Garrett Hack replies: The single advantage of a jig is that it holds your blade at a consistent angle to the stone. When you are learning to sharpen, this can be a big help in getting good results. Otherwise they are a pain to set up and use. Far more efficient and versatile is to learn to sharpen freehand. If you hollow grind your blades so the bevel is very stable on your stone, you can learn in an afternoon. It’s like riding a bike, so easy once the training wheels are off.
Elliot Savitzky replies: Which jig you select really depends on both convenience and the amount you want to spend. I have the Veritas MK II mostly because it allows for sharpening wide and narrow blades as long as you buy the kit with both jigs included. It also has a guide to set the distance from the edge of the blade in order to set your bevel angle. The Lie-Nielsen jig and others require you to construct your own stop blocks to set the various angles—too much work for me. The Woodcraft jig is a bit more simplistic but works well.
That said, I have moved back to sharpening my chisels and plane irons using a hollow grind and my older oil stones. I had learned to use the hollow grind and oil stones at a class at North Bennett Street School and always thought I wasn’t getting my blades sharp enough because of the quality of my chisels and/or the fact that I wasn’t using water stones. Big dollars later, I replaced my Irwin chisels with Lie-Nielsen chisels and my oil stones with Ohishi water stones (1,000, 8,000, and 10,000 grits) and bought the Veritas MK II.
I am currently in the process of taking ten weeks of classes at North Bennett Street School, where during the first week we re-learned how to put a sharp edge on a chisel. Guess what? I’m now back to my hollow grind and oil stones—India to flatten the back and to hone an edge after the hollow grind and Arkansas and Black Arkansas for honing. And this takes me significantly less time to hone the edges in about ten seconds than it does to insert the chisel in the sharpening jig.
The moral of the story is that do what you feel is right, but going back to basics never hurt a chisel.
Richard Oedel replies: In general, for flat blades, learn to do it by hand and touch it up all the time. Jigs are nice to have, but you tend to do it less often.
For carving tools, I used to do them all by hand, but David Esterly, the carver who was able to do all the Grinling Gibbons restoration work at Windsor Castle, was a late convert and ardent supporter of a moving wheel system. I plan on buying one soon.
I tend to do all my sharpening using abrasive sandpaper on glass.
Bruce Wedlock replies: A sharpening jig’s purpose is to hold the blade at a constant angle as you work through different stones shaping and honing the bevel. Any jig will hold the bevel constant. But will the jig allow you to accurately reset your desired angle repeatedly, an important convenience with frequent resharpening? My recommendation is for the Veritas Mk II jig. It has a range of 30 easily repeated different angles from 10 to 48 degrees.
There are three height settings for the Mk II Guide labeled Red, Yellow and Green, and there are 12 length settings, but only 12 of the 36 possible angles are labeled. The table below is my calculation of all the angles available with the 12 index holes labeled from the left end, rounded to the nearest degree. There are 25 different angles available, handy for adding a microbevel. Some of the calculated larger Red angles in the table are smaller by a couple of degrees from the Mk II labels.