More on myths and mysteries

Re Honing-guide sharpening

A common fallacy I often come across is that the honing guide gives you the edge you cannot get freehand and that most freehand sharpeners are professional furniture makers. Most professional furniture makers are minimalist hand tool users and I worry that writers might falsely impress people that “hobbyists” cannot very quickly and readily establish the hand skills of sharpening. If it had not been for this category of woodworker, we would most likely have lost many more such very basic skills.

In the article I read, Asa C said that,”…if you rock the edge on the stone, even a little bit, you might not be sharpening the very tip.” If that were true then it would be simply and quickly corrected by raising the angle of presentation slightly and establishing a burr in two or three rubs. Very simple for anyone and essential to establishing skill rather than substituting for it.

The article gives the impression, all be it quite briefly, that simply honing the bevel is a trickier task than flattening and honing the larger flat face. With a good diamond sharpening plate or any hard, flat surface and wet and dry abrasive, both flat face and bevel can be polished to produce a perfect cutting edge in minutes. Please remember that to establish real skill in any field takes training, practice and self-discipline. When you do this you develop competence and skill. When you don’t, skill becomes lost.

In the side bar with the pictures and drawings, the blurbs beneath state that with the guide the angle is always right. What it should say is that it’s always the same. What it did not say is that guides are generally quite fiddly and awkward and that it takes much more valuable time to set up. Asa then goes on to say that “without the guide it’s very easy to change the angle subtly as you move the blade, which rounds the bevel and keeps you from honing the very tip, where it matters. This is repeated three times in the same section, so there is a point being made. The problem is that it’s simply untrue.

16 comments

  1. I think that it’s tricky to be unbiased. Practically speaking, micro-bevels cut, but they cut no better than convex cambers but the convex camber needs no special treatment or knowledge. You just do it. Fast and effectively. Once you’ve got, like swimming and riding a bike, you just do it. No muscle memory needed.

    • J Guengerich says:

      Very true! I hadn’t sharpened my hand tools correctly until I watched your method. It is quick, really quick. So much so, that a person wonders if they’ve missed a step along the way. I’m sold on the convex camber.
      I was watching a Lie-Nielsen YouTube video for their version of the Stanley #48 & #49. the presenter states that he uses a micro bevel. I see the uphill battle before us.
      BTW, I loaned my Working Wood series to my neighbor while he was recovering from shoulder surgery and his son ordered the series for him. They were that impressed and overjoyed to see a complete series on hand tool woodworking.
      Let’s keep the momentum going!

        • Shawn Russell says:

          I curious to find out if you plan on release more DVDs, and if so, what sort of material would you include?

          • Jack says:

             Are we talking about rounded chisel bevels. I believe in a rounded bevel; as opposed to a rounded-over edge. The two things are entirely different. But if workers can get on with a flat bevel, then good luck to them.  When my chisels are not cutting properly, I hone them. until they are. End of.

          • The point here is that it is possible to round over the chisel’s actual cutting edge if you lift the chisel up too much and foil the cutting edge. This is not usual but possible. The more you sharpen the more confidence gained. I have never had this happen in my life, but I think newcomers to the method could have a problem now and again.
            Also, chisels with convex bevels have advantages over dead flat micro-bevels and single flat bevel methods.In actuality, there is absolutely no need for a micro-bevel anyway. Why not simply grind and hone at the same angle of 30-degrees?.
            I find the camber on a convex bevel of great value in a variety of aspects but that’s another story.

  2. Now that’s savvy and I like it that you used your intuition. Soon you will throw away the training wheels and be rock solid starting dead on 30 and dropping as you push forward. Convex bevel sharpening will knock the socks off anything you do from there on.

  3. No. It’s a maintenance issue. The whole bevel is ground identically every time and on each successive grit to 15,000 on the strop. I do not at all believe this is a muscle memory issue. Its a simple element really. Remember that the only part that’s being damaged is the very cutting edge and not the flat face or the bevel itself. The cutting edge rarely wears but fractures. Small craters get larger and soon the edge will not cut. That being the case it’s simply a question of moving the whole convex bevel further along. Every time I sharpen I start at around (not scientific) 30-degrees and in the natural motion of grinding, honing and polishing using my method, the edge and convex bevel comes in seconds every single time.

  4. Andy McKenzie says:

    I’ve only been learning for a year or so, and I do have a guide.  Since I was at a presentation you did at the Woodworking Show in Springfield, MA, USA early this year, it’s stayed in my parts box.  My chisels have never been sharper, and I FINALLY managed to get my old Craftsman block plane cutting end grain.  I have messed up and rounded off the edge a couple of times, but it’s not that hard to fix…

    While it’s true, as you say, that a guide gets you a repeatable angle, I’m just not convinced that it gets you a better edge.  It sure didn’t for me.

  5. Hello Mark,

    I am answering privately because of concerns I have about invoking unnecessary conflict. Firstly, I hadn’t realised there was any issue and I certainly have no issue with any other woodworkers anywhere that I am aware of. Secondly, I am presenting a method, not mine at all, that held good for at least three centuries until micro-bevels arrived unchallenged and stood for three decades as a viable alternative. This method is slow and inefficient, no woodworkers I ever worked with or under used is nor would they have because my bosses would never have allowed such slowness. Though it’s nothing to do with me, I have no problem with anyone who wants to use it. Thirdly, I don’t know David and have never had any contact of any sort with him. I know nothing about him, his past or present yet you seem almost accusatory toward me and I wonder why. Fourthly, there are a dozen methods of sharpening an edge that I know of at least, none of them match the classic method I encourage, I see little reason to single out a single method and were I to add all methods for fear of leaving someone out I would add to the already disproportionate confusion surrounding simply sharpening an edge.
    I hope that this settles any concern you have. I have nothing against you or anyone else.
    Regards,

    Paul

  6. juryaan says:

    I would like to know what you think of the scary sharp method.
    I saw some video’s from Workshop Heaven and to me it looks like it is a fast way
    to sharpen tools.
    At the moment i am using waterstones with a Honing guide.

    • Like many alternative methods people introduced, the scary sharp method works, but it doesn’t have any real value as a practice in the workshop. I find it entertaining poor, as are a lot of methods introduced. As first a practicing craftsman, and again, at the bench, it hogs space, takes too much time, is uneconomical and wasteful and I’d rather be working wood than the mere interest as a spectator. This is a bit like people that spend two days sharpening their plane and fettling it to obtain pristine shavings 10 feet long and full width.They want the shaving not the working of the plane to make furniture or whatever. I have always had to work hard to make my living as a woodworker because I chose the lifestyle of joinery, shopfitting and furniture making. I never pursued it as a base interest but a way of life. I think that people are interested in woodworking with different perspectives in mind and that’s fine. I just never had the luxury of not making my living from my life working with wood to support my family and so my perspective is and always will be that of a working man.

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