A Question for Woodworkers

A few weeks ago I worked at the Northwest Woodworking Studio booth at The Woodworking Show in Portland, OR.   We decided to use “idle” time to hone some of the student tools the Studio keeps on hand for class work.  Gary Rogowski brought along one of the electric grinders from the Studio.  I brought a hand-cranked grinder from my shop.  To my surprise, it drew a crowd.  If I needed to rustle up a group of woodworkers, it seemed that a few sparks from the grinder were all it took.  A lot of the show attendees wondered about efficiency and results.  In an exhibit hall dominated by new woodworking gadgets, many of them with thick cords, my modest little grinder must have looked awfully out of place.

I can’t (and don’t) claim to be original in my use of this tool.  A lot of students who’ve attended the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking program, started by James Krenov, have settled on the hand grinder as a useful tool.  So much so, in fact, that the few suppliers who used to carry a small inventory of grinders are all out of stock.  Mine came from eBay.

In any event, all of the interest at the Woodworker’s Show made me think that publishing information on this setup might be useful to folks just starting down the road to sharper tools, or those who are looking for a different path than one littered with tangled cords.  I pitched the article to Fine Woodworking, and after due deliberation, they said “No Thanks”.  I suspect an idea like this might offend one of their many fine advertisers.

Now, Popular Woodworking is mulling it over and I expect to hear something from them in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll just throw the question out and see what happens:  Does the idea of grinding tools quietly, by hand, still have any appeal?


Jeff Zens owns and operates Custom Built Furniture in Salem, Oregon.  He is a frequent woodworking instructor at the Northwest Woodworking Studio in Portland, Oregon.

Categories: Woodworking | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “A Question for Woodworkers

  1. Nancy Pautsch

    Hi Jeff,
    Glad to hear that there is interest in your hand grinder. I believe I mentioned at the recent sharpeing class you taught that I by far liked the hand grinder vs the motprized one.

    I felt, as a novice to sharpening, that I actually had more control with the hand turned method, not to mention the quiet! It is more in line with my preferred mode of woodworking.

    Thanks for bringing it and shwoing us an alternative.


  2. Phil Lang

    Mr. Zens:

    I have only recently discovered your blog, but I have enjoyed going through it. Keep up the good work; I hope that you continue.

    I also hope that your proposed article on your hand-grinding setup comes to fruition. When I first became interested in woodworking, now over 30 years ago, I assumed that if James Krenov chose a hand grinder, it must be THE correct method. It’s a method I still use. Over the years, the whole notion of working “quietly” has had growing appeal for me as the presence of hand tools and techniques has increased in my shop. I look forward to seeing what you and others have to say about hand grinders, their use, and techniques.

    Thanks both for your willingness to share your philosophy, ideas, and experience, and the time and effort to do so. I appreciate it.


    • Jeff

      Mr. Lang;

      Thank you for your kind words. It is gratifying to see a comment here and there. If you like, it is possible to subscribe to the blog, and receive notification via email when I am able to post new work.

      I strongly agree with your choice to work quietly as much as possible. Over the years – and despite significant caution to protect my hearing – it isn’t what it once was. As a result, I’ll choose a hand tool over an electric one every time that choice makes sense. Beyond the benefits to one’s hearing, work at the bench is where craftsmanship begins.

      As for the proposed article, I haven’t heard anything yet, and I’ll give the magazine until the end of the month. Then I’ll write it anyway but post it here Either way, my modest setup will be available for your review.




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