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Showing content with the highest reputation since 11/06/2011 in Product Reviews

  1. 2 points
    The Free-Way Switch is a unique take on the traditional 3-position toggle switch manufactured in the UK in by switchgear specialists NSF Controls Ltd. The switch first made its debut fitted to one of Jimmy Page's Les Paul® Custom model in late 2007 for Led Zeppelin's Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert, allowing the three humbucker-equipped instrument to achieve six individual pickup combinations using an ingenious traverse toggle mechanism. By flicking the actuator perpendicular to its normal direction of travel an extra 3 positions become available to the player, doubling the tonal permutations offered with a standard 3-way toggle, without resorting to installing push-pull pots or mini toggles. The most recent incarnation of the Free-Way switch expands on the flexibility and build quality of the original switches to provide more diverse switching options in a long-lasting, easy to use package. Free-Way boast an endurance of 1 million operations over the lifespan of the switch. The range features two versions - the 3x3-03 with 15 termination points and the 3x3-05 with a whopping 28 termination points. A sub-variant of the 3x3-03 is also offered - the 3x3-04, specially made for JJ Custom Works, which features fixed pickup combinations for a dual humbucker guitar incorporating series, parallel and coil split functions. All switches are available in nickel or gold finishes and can be purchased with a variety of different coloured tips. From the outside the switch doesn't look any different to a normal 3-position toggle, making it attractive to those people wanting to upgrade their guitars without changing the appearance. The only hint that the switch has some tricks up its sleeve is the actuator leaning slightly to one side. Around the back of each switch, the mechanism is a sealed unit inside a small metal canister. Each termination point for the contacts of the switch is presented on a small printed circuit board with gold-plated solder pads. Each version of the switch also includes a larger pad specifically marked for ground connections (labelled as 'GD' on the circuit board), which also doubles as the grounding connection for the metallic parts of the switch. Due to the overhang of the circuit board the switches are slightly wider than a traditional toggle, with the '05 model being the largest of the two, but much shallower being only half as deep. Despite its bulk the larger '05 model is designed to still fit into the toggle switch cavity of a Les Paul. Model Overview The '05 model can be considered the equivalent of a 6-position rotary switch, where six incoming signals can be sent to the outgoing side of the switch one at a time. The switch contains two independent halves, each containing a one-of-six selector allowing for a wide range of pickup combinations, splits, kill switching, passive with piezo pairings and even options for Strats, HSS and HSH-equipped instruments . The '03 model is actually quite a complex beast, despite being half the size of the '05. The first three positions on the '03 behave the same as a standard 3-way toggle, providing Signal A, Signal A+B and Signal B combinations. Moving the switch to the next group of three positions adds an additional layer of signal pairings but operating under a slightly different system, expanding the combinations to Signal C, Signal D+E and Signal F. As for the '05 model, each half of the switch is completely independent to the other, and a total of 12 different switching combinations is under the control of one lever. With such a bewildering array of combinations possible in one switch it's easy to get lost trying to figure out exactly which contact does what for each position, so Free-Way helpfully provide a pack of example wiring diagrams covering various pickup combinations to help get the ball rolling. The schematics are clearly laid out and only require some minor interpretation on the part of the user to ensure that pickup wiring colour codes are correctly translated from the ones shown in the diagrams to those fitted to your guitar. Both switches come with plastic tips that can be unscrewed from the shaft and exchanged for different colours - cream, black and amber tips are available. The thread on the shaft is quoted as M3.5, but unfortunately this appeared to differ from the Switchcraft and no-name Allparts toggles I had on hand In use With the trusty soldering iron warmed up I decided to dive right in and retrofit the '03 switch to one of my SR-series guitars. This instrument is fitted with two Seymour Duncan 4-conductor humbucker pickups. I normally keep the control layout on these guitars fairly sparse and basic, with only a 3-way toggle and single volume pot, but the option of adding some coil split functions to this instrument while keeping the control layout uncluttered is attractive. The original wiring layout of the guitar is shown below: To get things started I turned to the example wiring schemes provided by Free-Way, narrowing down the choices to those that allowed me to retain the standard bridge humbucker/bridge + neck/neck humbucker options that the original toggle provided, while adding some interesting coil split functions in the alternate group of three positions. As the wiring for these switches is quite a bit