Review By Dean Bielanowski  M.Power Website - http://www.m-powertools.com


DMT M.Power P.S.S
Precision Sharpening System

Review

By Dean Bielanowski

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Sharpening chisels and plane blades has to be one of the more mundane tasks in the workshop. At least it is without some good sharpening gear anyway. But the joy of using a sharp chisel or hand plane seems to make that mundane tasks almost enjoyable... almost. But with some decent sharpening tools, the boredom that is blade sharpening seems to disappear.

I have a Triton wet sharpener, which is similar to the Tormek wet sharpener, and considered a pretty good tool for sharpening and honing many types of chisels and blades. It is in fact the sharpening machine I use most often in the workshop for my hand tools when they need a touch up. But those types of machines are expensive to buy, require a lot of initial setup and can sometimes take longer to prepare the machine itself than it takes to actually sharpen a blade. And they are really only good for touchup work, as there slow speed grinding makes any kind of edge reshaping a long and arduous task - for this I usually hit the high speed dry grinder.

So when the M.Power P.S.S. sharpening system was shown to me, naturally I took interest in it. And after using it for some time, I think it is quite worthy of a review, and so here we are...

DMT M.Power P.S.S.
The M.Power P.S.S. is a device for sharpening flat blades, namely chisels and plane irons/blades. It consists of only three components. 1. The machined P.S.S. base, which is made from solid aluminum and finished beautifully. 2. The blue top carriage which also appears to be made from aluminum and looks like anodized aluminum at that. 3. The removable DMT diamond stones.

The blue aluminum carriage offers a sliding dovetail fit to the base. The mating surfaces require light machine oil to act as a lubricant during use. On each side of the carriage is a holder for the diamond stones included in the kit. On one side, the stone holder sets the stone at a 25 degree angle, while on the other side the angle is set to 30 degrees. These are the two most common bevel angles found on most chisels and plane irons. On the two primary carriage sliding surfaces you will find Nylon 66 type slip rails for smooth gliding action over the base. Additionally, a rounder rubber finger grip is found on each end of the carriage.

Two DMT diamond sharpening stones are included in the kit, a black, coarse stone, and a white fine stone. Additional stones are available as accessories for even faster grinding or further refining of an edge and come in 120 grit (grey), 600 grit (red) or 1200 grit (green). I would recommend these extra stones, especially if you are looking for a sharpening system to retouch blade edges only. The various stones (diamond plates) fit into the carriage holder by way of a powerful round magnet. The back side of the diamond stone also has a round recess to match the protruding magnet on the carriage. The magnet holds the stone flat in place ready to use and prevents it moving around when sharpening.

The base has four rubber feet, one set in each corner to help prevent the base moving as it is sharpened. These work well on most workbench surfaces but I noticed they tend to slip slightly on polished or very smooth surfaces when the tool is quite new. After a while as the rubber roughens up, it tends to grip a lot better, but for the most part it works quite effectively.

The base is recessed on one side to accommodate a chisel or plane iron with one edge at a perfect 90 degrees to the carriage guide. This ensures that any blade butted up against the base edge along its own edge will have its cutting surface parallel to the motion of the carriage, which results in material being grinded across its surface, rather then from point-to-butt as you would get when sharpening a chisel with most other methods. This method may have its draw backs, particularly when it comes to re-shaping an edge, however, that type of mass material removal is best done on a high speed dry grinder. The M.Power P.S.S. can do it, but it will take a while and the tool is best used for touching up existing bevels or near-straight edges. Small knicks in edges are no problem, but larger deep ones require a lot of material removal and it is best to hit them with a dry grinder first before taking them to the M.Power P.S.S. for finer edge work.

The M.Power P.S.S. can handle pretty much any sized chisel, down to as small as 3mm, and can handle plane irons up to 2 1/2" wide.

Testing the M.Power P.S.S.
I always have chisels that need sharpening in my shop. Many of them have an uncanny knack of appearing to be demolition tools it seems and they get used as nail removal tools, cold chisels and many other weird and whacky uses any self-respecting woodworker would cringe at! Nonetheless, I do keep my high quality chisels for woodworking only, with these cheaper and lesser quality chisels handling the "rough" jobs in my shop and in my home renovation process. So I will, for the purpose of this review, show the progress of sharpening a knicked and slightly rounded edge chisel as it makes its way to a nicely sharpened and keen edge using the M.Power P.S.S. system, working through the various grits of diamond stones. Additionally I will also show here how quick and easy it is to touch up an edge on a plane iron that is already in pretty good shape edge-wise, but has simply dulled a little through normal use.  

Starting with the chisel, which was in dire need of edge work. Usually I would hit the dry grinder with an edge starting out like this to save time, but for the purpose of the review, I decided to sharpen it from the start using the P.S.S. Firstly, it is important to ensure the back of the chisel is as flat as can be. The P.S.S. system cannot really flatten the back of a chisel or plane iron easily, so I eventually used another flat diamond lapping stone I have to flatten and polish the back first. Without a flat back, the bevel sharpening will not be even and square. To show this I started sharpening the chisel without working the back first. You can see the results in the images below.

