Notes on the Lie-Nielsen Honing Guide

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For almost two years now, I’ve been using a Lie-Nielsen honing guide to sharpen all my plane and chisel blades. It’s an outstanding little tool and was well worth the long wait for it to come into full production.

Unlike the old Eclipse guides, the Lie-Nielsen guide is solidly made from stainless steel and bronze. It offers a variety of swappable jaws so you can handle odd-shaped tools, such as skewed irons. And it has only one dovetail-shaped aperture for holding tools, which greatly simplifies your setup for sharpening and improves the accuracy of the tool’s angle to the stone (if that’s your bag).

In short, I love it. My old Eclipse now lies neglected in my “bin of discarded thingys” – I shall have to find a new home for it.

If you have recently purchased the new Lie-Nielsen guide (or plan to), here are a few notes on maintenance and use that will make your transition from the cheap-o guide to the Lexus a little easier.

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Jack Plane Blades
Because the aperture for holding tools is lower on the Lie-Nielsen than on the Eclipse, I had to change the shape of my jack plane’s blade slightly. With the Eclipse guide, I could hone an iron that had about an 8” radius on its edge. When I put that same iron in the standard Lie-Nielsen (at a 35° honing angle) I could not hone the blade’s corners. The guide hit the stone before the corners of the blade did.

So I switched to a 10” radius – an equally valid historical curve – and everything works fine now. My jack is technically a little less aggressive with this shallower curve, but I cannot tell the difference.

Note: There are other ways around this (swapping to the tall jaws for mortise chisels is one path), but I seek to spend as little time sharpening as possible. Bottom line: You can make small changes to the way you sharpen (angles, radii etc.) to achieve the results you want with this jig. This was how I tackled the problem; your approach might be different.

On Gunk
Maintenance on the Eclipse guide was all about preventing its wheel from rusting and seizing up. As soon as it seized you were in danger of grinding a flat on the wheel, ruining the wheel.

I haven’t found the same problem with the Lie-Nielsen, even after heavy use by students. Two drops of light machine oil on the wheel’s bearing keeps it moving smoothly. It hasn’t seized once, and the wheel hasn’t even tarnished.

What you do need to look out for is sharpening gunk on the Lie-Nielsen’s screw threads. The pitch of the Lie-Nielsen’s screw is finer than that on the Eclipse. And the fit between the screw and the body is much tighter. These details make the Lie-Nielsen clamp down hard on your blade with only finger pressure (though it always is a good idea to secure the screw with a partial turn with a screwdriver).

But when the guide’s threads get swarf on them, the guide can be sluggish to open and close. So clean the threads occasionally with a little oil or degreaser and a stiff-bristled brush. Once a year seems to be enough for my heavy sharpening habits.

And that’s it. It’s a wonderful piece of engineering and a joy to use. Highly recommended. The Lie-Nielsen guide is $125 with the standard jaws. Accessory jaws are $25 to $35 each.

— Christopher Schwarz

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29 Responses to Notes on the Lie-Nielsen Honing Guide

  1. Have you been able to fit a 1 inch chisel in the standard jaws?

    The LN description of the standard jaws is a bit confusing. “The Standard Jaws (included with the Honing Guide) fit most of our plane blades, as well as our 1/4″ to 3/4″ Bevel Edge Chisels.”
    I’m having trouble understanding how the standard jaws would fit the plane blades but only 1/4 to 3/4 inch chisels – not the 1 inch.

    Also, have you had any trouble with other tool brands being incompatible with the guide?

    • Jeff Faulk says:

      I’m not Chris, but if the guide can hold a plane blade, it can hold a 1″ chisel. Someone just didn’t check their website copy before they submitted it. If it can hold LN tools, which tend to be more robustly built than other tools, it can probably hold a pretty wide variety of chisels and plane blades from various makes.

      • Jeff Faulk says:

        Well, I will amend my statement now that I’ve checked their website. They claim that the guide clamp is designed only for their tools, which I can see. I doubt it would make a huge difference unless there are radical differences in dimension between theirs and whatever other make you put in the guide and they’re just kinda trying to psych you into getting their stuff.

        Also, the chisel statement appears to be because they want you to use their Mortise Chisel jaws to hold the 1″ chisel blade. I suppose it’s thicker than the 1/4-3/4 chisels or something.

      • I’m generally do the same opinion, but they specifically reference the 1 inch chisel in the mortise chisel jaw description.

        “The Mortise Chisel Jaws fit all of our Mortise Chisels, as well as our 1″ Bevel Edge Chisel.”

  2. How do you like the mortise chisel jaws? Those Iles mortisers take serious stone work, so I would love to get a better grip on them.

  3. Thanks for the review. I’ve been hesitant to pull the trigger due to the price. However, anything that reduces the amount of time spent sharpening while increasing it’s enjoyability is worth its weight in gold.

  4. johncashman73 says:

    My 1-inch LN chisel fits in the standard jaws, but only down to about 32 degrees. The limiting factor is the blade’s thicness. Farther from the edge it is 3/8ths thick, and bottoms out on the guide rods.

