…in which he discusses going freehand

I own one of those cheap eclipse style honing guides. With a little modification it does a passable job on my plane irons. It slips, so I crank down on the screw. The slot is stripping out so I can tell that its time in my workshop is short. I’d like to step up to this high class beauty someday.

I know I should be able to sharpen an iron freehand, blindfolded and behind the back but I actually find honing guides to be very helpful with plane blades. They allow me to get a true edge quickly on my water stones and get back to work. That’s more important to me than pleasing the forum dwellers with my honing prowess.

It doesn’t matter to me how other people sharpen. I have enough to worry about keeping my own irons sharp, but lately I’ve laid the honing guide to the side when it comes to chisels.


I’m currently building the school box project from The Joiner and Cabinet Maker and one of the things that I’ve really tried to do is keep my chisels razor sharp for chopping out dovetail waste. This means touching them up whenever they start to dull and the canary in the coal mine here is crushing in the end grain. This was one of the most helpful insights I’ve gained thus far from reading Chris Schwarz’s notes on the build, and if I’m being honest, something I’ve been lax about. I’ve definitely pushed through a few more tails than I should have to avoid going back to the stones, and part of that was the jig.

While I found that it saves me time and effort with the plane irons, when it comes to chisels, I can get a new edge and hone it freehand much faster than I can with the guide. Developing this confidence has helped me keep sharper edges and work more efficiently and effectively.

I could pull up a soap box and shout about how everyone should go guide-less, but I’d rather not. I’ll just put a fresh edge on these and get back to work.



8 Comments Add yours

  1. I think one thing the freehand purists fail to account for is the amount of material you’re actually removing if you’re riding a hollow grind. It could easily be twice as much because you’re riding both the heel and toe of the hollow. The cost to setup an eclipse style guide is about 5-10 seconds if you have an angle jig.

    I love the image!


    1. I can see that, and I do have an angle jig, which certainly makes it a quicker operation. I will keep using the jig for my plane blades. I also use it if I really need to correct a wonky bevel on a chisel, but for normal chisel sharpening and touch-up, freehand helps my workflow.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Also, despite lots of work, my freehand skills absolutely stink!


  2. Greg Flora says:

    I’m alerting the forum dwellers! 🙂

    Our eclipse honing guides seem to have taken the same abuse. I’m about due for a new one after a year of regular use and I guess it’s about time to weigh out the long-term options of buying the LN or another el-cheapo eclipse.

    And I agree with Patrick, great photo!


    1. When I buy another sharpening guide (and I will) it will likely be the LN model. I know that I could buy 10 of the others for the same price, but the LN appears to work at least twice as well and seems like it may last five times as long so the math is a dead heat.


  3. kleesholz says:

    Hi Jim,
    I use this very practical and rather cheap plane screwdriver for tightening my eclipse honing guide and it hasn’t been worn out in years. It’s very handy for tightening the cap iron too…
    But I too would love me that beauty mentioned above!


  4. Paul Knapp says:

    When I learned to sharpen tools, I don’t think there was any kind of guide available in my neck of the woods…at least I didn’t know of any and nor did the men who taught me. I think we have fallen off the deep end of sharpening with 15,000 grit stones and guides that are guaranteed to the nth degree of accuracy. Take a look at the finest furniture ever built on both sides of the Atlantic, from the 1600s to the early 1900s. The golden age of cabinet making was ruled by “freehand sharpening” on a stone…just a stone, not some 15,000 grit fancy pants exotic wonder from far off lands. Reasonably sharp tools cut wood very nicely and those tools don’t care if they were sharpened using a guide or a jig or a water stone or a diamond stone or an ugly looking chunk of sandstone from the local quarry. If your steel cuts wood cleanly and easily, you’re good to go…even if it’s a little off square and 2 degrees from away from what ever the expert de jour deems to be optimal…bearing in mind that optimal changes for wood type, moisture content, Rockwell scale and metallurgy of the cutting tool, ambient temperature, relative humidity and feet above sea level at which the wood was grown.


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