Review By Dean Bielanowski  Veritas Website - http://www.veritastools.com

Veritas Mk II Honing Guide
& Skew Registration Jig

 Review

By Dean Bielanowski

Something strange is happening at the OnlineToolReviews.com workshop, and it is rather scary! Yours truly is slowly starting to enjoy using hand tools... Yes those ancient form of woodworking tools that don't need a power cord to operate. Heaven forbid, what is the world coming too?

But, this transformation in thought and practice has not come about by shear fluke alone. Oh no, only through using some of the best hand tools on the market has this hand tool bug started to bite. If the tools themselves didn't do the job, I'd have no hesitation in grabbing my power tools and firing them up! But there are a wide range of high quality hand tools on the market that make using hand tools a real joy. But aside from the specialty tools fit for one purpose, there are several others that virtually every woodworker owns. These are chisels and hand planes. And admittedly, these tools can often give a better end result than even the finest powered machines.

But when I go to reach for one of my chisels, it seems they are rarely sharp. It probably doesn't help that I have been using them in my recent home renovation project in some rather "rough" carpentry and framing work resulting in blunt, nicked and rounded edges. Most of them would have a hard time cutting peanut butter it seems.

Now, I have a few sharpening systems at my disposal, but many of them do not do a terribly good job at restoring a damaged edge back to square and flat, let alone at the right bevel angle too. My "Go-To" method for badly damaged chisels and plane blades (although I look after the plane blades much better) has always been a quick square up on the high speed grinder followed by my diamond stone and a basic chisel/plane blade holder. This usually gets me back to a good starting point for further refinement of the edge, and then on to honing to finish up. The problem has always been that setting up a blade in my el-cheapo chisel/blade holding jig has always been a real pain, not to mention it being difficult to hold and use.

So along comes Veritas and their Mk II Honing Guide. I never really used the original honing guide they offered but I had heard great things from this later revision/re-design of the original. It's not a new product but it's definitely one worth investigating more...

The Veritas Mk II Honing Guide
Anyone that has ever worked with chisels or plane blades, or even turning scrapers will know the importance of a sharp edge. Sharp tools are actually safer to use than blunt ones, but trying to restore your blades to a sharp edge state is far from most people's idea of a good time. The Veritas Mk II was made to make this sharpening task quicker, more accurate, and ultimately to produce a better and sharper edge on chisels and flat blades.

The Mk II Honing Guide is exactly that, a guide that holds your chisel or blade in the correct configuration to produce a consistent and repeatable sharp edge when the cutting tool is being sharpened on a sharpening stone. You sharpening stone could be a water stone, an oil stone or even a diamond stone, or perhaps even sandpaper stuck to a flat surface. No matter what, if you have a flat sharpening surface, the Mk II can do the job.

There are two components to the Mk II Honing Guide;

  • The Blade Carrier and Roller Assembly

  • The Standard Registration Jig

Both parts are included in the Mk II Honing Guide box. They are constructed from a mix of die-cast zinc/aluminum alloy with smaller parts also made from brass and steel. Needless to say, with the Veritas label attached, you can pretty much guarantee a solid, durable tool, and the honing guide certainly feels weighty and well machined in the hand.

It will sharpen and hone chisels down to 1/4" wide, and will handle blades up to 2 7/8" wide, and everything in between. It has a maximum chisel/blade clamping thickness of 15/32".

Perhaps the easiest way to explain this product, and review it is to talk you through the process of sharpening a chisel and a plane blade, the two most common cutting tools I use the guide with.

Now as with most honing guides you first need to set the chisel or blade in the guide and secure it down. This is where the Veritas Mk II really makes life simple. You use a combination of settings on both the Blade Carrier and the Registration Jig to guarantee near perfect angle and blade protrusion distances.

Firstly, before you attach a chisel or blade to the Blade Carrier you need to adjust the general angle setting on the Blade Carrier. There are three settings. The first, marked with a "1" and in red is for high blade bevel angles - 25 - 54 degrees. The second, marked with the number "2" and in yellow is for standard blade bevel angles between 15 and 40 degrees. The third setting point, marked with a "3" in green is for creating back bevels of plane blades with angles between 10 and 20 degrees. Basically you should have enough scope there to sharpen just about any bevel angle used with chisels and plane irons. So you start by setting the Blade Carrier to the position marker appropriate to the bevel angle you wish to hone/create using the guide. Note that there is some overlap in angle settings between position 1 and 2 on the Blade Carrier. You could use either setting for bevel angles between 25 and 40 degrees if you wished, but the overlap is primarily to accommodate shorter length blades where it may be desirable or necessary to use one setting over the other for these overlapped angles. For my test blade, which is a 1" wide Marples chisel with a 25 degree primary bevel, I have set the Blade Carrier in the number 2 position for "standard angles". With this set we can now proceed to secure the chisel in the Honing Guide using the Registration Jig.

