Introduction to using the VERITAS Sharpening System
This sharpening aid is no longer available and was replaced by the MK.II honing guide. We keep this introduction online to support all who use this guide.
There is no need to be ashamed of using a honing guide. Although many woodworkers can rise to the challenge of sharpening a chisel without any assistance in holding it, and this is, of course, praiseworthy, the stark fact is that the bevel is almost bound to be ground gradually into a curve. Getting the cutting edge to a fine sharpness will become ever more difficult. An accurate honing guide will be a real help here. It also helps you to sharpen more efficiently because you can increase the pressure on the grinding stone.
Here it is necessary to clear up a misconception. I often meet woodworkers who equate automatic grinding with using a grinding machine to hone with leather or stone block. It is, indeed, possible to sharpen by hand, most effectively if the right stones are available. Notches in chisels can even be ground out by hand. However, when one talks about sharpening, it is not automatically clear whether one means by hand or machine. Sharpening only means that material is removed to allow two surfaces to meet along the best possible line of contact.
Please note that the Veritas honing guide is not suitable for very short chisels. At a grinding angle of 25°, the minimum length of the iron must be 70 mm, and at an angle of 30° the length must be 60 mm (without tang). Most Japanese chisels have a blade only about 55 - 65 mm long when they are new, and this length gets less over time as they are sharpened, so that it is not advisable to purchase a Veritas system for Japanese chisels. The system is, however, the most versatile one for European chisels and plane blades.
Despite this, even using a grinding feed does not ensure automatic succes. A certain amount of preparation is necessary. The first things you have to do are not actually to do with the guide, and are relevant for every sharpening task.
- Look at your stones! The most important thing is that the stone must be plane. A stone that is worn and has become concave will never give a good result - unless, that is, you are sharpening hollow ground gouges. It is not necessary to throw away the stone, but trimming must be done before you can use it. There a many methods, the best tending to be dependent on the stone. The harder the stone, the longer it takes. The easiest and fastest to get plane are the Japanese water stones, because they are soft, with a loose composition. They do, of course, require the process more often for this reason.
- Rubbing two stones together is the oldest and commonest method but does not give you the ultimate smoothness.
- A possibility is to use wet-or-dry sandpaper, placing it wet on a plate of glass or other plane surface, where it will cling. If the stone is very hollow you can take a big grain size as 80 or 120, and then a finer type to improve the surface. Here, too, you can add silicon carbide powder and you will double the speed of the work.
- Purists reject the last suggestion, arguing that the hard particles from the paper or the powder bury themselves in the soft surface of the stone and tend to scratch the surface of the tool and, therefore, of the cutting edge during sharpening. This is an argument to be considered, but one can take avoiding action by using the finest of sandpaper (grain size 600) with very light pressure for the final stage of working and following that by washing the stone thoroughly.
- Select the stone according to the purpose. There is little benefit to be gained from using a superfine stone for coarse jobs. You can take as a guide the following:
- For coarse work - grinding out notches or starting on a very blunt tool - a 200 - 400 grain stone is recommended.
- For ordinary sharpening the right stone will have an 800 - 1200 grain size.
- To hone away the fine burr and to polish the surfaces, use the 3000 - 8000 grain stones. If you are a beginner, keep away from the 8000 stone, for even the experienced the user who knows the difference is capable of wearing it out.
- Now the next thing - look at your chisels or plane irons! You should remove dirt before you start sharpening. The bottom or face of the chisel, also called the mirror side, must be smooth and flat.
- As this is not visible at first sight, use this simple method: "grind" the face on a - flat - stone of fine grain size. This shows you very quickly where the stone is in contact and where it is not. The tool is not plane if only parts of the surface are being touched by the sharpening stone. Now it will have to be rubbed on the stone until the whole surface has been planed, at least in the area of the cutting edge.
- Now you have to decide what angle is right for the bevel. Here is a rule of thumb: the softer the wood, the sharper the angle - and the harder and knottier the wood, the more oblique the angle. The sharper the angle, the sharper the cutting edge, but also the more delicate... These angles are fine for everyday use: 25° - 27° for softwood, 30° for hardwood, 35° for heavy use. When in doubt, go for an angle that is more oblique - a rule that is particularly good for very narrow irons.
- Now you are ready to use the grinding feed and angle guide. These two items constitute the grinding gauge. First stick the self-adhesive rubber pad to the surface where the chisel is to rest, so that it will not slip off. Take care that the marking on the small knurled-head screw at the side is pointing to the top.
- Turn the disc with the five angles marked on it into the position where the required angle (e.g., 25°) is pointing to the grinding area, and tighten the screw.
Now slide the iron into the gauge as shown in the picture, bevel downwards, with the knurled screw facing the pentagonal disc, but do not tighten the screw yet. Then push the tool with the gauge under the slope of the pentagonal disc. When the face of the tool is cleanly abutting this slope, push the grinding feed downwards and tighten the knurled screw.
With the tool thus fixed you move it backwards and forwards over a well-dampened stone. Press moderately hard on the tool very close to the stone - the best way to do it is with both index fingers as shown in the picture. Use as much as you can of the available surface of the stone, and work until you have achieved a cleanly ground bevel. However soon you achieve this, you should not stop until you have been over the entire surface of the bevel in the area of the cutting edge.
- For the honing stage you can leave the tool in the gauge if you wish, going over the hone with both the face and the bevel surface while it is so fixed.
There is a special feature to the Veritas system, which is that a secondary bevel can be applied with an exact and replicable angle, as shown below. Experts argue about its usefulness or otherwise but I will not go into that. A secondary bevel means that the angle of the bevel at the very front of the cutting edge will be about 1° to 2° blunter and that less subsequent sharpening will be necessary.
The setting of this second angle is achieved by gently pulling the lateral knurled screw on the grinding gauge outwards without changing how the tool is fixed, and giving it a quarter turn. As can be seen in the sketch, a 25° angle changes to 26° in a quarter turn and to 27° in a half turn. The arrow indicates the marking on the head of the screw.
If the bevel has been ground to a different angle beforehand, the angle achieved by the turns will be as in the table.
- With the tool thus fixed you take it over the stone. This secondary bevel should not be more than 1 mm.
- Clean the device with water after use. Oil it occasionally to prevent particles getting stuck between the cam and the roller.