Hone your tools and skills on this Sharpening CenterComments (0)
Make sharpening easy
with this handy station that houses all your tools and supplies in a central
Unfortunately, there’s a tendency among woodworkers to store sharpening supplies here and there throughout the shop, out of sight and out of mind. Perhaps that’s a subconscious effort to avoid what many see as a chore. Having a designated station in the shop focuses a woodworker’s attention on this essential task, transforms a chore into a satisfying experience and keeps things organized.
This station is not mobile, since even locking casters allow a little play – not a desirable trait in a sharpening station. It has an optional, built-in 8" grinder designed to replace standard single-speed 6" units (Fig. 1). The larger stone delivers a smaller hollow grind (a flatter arc), but its real advantage is speed, or more accurately, the lack of it. The grinder has two speeds, 1150 rpm and 1725 rpm. The slower speed works well for both buffing and grinding. At this speed, contact with the 60-grit stone of friable white aluminum oxide generates very little heat. A ¾-hp used capacitor start motor is ideal (although a ½-hp will work).
Appliance repair shops are a great source
for these. Whether you decide to go with a commercial grinder or the built-in
version, the cabinet construction is essentially the same.
The cabinet carcase
This is a shop project, not a piece of fine furniture, and the materials and methods reflect that. The cabinet is just four simple frames, glued and screwed together. These frames are built with butt and tongue and groove joints. With a minimal budget in mind, I chose inexpensive ¼" luaan plywood for the sides and mahogany for the frames.
Begin by cutting the three stiles (vertical pieces) and four rails (horizontal pieces) for the front frame. See the Cut List on page 22 for all dimensions. Pre-drill for two offset pilot holes where each rail end butts against a stile (Fig. 2), and countersink for screw heads. Assemble the frame with glue and 15/8" screws (Fig. 3), making sure it’s square and fl at. Note that the screw heads will be hidden when the station is assembled.
The two sides of the station are frame-and-panel construction. The frame is composed of two stiles and two rails, and the panel is plywood. Each of the four frame parts receives a ¼"-wide by 3/8"-deep groove centered on its inside edge to hold the panel. The easiest way to mill the grooves is to use a rabbeting bit in the router table. On the stiles (which are the legs), the grooves are stopped (Fig. 4). Make a pencil mark 3½" up from the bottom of each leg, and when the center of the bit lines up with this mark, stop the cut.
Short tongues (5/16" long) are
formed on the ends of the side rails, and these fit into the grooves. Set the
table saw blade to ¼" and nibble away the waste until the tongues are
revealed (Fig. 5). In the photograph, note the oak spacer clamped to the saw
fence to prevent binding and possible kickback.
The heads of the screws used to assemble the sides of the station will be visible, so I covered them with walnut plugs after drilling shallow counterbores with a 3/8" Forstner bit (Fig. 6). A tapered countersinking bit will work just as well or better. Predrill for the 2"-long screws (one per rail end), use a little glue, and assemble the sides.
The back of the cabinet is a slightly more complex version of the sides, with four stiles and three rails. A small opening at the top left provides access to the grinder motor. (If you choose to use a factory-built grinder, you can eliminate this opening and the short rail. Just resize the panel to suit.)
The two inside stiles receive grooves on each edge, and the inside rail receives a groove on its bottom edge. Glue and screw the back together, sliding the panels and inside stiles in place as you go. These are countersunk 15/8" screws, two to a joint. Light hammer taps ensure that everything lines up properly (Fig. 7).
When the glue is dry, temporarily clamp
the four subassemblies together (Fig. 8). Measure diagonally to square up the
cabinet, and then attach the sides to the front and back using glue and counterbored,
predrilled 1-5/8" screws. Again, hide the screw heads with walnut plugs.
Inside the box
Sticking with simple construction, the bottom of the cabinet is secured with cleats. Rip some ¾"-thick stock to 1" wide to create these. Miter all four cleats to length and attach them with countersunk, pre-drilled 1-1/4" screws and glue. The bottom of each cleat should be flush with the bottom rails of the cabinets.