    My 1- and 2-inch Buck chisels work in the standard jaws, because the blades are thinner.

  5. Chris Decker says:

    If you’re looking for a new home for your old Eclipse, I’ll give you my mailing address!

  6. abtuser says:

    I’ve looked at it and it’s on the list. If anyone else has ordered one already, and if there are any recommended buy-right-away extra guides, I’d be interested in hearing about that tool Thanks for the review.

  7. Paul Sidener says:

    I like the way it looks, and I am thinking of buying the guide. Does the 30° Skewed Jaws work with the Veritas skew rabbet plane blades.

  8. Hi Chris,

    I know we discussed this honing guide on one of our trips to Bridgwater recently.

    I may have missed it but does LN make a skewed set of jaws to hold the correct angle for the LN No. 51 shooting plane blade ?

    Cheers, all the best,

    Simon

  9. travisrknapp says:

    Its a great Honing Guide! I admit I never used the Eclipse, only the Veritas which is also great in many only ways. I have to comment because I use Oil Stones and not Water, made that switch two years ago. I don’t have schwarz issues, I mean swarf issues. But I’ve only been using the Honing guide for 7 weeks and at what I can only imagine is considerably less volume of use.

  10. Lignarium says:

    Good effort for Lie Nielsen, but quite expensive to be honest. I rather keep using and recommend to others the Veritas MK.II Honing guide. Also, the Veritas Camber roller and the Skew registration jig are quite affordable and awesome. I always get the same consistency after sharpening my tools.

    • I use the Veritas MkII also and it will not hold some of my chisels straight, no matter how much I clamp down on them.

      Sometimes (the worst times) the blade starts to move ever so slightly on the guide and then it all goes horribly wrong.

      I think the way the LN / Eclipse registered off the sides of the blade is the only sure way to prevent the above problem from happening.

      Just one opinion, but one that has made me decide to switch.

      • Lignarium says:

        I never had that problem. If your problem is with narrow or beveled chisels, make sure you use the:
        Veritas® Mk.II Narrow-Blade Honing Guide
        For those who predominantly sharpen narrow blades, we offer a narrow-blade honing guide consisting of the narrow-blade clamping head, the standard roller base and the angle registration jig. It clamps blades from 1/8″ to 1-1/2″ wide using parallel jaws to ensure blades stay square to the jig. Whether they have bevelled or square edges, blades are kept centered and tight to the reference face of the jig by the canted jaws. It accepts beveledged chisels up to 15/32″ thick and square-edged chisels up to 11/32″ thick, and hones bevel angles from 15° to 40° and back bevels from 10° to 20°.

    • This looks sweet, but I am going to add the Veritas narrow honing guide to my MK II. The LN is just too expensive for the basic jig without all the various jaws.

  11. error4 says:

    Learn how to sharpen freehand, give the $125 to the hungry and hurting. Now you got two gifts.

  12. handmadeinwood says:

    Sorry to disagree, but it’s yet another superfluous gizmo for all those who have a preference in spending even more time, money and potential blood pressure sharpening.

    Moreover, it isn’t, by all accounts, a comprehensive fits-all-sizes-and-shapes tool. You have to buy extra bits to fit on – and get lost in the shavings, then, apparently it won’t fit certain types of chisels. In fact I’ve never seen one of these guides made by anyone that will accept an old fashioned pig-sticker.

    I used the venerable (and limited Eclipse) for years but once learned, sharpening “By Hand and Eye” (oops! sorry about that, couldn’t resist it!) is far quicker.

    Not only that, you save the fuss of micro-bevels, back-bevels ruler-bevels…… Doing it by hand gives a good, strong, rounded bevel with an edge that in my opinion lasts longer.

    The evidence speaks for itself. A chisel stroked through at least two grits, or three if you’re fussy, and back to work in less than 30 seconds. You’d spend that time messing about with your new toy then searching for the depth gauge (not supplied?) then assembling the whole thing before setting the blade to the stone.

    As an example, I’ve just timed a No: 7 blade. Dismantled, out of the plane, stroked through three grits, (about 20 strokes each), stropped, (another 20 strokes) back in the plane, adjusted and the first shaving on the floor….. all up, it took a little over one minute, and I wasn’t rushing.

    Sharpening hand tools by hand.
    Not for everyone, but worth it.

    • I get very weary of the superiority complex from the hand sharpeners. Not just here. But everywhere.

      Everyone uses jigs in woodworking. No one uses all of the jigs. This is a jig and it does its job very well. Use it or don’t. I’d make the same statement about the Leigh Dovetail Jig. Or a miter box.

      That is all there is to say.

      Please don’t turn this blog into a jihad on sharpening (or steels, or bevel-up or whatever).

    • johncashman73 says:

      I sharpen all my carving tools freehand — gouges, vee-tools, straight and skew chisels, etc. Sharpening bench chisels and plane blades freehand is child’s play in comparison. But I still use a jig for those, because it is very fast, efficient, and utterly consistent. I get better results using my Lie Nielsen (and previously the Eclipse) jig, and faster. Not that I’m in a race.

