Wednesday 17 August 2016

How Long Does a Honing Guide Last?

This question came up the last days, when I clamped a chisel into it and started sharpening.
I recognized soon that the bevel angle isn't correct any longer.

Heck, what's going on?

My honing guide is the one you can find at almost any woodworking store or online shop. It is an inexpensive side clamping guide. The first one I've bought years ago at the time I started hand tool woodworking and I recognized that woodworking is only fun with sharp tools.

Starting my sharpening experience I was using the guide for every sharpening. Meanwhile I'm using it only every third or fourth time when I'm sharpening a blade. In between I'm trying to sharpen free hand. 
That works well so far. If you are wondering why I'm using the guide, the answer is to reestablish a nice (flat) bevel. Maybe that is unnecessary but for the time being I stay with this procedure.

The second I'm using the honing guide for is to regrind a bevel. Until today I haven't got a grinder in use. And certainly no electrical. So I'm grinding with 60 to 80 grit sandpaper on a granite tile with my honing guide. Apart from producing a lot of sweat, getting bored and wasting precious shop time, that works well too.
But I think I have exaggerated it. If you are following my Blog you may have read about some plane rehab.
All the blades have been ground with my honing guide on coarse sand paper.

Now back to start. These days I had to sharpen a few chisels for dovetails in softwood. So I thought it would be good to sharpen them pretty well. That said (no, thought) I've clamped my 12 mm chisel into the guide, set the position with my little angle jig and started sharpening on the 400 grit stone.

Bevel angle setting jig

After the first few strokes I usually double check if I'm doing right. But what was this? I have started to grind at the upper edge of the bevel. Immediately I've checked the setting with the angle jig. Fine. Next I've checked if the chisel was slipping. Good too. If this all is good that means that the angle is not right. So I've checked that with a protractor. And guess what. Although I had clamped the chisel at the right distance it was not 30 degrees, but off between 1 or 2 degrees.
The only logical explanation was that the guide was somehow a bit lower.  Then it came to my mind that the usage on pretty coarse grit can somehow wear out the wheel of the honing guide.

Worn wheel

To be quite sure I've double checked it with other blades, of course with the same result.
So the question was what to do now. Several options:
  1. I could leave everything as it was. That would mean that I would have to regrind every bevel the next time I would sharpen it. Not an option. I am glad enough that I have got them kinda similar.
  2. Making a new angle setting jig. Yep could work. But how many setting jigs will I have to make?
  3. Replacing the honing guide. Seemed to me the best solution. I could stay with the angle jig and would have to do the least regrind work.

Back from the shop at my desk I had a look online who would deliver a new one fast. My last one was from Dictum and it was okay for years. A look at Amazon brought up a similar guide from Draper which is a British too distributor. It is about 10 Euros including shipping and it was in the post the next day.

New Draper honing guide

The new honing guide is pretty much the same as the old one. The distance settings for the bevel angle are identical. So the plan to still use my angle jig works. Other differences are the narrower wheel, what maybe could be an advantage if you have to adjust the honing process to one or the other side. Or when it comes to rounding the outer edges of a plane iron.
The major difference are the clamping slots for the chisels. Maybe you can see in the picture that at the Draper version these v-slots are narrower.  That seemed to be a disadvantage because I feared that I wouldn't be able to clamp my chisels. The truth is, it is so and so. Thinner chisel will be clamped pretty well but my daily users are not clamped good. So I have to find an improvement.

Old one in front, new one in the back

I've tested it immediately after I have received it and it's working well. Actually I can't recognize any quality issues. From my point of view both versions are cheap mass production products and will have serial deviation. For me there is no reason to say anything negative about both versions. The Draper version is a bit cheaper but maybe this is related to their distribution model.
What I can recognize is that between the new and the old model is a discrepancy of about 1,5 degrees, measured in the above shown position. That explains pretty much the "wrong" angle.

I've got to say a few things more.
First of all I was asking myself how to protect the wheel on coarse grits. And I got an answer from Ralph (who has got it from Don). Wrap a piece of electrical tape around the wheel and it's protected.

The second thing I found was a tune up video from Denep Puchalski. That was interesting for me because I had often the issue that a plane blade was bellying and I could not establish a nice cutting edge. I ever thought that came from over tightening.
I followed the advice of the video and filed down the edges to clamp the chisels and the surface to lay the plane blades on.