I have the triple pack of accessory stones, one of which is an "extra coarse" 120 grit stone, which is the coarsest stone available for the P.S.S. so that is the best option to work on a rusty, dulled edge requiring shaping. With the 120 grit stone on the carriage, it was a bit of labor to get the bevel cleaned up and squared, as you can see in the accompanying photos. It took me perhaps two evenings of fairly intense sharpening to get a flat bevel happening on the previously hollow beveled edge, admittedly poorly formed on the grinding wheel of my bench grinder a long time ago! This was hard work!


Ok here we can see the results of the initial shaping and sharpening of a chisel. Note in the right image the scratch marks running parallel to the cutting edge of the chisel. This is in contrast to the vertical marks you would get from sharpening on a grinder. You can also see the bevel was not previously sharpening uniformly on a grinder, with the left edge pitted to some degree. We need to work up through the stone grits to eventually flatten and smooth these scratch marks out.

The best way to move forward from here is to work your way up through the grits of the stones to refine and polish the edge. So in next goes the Black stone (180 grit), which is part of the kit and is the next grit up in rank. The goal when using the next finer grit stone is to try and remove all the scratch marks left by the previous coarse stone used. The ultimate goal is a mirror finished bevel with a keen, razor-sharp edge. As the carriage is moved over the chisel, you can hear and feel the diamond stone contacting the bevel. Sometimes I found it tough to hold the chisel in place against the reference edge because the stone would "grab" the bevel and want to move it. While the instructions indicate that no water or oil needs to be used on the diamond stones, I decided to add a few drops of light machine oil on the stone. This seemed to reduce the incidences of "grabbing" of the bevel and also helped float the metal debris taken from the bevel up off the diamond surface. It did make sharpening a messy affair however. You could also use water for similar benefit. After removing all the larger scratches from the grey stone using the black stone, I switched to the white stone to remove the scratches left by the black stone!


On the left is the chisel in question being sharpened. The blue carriage is move back and forth (in the direction of the yellow arrow) while the chisel sits bevel up and against the straight reference edge in the base (to the left of the chisel in the pic). On the right you can see the results after the finer white stone was used. The scratches are much less visible and the bevel is more refined.

Ok so now I have a somewhat useable bevel. it is not perfect, but I am merely testing the P.S.S. in perhaps its toughest situation, on a poorly formed chisel edge to begin with. So next I hit the bevel with the red and eventually the green diamond stone, which is 1200 grit. You can certainly feel the difference in grits as you sharpen the bevel. The scratching noise gives way to a more rubbing noise and the whole action is a lot smoother. If you were only touching up edges of well-formed chisel or plane bevels, then you would probably only need the green stone, maybe the red but life is much easier when you get to the point of using these fine stones.


This is the result of sharpening on the P.S.S. after using the 1200 grit stone. Sorry the front edge looks rough, but this is where it shaved a bit of the table surface as I pushed it toward the camera lens for a better macro photo, so I know the edge is at least pretty sharp! You can also see the left edge still showing the uneven back with the light gap, hence the importance of flattening the chisel back to begin with. You can still see the scratch marks from the stone, although they are much less visible and I have highlighted them through photo modification to make them stand out more for the purpose of the photo.

With the chisel now having received a 1200 grit diamond treatment, the bevel is much more refined and the chisel is again reasonably sharp given my lack of properly flattening the back before hand. It still cuts very well regardless and is very useable for most carpentry applications. What it does not have (yet) is a mirror finish edge. This would require further honing or polishing using even finer 2000, 4000 or 6000 grit stones, but these are not available for the P.S.S. (at this stage anyway).

Now onto the plane blade. This blade has come from a Stanley No.4 bench plane and has the original edge ground at the factory, but is carrying a couple hours of use on pine, followed by sitting on a shelf for 4 months. As a result, the edge is showing a few light surface rust marks, but has a pretty good bevel formed with sharp corners and edges. This is the type of blade that the P.S.S. really works well for... that is, one with a well shaped edge and bevel to begin with, requiring only touching up of the edge, rather than massive bevel and edge reforming or reshaping.


Here is the plane blade straight from the Stanley No.4 hand plane. Note the slight surface rust and edge wear through normal use.

For the plane iron, I went straight to the 600 grit red diamond stone as the edge just needed a little touch up. The back of the plane blade was nice and flat, having worked the back flat and smooth previously. The plane iron does appear to have a small micro-bevel, and this did appear to be re-shaped (or rather, widened) slightly during the sharpening process using the P.S.S. This plane iron has a 25 degree bevel, as opposed to the 30 degree bevel on the chisel, so I simply added the diamond stones to the preset 25 degree side of the P.S.S. carriage and away I went. Again I started with the red stone, using it dry and this worked ok, but I do find a little water or light oil helps remove the abraded particles away from the diamond surface and speeds up sharpening a touch. After the red stone had worked its magic refining the edge and removing the surface rust, the green 1200 grit stone was added and a about 20 or so passes of the carriage over the bevel had it nicely refined and in better working order than it had come straight out of the box.


