Now that the Jet Slow Speed Wet Sharpener has been on the market for a while, I guess this isn’t a new tool review. Then again, you might say this never was a new tool at all.
Unless you live under a woodworking rock, you have heard this sharpener called a knockoff, an imitator or a price-point answer to a good-but-expensive machine.
There is no hiding the fact that it looks a great deal like the Tormek, works similarly, and has similar jigs. This puts me in a bit of an awkward position. I have been around the woodworking industry for a long time. I own a Tormek and know and respect the inventor and his representatives. I also have reviewed a lot of Jet equipment in the past and own several Jet machines. I’ll try to be as objective as possible and let the chips fall where they may.
The “new-tool question” is not unique to this sharpener. Look around your shop: table saws, bandsaws, almost every major woodworking machine is similar in design, distinguished only by features. Why?
Sometime in the past, someone came up with a great design that worked better than the competition and was economically feasible to manufacture. Even if the design was protected, eventually that protection expired and similar machines came to market. Some were better, some worse; but any good design eventually gets copied. It is not only machinery, it’s your computer and its software, your microwave – that seems to be the natural evolution of an invention.
OK, I’m off my soapbox now and on to making tools sharp.
Accessories and Instructions
The package from Jet which I tested came with the standard accessories: support arm, stone grader, straight edge jig, honing compound, existing angle measuring device, angle measuring device and instructional DVD. The kit package also contained a machine cover and two-drawer base.
After watching the DVD, setup (which is really only mounting the pre-trued grinding wheel and prepping the leather-covered honing wheel) took only minutes. The DVD features Ernie Conover, one of the best instructors in woodworking. Ernie covers all phases of the sharpener, including setup and use of the optional jigs.
Watching the DVD with Ernie’s concise and easy instructions will quickly have you using your sharpener. But the old guy in me still wants a printed manual. I don’t have a DVD player in my shop. Six months from now when I pull out a jig I haven’t used since I first played with the machine, I don’t want to have to go to the house and watch a DVD. I would rather just have printed instructions for a quick review.
Jet’s sharpening system features include a new angle setup jig, variable speed control dial, an original-angle-finding jig and a water tray with flared edges.
Jet v. Tormek: Similarities
The Jet is very similar in overall appearance to the Tormek, and there are a lot of similarities in use.
Each has a large wet bath grinding wheel on the right side, a honing wheel on the left and a support arm for locating the different tool jigs with two positions on the main housing to mount the support arm. The latter feature allows the jigs to be used with the stone turning into or away from the tool edge.
They both use stone graders which alter the surface of the stone to imitate a coarse surface for fast material removal or a finer finish surface, and both use jigs to ensure proper grinding angles.
So what is the difference? Actually, the Jet has several unique features.
The Jet uses a DC motor with replaceable brushes, which performed flawlessly while I tested the machine (and I was the third tester/abuser of this particular unit). I let it run continuously for several hours between uses. The motor never heated up enough to be uncomfortable to touch. I could slow the motor with a large turning tool, applying far more pressure than you would ever use in normal sharpening.
The motor shaft drives directly against a rubber-covered wheel inside the honing wheel. As the drive wheel glazes or gets wet, you can increase the pressure of the shaft against the drive wheel with the “torque adjuster.” Just turn the exterior mounted knob until the slippage stops. Like most of the Jet’s distinguishing features, this is clever and simple.
One of the biggest differences to me was the speed control. The speed can be dialed in from 90 to 150 rpm. I felt being able to increase the speed for reshaping reduced my grinding time and definitely was a plus when honing. The Jet grinding wheel seems to cut faster than my Tormek wheel, and by increasing the speed I could quickly remove metal without feeling like I needed to press the tool into the wheel. Also, I could dial the speed down to slow the process when sharpening small carving tools.
Jet added the speed control as a means of compensating for the stone decreasing in diameter from wear, but in reality the value of changing the speed is to match the grinding speed to your application.
Water splash shields on the top of the Jet sharpener and a wide flange on the tank catch more water than my Tormek. Not all, but more. Maybe it’s me, but I manage to splash water around the machines and up my arm every time I sharpen. There is just less mess with the Jet. The main body of the Jet also has end panels that keep water and general debris out of the machine.
The main body of the Jet has a small built-in drawer which is great for storing the grading stone, honing compound and a black felt marker. Simple, but useful. Also, the cover has a flap so you can expose the handle to move the machine with the cover on.
I think the argument over which is better will continue in shops, stores and woodworking Web sites. Just like: “Which table saw should I buy?” or “Which fence is best?”
The Jet sharpener sharpened every tool I tried and performed without a hitch while I had it – the same thing my Tormek has been doing for eight years. I’m afraid the decision is yours. The time tested and proven machine, or the new machine with some unique (for now) features.
— Tim Rinehart is a contributing editor to Woodcraft Magazine.