more involved than a standard toggle, it pays to do as much work on the switch as possible outside of the instrument. A small piece of MDF with a 1/2" hole drilled through, clamped to the workbench makes a quick and effective holder for keeping these switch from twirling around on the bench while trying to solder wires to the pads: A few notes on working with these switches. Some of the wiring schemes require that adjacent pads are soldered together. The gold plated pads are spaced deliberately close together to facilitate this, and unless care is taken it can be easy to inadvertently bridge two pads together by applying too much solder. Your choice of soldering iron can make a big difference to working with the delicate nature of these solder pads. A fine point, temperature-regulated iron is recommended to make easy work of soldering wires to the termination points, while minimising the risk of damaging the gold pads by overheating. Good soldering technique will assist in fitting these switches into the guitar too, as space inside the cavity can get cramped very quickly. Free-Way suggest that wiring all the solder pads to external screw terminals can assist in installations where the user wants to try out several different switching schemes without having to re-solder the switch multiple times over. However, the requirement for a generously-proportioned control cavity may prevent some users from achieving this, as was the case in my situation. Making several connections to one pad can be tricky too, as previously soldered wires have a tendency to spring off once the next wire is added to the connection. Some careful manipulation of connections is often required to get everything to stay put. Alternatively it can be beneficial to plan ahead where possible by twisting multiple conductors together and then soldering the bundled wires to a pad in one go. After an hour or two of careful soldering, poking and prodding, the switch was finally bolted into the cavity and the wiring taken for a test drive: With the actuator in the down position (away from the player) the toggle operates the same as the basic 3-position unit it replaced, with bridge humbucker/bridge hum + neck hum/neck hum combinations. With the particular wiring scheme I chose to use, pulling the actuator upwards engages the three alternate combinations of bridge hum + neck split/bridge split + neck split/neck hum + bridge split. The physical action of the switch itself is positive, with a decisive latching feel as the toggle is moved between positions. Pops, clicks and other extraneous electrical noise is as low as any other good quality toggle switch. Quickly changing between the two traverse modes takes a little getting use to, but otherwise the usefulness and practicality of the switch is immediately apparent. As mentioned earlier, the outward appearance of the switch is virtually indistinguishable from the toggle it replaced: Summary The Free-Way switch makes for quite a powerful upgrade to a guitar's pickup selection system that will appeal to people wanting to create new and unusual switching schemes without resorting to adding multiple controls. The quality of the switch appears to be very solid, and while working with the wiring can at times get a bit cramped, it is well worth considering as an alternative to a traditional 3-position toggle, or even as a substitute to a 5-position blade switch. Pros: Good build quality and mechanical feel Excellent documentation Massive range of switching possibilities with only one control No change in instrument looks for situations where external appearance is important Cons: Larger physical size can be a problem in cramped control cavities Soldering can be fiddly ---------- Thanks go to Free-Way Switches for providing the units used in this product review!
  2. 2 points
    The router is one of the most versatile tools in a luthier's arsenal. It can also represent a decent chunk of your tool budget, so making a good choice is critical. Having sampled a few different routers over the last several years, I've gotten a fair idea of what works well and what doesn't. From the Festool OF1400EQ (unibody with perpendicular handle - amazing quality, ridiculously expensive) to the Bosch 1617EVSPK (removable motor with fixed and plunge bases - middling quality and price, miserable plunge depth stop), there is no shortage of candidates out there. While researching possible purchases, I settled on three criteria that I deemed absolutely essential: Precise depth adjustment with no slop Ease of adjustments Enough power to tackle typical lutherie tasks After much deliberation, I selected the Triton MOF001. The Triton is a unibody plunge router, so the motor is affixed to the plunge base with no option for swapping bases. This might seem like a disadvantage for those who want the ability to remove the motor for table use, but the Triton is in fact designed to act as its own router lift, complete with above-table adjustment capability. Another feature that intrigued me was the rack-and-pinion depth adjustment system. I've always felt that simply sliding a plunge mechanism lacked a certain air of precision, so I was happy to find a router that will let me dial in exactly what I want with minimal fuss. Finally, at 2HP, the Triton definitely has enough power to spin any bit I'm likely to use. On paper, it handily meets everything on my checklist. How does it stack up in real life? Let's