Tormek T-7 Sharpening System - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

The ultimate sharpening system, providing exceptional quality, durability and dependability.

tormek_T7

Tormek T-7 Sharpening System



As we all know, it's difficult to do good work without sharp tools, and just about impossible to do excellent work. Trying to hand plane figured wood with an iron that isn't razor sharp or pare joints with dull chisels is a sure prescription for frustration. 



While I have always maintained that practice is the single most important thing you can do to improve your skill level, keeping your tools sharp comes in a close second.



Over the past year I've had the opportunity to extensively test the Tormek T-7 sharpening system. While the T-7 can sharpen just about any cutting tool from scissors to axes, I use it to shape and sharpen a range of plane irons, chisels, spokeshave blades, carving tools, planer blades and jointer blades.

There are four main components to the T-7:


  • 2" x 10" grindstone (a.k.a. water stone) for shaping and sharpening, and a 1-7/32" x 8-5/8" leather wheel for honing (final polishing);
  • 200 watt fully enclosed, continuous duty motor that rotates at 90 RPM;
  • Universal Support with a micro adjust screw feed mechanism; and,
  • Square Edge jig that ensures perfect alignment of square end cutting tools to the grindstone.
The T-7 system also comes with the following accessories:

  • Truing and Dressing Wheel (that grinds the grindstone exactly flat)
  • Stone Grader (that quickly polishes the surface of the stone, effectively converting it to a 1000 grit stone)
  • Angle Master (to set the exact tool bevel angle)
  • Honing compound for use on the leather wheel
  • Handbook and instructive DVD
  • Storage tray that holds all the accessories
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The T7 accessories
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Stainless steel shaft and nut
Additionally, there are a wide range of other jigs and accessories that you can purchase separately or as part of a kit. You'll find a kit specially configured for woodturners (#TNT-708), and another that contains the jigs needed to sharpen any manner of knives, scissors, carving tools and other cutting tools (#HTK-705). As well, you can purchase both of these kits together (the 'Magnum Kit'). Finally, you can purchase both kits with the Jointer/Planer Blade Jig (the 'Ultimate Kit'). The right kit for you will depend on the kind of woodworking that you do.

The body of the T-7 is made of 1/8" welded sheet steel, while the main shaft and the nut and washer that hold the grindstone in place are made of stainless steel. The top handle, water tray and adjustment knobs are made of impact resistant ABS plastic, while the jigs are made of cast aluminum alloy for strength and wear resistance. 



The T-7 is clearly designed to withstand years (decades) of rigorous use. With a footprint of only 10-5/8" x 10", and 12-3/4" high, the grinder takes up very little space, and at 32 lbs it's easy enough to store away when not in use. I've mounted the T-7 on a custom made 'sled' which I can quickly clamp to my workbench; when my sharpening is done it's easily carted to a storage cabinet.



It's been my experience that manufacturers rarely pay attention to instruction manuals – some are barely comprehensible. Fortunately, the 155 page instruction manual that comes with the T-7 is an exception to the rule, being clearly written, logically organized, and well illustrated. While the T-7 is not a complicated grinder to use, it's worth taking the time to read through the manual before you begin using it. Additionally there is a DVD that explains all the various features of the T-7.

Plane Irons and Chisels


The T-7 can accommodate irons and chisels up to 3" wide. I find that the 220 grit aluminum-oxide grindstone cuts fairly quickly and gives a very fine finish. Using the Stone Grader to re-configure the grindstone to 1000 grit on the fly is a huge timesaver - you can move from initial shaping to final sharpening in one fell swoop.



The grader is simply a two sided silicon carbide stone; holding the coarse side against the spinning grinding wheel for fifteen to twenty seconds grades the wheel to 220 grit. Holding the fine side against the wheel grades it to 1000 grit. Like any water stone, after a lot of use, the T-7 grindstone will begin to glaze over with embedded bits of metal. The grader also serves to quickly remove this glaze build-up. If you do a lot of honing and don't want to bother re-configuring the 220 grit stone, then you can purchase a 1000 grit grindstones. Switching wheels on the T-7 takes less than a minute.