Cut the bottom to size from 5/8" plywood, and then install a dado head in the table saw (or a straight bit in the router) to mill a ¾"-wide, 1/8"-deep rabbet on its bottom edges. This will lock it in place between the cleats. Plywood is often only nominally sized, and may not be the actual denoted thickness, so you might need to adjust the depth of your cut. The top of the plywood should be flush with the top of the bottom rail in the drawer and compartment openings, at the front of the cabinet (Fig. 9). Secure the bottom with 1-¼" screws (Fig. 10). For a more finished look, the screws may be driven up from underneath the cleats through pre-drilled and countersunk holes.
The rest of the cabinet innards are contained
in a single H-shaped subassembly that drops into place. It’s simple plywood
construction, with two pairs of hardwood drawer slides inset in grooves (see
the drawing on page 17). The subassembly is 29” tall, ½” shorter than the cabinet sides to
leave room for cleats that will be added later to support the top.
To save a little money, I glued a strip of pine to each of the two long edges of some 24"-wide plywood, to build up the sides to the required 25-1/4" width. Use a scraper to clean up the joints, and the pine will be virtually invisible after assembly. Trim the sides to length; you may have to shave a little off the sides with a hand plane for a snug fit. A shelf and a divider tie the sides together, and these rest in stopped dadoes. These are milled with a ¾" dado head on the table saw, and they run a couple of inches past the intersection (Fig. 11). The actual spot is not critical; just be sure the dado is long enough to seat the parts. Mill dadoes for the two pairs of hardwood drawer glides at this time, too. If you are not mounting a motor inside the cabinet, make the shelf the full depth and keep the divider. That way the motor access door in the back of the cabinet will reveal a small cubbyhole for storage.
Cut the shelf and divider to size and install them with glue and 2" screws, drilling through the dadoes. Drive three more screws through the back of the divider into the back edge of the shelf, applying a little glue as you do. Again, countersink and pre-drill.
I used a piece of melamine-coated chipboard for the shelf; the basin for my water stones will be stored here, so there may be a little splashing. Cut the drawer slides to size (I used mahogany scraps) and install them with glue and clamps. Drive 11/8" drywall screws through the H sides into the slides. Dry-fit the subassembly in the cabinet, centering it on the openings in the front face frame. Measure the gap between the sharpening center’s side and the edge of the H, and rip two strips of scrap to this thickness (probably about ¼"). Remove the H and attach the two spacers with glue and clamps (Fig. 12). When the glue dries, scrape the excess and then screw the H into the cabinet from the inside. You can drive a couple of screws up through the bottom, too.
From this point on, my instructions assume you have decided to go with the built-in grinder. If this is not the case, just ignore the references to it and perform all of the other steps. If you decide to go with a commercial grinder, I highly recommend an 8" slow speed version.
The motor mounting plate is just a piece of plywood cut to size, with a long slot cut to accommodate a V-belt. Attach it to the back of the divider using a length of piano hinge. For small motors, the top of the plate can be flush with the top edge of the divider, and for larger ones you may want to drop it a couple of inches. You might want to mock up the grinder at this stage and check that everything fits and works. Place the mandrel on several pieces of scrap laid one upon the other to simulate its final height. As long as the motor shaft has 3" or more of play (up and down), it should work just fine. You can always get a slightly longer or shorter V-belt later.
The motor mounting plate is centered from side to side, and the easiest way to install the hinge is to attach it to the plate first. After all the screws are driven, lift the plate and slip a piece of scrap under it, resting the scrap on the top of the H. This will hold the plate in position. Lay out the slot for the V-belt (this will vary depending on motor and arbor position - mock it up carefully before cutting) and use a hole saw to drill both ends of it (Fig. 13). Note that this is for a standard motor with a clockwise rotation. If you can’t find one, or can’t change the direction on your motor, simply move the slot to the other end of the plate. This will change the location of the grinder on the sharpening center’s top, which isn’t critical. Complete the slot using a saber saw (jigsaw), then locate mounting holes for the motor bolts using the base as a template. You can work from the top instead of trying to manipulate things inside the cabinet. Place two 2" pulleys on the arbor and center them on the slot before marking the mounting holes. Drill the holes and mount the motor to the underside of the plate (Fig. 14). I used large fender washers top and bottom and locking nuts with nylon inserts to avoid any loosening due to vibration.
Next, install three strips of 2½"-wide plywood or pine cleats to support the top. You may have to rip a little off one face for the cleats to be perfectly flush with the top of the cabinet. Two of these pieces can be glued and screwed to the tops of the long H frame panels. The other is just glued and clamped to the top inside face of the left end wall.