find out! It comes in a box with words in many languages, for your international reading pleasure. So what's in the box? The router, a multifunctional fence attachment, above-table height adjuster, 1/4" collet, collet wrench, standard 1/2" straight bit, and the all-important manual. Let's take a look at the router itself, then I'll go over each feature individually. Note that the clear guards cover a large portion of both sides. First up: the power switch. It's easily accessible from the left hand grip and covered by a little spring-loaded door to prevent unintentional switchery. The right hand grip offers two different methods of depth adjustment. With this button engaged, the router will freely plunge like any other plunge router. The action is smooth and has a nice level of resistance. If you're like me and want something better than a standard plunge router, it's time to step up to rack-and-pinion depth adjustment. At your fingertips is a collar that can be pulled. While holding the collar, the grip rotates and adjusts the bit height in a smooth and precise manner. This knob on top turns for extra fine adjustment. Plunge lock, in easy thumb range. The plunge spring is removable to allow for easier height adjustment when table-mounted. Variable speed. The depth stop system is a spring-loaded tube and a turret with a solid reference and two adjustable stops, each with a scale. If you lower the router until the bit touches the surface to be routed, the tube sits solidly on the turret reference. Now you can lock the tube and set the stops directly in reference to that first point. It's simple and works well. When it's time to change bits, simply flip the router over and lower the base as far as it'll go. This automatically locks the collet, allowing for a single-wrench bit change. In this position, the little sliding power switch cover is also locked so you can't accidentally blend your hand. While we're upside down, let me point out the above-table height adjustment knob. As long as you drill the appropriate hole in your table or router plate, you can use the tool for fine height adjustments without fiddling around under the table. Alright, time for a little demo. I'll use the included bit to rout a channel in a block of padauk, which is a good representative of the typical sort of hardwoods we'd encounter in this line of work (or play!) Note that the power switch lights up when the router is plugged in. This router has a soft-start feature to prevent sudden torque-induced loss of grip. And yes indeed, I was very easily able to cut a channel in my big block of scrap. I went straight for a 1/4" deep rout and the Triton showed zero hesitation or signs of struggle. The bit maintained a smooth constant velocity thanks to the integrated electronic speed control system. I will say that I'd prefer a wider base to offset the slightly high grip position. I didn't feel as though the router is excessively top-heavy or tippy, but extra stability is never a bad thing! This is easily remedied by sourcing an aftermarket base, just like any other router out there. As a side note, Triton does offer a burly 3.25HP router that offers all of these same features in a slightly bigger chassis. Given that I'm not likely to spin anything bigger than a 1/2" roundover bit, I feel that the reduced weight and cost of the 2HP model more than makes up for the apparent power deficit. So with all that being said, should you buy a Triton? If you already have a router that you like and are comfortable with, you'd probably be better off spending this money elsewhere. However, if you're in need of a router and ready to buy, I'd heartily recommend this one. PROS - Great height adjustment system with no unwanted play, easy to use, many safety and convenience features. CONS - Power switch cover is a little fiddly to use, but will likely improve with a bit of practice. VERDICT - A solid choice at a great price.
  3. 1 point
    Shaping wood is a visceral and rewarding process, especially when making items which will be felt, handled and appreciated for their physical form and ergonomics. Controlling the final form of the workpiece is an ability that benefits from a patient and intimate relationship between the material, tool and the craftsman. The end product is often all that is seen upon completion rather than the process itself, however that end product always benefits from the care and attention of the process. Commonly, rasps are mass-manufactured and can easily be bought for a few dollars each at the big box store. One could believe that consistency would be the key to quality in rasps. In reality, this could not be farther from the truth. Machine-made rasps' primary failing is due to their lack of human inconsistency. Sight down the rows of teeth on a machine-made rasp and you will immediately notice linear uniformity. A typical stroke from these rasps produces an initial cut, after which the teeth create and follow linear ruts with little to no more stock removal. To continue cutting, the angle, position of attack or the pressure must be continually altered. The uncut surface and the ruts differ in height greatly, requiring significant sanding work to smooth out. It is immediately clear that here the tool is leading the craftsman and not the other way around! Quality hand cut rasps are work-intensive and expensive. Each tooth must be "stitched" by hand consistently with each tooth positioned