Tool Review: Sharpening Systems
Good news: Easy and precise sharpening doesn't have to cost a lot of coin.
We'd rather be using tools than sharpening them. And tool manufacturers must think so, too, because in the past few years, several new sharpening systems have been introduced to take the drudgery out of putting on a keen edge. Those products fall into three general types: wet-wheel sharpeners, powered sandpaper sharpeners, and human-powered honing guides you use with your own stones or sandpaper.
To help you decide which type and model is best for you, we rounded up dozens of sharpeners and spent more than a month testing them. Although some models can be used to sharpen jointer knives or lathe tools, we focused our testing on flat cutters, such as chisels and plane blades--the tools you'll likely sharpen most often.
It takes a practiced hand to freehand sharpen without accidentally changing the bevel angle or putting the cutting edge out of square with the tool edge. A wheeled honing guide, though, maintains the tool at the correct sharpening angle as you roll it back and forth over an abrasive. Honing guides make a good entry point into sharpening because of their low cost ($12-$80), effectiveness, and uncomplicated setup. You can use them with sandpaper, oil- or waterstones, or even diamond paste, although models with widely spaced wheels may not fit on all sharpening stones.
What to look for: A rock-solid registration method--a fence of sorts--to keep the cutting edge square to the edge of the blade ensures accuracy and consistency, as does a tool-clamping system that holds all widths of tools securely. (Some honing guides have difficulty with chisels less than about 3/4" wide.) Narrow chisels also benefit from the additional stability of a honing guide with widely spaced wheels or a single, wide roller.
Best buys: Of the half-dozen models we tried, the Veritas MkII Honing Guide (Lee Valley, 800-871-8158, leevalley.com) performed best. For one-third the price of the MkII, Stanley's Sharpening Kit/Honing Guide (Garrett Wade, 800-221-2942, garrettwade.com) presents a great value.