The Registration Jig attaches to the front of the Blade Carrier via a dovetail-like connection with a securing screw and its onboard marker aligns with scaled markings on the Blade Carrier to set up for the width of the blade being worked on. This will basically ensure your blade or chisel is set in the middle of the blade holding clamp. So with my 1" wide chisel I align the marker with the 1" setting on the Blade Carrier. It's very easy. Now the next step will set how far the chisel or blade will protrude out from the Blade Carrier. This distance will also determine the exact angle at which the bevel meets the sharpening stone (or surface). So accuracy here will ensure a perfect bevel angle. On the Registration Jig is an adjustable stop which slots into pre-defined milled points along the length of the Registration Jig. These points are marked for the various common bevel angles used in hand tools. The Jig has three scales that correlate with the numbered setting used on the Blade Carrier, so since I am using the Number 2 setting on the Carrier, I will reference the Number 2 yellow scale on the Registration Jig. I move the adjustable screw stop so it slots into the 25 degree setting on the yellow scale and lock it down. Now I have set up both the Carrier and the Registration Jig ready for my chisel. I simply slide the chisel between the Blade Carrier clamp and with both parts upside down, and the chisel's bevel now pointing up at us, move it forward in the jig so the cutting edge rests gently on the adjustable stop on the Registration Jig (which you will remember is set at the 25 degree setting) I also ensure the edge of the chisel is firm up against the "fence" of the Registration Jig which will ensure the chisel is set squarely in the Honing Guide. If it is not square, you will end up with a skew chisel rather than a nice flat square ended one. Once the chisel is located correctly, tighten down the Carrier clamps progressively and evenly on each side to ensure the firmest grip on the chisel. With that all taken care of, the Registration Jig can be removed and you are ready to start sharpening! Well, almost. On the bottom of the Honing Guide is a guide roller wheel. This is eccentric in design with three adjustable settings. A brass spring loaded adjustment screw on the end of the wheel allows you to quickly set the wheel to create micro-bevels of between 1-2 degrees difference to the primary bevel, without the need to adjust anything else on the Guide. But for the first part of sharpening a damaged chisel where the bevel needs to be reset the roller adjustment should be set with the screw marker pointing to the 12 o'clock position. Also, an important part of a sharp cutting blade is having a well machined or finished blade back that is at the very least, perfectly or very near perfectly flat. A flat blade back, at least close to the front cutting edge, is vital to creating a sharp cutting edge in conjunction with a honed bevel.

When I first pulled this Honing Guide out of the box, I looked at it and thought... ok there's got to be a few hours of study in this before I'll have it creating nice blade edges, but really, it takes perhaps less than five minutes of reading the instructions and you will catch on to how it works VERY easily. It is so straight forward once you know what each part is supposed to do that you will only need to read and follow the instructions once. You will probably never forget, like riding a bike. In fact, the process is so quick and simple it makes setting up of other sharpening guides seem terribly complicated and a real waste of time and effort, not to mention the inevitable rise in frustration levels when using them, so hats off to the architects behind this Honing Guide design. They really know what they are doing and are obviously woodworkers too!

Now back to the sharpening of my chisel. The next step is to grab your sharpening stone (I am using a diamond stone) and place the Honing Guide on top of it. The chisel is already perfectly set up ready to go so put your fingers on the back of the chisel near the bevel (which is now pointing down on the surface of the stone) and utilizing the Guides roller wheel underneath just roll the Guide forward and back on the stone. The bevel will be ground as required to meet the bevel angle set. Every now and then check the bevel. You will be able to see where the bevel is being abraded if you have dirty or rusty chisels or ones with a damaged bevel face or incorrect bevel angle. The goal is to have an even grind right across the chisel face, as well as a nice square cutting edge. You will be pretty much guaranteed a flat bevel by the way the Honing Guide holds your blade at the consistent angle, and how fine a finish you require will be determined by the grade of the stone on which you are sharpening or honing your tools. For my chisel, which needed a lot of work, I am using a medium-coarse diamond stone. This will give me an accurate and smooth bevel edge I can further refine or polish on finer stones or on my slow speed grinder's honing wheel using fine diamond polishing paste.

