm very satisfied with the Tormek T-4 – it's a sharpening system I can highly recommend for anyone who wants to get their tools sharpened quickly and accurately.


  • Dimensions: 9-1/16" W x 7-7/8" D x 10-1/4" H
  • Weight: 17.6 pounds
  • Motor: Industrial single phase, 120 Watt
  • Duty cycle: 30 minutes/hour
  • Decibel level: 52 dB
  • Grindstone: 8" x 1-5/8", Aluminum oxide
  • Leather wheel: 5-3/4" x 1"
  • Speed: 120 RPM
  • Torque: 74.3 in-lbs
  • Main Shaft: Stainless steel
  • Housing: impact resistant ABS plastic body and Zinc cast top
  • Includes: Stone Grader (#SP-650), AngleMaster (#WM-200), Honing compound, DVD, and Tormek Handbook

MADE IN:Sweden
SOURCE:Featured Retailer: Big Bear Tools
Other  Retailers
January 2015
Carl Duguay
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