accurately. That is to say, as accurately as is required; natural variations of spacing between teeth and their rows creates a cutting surface with no true linearity. The upshot of this is that a hand-made rasp does not leave deep rutting in the workpiece and requires significantly less pressure to cut. Hand-stitched rasps return control to the user. On one hand they can remove material at a prodigious rate, whilst on the other they can be used with a far lighter touch for delicate refining work. Hand-stitched rasps are available from a number of manufacturers. At the lower end of the range are the simple and inexpensive imported Dragon rasps sold by StewMac. Going up in cost and intrinsic quality of workmanship and results, one will encounter names like Gramercy, Auriou and of course Liogier. LMI also offer a choice of hand cut rasps. The choice to review a top-of-the-line rasp was a relatively specific one; cheaper tools are commonly a waste of money or at worst a liability. Risking an expensive workpiece with hours of investment tied into it with cheap tools plainly does not make sense. Demonstrating how far up the line quality can extend, reviewing a "lifetime investment" tool illustrates the greater scope of tool quality and the returns to be expected. The Liogier workshop is situated in the beautiful south-west of France close to Saint-Étienne. The family have been producing world-class handmade rasps for four generations, recently being accredited with the status of 'Ambassador of French Excellence' designated to an elite few who represent the finest of French craftsmen. All processes are controlled to exacting specifications in-house without compromise or working down to a price point. Raw ultra-fine steel alloy is heated to around 1250°C/2300°F and formed by a heavy swaging die to both provide shape and correct the grain orientation. This also removes any physical inconsistencies - such as voids - present in the raw stock to ensure a perfect blank. Subsequent grinding and polishing stages provides a smooth aligned plane so that each tooth's height is consistent with others across the cutting face. Overview of the Liogier work processes: After lengthy discussions with Noel about his experience in the requirements of a guitar and bass luthier (several smaller violin-oriented rasps already exist within their portfolio) we decided that a non-specialist "go-to" rasp, or one that represents the best "first choice" would be the best as the basis for review. The Liogier Cabinet Maker's rasp profile has both a flat and convex face. Length and heft is perfect for efficiently carving body contours or shaping an entire neck, all without being too large to dial in heels or volutes. Available in lengths from 6"-12" with stitching grains from super-fine (#15) to highly coarse (#2) we decided that a 10" rasp stitched to #10 would provide the widest number of uses for the luthier. Finally, the rasp was specified to be stitched for use by a right-handed user. Wow! The cost of this specification of Cabinet Maker's rasp from Liogier at the time of writing is around €75 (USD$94). Without doubt this is a significant cost, however it is worth noting that with basic care and maintenance this is a high-performance tool that should only require replacement after many many projects worth of work. Cheaper rasps have a very limited lifetime with unsatisfactory performance, often leaving them ending up in the bin after comparatively little use. Given that the choice of purchasing a "world's best tool for a lifetime of joyous use" is only a few times the cost of "world's worst tool for a few awkward hellish stressful weeks of doubting your woodworking abilities and questioning your existence" it makes sense to invest in a forward-thinking manner. The Liogier portfolio contains many alternative profiles and rasp shapes. Whilst the Cabinet Maker's rasp represents the tool that would provide the most use across more working processes, your own working style and requirements may better suit an alternatively-proportioned flat/round rasp such as the Half Round (smaller radii to the Cabinet Maker's), Modeller's Rasp (smaller radii, narrower for more detail and access), dual radius Sage Leaf or even curved bodies like the Handle Maker's rasp. The rasp arrived by courier and was a trepidacious moment to unbox given the stellar reputation associated with Liogier. True to expectation, the teeth were razor sharp to the touch and consistently stitched across both sides of the blade, right to the very edges and spaced surprisingly close to each other. What could be seen of the original blank blade surface was polished to a smooth satin. The lacquered French Oak handle was a most welcome addition, conspicuously absent from other rasp manufacturers. Having become accustomed to turning handles for rasps, files and chisels it was pleasant to note that the handle "handled" well in the various grips I use. After three months of living with the rasp, the only thing I would change about it is the finish. I prefer raw or oiled wood handles, however this is simple preference and not a slight on the choice of finish by Liogier. The testing methodology for the rasp was relatively simple and practical. The first tests were to examine performance in shaping a neck profile after producing a heel and volute. How close to the finished sizes can this rasp get? Does it require significant work to remove tooling marks? Is it