All the time you see different products that come out to help the woodworker sharpen his or her tools in the shop. There is just about every contraption out there with a variety of prices and features. The one thing you never see is a good system for sharpening router bits. I am all for having super sharp chisels in my shop, but I just don’t use my chisel set all that much. Buying a $350 sharpener just does not do much for my enthusiasm. However I am constantly using my router bits since the router table is a big part of my workshop. Every time I sharpen a bit, it cost generally between 5 and 10 dollars. I like to use quality bits so sharpening them and keeping them sharp is in my best interest.
In the meantime, keeping the bits clean is probably one of the best things you can do to prolong the life of your router bit. I try to make a system so that the bits stay as clean as possible. This may work for you. I take a small piece of mdf and drill some ¼ and ½” holes in them. On one piece I write “clean” and the other I write “dirty” Having duplicate bits is the key to this system. When a bit gets gunked up, I take it and place it on the dirty holder. When I get enough of them to warrant a few minutes of cleaning, I get out my cleaners and brass brush and have at it. Always remove the bearings first so as to not damage them. I quick scrub removes some of the pitch that builds up on the cutting edges. If you do laminate work, you will notice that flush trim bits get very dirty very fast. Simply cleaning the bit in this instance makes a world of difference. At this time it’s a great idea to give the bits a few swipes on a diamond sharpener to touch up the edges. This helps keep the bit tuned up between sharpening. After I finish I move the bits to the “clean” bit holder and they are ready to go back to work.
I use the same system for cleaning as I do for sharpening. The two bit holder technique works well for keeping things organized. You can send bits and blades out to be sharpened with companies you find on the internet. This is becoming handier since the items are turned fairly quickly (a week or less) and the companies ships them right back to your doorstep. I like this option because I do not have to allocate any time in taking them and picking them up. I call that a “low value activity” Having duplicates allows me to keep working while the other bit is getting sharpened. I do like to go the extra mile and make a simple chart that keeps track of my sharpening. This way I know that I am using sharp tools which give me better cuts in my materials.
So what exists out there today for the home user? Not much. I have always said that the person who invents the tool that helps automates this task will do very well for themselves. Investing time in some good quality stones would be a good alternative. However if you are a production shop, stopping and taking the time and learning curve to get good at this might not always be cost effective. Hobbyists might are more prone to taking the time to hand sharpen their bits, but there is a some kinks in that theory too. Many of the newer bits are very complex. Their shapes don’t lend themselves to easy sharpening and thus can kill the whole do it yourself theory. These bits are best sharpened by the professional. The next time you read through your favorite woodworking magazine, take note of all the sharpeners for sale and you will definitely notice what I am talking about. Take the time to organize a good cleaning and sharpening system and your wallet will thank you. It can make a big difference when you are working on that special project if you have nice clean and sharp router bits.