As mentioned in my last post, I set my tools at the proper angle in my honing guides by sighting the tools against a little block of wood that is marked with the various angles I use.
As I prepared to sharpen my smoothing plane iron this morning, I took some photos so you could see how I do this quickly, accurately and without getting sliced open like a hog’s jugular.
First, a word about honing guides. In addition to the small Kell honing guide I use for chisels, I use an Eclipse 36 guide for plane irons. The Eclipse 36 was the DNA for the $10 to $15 Taiwanese honing guides in every catalog today. But like a photocopy, the Taiwanese versions aren’t as sharp as the original.
In general, the paint on the Taiwanese guides is too thick and pools where you don’t want it to (especially in the dovetailed ways that are designed to hold chisels). Plus, the copies don’t hold tools as firmly because things just don’t line up like they do on the Eclipse.
As I’ve seen hundreds of honing guides in my 13 years at Popular Woodworking; and my opinion on this is as firm as my love for Belgian ales.
Here’s the part where you hate me. It appears the Eclipse 36 is no longer made. (If I’m wrong here, give me a shout.) I bought mine from Highland Hardware, but that catalog no longer carries it. All my other searches for a U.S. supplier have turned up naught.
If you’re a little cracked (like me), then I recommend you search eBay’s United Kingdom site. They turn up there frequently, even guides that are new in the box.
Setting the Tool in the Guide
The first step is to position your little block of wood perfectly flush to the end of your bench. Use your fingertips – this will get you within a thousandth of an inch.
Now secure the tool in the guide but clamp its jaws loosely on the tool. You want to be able to shift the guide forward and back on the tool with finger pressure. But you don’t want the guide to fall off.
Place the guide on your benchtop and roll the edge up to the end of your bench. Place the fingers of your right hand on top of the tool and press down. Move the edge of the tool to the end of the benchtop as shown in the photo. I have never cut myself through three (now four) presidential administrations.
With your left hand, push the honing guide forward (or back) until the tool lines up with the angled line on your block. For plane irons, I grind the bevel at 25° and sharpen a 35° secondary bevel. So I’m lining up the tool with the 35° line.
Now take your left hand and tighten the guide enough to lock your setting. Then use a screwdriver to really lock the sucker down. Then get to sharpening.
— Christopher Schwarz