controllable and precise? Does it cut or does it tear? Does it provide a wide range of uses or is it more specific? After the practical tests a few potentially destructive torture tests! Is this a tool for life? At what point does work become too much for the tool? -------------- I had two necks on the bench at the time of testing plus a variety of scraps common to guitar builders. The first neck was a laminate of Birch and Wengé for a bass. Anybody unfamiliar with Birch should consider it most similar to Maple in terms of workability. The volute transition was a simple flat V with graduations into concave wings either side of the headstock. Shaping to this stage was limited to neck thickness within a few mm and edge profiling. The first step was producing the rough neck profile behind the first fret with straight cuts using the length of the blade, combining both the convex and flat faces. As expected, the rasp cut quickly with added pressure and quick strokes. Extremely quickly. New users to hand-stitched rasps might easily shoot past their mark until they become accustomed to the tool. Easing back on the attack pressure produced a much finer surface with far lighter stock removal. Of itself this is a huge difference between hand-stitched and machine-stitched rasps; the ability to alter your working rate from pure hogging to finessing, all within the same tool and cutting paths. Also of note is the smoother and more consistent work within each stroke. The random tooth pattern cuts throughout the entire stroke rather than teeth running through ruts. You can sit in one position hacking away, watching a steady stream of material being removed rather than being forced to adjust position to find a new direction of cut that won't just run through the last. Easing back on the working pressure lets the weight of the tool and its razor-sharp teeth smooth out the surface to a finer cut. I kid you not - this neck profile and the blending into the headstock was produced from a square profile to this within five minutes! The surface finish is rough but possessed none of the deep gouges that machine-made rasps leave. A quick cleanup starting with 100-120 grit paper removed the fuzzies and showed a clean and consistent surface requiring very little shaping work. The flat face of the rasp proved the profile wonderfully. Moving to the heel produced the same quick and controllable results. Working right up to my cut lines and the fingerboard seam proved to be easy and without issue. None of the random "tooth biting out a chip". Consistent and reliable, plus a joy to use. It is all over too quickly, unfortunately. After finishing up the remainder of the neck with a spokeshave, the flat face of the rasp blended the two areas together seamlessly. It is quite feasible that the rasp could have finished up the entire neck without the involvement of a spokeshave, however I wanted to move on to see how it worked in other materials.... My conclusion from shaping in this bass neck was overwhelmingly positive. The tool did not lead itself out of the cut direction and chip blowout at the end of a cut was virtually zero. I elected to order the tool in a grain size between the two recommended by Noel (slightly coarser #9 and finer #11) however I would expect that both of these would have an equally agreeable rate of cut for pure stock removal and a fine finish ready for fine-tuning with sandpaper grades just above "coarse". The length of the rasp allowed excellent stroke length and for me to rest my left palm on the end of the tool gripped for hogging. The taper is stitched as densely as the rest of the blade as perfectly picked into the concave portions of the headstock transition. The exposed end grain in this area cut excellently without ugly scars or gouges, leaving a surface not dissimilar to that of a coarse grade paper such as #60. The 10" length of the tool is perhaps a little unwieldy for fine work in these areas which immediately made me think of a 5" Sage Leaf rasp or even a 4-5" Rat Tail. Given the one-size-fits-all nature of the tool specified it still produced an excellent result with patience. It is worth noting that the 5-piece set of rasps offered by Liogier consists of a coarse #6 12" Cabinet Maker's rasp, followed by a less-coarse #9 10" and a medium-coarse #11 8". This #10 10" splits the difference quite nicely, however I can see where the benefits of working through multiple grain and tool sizes would lead to a more efficient workflow. Testing the rasp rounding over a few common and problematic materials showed no real dramas except on a piece of Paperstone composite, which chipped itself to death. Khaya and Iroko produced beautiful results with fine furry final surfaces needing only scraping or finish sanding. I imagine Sapele and the genuine Mahoganies would be just as favourable, if not better. The hundreds (maybe thousands?) of sharp teeth and excellent contact area do what they are meant to do, slicing through all manner of obstinate and otherwise difficult wood fibres without issue. The final test was one I saved for last out of good reason. A solid Wengé neck is a test that I expected difficulties with, and I wasn't far off the mark. The same shaping methods used for the Birch/Wengé neck produced the same fast and clean results. Wengé is a spectacularly hard wood and prone to chipping out when you really don't want it to. On that basis I refrained from working too closely