So just work your chisel back and forward until you have that flat, smooth and square bevel and cutting edge. You will have to ensure the Guide's roller is engaged on the stone at all times for accurate results. As such, a wide sharpening stone is recommended - one at least two inches wide would work perfectly well and make life easier. I couldn't imagine trying to balance everything on a narrow stone! Once the primary bevel is successfully ground, you can decide whether you wish to create a micro-bevel on your chisel or blade. I would recommend it, simply because it will give you an even sharper edge and a Micro-bevel means you only need to hone the micro-bevel instead of the hole primary bevel to get the same effect as honing the complete primary bevel. In essence the actual cutting part of the chisel is right at the tip and hence a Micro-bevel here will have full effect on cutting. And there really is no excuse not to have one when sharpening or honing using the Mk II because all you need to do is rotate the screw adjuster on the guide wheel from the 12 o'clock position to the 6 o'clock position, and again work the blade on the stone as has been done previously. A thin micro-bevel will be formed which will greatly help to increase the "sharpness" and cutting ability of the blade. Creating the micro-bevel is quite quick and easy once the primary bevel is properly ground. With further honing and polishing of both the micro-bevel and the back of the blade, what you should end up with is an ultra-sharp chisel or blade that will readily pass the paper cut test and take the hair of your arms, just like a razor! And if you have never used  a chisel of plane blade that is this sharp before, the difference will almost shock you. This is part of the reason why I am slowly becoming a convert to hand tools, now that I can enjoy and use sharp tools like they are supposed to be used. You will soon find that most chisels and blades that come directly out of the packaging are really far from "sharp" and a bit of extra honing can turn an ordinary tool into an extraordinary one.

With regards to sharpening plane blades, these are done in a similar way to chisels with the same method of setting up the blade in the Honing Guide and working the primary bevel, and the Micro-bevel for that matter. However, with plane blades, it may be desirable to create a back-bevel on the flat back edge of the blade, especially if working with difficult or cranky grained timbers, or for end grain planing. A back bevel will increase the effective cutting angle in most cases and this higher cutting angle is more desirable for planing difficult or swirly grained lumber. To create the back bevel after the primary and micro bevels have been created, position the Blade Carrier in the Number 3 position (the Back Bevel position). Set the blade in the Carrier using the Registration Jig, referencing the Green Number 3 scale on the Jig to set up for a particular back bevel angle (10, 13, 15, 17 and 20 degree back bevel angles available). Which back bevel angle you use will depend on numerous factors. The instructions include a table which advises which angle might be suitable for which cutting conditions or specific grain configurations. The plane blade is set bevel up in the Honing Guide for back bevel grinding and honing operations. To create the back bevel, just run the blade over the stone as you would normally do. Only a few passes are required, or desired really, as you only want a narrow back bevel grind (no point having a large one really) and a small one is easier to remove if you decide to do that later on. The micro-bevel roller knob should also be reset to the 12 o'clock position for back-beveling tasks. I have created a back bevel on one of my plane irons and it really does make a fair difference to cutting quality when working on tough grained or cranky grained lumber. Well worth doing, particularly if you have multiple plane blades you can utilize for the one hand plane. You can have one standard blade and the other created with a back bevel and swap them as needed for the task at hand.

Conclusion
Well, the included pictures here should really speak for themselves! As you can see I now can create pretty much perfect chisel and plane iron bevels, sharpen dull blades back to a workable condition, and bring damaged blades back to life. The Mk II is really a work of art in itself in terms of design and usability, the fact that it works and does what it says it will do makes it a must-have item for any woodworker with chisels or hand planes. And let's not rule out tools like skew chisels for woodturning and any other tools with a common angle bevel... Most of these can be sharpened and honed using the Mk II Honing Guide as well.

But let's be honest, using this tool is not all glitz and glamour. there will be some serious elbow grease involved if you plan on bringing back badly damaged blades to life. It could take many hours of manual labor if you choose to do the ground work by hand, as opposed to the rough initial grinding on a high speed powered bench grinder... However, for those who do not abuse their chisels in meaningless rough construction and renovating work like I do (hey I do have two sets of chisels that never go near a renovation project!) then the Mk II is about the best manual honing tool/guide I have come across yet. It will quickly hone or touch up a dulling edge in no time and with accuracy that most other forms of sharpening simply cannot match.

The Veritas Mk II Honing Guide is available anywhere where Veritas tools are sold, or you can check out www.leevalley.com online or or more information (if you can handle any more that is!) surf on over to the Veritas Tools website at www.veritastools.com

The Skew Registration Jig
Available as an accessory for the Mk II Honing Guide is the Veritas Skew Registration Jig. This is attached to the Blade Carrier in the same way as the Standard Registration Jig via its dovetail screw clamp. It is used to set Skew chisels or Skew blades accurately in the Mk II Blade Carrier for bevel angle and skew angle. Bevel angles can be set to 20, 25, 30, or 35 degrees fixed and skew angles are available from 10 to 45 degrees in 5 degree increments and special common skew angle settings of 18, 22, and 28 degrees are also marked. You can use the Skew Registration Jig to match virtually any skew angle you like if you need to, for example, to match a non-common existing skew angle on a skew chisel or blade. The Jig has the markings and functions to allow this to be done.