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Using the stone grader to dress the grindstone
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The motor shaft rides against the friction wheel
Because the grindstone is lubricated (and cooled) by water, and the wheel turns at a leisurely 90 RPM, there is absolutely no heat build-up on the cutting tool. This means you never have to worry about ruining the temper of your steel, and you'll never unintentionally grind off too much steel. While you typically want to let the grindstone do the work, you don't have to worry about applying too much pressure on the tool you're grinding. As you bear down on the grindstone the motor shaft presses against a rubberized friction wheel, which prevents any slippage. While I found that it takes longer to grind a tool on the T-7 than on a conventional bench grinder, the advantages certainly outweigh the time differential.

The T-7 uses a variety of jigs to hold the various cutting tools in place as they are being sharpened. Just about all of these jigs are attached onto what Tormek calls a Universal Support, essentially an 'F' shaped 1/2" diameter stainless steel bar. It's essentially a mounting rod for the various jigs. The Universal Support can be mounted on either side of the grinding wheel (so that you can grind either towards, or away from, the rotating edge of the wheel). As well, you can use it with the honing wheel.
 

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Most jigs use the Universal Support
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The micro adjust feature enables precise angle increments
What I really like about the Universal Support is the micro adjust screw feed mechanism that fits on the threaded arm of the support. It enables you to fine tune the adjustment angle of the universal support in .01" increments. This affords you an exceptional level of precision.



Straight edge tools (chisels, plane blades and the like) are mounted in a Square Edge jig which holds tools securely at a perfect 90° angle to the grindstone, regardless of the shape of the tool. A pivoting pressure bar on the jig applies even clamping pressure on the tool, pushing it up against the flat edge of the jig. In profile, the pressure bar has a slight angle at its back edge, which facilitates clamping tapered and Japanese style chisels. High performance engineered plastic inserts on the square edge jig enable it to move smoothly along the universal support bar. And you don't have apply a lot of pressure on the locking knobs to ensure that your tools stay perfectly aligned.
 

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The Square Edge jig moves smoothly on high performance plastic inserts
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The jig holds tools securely at a perfect 90-degree angle to the grindstone
There are two ways to set the bevel angel for a chisel or plane iron. If you don't need to sharpen at an exact predetermined bevel angle, mount the tool in the Square Edge jig on the Universal Support and raise or lower the support to match the existing bevel angle. This approach is very quick, and I use it for basic sharpening of a dull chisel or blade. In fact, because it's so quick, I use this technique for 80% of my sharpening.



For those occasions when I need to establish a new bevel or remove a major nick, I use the Angle Master to establish an exact bevel angle. You simply set the Angle Master to the bevel angle you want, place it's tip on the grindstone, and then adjust the height of the Universal Support so that the Angle Master rests flush against the surface of the wheel. The angles ground using this technique are spot on.
 

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The Angle Master enables you to establish precise bevel angles quickly
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The Angle Master used in conjunction with the Universal Support
You don't need to apply much pressure to the chisel as its being ground; the wheel does all the work. The key is to keep the blade moving across face of the wheel; this way you won't grind a belly in the wheel. However, no problem if you do as it's very easy to true the wheel (see below).



Flattening the back side of a chisel or plane iron is very easy on the T-7. You simply hold the tool against the flat (vertical) side of the grindstone. You'd never want to do this on a conventional  bench grinder; because the wheel is much thinner and spins at upwards of 3,750 RPM, it is more likely to shatter. On the T-7 you don't have to worry about the wheel shattering - the grindstone turns very slowly and there is a lot of surface to use. I don't flatten the whole back, just the 1/2" or so closest to the cutting edge. Unless the back is severely deformed, expect to spend no more than two or three minutes to flatten and polish the back. Try that on a bench grinder, or, for that matter, by hand. Bet it takes a whole lot longer.
 

