An innovation in free-hand sharpening?

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Forum topic by Benvolio posted 08-19-2013 12:44 AM 4316 views 18 times favorited 42 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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148 posts in 2384 days

08-19-2013 12:44 AM

I’ve been thinking for ages that there has to be a better way to do free-hand sharpening….

Honing guides give a very controlled operation and a predictable outcome when used to sharpen a bevel on chisels and straight plane irons…

But think it’s safe to say that most of us would prefer to have the skills to free-hand sharpen if we could. Free-handing is much much quicker, easier to camber the steel and there is no fiddly set up involved. It’s also a skill perfected by our wood working ancestors that I’m sure some of us are mildly embarassed to say we’re forgetting.

The mighty Paul Seller’s advice on free hand sharpening is to ``feel for 30 degrees``. Fantastic if you’ve spent the last 40 years knowing what that feels like, but maybe a struggle for the weekend wood worker.

Rob Cosman has helpfully made an angle trainer I’ve never used this, but looking at it, it looks like it’s more of a jig than a free hand method. It also has limitations that it can’t be used on a leather strop (which is how I achieve my final hone). Nor can it be used to produce the more resilient convexed bevel that we get with free handing.

So I came up with this little device to help rest the chisel at the desired angle.

A thirty degree block of wood. Rare earth magnets on one side and a spirit level on top.

The idea is fairly self explanitory but in case my diagram doesn’t explain it:

The block clicks onto the chisel or plane iron back with magnets. The steel to be sharpened is set at the correct bevel angle by the long ways motion of the spirit level bubble – when the bubble is centered, you know you’re honing a dead square 30 degree bevel.

When honing, a slight rock of the steel (as with normal free hand sharpening) will show some movement in the bubble which after a short acclimatisation period, should give the user a predictable convex bevel to the blade.

The spirit level works in two dimensions so by getting to know your level, you can rock side to side to make cambers on your jack, jointer and scrub plane irons.

I’m not inclined to call this a `jig` as such. To me, that word is too closely linked to devices that hold tools or work pieces in such a way as to irrevocably extirpate dexterity from the wood worker. This is more of an instrument – an indicator that feeds back to the wood worker information on what he or she is doing but still leaves them in absolute control of the operation – and let’s be honest, we all want to say we have those earthy fundimental woodworking skills!

Both the rare earth magnets and spirit level together ost me less than five pounds from ebay. The spirit level is sold as a ``Turntable level`` and is used to help DJs set up their electric grammarphones and only cost a couple of quid. 12mm x 6mm.

The magnets are just tiny 5mm ones CA glued into holes in the back of a scrap block of ash – which is then sanded flush to keep it all nice an accurate.


Here is mine in action. (On setting up one of Jusfine's chisels :-) )

The results of the guide were very good. Honed on 1000 and 4000 water stones then stropped on jewellers rouge. The chisel easily took the hair off my arm and well and truly passed the paper test.

All in all, this was super quick to make, cheaper than a conventional honing guide and gives you the benefits of free-hand sharpening with the certainty that you’re hitting the desired angles every time.

To me, my favourite thing about this though is how quick it makes sharpening. So long as you have your little block to hand it’s just `click` and you’re ready to go – no more scrabbling around for the big screw driver and faffing around with those set up blocks for the honing guide and hoping at the end of it all that your tip is square.

I don’t know whether I’m the first person to have this idea, but I haven’t seen it else where. If anyone has any opinions on this, I’ve love to hear what you have to say.


-- Ben, England.

42 replies so far

View mandatory66's profile


202 posts in 2583 days

#1 posted 08-19-2013 01:22 AM

What a great idea, I will be making one soon, thanks for posting.

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 3812 days

#2 posted 08-19-2013 01:47 AM

Awesome idea!! Thanks!!

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View Tugboater78's profile


2784 posts in 2645 days

#3 posted 08-19-2013 02:33 AM

That’s a different way of looking at it, good idea!

-- "....put that handsaw to work and make it earn its keep. - summerfi" <==< JuStiN >==>=->

View DocBailey's profile


584 posts in 2813 days

#4 posted 08-19-2013 05:09 AM

It is Brilliant in it’s simplicity!

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 3379 days

#5 posted 08-20-2013 03:07 AM

Great looking chisels, thanks for the tip!! :)

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View SebringDon's profile


95 posts in 2393 days

#6 posted 08-20-2013 03:14 AM

I wonder how long it will be before this idea shows up in some catalog for $49.95?

-- Don

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 3812 days

#7 posted 08-20-2013 12:14 PM

I hope the OP submits this to the ww mags before someone steals the idea and submits it.

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View b2rtch's profile


4882 posts in 3501 days

#8 posted 08-20-2013 12:30 PM

Great idea

-- Bert

View Doug 's profile


28 posts in 2546 days

#9 posted 08-20-2013 02:50 PM

Very ingenious! Being one of those wknd warriors I have always struggled with freehand sharpening, but this looks to be the solution. Thanks

View WayneC's profile


14358 posts in 4550 days

#10 posted 08-20-2013 02:53 PM

Very Cool. First time I have seen something like this.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Benvolio's profile


148 posts in 2384 days

#11 posted 08-21-2013 01:11 PM

Thanks for the kind words, chaps.

Sikrap, I took your advice and emailed out the ww magazines who seem interested.

If anyone else ends up building one of these, I’d love to see pictures!!


-- Ben, England.

View Benvolio's profile


148 posts in 2384 days

#12 posted 08-21-2013 01:11 PM

P.s – I finally decided on a name for it.

The Honing Level.

-- Ben, England.

View waho6o9's profile


8710 posts in 3030 days

#13 posted 08-21-2013 01:13 PM

Trademark it and or patent it.

View redSLED's profile


790 posts in 2345 days

#14 posted 08-21-2013 01:14 PM

Brilliant! Thanks for sharing this.

Hear something? Sounds like the Veritas product development lab just got busy.

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View BigMig's profile


473 posts in 3066 days

#15 posted 08-21-2013 05:27 PM

What about placing the block on the stone side (underneath the blade/iron)? Certqainly the stone is harder than the wood, so it shouldn’t wear the stone? Then you’d have a certain 30 degree angle all the time. Right? Or would the wood bits keep the iron from sharpening?

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

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