In order to get the most out of your lathe you will need sharp, well maintained tools. Wood lathe tools take a lot of abuse, much more so that most of the other equipment in your toolbox. This is simply as a result of the amount of wood they can go through in a short amount of time. Carving a large piece of wood that is turning at high velocity is enough to dull even the best chisel.
So what can you do to keep your tools sharp? The first and one of the most important things you should be doing is cleaning your chisels after each use. This small step will go a along way towards prolonging the lifetime of your tools and keeping them sharp. Taking good care of your chisel set with regular cleaning will result having to sharpen them less often and better results from your carving.
You want to keep your tools as sharp as possible, but you don’t want to sharpen them too much. Each time you sharpen your wood lathe tools you are grinding a little bit of them away, and over the lifetime of your tools this will wear them down until they are little more than wood handles with little metal stubs on them. You might not have seen this happen, but believe me it does!
That said, all the cleaning in the world won’t stop your tools from dulling if you use them frequently, at some point they will need to be sharpened. The process of sharpening a chisel is a fairly precise art, and the best thing to do is have an experienced wood turner show you how to do it. Failing that I would recommend watching a video of wood lathe tools being sharpened, as there’s really no substitute for seeing it done.
With all that said I will give a quick overview of the steps needed to sharpen a chisel. First off you will need a tool grinder, preferably one that runs over three thousand RPM and for your wheel you will want aluminum oxide with something like sixty grit.
You should always wet your wheel with a little bit of water before sharpening, to prevent sparks and keep your tools from catching. Depending on the specific chisel or gouge you want to sharpen you will need to use different angles of attack and pressures to achieve the desired result. Tools should be applied to the wheel, with a light pressure, taking care not to force them as this can result in nicks and scratches, and it can be very dangerous if your tool catches at 3000 RPM.
With regular cleaning and sharpening you will keep your wood lathe tools at their best and your wood turning projects will never suffer because of inferior tools. There’s nothing worse than working on a project for weeks only to have a gouge with a nick in it catch your spindle and snap it in two.