During the last 17 years that I have been using a honing guide to sharpen, I’ve been approached (sometimes nearly assaulted) by people who want to teach me to sharpen freehand.
My response: “I sharpen freehand all the time.”
They don’t believe me, and so they spend an hour or so to show me how they hone their edges. Then they want me to try their technique and say: “That’s fantastic! I’m throwing away my guide.”
So far, that hasn’t happened.
Some backstory: When I first learned to sharpen in 1993, instructor Lynn Sweet insisted we learn to do it freehand. He didn’t even tell us that honing guides existed. Later, when I joined the magazine staff in 1996, I asked then-Associate Editor Jim Stuard to show me his sharpening regimen. It was freehand. And so that’s how I learned how to do it.
After reading Leonard Lee’s book “The Complete Guide to Sharpening” (Taunton Press), I decided to try an inexpensive Eclipse guide (what we now call the side-clamp honing guide). It gave me edges that were consistent, less-prone to error and (with apologies to the freehanders) faster.
And so during the last 10 years, I have taught both freehand sharpening and sharpening with a guide. I think it’s useful to know both techniques. I like to use a side-clamp jig for edges that are straight or slightly curved. And I like to sharpen freehand for edges that are skewed, curved, V-shaped or weirder.
I’ve also spent a lot of time observing the sharpening routines and edges produced by freehanders, both professional and amateur. While they tell me they can produce a good edge from a completely dull edge in less than a minute, I have yet to see someone do this before my eyes and let me use their edge. Either it takes them five or six minutes, or the finished edge is sub-optimal compared to what I use.
But these are just my observations. I’m sure there are people out there who can do this; I just haven’t encountered them yet.
So I’m going to ask you one last time: Please don’t try to convert me, and I won’t try to convert you. And why are we discussing something that is as enjoyable as taking out the garbage? Making tools dull is far more fun than making them sharp.
— Christopher Schwarz
If you like my line of ^%$#&* on sharpening, you’ll probably enjoy my DVD “The Last Word on Sharpening.” It’s a no bull-pucky approach to something that is pucky-full.