Hyundai vs. Honda? Maybe Not.
Not long ago, I read that the Tormek slow speed grinder/sharpener called the “SuperGrind” was about to be duplicated by several manufacturers since the patent was about to expire. I don’t have any details about the patent expiration but that’s not the focus of this article. Instead, I’d rather discuss some of the similarities and differences between the original Tormek and the new Jet knock-off.
I’ve owned a Tormek for many years and I’ve grown to appreciate the quality of the finished edge that I get when I use it. My stone has slowly diminished from 10” to 8” in diameter and I recently decided that it would only be a short time before a new stone would be needed. After I found that replacement stones cost $125, I decided to see if there was an option to just sell the Tormek and get the Jet model. With a quick check on the web. I found that my Tormek was still worth $250. Since the new Jet sharpener is $299, so I decided it was worth a shot in light of the $125 replacement stone. For a brief time, both tools were in my shop so I decided it would be a good opportunity to write a brief article comparing the two.
The first thing you notice about the Jet is that it appears to be a bit beefier. This is due to a wider base, a more substantial handle, and a larger catch basin under the stone. The wider base is nice but I’ve never found the Tormek prone to tipping. The base on the Jet tool also has a small storage drawer that holds the stone grader, plane iron jig, and honing compound. An additional base is available which gives the tool an even wider stance and has a couple of extra drawers for storage.
The Tormek handle is a tribute to the simplicity of the tool but it doesn’t have a comfortable or secure feel. The rounded handle on the Jet is attached on both sides and feels more secure, giving it a slight edge over the Tormek. It’s a small detail but one of many that I’ll mention as you read on.
The water catch basin on the Jet is wider than the Tormek basin. It still doesn’t catch a significant part of the water when using the planer/jointer knife jig. Otherwise, it’s a useful improvement. One of nice things about the Jet is that the catch basin has two positions. When the stone diameter gets too small to use the lower holding slot for the catch basin, you can move it up to a higher slot that allows more of the stone to sit in the water. My Tormek stone is well worn and the basin has to be nearly full for it to make a reasonable dip into the water. The second slot on the Jet is a convenient and thoughtful addition. The Jet basin also extends out over the back of the wheel and catches slightly more water coming downward off the stone. One area of note: The Tormek basin holds 26 oz. of water and the Jet only holds 21 oz. As a result, the Jet will require refilling more often.
The Jet has two very significant improvements over the Tormek. The first is the addition of a speed control which allows the wheel to be adjusted from 90 to150 RPM. This improvement is primarily for use when the stone diameter has shortened (when the tool contact surface is less on each rotation). I have noticed a significant reduction in the speed at which I can grind a new bevel on a tool with my worn Tormek stone. The truth is that both of these tools are considerably slow to grind new profiles. The term “grinder” is less indicative of the capabilities of this tool. “Sharpener” is the ideal term for both.
Despite the recommended use of the higher speeds on the Jet only when the wheel diameter is reduced, I couldn’t help but crank up the speed on the factory-fresh 10” stone to see what would result. With the water basin full, 150 RPM creates a quick mess. However, a slight reduction in speed allowed me to sharpen a plane blade in about half the time of the slower setting. No big surprise there but it’s nice to know I can get the job done faster.
The second improvement is a torque adjustment. This is an effortless improvement that Tormek should have addressed a long time ago. Basically, Jet added a threaded knob which is screwed into the back side of the machine. It simply pushes against the motor and reduces slippage on the friction drive. The Tormek has often bogged down when coarse grinding some tools. For those who are not familiar with the Tormek, the motor pole spins directly against a rubber tire on the inside of the leather wheel. There are no gears so when there is too much pressure on the stone, the friction drive slips and the stone stops moving. Used in moderation, the torque adjustment on the Jet should eliminate the slipping issue without damaging the motor or rubber tire. In actual use, I’ve found that the Jet torque adjustment requires some finessing to get it to work correctly. When loose, the Jet has no torque at all and slips as soon as any pressure is placed on the stone. If I had to guess, I’d say Jet included this feature as a necessity, not a convenience. Regardless of the torque setting, the motor on the Jet is under-powered and will stall very easily. The stone grader and the stone truing tool will quickly bring the stone to a halt.
- The Jet sharpener has a small funnel on the inboard side of the stone which helps to direct drop-off water back to the catch basin. This is another simple improvement that really satisfies the user. There was never a moment in which the top of my Tormek machine was dry but it never affected the performance of the tool despite the tendency to create a watery mess on the bench top.
- The Tormek has small rubber pads on the bottom to prevent the tool from sliding on the work bench and reduce vibration. Unfortunately those rubber feet fell off from time to time. When that happened, the tool wobbled around until I could find the missing rubber piece. On the Jet, these rubber feet are attached more securely and I doubt this will ever become a problem.
- It’s not surprising that the Jet grinding jigs are identical to the Tormek. Retailers are advertising that the Tormek jigs are fully compatible with the Jet. I tested the gouge, planer/jointer, stone truing, and a few other jigs and they all work on the Jet without any issues. The plane iron jig that comes with the Jet looks like it came from the same mold as the Tormek but I’ve found that the plastic guide bushings on the Jet jig come off easily which makes the jig seem cheap. Additionally, the spring inside the plane iron jig is too wide and it doesn't allow you to easily square the plane iron to the alignment pins.
