The Tool and Cutter Grinder: Tackling DIY Step Drills, End Mills, and Form Tools

Aug 22, 2020

When I attended vocational-technical college, the instructors weren’t interested in teaching students how to operate the school’s tool and cutter grinder. Well, they might have been, but only those smarmy second-year Tool and Die students, which I was not. Fortunately for me, there was Jimmy Burns. 

The Tool and Cutter Grinder Master

Jimmy knew more about grinding form cutters and step drills than anyone I know. He was an old Brown and Sharpe screw machine guy, and worked at the same shop that hired me after graduation. He was also the one who convinced the owner to buy a Cincinnati No. 2 grinder from the used machinery graveyard across town. It was almost as old as Jimmy. 

Jimmy took it apart. He cleaned the ways and tightened the spindle bearings. And even though the owner choked on the price, Jimmy convinced him to invest in an indexing head and some other attachments, as well as a few wheels. He also got that cheapskate to buy some carbide rod, some preform blanks, and a brazing torch. Jimmy got grinding. 

He made special carbide boring bars for that Hastelloy job. He touched up the porting tools we used to make 316 stainless steel gas fittings. The combination drill-countersinks that Jimmy made shaved seconds off each hole in those 6061 hydraulic manifolds (and practically paid for the grinder). Jimmy was a hero thanks to that grinder. 

Learning the Cutter Grinding Ropes

I had no idea how to run the thing. But Jimmy took me under his wing. He showed me which levers to pull, which knobs to turn, how to change wheels, and how much to take on each pass. It wasn’t long before I, too, was a Jedi Knight of cutting tool grinding. Not really, but having that grinder available to us opened the door to tools we otherwise would never have had. 

That was nearly 40 years ago. Cincinnati is long gone. Sadly, so is Jimmy. You can still find those old grinders here and there, but if it were me, I’d buy a new machine. In fact, this M-40 tool and cutter grinder from Kent USA looks an awful lot like Jimmy’s No. 2, but has a more powerful motor and tilting wheelhead. He could have done wonders with a machine like this.

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