to cut lines and unsupported grain. The work was significantly harder than the previous neck and the rasp needed de-clogging more than once. Ultimately, it produced relatively similar results albeit half as quickly. That is still pretty impressive going! Unfortunately while working the Wengé - a timber known for its unforgiving hardness - a small number of teeth were thrown. Harder woods like Sheoak, Katalox or African Blackwood may produce the same issue, however the tendency of Wengé to contain mineral deposits may be the reason this test demonstrated that sometimes the more extreme examples of woods win over metal. Certainly, the rest of the rasp was not blunted or in any observable way affected by the Wengé, and in the intervening months since the tests were carried out the rasp has been involved in many projects larger and more involved than simply shaping a guitar neck or tummy cut. The rasp is working just as well for me as it did on day one despite its encounter with the demon-whose-name-is-Wengé. I would however be very tempted to purchase my next rasp(s) from Liogier with the "Sapphire" coating treatment. In addition to hardening and extending the life of the teeth, coating also reduces the tendency of rasps to clog with waste material. Whilst cleaning a clogging rasp with compressed air or a brass brush is no big hassle, it can become a chore and the aspect of tougher tooth strength is of benefit to anybody who commonly use harder materials in their builds. How do Liogier rasps compare to other similar hand-stitched rasps out there? Definite differences do exist that might not be immediately obvious without deeper inspection. Quality of tooth geometry can make one hand-stitched rasp perform significantly differently to another. The shape, orientation, consistency of height and gullet capacity affect how efficiently a rasp cuts without producing unevenness or premature clogging. Liogier state this quite emphatically, and that learning the hand-stitching process to the standard before rasps can be sold takes two years. This is in addition to the other very specific processes each rasp has to go through from stock to finished tool! Attention to detail in the grinding and polishing of the rasp blank prior to stitching directly affects tooth tip quality and durability; imperfections left in a blank end up at the tips of the teeth. Choice of base material and tempering techniques can produce a rasp that is either overly brittle (potentially cracking when dropped!) or soft and unable to maintain good tooth sharpness. Liogier take great pride in producing rasps with an optimum between these two; a rasp with a hardened exterior and a forgiving core. As investment tools, Liogier rasps are both a sensible decision and an eye-opening experience. The absence of control and lack of satisfactory results from cheap machine-made rasps makes the choice a simple one. The instruments we make are in intimate contact with the player; the same process happens during the shaping of those parts. We need to feel the contours and form develop to produce an instrument that feels like it was built for our hands. How can we do that with an unpredictable unsatisfactory tool that doesn't do what we ask it to do? Working with the world's best hand-made rasps is directly comparable to working with the world's best hand-made instruments. They are incomparable. Liogier rasps are available directly from Liogier in France or alternatively Lee Valley in Canada.
  4. 1 point
    I will readily admit that I am rubbish at freehand sharpening chisels and plane blades. Keeping the blade at a consistent angle to the stone while introducing a steady, alternating honing motion is something I've always struggled to master. Most of the time I either find myself accidentally honing the blade slightly skewed or deviating from the intended 30 degree bevel, resulting in a tool too blunt to scare any self-respecting piece of timber, let alone shave hairs off the back of my arm. So it was somewhat of a relief when I finally admitted defeat and went and bought my first honing guide to help me get my chisel sharpening back on track. For those that aren't familiar, a honing guide is a device fitted with a roller assembly that secures a chisel or plane iron in a set of jaws and allows the user to sharpen the blade on a whetstone, diamond stone or any other flat surface coated with abrasive material to achieve a consistent cutting bevel every time. An accurate and clean bevel on a chisel or plane iron is key to getting the best performance out of those tools. My first honing guide was a simple affair, featuring a clamping mechanism made up of two wide plates with a brass roller underneath. The clamping plate had a series of straight lines etched into the surface to assist with visually aligning the fitted blade so that it sat square in the clamp, and the blade was secured by tightening two thumbscrews at either side. Generally it worked quite OK for the paltry $20 I paid for it at the time, but it wasn't without its drawbacks. The clamping mechanism was made from aluminium which had a tendency to flex when the thumbscrews were tightened, which allowed narrower blades to gradually skew to one side while honing. The clamping mechanism wouldn't hold shorter blades, such as spokeshave irons at the correct angle to the stone. Aligning a blade squarely against the refence marks on the guide was only as good as your