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Chisel in the Universal Support
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No need to apply much pressure
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A perfectly sharpened chisel
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Cabinet scrapers can be sharpened in seconds using the optional Tool Rest
You can also quickly square a straight or curved cabinet scraper on the side of the grindstone. If you find it difficult to hold the edge of the scraper against the wheel at a 90° angle you can purchase the optional Tool Rest (item SVD-110, $38.95, or as part of the Woodturners Kit), which lets you support the scraper perfectly square against the wheel. Once the scraper is squared hone the burr on the leather honing wheel and then burnish the edge to create a micro-hook.



The results achieved with the T-7 are certainly as good as you can expect to get from any other sharpening method. The advantage of the T-7, in my view, is that there is really no guess work involved. It's quick to set-up and use, capable of sharpening just about any cutting tool, and gives consistently superior results.



Honing is done on the Leather Honing Wheel. I use the Square Edge jig to hold chisels when honing the bevel, and hold the chisels freehand when honing the back. Before using the Honing Wheel for the first time you'll 'condition' it with some light machine oil. Then it's a matter of squirting some honing compound on the wheel before each use.



When honing freehand place the tool horizontally on the top of the wheel. Avoid tilting the tip of the tool towards the wheel (or you'll round over the cutting edge) and don't apply much pressure - let the wheel do the work. Unlike sharpening, which I could do right off, without any mucking about, honing took a bit of practice, primarily to get used to holding the tool horizontal to the top of the wheel and holding it steady throughout the honing process.
 

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Use the Square Edge jig when honing the bevel
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Hone the back of the chisel freehand
I now find honing on the Honing Wheel to be amazingly fast; in under a minute I can get a mirror finish on a tool. Should you then move onto flat waterstones for final polishing? Not necessarily. Tools honed on the T-7 are incredibly sharp. I don't don any additional honing for my everyday bench or mortise chisels. However I do more onto a 8,000 grit stone for my dovetail chisels. The main point here, is that if you don't have a lot of experience sharpening, or are frustrated with using a conventional high speed grinder, then I think you'll find the T-7 very appealing.

Planer and Jointer Blades


Sharpening chisels and plane irons used to constitute all of my sharpening. I've always sent my blades to a sharpening service. Being a bit of a cheapskate, I would invariably wait until the blades were really dull. So I was very interested in trying the SVH-320 Planer Blade Attachment, ($197.99) which, as the name implies, enables you to sharpen planer and jointer blades of virtually any length.
 

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Position of the blade on the Planer Blade Attachment
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Sharpening jointer and planer blades is a breeze
The Planer Blade Attachment consists of a carrier to which the blade is attached, and which in turn rests on a jig similar to the universal support. Sharpening a dull (but not chipped) set of 8" jointer blades takes me about half an hour. Installing the blade onto the jig, and setting the sharpening angle takes only a few minutes. The crucial part is to ensure that the angle on the jig is set to the same angle as the blade bevel. Fortunately the directions for doing this are very clear - once you've done it a couple of times you'll no longer need to refer to the instructions.



The bulk of the time is taken up with moving the blade back and forth across the surface of the rotating grindstone. I stop grinding and visually check the bevel about every five minutes or so. For long blades (over 10-1/2") you need to sharpen the blade in two steps. A bit of a hassle, but nothing serious. The micro adjust screw feed mechanisms on the SVH-320 enable you to set a grinding depth of a mere 4/1000". For dull blades you only need to remove enough metal to form a new sharp edge; of course, for chipped blades you would need to remove a lot more metal.


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I tried reshaping an 8" blade that had some minor chips - under 1/6" in size. It took me a good hour to reshape the blade. I continue to send out chipped blades to a sharpening service. However, for basic sharpening I use the T-7. I've found it best to sharpen the blades before they become too dull; it takes less time. Currently I pay $17 to have a set of 8" jointer blades re-sharpened, and $10 per 13" planer blade - about $375 annually. And yes, I do resharpen double sided disposable blades at least once (and sometimes twice). The SVH-320 almost justifies the purchase of the T-7 for this one sharpening task.

Truing the Grindstone


If you've used a water stone before, you know that they require regular flattening. The Truing and Dressing tool that comes with the T-7 makes this a breeze. It's really impossible to dress the wheel out of square, and you can remove precise amounts, as little as 1/16" at a time, which is usually all you need to remove to get a clean, square surface.


