Jon Magill wrote a really great article where he wrote:

Cutters must be sharp! You will never achieve a reflective cut off the tool, which is always the goal in OT, if your cutter is not sharp. I once read that you can never get a better finish off of your tool than the finish on the tool itself. In other words, unless your cutter has a mirror finish, you cannot expect to produce a mirror finish on your work.

Historical Approach

With regards to sharpening, the method outlined by J.H. Evans in Ornamental Turning is

  1. Primary Bevel
    1. Use an oil stone
    2. Use a brass plate with oilstone powder and oil

  2. Secondary / Micro bevel (Evans recommended +3°)
    1. Use a brass plate with oilstone powder and oil
    2. Use a cast iron plate with very fine crocus powder and oil

  3. Debur - very lightly on the back side
    1. Use a cast iron plate with very fine crocus powder and oil

Sharpening Media

Oilstone Powder is very hard to find these days. One can find it occasionally on eBay or other similar sites, but similar products are available from clockmaker suppliers. One which offers such powders is Ernst Westphal.

Fragments of oilstone, when pulverized, sifted and washed, are much in request by mechanicians. This abrasive is generally preferred for grinding together those fittings of mathematical instruments and machinery, which are made wholly or in part of brass or gun metal, for oilstone being softer and more pulverulent than emery, is less liable to become embedded in the metal than emery, which latter is then apt continually to grind, and ultimately damage the accuracy of the fittings of brass works. In modern practice it is usual, however, as far as possible, to discard the grinding together of surfaces, with the view of producing accuracy of form, or precision of contact.

Oilstone powder is preferred to pumice-stone powder for polishing superior brass works, and it is also used by the watchmaker on rubbers of pewter in polishing steel.

From Industrial Recipes by Dr. John Phin, pg. 116-117

Diamond-based lapping compounds should be a very effective alternative.

I have not done any testing with ornamental tools, but products like Kent Grit Diamond Lapping Paste Polishing Compounds should be usable. They are oil based and come in grits from 40 microns, all the way down to 0.25 microns.When used with paper wheels on a grinder, they are very effective for polishing knife edges to be better than razor sharp.

Current Approaches

The Accu-Finish machine has been used for years by machinists, and is also used by some ornamental turners. These machines use diamond wheels, or a ceramic lapping wheel with a diamond spray. This is a really great machine, especially as it has a built-in goniostat. But it can be a bit expensive.

I've found the Tormek grinder to meet my needs, though I did have to make some of my own jigs.

More Information

Published Articles
  • Build an Overhead Drive by Jon Magill
    AAW's "American Woodturner", Volume 23, #1 - Spring 2008, pg 30

  • Fixed Tool Technique on a Rose Engine by Al Collins. Al gets into how he sharpens his fixed tools in this article.
    OTI Newsletter, Volume 27, No. 2 - October, 2020, pg. 4

  • Preparation of Cutters for LE Cutting Frame by John Tarpley
    LW Rose Engine News, Volume 1, No. 1 - Spring-Summer, 2010, pg. 7

Books and Papers
Web Sites

The video to the right shows a demonstration of an Accu-Finish that was given at the 2018 Ornamental Turners International Symposium.

About this site
Disclaimer : eMail comments to me at OTBookOfKnowledge @ The process of woodturning involves the use of tools, machinery and materials which could cause injury or be a health hazard unless proper precautions are taken, including the wearing of appropriate protective equipment.