Make the drawers
The nominally ¾" plywood I bought for the drawer sides turned out to be only 11/16 " thick, which is pretty much the norm nowadays. After cutting the drawer fronts, backs and sides to size, set up a dado head in the table saw to plow a ½"-wide groove (check your bottom plywood thickness first and set your dado for a snug fit) on the inside face of each, for the drawer bottom. Now change the dado setup so the cut is exactly half the thickness of the drawer sides. You can establish this by running a piece of scrap through, then turning it over and making another pass at 90° to the first. Set the fence so that the distance between it and the cutter is this same dimension. Make a cut on the front inside face of each drawer side (not the fronts or backs) (Fig. 15). Keeping the exact same setup and height, mill a dado about 6" from the back of each drawer side (Fig. 16). A short auxiliary fence clamped to the regular fence reduces the risk of binding, and the cut can be guided with the miter gauge. By placing the back of the drawer a few inches from the ends of the sides, the drawers are cantilevered so they can be opened far enough to reach all the contents without leaving their glides.
Finally, mill two rabbets on the outside face of each drawer front and back. There’s no need to change the blade height. Just move the fence so the auxiliary fence allows a square cut (Fig. 17).
Dry-fit the drawers and make any
adjustments necessary. Cut the bottoms to size, install them in their dadoes,
and glue and clamp the sides, fronts and backs together. Don’t glue the
bottoms; they need to float a little to compensate for seasonal movement.
Measure diagonally to ensure that each drawer is square and flat as the glue
dries. (A mahogany drawer face will eventually cover the small dadoes in the
After the glue dries, set up the dado head in the table saw to make a 13/16" cut and run grooves for the drawer slides. The bottom of each drawer should run against the fence (Fig. 18). Depending on the quality of your plywood, you may want to apply hot-melt hardwood tape to the top edges. Test fit the drawers and you’re ready to tackle the door.
Door and drawer faces
In the last issue of Woodcraft Magazine, we explored using a shaper to build a raised panel door, and this is the actual door that was built for that story. If you own a shaper and the relevant cutters, refer to the article for fabrication instructions (available online with the access code found on page 9 in this issue). For those of us without access to a shaper, a simple flat-panel door is a sound option. Begin construction by cutting the stiles and rails to size. Mill a ¼"-wide by 3/8"-deep groove on the inside edges of all four parts, using either a dado head in the table saw, or a rabbeting bit chucked in a router table. Mill tongues on the ends of the rails and dry-fit the stiles to the rails. Cut the panel to size and glue up the door. Make sure it is square and flat as pressure is applied and allow the panel to float freely.
The edges of the door receive a beading profile
on the front face (a quarterround with a small step). A rabbet on the back lets
part of the door fit into the face frame of the cabinet, while the front sits
proud (which is known as an overlay). Both profiles can be milled in one pass
on the shaper (Fig. 19), or in several passes on a router table. Have your hinges
on hand, as they determine the elevation of the cutter. Test fit the door, and
install it with two hinges.
Glue up stock for the two drawer fronts and cut these to size. Mill the same profile on their edges. The easiest way to locate the drawer faces on the drawers is to use two-sided (carpet) tape. Slide the drawers into the cabinet after applying tape to each front. Center each drawer face in its opening and slide the drawer forward to make contact. Then permanently secure the faces with screws driven in from the back through countersunk, pre-drilled pilot holes. Choose an appropriate location for the drawer and door knobs, drill and install same.
Next make the door for the motor opening in the back. This can be a single board with the same treatment that the drawer faces received. (I made a mitered frame because I had the materials for it, but there’s no need to be so fancy.) Install the door with hinges mounted along the top edge.