You can see the difference in the edge here after sharpening it using the P.S.S. system. The bevel is smoothed and the front edge refined to remove any small knicks.
The table surface is not completely flat, hence the light gap along the bottom edge.

So for edge refining the P.S.S. works very well and is quick and easy to apply. Now, for the purpose of the review, I do want to copy and paste and some claims made on the official product website, and then, in my own opinion after having used the M,Power P.S.S. system, verify whether the claims are true or otherwise, or give my opinion about the marketing blurb.

Claim 1 - "No Set Up Time"
True, for the most part. If you don't consider adding the small diamond plates to the carriage or adding oil to the sliding surfaces, than yes there is no other real set up time, but adding oil and the diamond stone takes mere seconds so there is "some" set up time, although it is miniscule.

Claim 2 - "Safe - Simple - Quick to use"
Yes, Yes, and Yes. The P.S.S. is safe, at least it was for me, is simple (no complicated procedures or instructions to follow) and is quick to use, but only for existing edge refining or touch up. Reshaping bevels is slow and tedious compared to some other methods.

Claim 3 - "Unique Lateral Sharpening action ensures a superb edge and a flat ground finish"
The action is quite unique and does ensure a reasonable edge that is certainly workable and useful. It will flat grind a bevel to a good finish, but you will need the accessory stones, especially the 600 and 1200 grit stones to get a nice finish suitable for finer detail work. I think if they could offer a 4000 or 6000 grit stone or similar to fit the P.S.S. that would make it even better!

Claim 4 - "The blade remains stationary when sharpening - so it's very safe"
True. Although for really poorly shaped blade bevels it can be difficult to keep the blade steady and against the reference fence. But yes the P.S.S. I would consider safer than many other forms and methods of sharpening.
 

Claim 5 - "Sharpens square edge chisels and plane irons from 1/8th' (3mm) to 2 1/2' (64mm)"
True. It does sharpen a wide variety of chisels and plane irons in the width range as stated. Note that it does only sharpen square edge blades however.

Claim 6 - "Change the grade of DMT diamond stone instantly with the magnetic lock in (5 DMT grades available)"
True. Diamond stone changes are quick and easy. No tools are required to add or remove the stones from the carriage and the magnet holds the blades flat against the carriage for accuracy. Well thought out system that works, as most simple ideas do!

Claim 7 - "Change the sharpening angle from 25' primary to 30' secondary instantly"
Yes, just add the diamond stone to the magnetic lock in on the other side of the carriage to switch from 25 degrees to 30 degree sharpening, or vice versa.

Claim 8 - "Built to last - Machined in solid aluminum and finished in a hard wearing anodize"
The base and carriage are very well machined and finished smooth. They should last a long time, assuming light oil is applied regularly to reduce friction between carriage and base surfaces.

Claim 9 - "Carriage runs on Nylon 66 slip rails for a smooth action"
I'm no Nylon expert so I can't verify the "Nylon 66" claim, but yes the carriage rails do provide a smooth gliding action, helped with occasional cleaning and re-application of light machine oil.

Conclusion
The M.Power Precision Sharpening System is an interesting device. Like almost any other sharpening system out there, it has its pros and cons. On the plus size, it is very simple to operate and use. The principle is simple but it works. It is best used by those who like to maintain their blades in good working order, rather than to let them rust, or wait until they are severely damaged before regrinding them, costing lots of metal and shortening the life of the tool. For fine woodworkers or those who are happy to use and maintain and edge at 1200 grit, this product is ideal because it is one of the quickest and simplest ways to touch up an edge. No special skills are required and the slide technique is learnt in minutes, which really just involves finding the best way to hold the blade flat and against the fence and to slide the carriage in a consistent manner that works for you. The only real downside I can see is that re-shaping blades is time consuming and slow. But this is no different to any manual re-shaping method or using slow speed wet grinders.

The M.Power P.S.S. retails from around US$75 - $85 for the kit including the Black 180 grit and White 400 grit stones. The additional stones which I would highly recommend are available for about US$13 - $15 each. It is a bit of an investment but for those who regularly wish to maintain their blades, and do so quickly and easily, the P.S.S. system will work well.

Reviewed October 2009.

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For more information on the DMT M.Power P.S.S., check out the manufacturer's website at www.m-powertools.com

DMT M.Power P.S.S. Photos
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The M.Power P.S.S. System
(Photo from M.Power website)


Side view of base with blade engaged against mounted diamond stone.
(Photo from M.Power website)


Various grit diamond stones available
for the P.S.S. system.


The magnet on the carriage fits the recess of the diamond stone to lock it into place.


The green 1200 grit stone locked in place and
ready for use.


The action of the Precision Sharpening System.


 

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