Filing down the clamping edge for chisels

Filed edge

Marked surface to file down

Filed down surface

I followed straight forward the explanations made in the video and it took only maybe 10 minutes.
The result is that the chisel clamping action is much better. My daily used chisels can be clamped now and do not slip out any more.

Plane blade not bellied any longer

You can see in the picture that there shines some light below the clamped plane blade. That means that the clamping jaws are not pressing against the plane blade any longer and will not belly it while clamped.

And last but not least I finally have to set up my hand grinders to do the bulk of the work. But that is another story.

Now then, back to my question. How long does a honing guide last? I think you have made similar  experiences, or? Is a honing guide a wear part, like a sharpening stone?

That's all folks!


  1. I know that Ralph bought an extra wheel when he bought a honing guide because he expected it to wear out. But his is wearing very slowly so he may never need the new wheel. I've had the top-clamping Veritas honing guide and I don't like it. I've been considering buying one like you have and would make similar modifications.

    1. Hi Matt,
      I think Ralph bought the replacing wheel for the Lee Nielsen honing guide. That maybe is the major difference between a cheapo like mine and the LN one.
      But mine was good for a few years and with the tips below the new one will last a bit longer.
      Give that one a try. You don't have much to loose. These side clamping guides are really working well.


  2. Ich habe festgestellt dass es die Abnutzung des Laufrades nur dann gibt, wenn es sich nicht leicht genug dreht. Daher pflege ich meine Schleifhilfe nach jedem Gebrauch mit ein wenig nigrin universalöl - auf die Gewinde und die Achse des Rädchens.

    1. Hallo Wolfram,
      danke für den Hinweise. Das macht durchaus Sinn. Und wenn ich ganz ehrlich bin ist die alte Schleifführung nicht so richtig oft in den Genuss von Öl gekommen.


  3. Hi Stefan,
    I used a similar honing guide like that for years. You have to make sure that the wheel doesn't freeze up on you during use. After a few strokes check the rotation of it. Also check it after you are down with it to ensure it is still turning freely.

    1. Hi Ralph,
      thanks for the hint. That totally make sense. The previous comment is describing pretty much the same.
      Honestly I was let's say slovenly with oiling the guide.
      I will treat the new one better.


  4. My first inexpensive side clamping guide, made in Japan, last me over 20 years and saw tons of sharpening. Did my wheel wore down? You bet! Do I Care? Not really, i dont really care if my angles are 30 or 25 ill take anything close in between; being off a few degrees does NOT make much differences. Want to prove it? Sharpen by hands, you will never get exactly the same angle twice, dont care how good you are or how long you done it.
    My old guide finally broke at the tightening screw, read being hamfisted :-)
    My new cheap one, i tweaked as per chris and Deneb suggestions, as i used it it will slowly wear the wheel down, im not using tape. If you do, make your jig taking that added heigth in consideration or you will be off slightly. Should you care? No

    Bob and Rudy

    1. Hi Bob,
      thanks for your very welcome thoughts. You know what? I believe you are right, but I'm mentally not ready to let go.
      Two points from my side. What drives me nuts is to regrind a bevel on the stones due to the "wrong" angle. Let's say the bevel is 30° and you clamp your iron at 28° in the guide then you have to grind the complete bevel otherwise you won't get a sharp edge. Or I'm doing something completely, stupidly wrong.
      I would like to avoid this effort. That's wasting valuable shop time.
      Secondly, to work around that one could avoid to use a setting jig and just set it to the tip of the iron, or to sharpen completely free hand which ends in rounded bevels.
      But I started to find my way. In the actual project I've only sharpened free hand. The bevels of the used chisels are all rounded over now. Is that bad? Is there any difference to previously? No! Are the irons sharp and do they cut well? Yes!
      For me sharpening is just a necessary evil. I need an easy to use method and won't make rocket science out of it. That's why I'm still relying on that honing guide. But honestly I strongly believe that most of the cabinetmakers in this part of the world never have used a honing guide in their work life.
      Last point :-) Protecting the wheel was just reserved for grinding on pretty coarse sandpaper.

      Give Rudy a treat from me.

      Talk soon,