The Tormek Sharpening System is based on this simple proposition: any woodworker should be able to keep his or her own woodworking, carving, or woodturning hand tools razor sharp. Starting with the basic system and detailed guidebook, different jigs allow users to put the perfect edge on everything from turning tools, to axes, to whittling knives, to planer blades, to curved gouges, and more.
It wasn’t always so. Some of us remember seeing our grandfathers or fathers expertly sharpening tools on a big, water-cooled stone wheel that ran with a treadle, crank, or perhaps an electric motor. As long as it was part of everyday life, the skill of sharpening was handed down father to son. And they had half their lifetime to learn. But when amateur woodworking got serious in the late 1970s, direct connections to the farm, butcher shop, or forge were long gone.
According to Geoff Brown, Tormek’s international marketing manager, that’s about the time a young Swedish design engineer named Torgny Jansson returned from working in Liberia. He went to work for a manufacturer, but decided on the side to design a grindstone that ran off an electric drill. Growing up on a farm, he was familiar with traditional sharpening stones, but his concept maximized the torque on the stone by reducing the speed of the drill.
“Torgny eventually gave up his employment to concentrate on designing and building the machine and eventually founded Tormek,” Geoff explained from his office in the United Kingdom.
Due to the relatively small Swedish market, Tormek began exporting first to Austria, which has a strong woodworking market, and of course to the other Scandinavian countries.
The product was originally designed to be suitable for knives, axes, and relatively simple woodworking tools, such as chisels and plane blades.” Geoff recalled, “There were no jigs, everything was done freehand off a simple support. Very primitive support in comparison to what we have these days.”
As sales volumes grew, however, the company put more and more effort into the development of specialized jigs. Geoff first encountered the product and Torgny at a big tool show in Cologne, Germany. With a long background in the tool and woodworking markets, Geoff recognized Tormek’s potential and eventually started marketing the product in the United Kingdom.
“When I got involved,” Geoff recalled, “We started showing the product at the exhibitions and this led to more feedback from the end-users. In those days we had both the natural stones and man-made stones. But natural stone wore rather quickly and took a long time to remove metal, so our customers became dissatisfied with them and we switched to all man-made stone & that optimizes metal removal and minimizes stone wear.”
As feedback came back from customers, the company began to specialize in cabinet making, woodturning, and woodcarving, developing special jigs for the tools involved. And eventually the drill driven option was dropped in favor of today’s motorized Tormek
Nine years ago, they started to introduce the product to North America, Geoff and his wife drove around showing the machine to potential retailers. Competition at the time was mostly from the Japanese horizontal water-cooled grinders. As acceptance of the Tormek system grew in the United States and Canada, Geoff found similar woodworking markets in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa. And all the marketing material could be printed in the same language.
The market still guides the development and refinement of jigs and accessories. The heart of the system, however, is the Super Grind Stone, which is composed of aluminum oxide using a ceramic binder. This makes it wear resistant, while offering fast metal removal, and years of use.
Tormek now has nine jigs to sharpen all the various types of tools. According to Geoff, these jigs turn woodworkers into instant sharpening experts. The company also takes great pride in the enormous amount of help it gives people on how to use the product. The Tormek handbook — which is always up-to-date on their web site — is 150 pages with 509 drawings!
Today, Geoff and his wife keep customers up-to-date on product developments, still spend three months of the year visiting their overseas market, and are very active in exhibitions.
“U.S. retailers buy directly from the factory and distribute it to their stores,” Geoff explained, “And we have a service center called Tormek USA, where anyone who has a question can ring -up and get instant advice on a machine they bought.”
Though he can’t discuss specifics on new products in the works, Geoff admitted that two new applications were in the pipeline. And like all Tormek’s jigs and accessories, they will increase the versatility of the system and further simplify the complex task of sharpening.