The worktop on this station is well suited to its role. Solid surface material is non-porous and very flat, so it’s ideal for tasks where liquid is an element. The light color of this piece of Hi-Macs™ acrylic provides a background to reflect light and improve visibility. It’s workable too; and, best of all, it only cost $50 at a local cabinet shop. Any similar product will work. To support the top, reduce some 1x4 pine furring strips to 5/8" thickness. This can be done with a planer or on the table saw by raising the blade to about 2" and ripping one half at a time. Miter the furring strips to length and screw (1-1/8" drywall) and glue them to the three cleats you installed earlier. The outside of the furring strips should be flush with the outside of the cabinet. Add a piece to the top of the center divider, too. Miter some mahogany ¾" cove to wrap the outside of the furring strips, and glue and nail it in place (Fig. 20). Trim the solid surface top to size using a 3/8" straight bit and a straightedge clamped in place as a guide (Fig. 21). Apply a couple of ¼" beads of 100% clear silicon sealant/adhesive to the furring strips, center the top on the cabinet, and add some weight to keep in it place until the silicon cures (about 24 hours).
Remove the door and drawer hardware, sand down to 220-grit, and apply three coats of a clear finish to everything. Sand with 400-grit paper between coats. I like to use a water-based finish because of the lack of fumes, but it won’t amber over time like an oil-based coating will. After the finish dries, reinstall the hardware.
Instead of making a single shelf for the compartment behind the door, consider investing about $20 in some plastic containers. I found some Sterilite® versions (model 1804) that are 127/8" wide, 165/8" deep and 83/4" tall (Fig. 22). Three of them stack together to create a completely dust-free environment for about the cost of the shelf material.
For my water stones, I purchased a plastic basin and lined the bottom with inexpensive glass beads. The beads suspend the stones so they don’t sit on the bottom of the basin, and they allow water to soak in equally from all sides. Every sharpening station needs a perfectly flat lapping plate for truing the soles of planes and the backs of plane irons. This one began with a piece of ¼"-thick plate glass purchased at a local glass shop, where they polished the edges to remove any sharp corners. It is sized to take one and a half sheets of wet/dry emery paper on each face. This allows for two grits, which are usually 150 and 280. Anything finer than 280- grit is pretty ineffectual and tends to clog up quickly when working iron or steel. The paper should be applied with a spray adhesive.
With paper on the bottom of the plate, it has a fair amount of traction, but I still added a couple of L-shaped brackets made from some leftover countertop material (Fig. 23). I recessed a hole in the bottom of the bracket using a Forstner bit and this houses a nut that holds a knob and bolt in place. Then I drilled two slightly oversized holes in the countertop, so the bolts just drop into place. The brackets don’t screw into anything, and are not designed to lock the plate tightly: they just catch it if it decides to take a walk.
All that remains now is to arrange the equipment that you own on the top of the sharpening station, secure it in place, and install a power strip in the compartment behind the plastic drawers. The cord for the strip can be fed through a hole in the floor at the back of the compartment. All of the other cords can be fed through one or several holes in the top of the station. A 35mm Forstner bit makes just the right size hole, and a round over bit can ease the edges. My station has a 1" belt sander, a horizontal wet stone grinder, a work light (essential!), the lapping plate and an 8" vertical grinder. There are several slow-speed grinders available that rotate at speeds down to 1725 rpm (see sidebar on page 22), and they certainly do a great job. However, it’s possible to improve on that. Using old-fashioned pulleys and belts, a ball-bearing mandrel and a recycled electric motor, you can build a custom grinder specifically intended for woodworkers, rather than using one that is borrowed from metalworking.
Building the grinder
Assembled around a double-ended, threaded mandrel from Woodcraft Supply (#04R23), the shop-built grinder actually has two speeds. These are determined by changing a belt from a large 6" pulley (1150 rpm) to a smaller 4" one (3450 rpm). The mandrel is a 5/8" shaft supported by two pillow blocks, with a couple of locking collars. On one end of the shaft is a 1/2"-20 right-hand thread, while the other end has a left-hand thread.
By now, you have already mounted the motor inside the cabinet. If it ever needs to be repaired or replaced, it can be accessed through the small back door and/or by removing the drawers.
Following the drawing on page 17, locate the opening for the belt in the top of the sharpening center. The easiest way to cut a clean opening is to make a template and clamp it in place. The first step here is to chuck a straight bit in your router (3/8" works well because it’s neither too big nor too small for solid surface work). Measure from the bit to the edge of the router (a round base makes things simper), and add this dimension to each side of the opening. That determines the size of the hole that needs to be cut in a plywood or fiberboard (MDF) template. Set the table saw fence and drop the blade below the table. Position the template on the table and raise the blade slowly through it to cut out the waste (Fig. 24). Now clamp the template to the sharpening station’s tabletop and cut the opening in several incremental passes, plunging about 1/8" deeper on each pass (Fig. 25). Dress the edges with a 3/8"-radius bearing-guided roundover bit chucked in the router and you’re ready to make the mandrel’s mounting blocks.