Setting Up a Blade Using the Skew Registration Jig
there are only a couple steps to set up a skew chisel of blade in the Blade Carrier using this jig. First you set the bevel angle by dropping the adjustable fence into one of the bevel angle grooves on the jig (at 20, 25, 30 or 25 degrees). Once you have the fence sitting in the correct groove for the bevel angle, you can then slide the fence left and right to set the skew angle of the blade. The fence has a blade stop which you can line up on the tangent for the desired skew angle required according to the skew angle markings on the jig. For non-standard existing skew blade angles, you can first secure the fence down then add the blade or chisel onto the jig referencing one edge against the registration pin on the jig, then ensure the front cutting edge of the blade is parallel and touching the fence, then lock the fence down. This will set the blade at the correct skew angle to match the existing angle on the blade.

Once the jig has been configured, you can slide it onto the front of the Blade Carrier. The markings on the Blade Carrier for centering the blade in the Carrier do not apply when using the Skew Jig, so ignore that step. Slide the blade in under the Blade Carrier clamp and align the blade with the fence using the registration pin on the jig as a blade edge locating guide. When the front cutting face of the blade is parallel to and touching the fence as the edge touching the registration pin, then move the blade and Skew Jig as one unit along the Blade Carrier so the blade is approximately centered in the Honing Guide. This will ensure better balance of the guide when rolling it over the stone or sharpening surface. Once centered in the guide lock down the Blade Carrier clamp to secure the blade/chisel in position. Then unlock and remove the Skew Registration Jig. You are now ready to sharpen/hone in the normal manner. Again the text description here probably makes it sound a bit trickier than it really is. In reality, it is very easy and intuitive to use and setting up a skew angle and bevel angle using this Jig is really child's play.

Use and Conclusion
The same process applies for sharpening and honing, and setting micro-bevels and back bevels using the Skew registration Jig as does for the Standard Registration Jig for square edge blades. This Jig, along with the Honing Guide make it quick and painless to replicate or recreate a skew angle. It is certainly a lot easier to do than working with many jigs on the high speed grinder, and once you have your edge set and sharpened, you only need to hone it from there on as it dulls to keep it in tip-top working condition. Again, Veritas have made a potentially complicated setup procedure for sharpening very simple, as well as maintaining the highest level of accuracy possible with such a tool. My high speed grinder, and perhaps even my slow speed wet grinder will probably be seeing a lot less action now that I have this great tool in my inventory.

Pricing
The Veritas Honing Guide (which is supplied with the Standard Registration Jig for square ended blades) retails for US$62.50. The Skew Registration Jig retails for US$29.50. I find both these prices very reasonable for what is essentially the best manual sharpening and honing guide available for the home woodworker today. In fact, after using the Mk II for many weeks, I would be happy to pay double what they are asking for the results I am achieving. For anyone who works a lot with hand tools, and performs their own tool sharpening, this Honing Guide is a must!

Veritas also sell a Camber Roller Assembly to fit the Mk II Honing Guide. I haven't seen or used one of these in person, so I wont comment on it directly. I will paste an excerpt from the accessory product description page regarding this add-on for your benefit:

The Veritas Mk.II Honing Guide has been designed to produce accurate and repeatable square bevels on chisel and plane blades. However, when using smoothing planes on large, flat surfaces, it is desirable to hone a slight curve, or camber, into the edge of the blade. This allows the cut to taper out on each side, and avoids plane tracks in the surface.

The Veritas Camber Roller Assembly has a barrel-shaped roller that allows limited rocking, while still maintaining an accurate and consistent bevel angle. Simply replace the standard roller assembly with the camber assembly and hone, first applying more pressure on one side of the blade, and then on the other. Blade extension is still set using the registration jig, and the camber roller includes the standard eccentric system to allow micro-bevels to be honed.

 (December 4th 2008) 

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Veritas Mk II Honing Guide Photos
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The Veritas Mk II Honinh Guide with a chisel clamped in the Blade Carrier.


Three color-coded settings make setup simple for varying blade bevel angles.


This scale will help set the blade in the middle of the guide for better balanced sharpening/honing.


The screw adjustment for the eccentric wheel, used to set micro-bevels.


The Standard Registration Jig makes setting up square edge chisels and blades simple.


Aligning and securing a chisel for a 25 degree bevel.


Using the Skew Registration Jig to determine an existing skew chisel angle.


Back and forth motion over the diamond stone to sharpen and hone the edge.


It may be hard to see but there is a perfect micro-bevel on this chisel edge, created easily using the Mk II Honing Guide.


It is the perfect accessory for hand plane owners. Here the iron from a #4 Stanley is being touched up.

 


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