Should We Sharpen Cutters In House?

Opinions vary: some see savings and convenience benefits, but others note expense, time, and safety concerns. July 30, 2007

It has gotten to the point that we are spending 500.00+ a month sharpening router bits (CNC router), saw blades, planer knives (24"), shaper/molding knives, etc. Then we wait about a week, and maybe they're done.

I have been considering setting up a small tooling station, something for which I am not familiar with. Is there a machine that could be considered universal? Any good books that I could buy to teach myself, then an employee? At 500+ a month, do you think it's worth the cost of machinery?

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor X:
Yes, I do. I'd train your most senior man to do the sharpening. He'd be the one allowed to do all change-ups on machinery, provided he has the knack for it. Safety reasons. You, of course, must know everything. Check out E-bay for Foley and Belsaw equipment. That's where I got all my equipment for sharpening.

From contributor L:
You might want to think about switching over to diamond coated cutting tools, especially if you are doing a lot of MDF.

From contributor T:
Over the years I have seen many shops try this, only to end up back to sending their tools out for sharpening. The equipment costs and material costs far exceed what a small to medium shop is spending on service. There is not a single machine that can sharpen all of the tools that you have mentioned. You will spend far more in the long run and get far worse results compared to a professional service.

But the biggest factor to consider is safety. Carbide that most of today's cutting tools are tipped in or made of produces hazardous dust when ground. It has been known to cause respiratory diseases in those exposed to the fine dust created during grinding. Sharpening services have specialized dust collection systems to minimize the exposure to this dust. Your standard woodworking dust collection will not do. Also, the grinding processes can at times produce sparks. In woodworking facilities this can cause fires or explosions due to sawdust.

Your best bet is to continue to use a reputable sharpening service and save yourself the headache.

From the original questioner:
Thank you for your input. I have thought about the diamond route - it does make a lot of sense. I need to investigate the cost versus tool life. Most of the sharpening we have done is the router bits - 1/4, 3/8 and a special drawer bit for the dovetails. Most of the material is 3/4 melamine and 1/2" Baltic birch.

Contributor T, I agree, your prospective is much like mine. I actually have a small machine shop in-house with lathe, mill, TIG welder, grinders, etc. These machines, although handy for when pieces and parts break, do not get along well with the cabinet shop dust. I am the only one that uses these old machines. Also, with what I can afford for more grinding equipment, I cannot imagine trying to teach someone unfamiliar what .010"- .015" run-out feels like. Yep, the destroyed parts pile looks bigger every minute!

From contributor F:
I don't think it would be worth it. It takes a lot of different machines to sharpen the needs of a cabinet shop. It also takes a lot of expertise to learn each technique per tooling type. A guy I know who had done me a few favors bought all the equipment and started a sharpening shop. I felt obliged to send some work his way. The guy proceeded to ruin two of my best sawblades in spite of his machines and the training he got from the equipment vendor. So, never again for my cutters. I am back to doing business with my regular sharpening shop. A good round saw man is hard to find.