- The Jet has several jigs that are not available from Tormek (of course, the Jet jigs will also work on the Tormek). Jet offers a jig for sharpening on the side of the stone which gives you a flat bevel that is great for Japanese chisels.
- The jig post on both machines is threaded and “micro-adjustable” which is, at best, a minor convenience. The planer/jointer jig is the only tool in which the micro-adjustability is absolutely necessary.
- The Tormek comes with a very informative book that covers every jig in their line. It’s a treasure trove of sharpening information if you don’t lose it. And that is important because most of the Tormek jigs do not come with the caliber of instructions that you’ll find in the main manual. The Jet has a plain paper manual that only covers the bare essentials of sharpener’s uses. However it does come with a DVD that covers many of the jigs. The Tormek manual is more convenient in the shop than a DVD. Who do you know that has a DVD player in their shop?
- The Jet comes with “Flitz” metal polishing compound. It seems a bit tacky that they couldn’t at least re-label it with the Jet logo. It works as well as the Tormek paste but I’ve always preferred to use an automobile polishing liquid instead. It’s much less expensive and leaves a better edge.
- Both machines come with angle guides which show the correct sharpening angle when adjusted to the stone size. The Tormek is one piece of plastic that measures the angle of the jig and also can measure the current angle on the tool. The Jet uses one jig to set the tool sharpening jig and a separate jig to measure the current tool angle.
No matter where you buy a Tormek, you’ll find the same price of $399. The Jet is only $299 and I suspect that price will vary slightly from dealer to dealer. Honestly, I consider both to be over-priced but either will sharpen a tool with laser-like precision and I would be lost without one.
Fit and Finish
The Tormek has the “edge” over the Jet in this category. While the Jet tool jig post is milled smoother than the Tormek, the female guide bushing that holds the post in place is not milled cleanly. This leaves a little slop in the tool post when the locking knobs are loose. Additionally, On the Jet, neither the stone nor the leather honing wheel runs as true as the Tormek. Of course, the stone wheel can be trued rather easily with the appropriate jig. And as mentioned previous, the plastic bushings on the plane iron jig routinely popped out. My plan is too carefully glue the bushings in place with polyurethane adhesive.
I've noticed that tool post on the Jet is not a rigid as the Tormek. This makes it very difficult to sharpen any tool and keep a square edge. The stone truing tool mounted on the Jet tool post provides the clearest indication that the tool post is poor of quality. In use, the truing tool seems to ride the stone while the tool post deflects up and down. It takes a controlled hand to move the truing tool across the stone evenly. The temptation to press down on the jig is always present but on the Tormek, pressing downward on the tool yielded very little difference. The opposite is true of the Jet which bows up and down very easily.
Long Term Follow-up:
The stone wheel on the Jet does not appear to be as durable as the Tormek stone. I've owned the Tormek for several years and never had to replace the stone. On the other hand, the Jet stone is now 3 months old and it is already worn down by .8 inches. Based on this, I suspect the stone will only last another 9 to 12 months. As you can tell, I use this tool very (very) often. Another indication of the Jet stone wheel's poorer quality is the tendency of the stone to lose its "grading" very quickly. On the Tormek, the stone grader tool would usually change the aggresiveness of the stone for the amount of time it would take to complete the sharpening task. However, the Jet requires constant re-grading.
Long Term Follow-Up 2:
As expected, the stone on the Jet didn't hold up very well. It began to quickly shrink after hitting the 8" point. By 6.5" the stone was useless so I ordered a Tormek stone to replace it. I've also had several problems with rust eating away the main drive shaft. On many occasions, the machine would not start at all because rust had bound up the shaft. To fix it, I had to disassemble the unit and put the shaft on my lathe and then sand/polish it. I've applied numerous lubricants and only found one that held up for any appreciable amount of time (Mobile-1 synthetic grease). Interestingly, my Tormek has never needed to be lubricated.
Sharpening Results & Conclusion
Both machines sharpen tools nicely. The Jet is most likely faster thanks to the higher RPM but it requires attention to the torque adjustment. I’m unable to confirm the exact improvement in speed since my Tormek wheel is notably smaller than the new Jet wheel. Both machines left a razor-sharp edge that would satisfy the most demanding woodworker.
I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of knock-offs. Most often, these knock-offs seem to be built strictly for the sake of profit. The Jet is so similar to the Tormek design that it's sickening but they have clearly tried to improve upon a classic tool. In some areas they succeeded but other areas leave you thinking otherwise.
So you may be wondering where I stand after comparing these two tools. Originally, I thought the Jet was the top tool. At face value it looks better, faster, and more economical. I sold my original Tormek and kept the Jet. Now, 3 months later, I'm regretting that decision. My plan is to sell off the Jet and re-purchase a Tormek. The Jet's poor performing motor and weak tool rest are the deal breaker. The Tormek is more expensive and lacks the bells and whistles but it does the job at hand (flawlessly) without fuss.