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You can dress the wheel in a couple of minutes
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The result is a perfectly flat wheel with no crown or valley
The frequency of truing will depend on how much sharpening you do. I'm keen on keeping my blades nice and sharp, and over the past year have trued the grindstone six times. I also use the stone grader on a regular basis to remove any glaze build up on the wheel. In fact, the wheel doesn't glaze up all that quickly. I assume this is due to the continuous flush of water over the surface of the wheel, and the sintering process used in the construction of the wheel. Sintering is a process where aluminum-oxide powder is super heated forcing the particles to fuse together, resulting in high strength, and high fracture and shock resistance.

Woodturner's Kit


Turners use a lot of tools with convex, curved and skewed cutting edges that have unique requirements when it comes to sharpening. The TNT-708 Woodturner's Kit ($347.99) contains jigs for sharpening fingernail, spindle and roughing gouges; straight or curved edge skews; parting and beading tools; scrapers; and hollowing tools. There is a turning tool setter, similar to the angle master, that enables you to quickly establish the correct grinding angle on gouges and skews, and two profiled leather honing wheels for honing the flues on gouges. An 80 minute DVD and instruction book accompanies the kit, which shows you how all the jigs work. 
 

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Turning tool jig makes quick work of sharpening gouges
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Leather honing wheels
The Ultimate Sharpening System?


Given what I had read about the Tormek my expectations were high when I first tried the T-7, and I've not been disappointed. For novice woodworkers, the T-7 is an easy-to-use, comprehensive sharpening system that will give exceptional results right out of the box. Woodworking enthusiasts and professionals will appreciate its versatility, durability, and return on investment. With the T-7 you'll spend less time at the sharpening wheel and more time at the work bench.



I like that the T-7 is virtually maintenance free. I keep it covered when not in use (there is an optional fabric cover you can purchase from Tormek - the cover also comes standard with the  Woodturner's Kit (item TNT-708). It's a good idea to empty the water container when you put the unit away for storage, particularly if there is any chance of the the temperature in your shop falling below 0°C; water freezing in the wheel might cause it to crack. Another nice feature of the T-7 is that it's super quiet and vibration free; in part due to the use of an induction motor rather than a universal motor. Under load I measured the noise level at 60.5 dB.



At $699.95 you might consider the T-7 to be exorbitantly priced. Not so. The previous system I was using consisted of a Delta 8" variable speed grinder (upgraded with a Norton 120 grit grinding wheel, Oneway wheel balancing system, Veritas tool rest and skew grinding jig) and a set of four 800 to 8000 grit water stones (along with the Veritas MkII honing guide and skew jig attachment). Pricing on this system was about $625. Granted, I bought the components for my former system over a period of a couple of years. So, while the T-7 is more money up front, it's comparable in cost for, in my view, a superior system.



If you really like what you've read about the T-7 but still can't justify the price, then have a look at the new T-3
, which retails for $399.99. It offers a lot of the features of the T-7, but in a smaller package. The T-3 uses a 1 5/8" x 8" grindstone, 1" x 5" honing wheel, 120 watt motor running at 120 RPM, and ABS plastic housing (rather than the 1/8" steel housing on the T-7). It lacks a carrying handle and quick coupling feature for the honing wheel, and doesn't come with the truing tool or stone grader. However you can use all the same jigs and accessories on either jig. The T-3 carries the same 7 year warranty as the T-7, though not for commercial use.

Which ever Tormek system you select I think you'll be exceptionally pleased with its quality, durability and dependability.

KEY FEATURES:


  • Motor: 200 watt, 90 RPM
  • 1/8" steel housing
  • Grindstone: 2" x 10" aluminum-oxide
  • Leather honing wheel: 1 7/32" x 8 5/8"
  • Weight: 32 lbs
  • 7 year warranty
MANUFACTURERTormek
AVAILABLE FROMFind a Retailer
RETAIL PRICEfrom $699.95 (starter package)
MODEL #T7
MADE INSweden

Author: 
Carl Duguay
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