These are two large blocks made by face-gluing several layers of plywood together. I used four pieces of ½" material to create a block that is 2" thick. Cut them a little bit large and, after the glue dries, trim the blocks to their final dimensions. Miter some ½"-thick pine to wrap the top and sides of each block and glue and clamp this trim in place. After the glue dries, trim the bottom edge.
Place the blocks where they belong on the sharpening center’s top, drill four pilot holes, and secure the mandrel to the blocks with four lag screws (Fig. 26). Secure the blocks to the top with four small L-brackets, predrilling pilot holes for the screws (Fig. 27).
The switch for the motor is attached to the small panel in the back of the sharpening center, and the ¼" plywood must be reinforced with a hardwood plate to handle it. Make this by cutting a piece of ½" mahogany to size and chamfering the edges slightly on the router table. Use a shallow electrical box (with flanges) as a template to locate holes in the ¼” panel and the plate, and then remove the waste with a saber saw (Fig. 28). Screw the box to the back of the plate (Fig. 29) and attach the plate to the station with a few dabs of silicon and six ¾" countersunk screws. Complete the wiring for the switch (consult an electrician if necessary and follow code), and then install the switch plate (Fig. 30).
Mount a friable 8" white aluminum oxide
60-grit stone on one side of the mandrel and an 8" x 1" stitched
buffing wheel or leather stropping wheel on the other. The white wheel is
softer than a standard silicon carbide gray wheel. It breaks down more easily
and presents new facets to the tool more readily, making it the ideal stone for
fine tool steel.
To prevent injury and reduce dust, the grinder is housed in a box. The sides and back of this housing are just ¾" plywood mitered at the corners and glued and nailed together. Cut the three sides to size, set the table saw blade at 45° and make the four miter cuts. Apply glue to the miters and secure them with 1-½" brads.
When the glue is cured, remove the clamps and place the housing on the sharpening center, centering it behind the two mounting blocks. Clamp it in place and locate the holes for two knobs that will lock it in place during use. The knobs should be centered on the mounting blocks 5" above the tabletop. They will screw into threaded inserts, which usually require a 3/8" hole, but for now just chuck an 1/8" bit in the drill and drill two pilot holes through the back of the housing into the mounting blocks.
Use the pilot holes in the mounting blocks to center a Forstner bit that is the same size as the plates on your threaded inserts. Drill two holes just deep enough to set the plates flush, then drill a 3/8" hole for each insert. Secure the inserts (Fig. 31), enlarge the two holes in the housing, and test your setup. The two knobs allow the entire housing to be removed for wheel changes, cleaning and other maintenance. If you can’t find these inserts locally, you can always use the barrel-shaped threaded inserts that are available from specialty hardware sup-pliers.
Using glue and 4d finish nails, add a strip of ¼"-thick hardwood to each of the two front edges. Now you can cut the plywood top to size and trim the front edge with ¼" hardwood. Install the top with glue and nails, set the nail heads, fill the holes and sand the filler when it’s dry.
A very simple molding hides the joint between the top and sides. It also creates a handy shelf on top of the grinder, which essentially gives you back the countertop hidden under the machine’s footprint. To begin milling the molding, set up an auxiliary zero clearance fence on the table saw. To do this, drop the blade below the tabletop, clamp a flat board to the fence, turn on the saw and raise the blade slowly about 15/8" into the board. About half of the thickness of the blade should be buried in the board. Next, move the fence back a little so that the entire width of the blade is visible, and then run your molding (Fig. 32). I have drilled and tapped a couple of holes in the cast iron wing of my Hitachi table saw so that I can install a plywood featherboard for operations such as this.
Now you can miter the molding to fit and
round over the front edges of the two side pieces on a sander before installing
all three with glue and finish nails. Set, fill and sand the nail holes. A
clear plastic eye guard (1/8" Plexiglas) is attached to a cleat and installed
at the front of the grinder above the wheels. For the cleat, cut a piece of hardwood
the full width of the housing and bevel one edge. Secure the plastic to this
edge with screws spaced about every 2" or so (Fig. 33). Predrill for the screws,
making the holes in the plastic a hair larger than the screws and the holes in
the wood a hair smaller. Glue and nail the guard in place, fill and sand the
nail holes and you’re done with the housing.
