Using a honing guide makes sharpening tools easy and accurate. The alternative is to hone freehand. While there’s nothing wrong with the old-fashioned method, using a honing guide ensures a smoother, flatter slope, whereas honing by hand often results in a rounded bezel.
Honing guides can be really useful, especially because sharpening by hand can make blades incapable of clean cuts. We’ll compare eight of the most popular honing guides—ranging in price from $20 to over $100—to see which features are useful, which ones are essential, and whether you
need to spend a lot to get a good honing guide.
Why do you need a honing guide in the first place?
A honing guide is one of those tools you don’t realize you need until you buy one. Then, it quickly becomes the most important tool because it really makes a difference to your blades.
Picking up any honing guide guarantees you that:
Sharpening tools will be easier and faster
You will achieve consistent results with minimum hassle
Your blades will cut more cleanly thanks to flat, smooth bevels
You will be able to select specific bevel angles
If this name sounds familiar, it’s because this is the same company that builds chisels and hand planes. This company’s honing guide has stayed the same ever since they introduced it a while back. It arrives with a kit consisting of an 8-inch oilstone and some lubricating oil.
It’s a basic honing guide, but it gets the job done. Over the years, the company has made various improvements, including a flip-down gauge that facilitates quick bevel changes. It has three commonly used bevel angles marked on it for reference.
Clamping your tool is troublesome since you have to hold it in place while tightening down two thumbscrews. Other than this little issue, it’s a perfectly adequate jig.
The General is made up of two hinged halves that move around to allow you to set the perfect bevel angle. On one end, there is a clamp that holds the tools, and on the other lies the guide that helps the tool travel back and forth.
The roller of this guide rides on the workbench's surface, not the sharpening stone. It doesn’t feel problematic if your stone is parallel to the workbench, but it’s damn near impossible to use if your sharpening stones aren’t parallel.
What’s more, you need to completely re-adjust the guide when you switch to a different sharpening stone. That’s a lot of work for the average woodworker, which is a huge drawback.
On the plus side, you won’t find many honing guides worth $20, especially when they are this well-made.
Simple, decent, and elegant are the best words to use when describing the Richard Kell honing guide. This English honing guide has a reputation for being silky smooth in operation and crafted very well.
Many woodworkers choose it for its roller configuration. Unlike most available options, the Richard Kell has its rollers on the sides—the jig straddles the sharpening stone!
Unfortunately, you can only use this with chisels because it only supports blades up to 11/4 inches in width. That means that you can only sharpen chisels with it and nothing more. Kell addressed this with a bigger model that accepts blades of up to 25/8 inches. But, it’s really hard to use with smaller blades, so if you choose this brand, be prepared to own at least two models.
Eclipse was an England-based manufacturer of honing guides. Although they stopped making them, their models have earned such a reputation for accuracy that several copycats are in the market.
An eclipse-style honing guide has a pair of jaws that hold the tool. Since it is divided into two, the jaws can fit both plane irons (upper jaw) and chisels (lower jaw), and the design allows for quick, easy, and centered placements of the tool in the guide.
Few honing guides are as no-nonsense as Eclipse honing guides, but the only drawback has to be the narrow roller. It is precariously balanced, so you must be careful not to tip it when using narrow blades.
Veritas Mk. II
There is a lot to love about the Veritas Mk. II. It has a comfortable, contoured body that’s easy to use, a very secure clamping bar, and a smooth, wide roller with an interesting integrated feature: you can add a micro-bevel to the tool you’re sharpening.
The Veritas Mk. II is a highly accurate tool, partially because it comes with a set-up gauge. The set-up gauge allows you to position tools squarely for any bevel angle you need. It is so precise that you can use it to hone back bevels on plane irons.
The solid build is hard to fault, but if you must point out a downside to the Veritas Mk. II, it would be its weight. It’s trivial to think about, but if you routinely use it to sharpen narrow chisel blades, you’ll soon go looking for a lighter model.
Alisam Sharpening Sled
If Richard Kell’s side-mounted wheels appeal to you, then the Alisam Sharpening Sled is worth consideration. It has a similar wide stance built to perfection, so it’s easy to control.
In addition to that, you can adjust it to three heights to accommodate different sharpening stones. This qualifies it for use with a wide range of sharpening stones, including surface stones and Waterstones as thick as two inches.
It is a very comfortable honing guide, and if you wish to, you can buy different sides for quick height changes.
This award-winning honing guide might be considered the best complex design, but it’s not that hard to use. It doesn’t have rollers, but instead, it moves courtesy of a sled nestled between two rails.
It is highly adjustable too. It’s one of the few options that allow you to adjust the primary bevel in 5-degree increments and a secondary micro-bevel of two degrees.
Equipped with slick, plastic wear strips, it slides over stone and metal honing plates and can also work with abrasive honing film and sandpaper. As such, it earns full marks for versatility and improvisation.