Not long ago, I picked up an old hand-cranked grinder, and I have been slowly learning to use it. (I can’t find a manufacturer’s name anywhere.) I had been using an ancient belt sander for assorted grinding tasks, but it was loud and rickety, so when it finally choked to death on its own dust, I was excited to try out a real grinder.
Putting the grinder to use posed some initial difficulties, even before I could put steel to the wheel.
Challenge #1: Finding the Right Wheel
The new, super-cool wheels for high-speed grinders have received much praise. I had my eye on a blue wheel from Norton until I realized that the smallest diameter wheel Norton makes is 6″ and my grinder can fit up to a 5″ wheel. I finally found a 5″ gray wheel at McMaster-Carr, though I was disappointed that the maximum width they carried was 3/4″. My grinder could fit a 1″-wide wheel. I got the 60-grit, which is plenty aggressive for my purposes. I also found that the arbor on my grinder is 3/8″ in diameter, whereas the bushings that come with the wheel only go down to 1/2″. I got an additional nylon bushing, too, and now the wheel fits snugly.
Challenge #2: Coordination
Once the grinder is equipped with a good wheel, the greatest challenge is getting used to cranking with one hand while holding the tool with the other. On the advice of an acquaintance, I oriented the grinder as above. I stand facing the crank. Not only is it easier to move the tool back and forth across the wheel, but it is also easier to see what’s going on at the contact point.
This setup is especially convenient because it renders the grinder portable. Most of the time it will stay right here, but if it gets in the way of another project, I can quickly remove it. If I liked, could clamp it to a sawhorse in the back yard and grind tool edges while my children play on the swing-set.
Challenge #3: Uneven Spinning
The concentric bushings that came with the wheel fit snugly enough, and I had to coax the extra bushing into place with a couple mallet taps, but no matter how carefully you mount the wheel, it will always be a little off-center. That’s why a wheel dresser is necessary. I got a diamond wheel dresser from Lee Valley, and it works very well.
I quickly learned that when dressing your wheel, you should always wear a dust mask and eye protection! Dust and chips go flying everywhere. I hadn’t thought about putting on my safety glasses while using this grinder because of the direction the grinder is mounted to the bench. It’s doesn’t usually throw debris into my face. Nevertheless, bits of the wheel can go flying in any direction, so safety gear is always warranted.
Challenge #4: Overheating
Can you blue an edge with a hand-cranked grinder? I’m not sure, and I don’t intend to find out. (“Bluing” an edge occurs when the steel heats up so much on the grinder that it turns blue and loses its hardness, thus ruining the tool’s ability to hold a cutting edge.) The steel does get pretty hot when I turn the crank quickly, so when the steel gets too hot to hold bare-handed, I dunk it in a coffee can of cold water for a couple seconds.
Smaller chisels are easier to grind than larger ones. It took me quite a while to establish a consistent bevel on the 2″-wide chisel I picked up at an antique store last month. The 60-grit wheel doesn’t cut very quickly, and that’s just fine with me. Until I get better at using a hand-cranked grinder, I’m going to stay away from the lower, more aggressive grits.
Challenge #5: Dirty Windows
Unlike a regular high-speed grinder, there is no housing to help contain sharpening debris.
I must remember to keep a bottle of Windex near my new sharpening station.