      I’m more than capable of sharpening freehand, but the jig just flat out works better, for me. But the only thing that matters is getting the tool sharp.

  13. arkiewoodworker says:

    Any idea what sharpening jig Studley used?😊

    • I answer that question in “Virtuoso” on pp. 63-64.

      Again, equating quality work with freehand sharpening is silly. The worst edges I’ve seen were freehand edges. The best edges I’ve seen were done with a jig.

      But neither fact has anything to do with the final result.

  14. James Orr says:

    I was really looking forward to the jig. My Eclipse style doesn’t hold my chisels square and my Veritas had slippage issues. I invested in Brian Burns’ “double bevel” jig, and it was awesome, but way too finicky.

    Then I realized I’d need one set of jaws for my planes, another for my 1/8″ chisel, and now it sounds like a third for my 1″ chisel? That’s a lot of fiddling. I was also chatting with LN today about it, and they’re not sure if it will work with my Blue Spruce dovetail chisels. I don’t mind the price—it’s just all the moving pieces to keep track of.

  15. karlfife says:

    I think this needs to be said:
    More notes “from the trenches”:

    1. Wide Load:
    Compared to the eclipse guide, there ends up being a lot of *extra* threaded rod and guide bars sticking out from both sides of the Lie Nielsen guide, especially when it’s clamped to a narrow blade such as a chisel, (it ends up being about 6″ wide). That’s a notable difference from the Eclipse-style guide. The LN guide also requires considerably more “turning of the threaded rod” when switching between the narrow and wide settings. It’s not just because the pitch of the rod is finer than the eclipse guide. Recall that the eclipse guide holds wide things from the outside edge of its body, and it holds narrow things from the inside edge. Now consider that the LN guide holds all widths in the same way, thus, it needs more “range”, ergo a wider stance and notably more screw-turning and longer parts.
    On the “Pro” side, that means the LN guide registers all blades against the same reference surface, thus you can use JUST ONE angle-setting jig (fewer jigs to rub with “10 coats of conservators wax”).
    On the “Con” side, it means you have to turn, turn, turn the guide screw to switch from Chisel to Plane width. It also means that the guide is *widest* when it’s ‘guiding’ the smallest/narrowest blades/chisels. Time will tell whether that’s irksome in practice.

    2. Chisel Jaws vs. Standard Jaws — Lots of overlap:
    I bought both jaws. Here’s what I observe: Both jaws are identical except for the fact that the “dovetail-shaped aperture” is smaller on the Chisel Jaws. From a product design perspective, it’s now apparent that when the aperture is made SMALL enough to effectively hold the smallest chisels, it necessarily becomes too small to hold THICK plane blades properly. For example, I can indeed use the chisel jaws to hold a thick #8 plane blade, but I have to ‘manually’ register it ‘up’ against the jaw’s reference surface before clamping it down. The dovetail shaped aperture is too small to automatically engage the back of a thick blade to ‘ramp and clamp’ the blade tightly to the reference surface. On the other hand, Contrary to what you might infer from browsing the LN specs, the chisel jaws will indeed PROPERLY hold all kinds of things: I found it properly holds my wide Stanly 750 series 1-1/4″ bevel edge chisel as well as my “thicker” LN block plane blade. It will hold the LN plane blades that match the thickness of the #4 smoothing plane blade. The chisel jaws hold the 162 cabinet scraper blade, as well as ANY of the original Stanley plane blades. It will even hold the “Thicker” Veritas PM-V11 drop-in replacement blades for Stanley.
    The chisel jaws will NOT properly hold a thick bevel up jack blade nor the #8 blade, though it can be made to work as described. Sadly I don’t have a full set of LN tools to test exhaustively, but I can CONCLUDE is that there is a lot of overlap between these jaws, so if you need the chisel jaws, you’ll be happy to know that you’ll do less switching-of-jaws than you might think, and the fussiness factor drops considerably.

    3. Two bodies to rule them all:
    In light of 1 and 2, If you happen to have an extra $100 in your budget, it may be wise to buy a second BODY-ONLY, fit it with the chisel jaws, and use it for narrower blades. Once you commit to the idea, you can safely CUT the second guide body down by more than 2″ (while preserving fully 1-1/4″ of useful capacity). This would not only save time adjusting between narrow and wide, AND reduce jaw switches, but perhaps more importantly, the cut-down guide may be easier to maneuver when holding narrow blades.
    Optional jaws, such as mortise chisel jaws, would logically be used with the narrower ‘chisel’ body, and the optional long jaws could be used with both The main idea is that either way, there’s no loss in flexibility while still saving precious seconds that add up quickly in the tasks you do repeatedly.

    One surprise is that the jaw screws do not match the blade of the LN #5 screwdriver. That’s too bad IMO since I usually have #5 out when I’m sharpening anyway. No problem. A few minutes with an auger bit file will take care of that.

    I hope this helps.

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