I have completed the restoration of the 1960s-era Stanley hand plane I wrote about in “Hand Plane Quest.” Let me tell you that while I clearly have a lot to learn (and tweak) about this tool, it is already a lot of fun to use – and it has allowed me to finish a couple projects here in my apartment that were nagging me.
The only real sticking point in the tune-up process was sharpening the iron, a first-time practice for me that was accompanied by another of the usual challenges – money. I tallied up costs for new waterstones and a honing guide, and ended up simply freehanding it with my old waterstones. They are too narrow for the job. I couldn’t seem to get an adequate stroke going with the iron.
I checked my credit card balance again and called Ron Hock – a man I have needed to meet anyway. (I have already had an excellent tour and an amazing day at Lie-Nielsen, with Robin Macgregor and crew.) Ron would not listen to my credit card number. Since I don’t actually do tool reviews, this was an act of stupendous generosity for which I am deeply grateful.
Nonetheless, there will come a day when I need to sharpen my plane iron. Some say, in fact, that you should sharpen a new iron the day you receive it. When that day comes, I will be deciding between the freehand method and honing guide use. Which method do you prefer? Tell us in the comments section.
I have selected a couple opinions on the matter. The first comes from Christopher Schwarz and his totally comprehensive book, “Handplane Essentials” – a digital download that I keep right by my side at all times in the learning process. (Buy a copy yourself and follow along. It is also available in paperback.) The counterpoint opinion is from none other than Joel Moskowitz of Tools for Working Wood. Enjoy!
More often than not, I use a honing guide when sharpening. Though I can (and do) sharpen without them, I find them to be brilliant at providing repeatable and quick results. And when I teach sharpening, I like to show students how to use a guide. Many woodworkers sharpen infrequently and have difficulty training their hands to do what they want every single time.
I disagree with a lot of teachers in the field on the subject of honing guides. These are teachers whom I respect, so it bothers me that I disagree with them. A lot of them say if they show sharpening using a jig, students will get sharp tools right away. Students won’t be discouraged and will be able to go on to building a project. Maybe there’s some truth to this, but I think students would end up with sharp tools and the ability to progress if they were instructed that freehand sharpening is a basic skill they could easily master.
Freehand sharpening the way we teach it is faster and more repeatable than using a guide because you don’t have to continually build secondary bevels. You can trivially sharpen and also include a true micro-bevel that can easily be erased with each sharpening (which improves overall performance, not just edge strength). And of course you can sharpen any tool, because the technique for one tool is the same for the others.
When I teach people good hand technique and they practice, most of them find the experience liberating. And with their newfound skills they’re able to trust their hands for more and more complicated work earlier on in their training.
–Joel Moskowitz, Tools For Working Wood
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