The tool rest
This is the last subassembly to build. Begin by cutting the two parts of its base to size, then mill a small rabbet along the bottom edge of the back. The easiest and safest way to do this is to just nibble it away on the table saw, using a push stick. Screw and glue the base together and use a sander to gently round the two front corners. The base will be attached to the grinder housing with more threaded inserts and knobs. Position the base in front of the housing and drill an 1/8" pilot hole through the base, centered in the side, high enough off the bottom of the base to provide plenty of clearance for the knob and your fingers. Enlarge the hole in the side for the threaded insert and do the same for the knob.
Next, cut the buffing plate to size and mill a rabbet along one edge. Locate six holes, spaced about 1/2" apart, for the buffing tool rest and drill them on the drill press (Fig. 34). These holes offer three locations for the tool rest, which is a standard stainless steel kitchen cabinet pull (Amerock®’s part number BP19010-SS). Any similar flat-topped pull will work. Replace the screws that come with the pull with a pair of knurled bolts from a hardware store. As the heads are quite small for fingers, it’s a good idea to pick up a couple of short spacers while you’re in the nuts and bolts aisle, and two fender washers to keep the spacers from eating into the wood.
Glue and screw the buffing guide to the tool rest base and cut a small cleat to fit below it for support. Screw the cleat in place and you can move on to the grinder tool rest. The first piece to make here is a spark shield. I used thin brass plate (Fig. 35) which I cut to shape on the band saw. The cutout should wrap very close to your wheel, within 1/16" ideally, to divert sparks down and out of the housing. Round the corners of the brass on a sander (wearing safety glasses, of course), and drill five holes near the bottom edge. Install the shield with dome-head brass screws.
The tool rest needs to be flexible enough
to present tools to the wheel at a variety of angles, and yet be stable and
solid. With this in mind, the top of the rest is a full 6" wide. Cut three
pieces of steel liners to length and give them a quick touch on the sander to break any sharp edges. Drill three countersunk
holes in two pieces, and two holes in the third. Cut the wooden sub-base to
shape (I actually edgeglued three pieces for this, to reduce the bandsaw work).
Then plow a dado across its top face (Fig. 36). Attach one of the sub-base
flanges, at 90° to the tool rest, with two screws through the dado.
Next, drill a hole in each end of the second sub-base flange for threaded inserts. It helps to use a countersink bit to center theses holes before using a twist drill to bore them. Install the inserts and then screw the two flanges together. This is just a butt joint, screwed and glued, but it must be at a perfect 90° in both planes. Screw the three pieces of steel to the sub-base and then run this assembly across a sander to chamfer the front edge (Fig. 37).
The sub-base is attached to an H-frame
made of a wide board sandwiched between two lengths of 3/8"- thick stock.
Begin by cutting the narrow stock to length and round over the top ends on a
sander (Fig. 38). Cut the wider board to size next. It’s very important that it
is exactly the same width as the sub-base flange. Attach the strips to the
board with glue and screws, then locate the holes for the threaded knobs and
dry-fit the H-frame to the sub-base flange.
The H is attached to a mounting block using about half of a 12" piano hinge. The block, in turn, is attached to the tool rest base using most of the rest of the hinge.
Two small stabilizers, one on each side of the assembly, lock it in place and provide a stable tool rest for chisels and plane irons as they are sharpened. These are ripped to size and their ends are rounded over before moving to the router table to create a stopped slot in each (Fig. 39). This is done with a 3/8" bit in several passes, gradually raising the bit until it penetrates the workpiece. Use pencil marks on the tabletop (or on masking tape stuck to the top) to locate the beginning and end of each cut. The long stabilizer also receives a drilled hole. Attach the short stabilizer to the right side of the rest, using a washer between the stabilizer and the rest: it is designed to bottom out where the two parts of the tool rest base meet. The longer stabilizer runs horizontally along the side of the housing, where it is locked in place by a knob, washer and threaded insert.
After installing the insert, sand all the parts and apply the finish of your choice. With a couple of coats of clear poly on my mahogany center, it looks as sharp as the edges it delivers.
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