How to Decide Which Honing Guide to Buy

A honing guide is a simple jig that has been around ever since woodworkers set steel to stone. At its heart it is a tool that allows you to use basic geometry and distance to set a plane or a chisel blade down at a perfect angle on a sharpening stone, thereby assuring you can achieve accurate and repeatable angles on your blade while sharpening.

There are many different honing guides on the market today. They range from inexpensive (around $15) to very expensive ($270). Some of them have additional features or completely unique designs. When you are just starting out it is difficult to cut through the noise and make the right purchase, particularly when potentially laying down such a significant amount of cash. Let's walk through some of the available honing guides and try to sort out which one is best for you, shall we?

The Basic

What I refer to as the "basic" style honing guide is colloquially referred to as the "eclipse" style honing guide. This type of honing guide has been around for a long time and is the most inexpensive type of honing guide to get started with (other than building your own). These types of honing guides are very cheap (usually around $15) and can be purchased from Amazon, or just about any other tool retailer. If you are wondering whether a $15 honing guide will actually work, you are not alone. The answer to this question is yes, it totally will...sort of.

When you are just getting started I recommend getting ahold of one of these and trying them out to get a feel for how honing guides work and to get you quickly up and running. I have used this type of honing guide to successfully sharpen many different types of blades and been pleased with the results. This is why I recommend getting started here and moving up to a nicer guide if you find that you are consistently not able to get the accurate, repeatable sharpening you are wanting. It is very possible that you could purchase one of these and never need another honing guide in your lifetime.

So, what are the downsides to these types of honing guides? Well, typically people complain that when tightening a plane blade in the guide, the center of the bed tends to curve up and thus makes for "inconsistent" results. Also, the smaller grips that hold chisel blades are not machined properly to hold thicker style chisels.

I do not actively use any thicker style chisels, and I although I have observed the center of the bed problem, it has never caused me any practical issues when actually sharpening. If you are concerned about these issues, both can be addressed relatively easily with a simple file and a bit of time.

Some of the more expensive honing guides that I discuss below use a wider style of wheel mechanism to assist you in maintaining a flat stroke across the stone. It can be argued that this is a superior design. However, I actually find that a smaller wheelbase allows for more control and ability to bevel the blade on either side which I see as a bit of a feature of this style of guide.

Veritas Part I

So if there are some problems with the cheap ones, can I pay a little more and get one that is more accurate? Yes, you totally can...sort of.

Veritas makes an upgraded version of the eclipse style honing guide. Additionally, Wood River makes a similar style guide. At first glance, this seems perfect. A more accurately machined version of the eclipse style guide is just what the doctor ordered right? I almost ordered one of these, but then I noticed that Lee Valley does not have reviews of their products on their online store. This made me just a bit suspicious.

I did a deep dive into reviews of these options and there was enough complaints about these upgraded eclipse style guides to give me pause. This may not be the case for you. Personally, I think a well made eclipse guide for $50 or $75 is a perfect scenario. Not outlandishly expensive, but not dirt cheap either. If you are intrigued by this price point and consider negative reviews to be possibly chalked up to user error, then going this route seems like a viable option.

Veritas Part (mk?) II

Veritas is a cool company, they make lots of interesting tools and what I like about them is that they are not afraid to rethink traditional designs and come out with something completely different. As is the case with the Veritas Mk II honing guide.

Right out of the gate, you'll see that this is a completely different style of honing guide. The blade is secured from the top down as opposed to side to side and has a much wider wheel base. This is the honing guide that James Wright of Wood By Wright fame recommends. However, my personal feeling is that this style of honing guide is overly complex and fiddly to work with. Doing a cursory look into various people's opinions on this style have confirmed this for me. I like simplistic tools that you don't have to think about and this is not that. But for a contrarian view, take a look at what Mr. Wright has to say:

Lie Nielsen

No hand tool accessory discussion could possibly be complete without looking at a premium, cost-prohibitive, high-end option right? Of course not. This is where Lie Nielsen comes in. They make a high-end version of the eclipse style honing guide.

By all accounts the Lie Nielsen honing guide is absolutely rock solid. Much like their ever-lauded planes, the Lie Nielsen honing guide is pretty much resoundingly accepted as nearly perfect. I'd like to be able to tell you from experience, but at $150, plus several jaw types each costing $45, you could easily be getting into the $300 range or 20x what a cheap honing guide would cost. Now, this may be no problem for many people, but I like to be pragmatic about where I am spending my money in regards to woodworking. Another way to say this is that I am cheap. I don't want to overspend on something if I don't have to and this purchase seems to fall into that category. It may not for you and if that's the case, there is no doubt in my mind this is a great purchase.

Woodpecker and Bridge City

Speaking of overspending. Why stop at $150? Let's talk about a couple of even more expensive options.

Woodpecker makes a sharpening system, as does Bridge City Toolworks. The woodpecker sharping system is $270. To be fair you can get a slimmed down package for a mere $170. The main innovation woodpecker is offering here are the angle gauges and precision machining of the tool itself. The depth/angle gauge is a very common project that most woodworkers with any type of honing guide will build themselves. It simply involves measuring the appropriate distance and adding a small block of wood to allow you to place the blade against as a reference in order to match the appropriate angle on your guide every time. I think it is worth it to do the project and add it to a sharpening station, which also holds your sharpening stones, but I can see wanting to simply have something that works and includes a gauge that you don't have to make. If that sounds like you, the woodpecker could be a good option (though I'd still probably lean towards Lie Nielsen at this price point).

Bridge City Toolworks is another interesting company and their $270 honing guide is an interesting entrant into the discussion. It is both completely re-imagined and likely extremely well made. It comes with its own angle setting guide and I have no doubt it would work flawlessly out of the box. I have never owned a Bridge City Toolworks tool, but their mission seems to be modern takes on classic tools that are both highly functional and have an added focus on aesthetics. My personal philosophy on the aesthetics of the tools I use is that I really don't care what it looks like, I just want it to function beautifully. So in that respect, I have no interest is a $270 honing guide. All of that said, your mileage may vary.


So which guide is best for you? As with all things woodworking, you've got to evaluate your personal preferences and what you are looking for individually from this purchase. Personally, I like starting with the cheap, eclipse style and seeing where it leads you. Alternatively, starting with the Veritas or Wood River side clamping guide as a step up, but not bank breaking, purchase appears to be a good strategy. One thing I will say is that some of the "problems" that get attributed to these guides are actually more attributable to how you are using them. Putting too much pressure to one side or the other when sharpening can result in skewed sharpening and some may interpret that as a problem with the tool initially, but really it comes down to learning how to use the guide and sharpen effectively with it.

I firmly believe you can do so with any of these guides, although paying more money will likely make it easier to do, it isn't a guarantee. If you are just starting out, get yourself a cheap honing guide and get started. You'll be much better off with a cheaply made honing guide and a sharp blade than not sharpening your blade at all.