eye. And there was no inherent way to accurately set and measure the bevel angle. Enter the MK II Honing Guide made by Canadian outfit Veritas, whose long list of premium-quality tools and accessories have been high on many woodworkers' must-have lists. With a street price of around $68US, this could arguably be described as the Rolls Royce of honing guides. Straight off the shelf the Standard Mk II comes with a solid diecast zinc alloy blade clamping body with a wide brass roller, an angle setting registration jig which is also used to set the squareness of the blade being held and a set of clearly-written instructions. The standard honing guide set can also be upgraded with additional accessories that include a cambered brass roller for honing blades into a gentle curve (useful for wide plane irons) and a set of narrow tool jaws for securely holding chisels as slim as 1/8". The guide will happily accept plane irons as wide as 2 7/8" (73mm), which should easily accommodate the larger Number 7 jointer planes and beyond, and up to 15/32" (12mm) thick. Minimum recommended blade capacity is quoted as 1/2" wide, The brass roller underneath has an eccentric axle which can be rotated on a series of fixed steps, adjusting the angle of the guide by 1-2 degrees for adding a micro-bevel to the tool being sharpened. The included angle registration jig slides on to an integral dovetail on the front of the guide and includes a series of holes for positioning a sliding stop. In practice the user fits the angle registration jig to the front of the honing guide and tightens the small brass thumbscrew to hold it securely. Where the back edge of the registration jig meets the honing guide there are a series of notches which correspond to the width of the blade being sharpened which are used to ensure that the blade will be positioned exactly in the middle of the honing guide. The registration jig is clearly marked with multiple angles, and Veritas handily include a chart in the instructions giving suggested honing angles for various tools based on their intended usage. The coloured group of angles are used in conjunction with a secondary locking screw on the honing guides' body, which raises and lowers the height of the brass roller. The red high angle setting is useful for traditional wooden soled planes and spokeshaves, where the blade is typically held at a steep angle to the workpiece, whereas the yellow range is for more common mortising chisels and plane irons. The green range is included primarily for the purpose of adding a back bevel to a blade, which can be useful in certain situations where a plane iron needs its effective cutting bevel angle increased to deal with highly figured grain. In practice however there is a large degree of overlap in the angle settings between ranges and there's no reason why a particular angle range needs to be chosen over another when honing, unless the blade is particularly short and cannot be honed at a low bevel while on a high range setting. While using the guide I found it easier to select the angle I wanted at a given range while still allowing enough of the blade to project through the jaws. The sliding stop on the registration jig is positioned at the desired angle the tool is to be honed at and secured in place. The chisel or plane iron is then inserted into the jaws of the honing guide and slid forward until the tip just rests on the stop. With the tool in place the thumbscrews on the jaws can be tightened, the angle registration jig slid off to one side and the blade is ready to begin being honed. The shape of the honing guide is also more ergonomic than my old flat-plated honing guide, in that the thumbs can be more comfortably potisioned underneath the chisel without having to wrap around the clamping mechanism, which is far less fatiguing. After about 15 minutes work at various abrasive grits the primary bevel is complete. At this point the chisel can be stropped/polished to remove the last of the burr that has been created during honing process and used straight away. But the Mk II has one more trick up its sleeve. With the blade still held in place, the eccentric axle on the brass roller can be rotated around to increase the angle of the honing guide by 1-2 degrees and a micro-bevel can be honed into the blade to further refine the cutting ability. Because only the very tip of the blade needs to be worked, only a few strokes are required to finish the micro-bevel Of course, no test of a chisel's sharpness is complete without putting it to use. In this case my rubbish old Stanley 1" chisel is being put to work on the end grain of some Tasmanian Blackwood, a timber that can be notorious for its hard and easy-to-splinter nature. Shearing clean, sub-micron thickness shavings was no trouble whatsoever. Due to the shape of the jaws and low height of the guide, shorter blades are also easy to accommodate. This 2" spokeshave blade can be fitted into the guide and almost any bevel can be consistently honed onto the blade without resorting to guesswork or clumsy attachments. Pros: Solid build quality Registration jig makes setting the bevel angle and squareness easy Able to hold a variety of shorter blades, wide plane irons and chisels Primary bevel and micro bevel setting in one device Comfortable to use Cons: Pricey Narrower blades less than 1/2" wide require the additional narrow jaw set
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