[4 Key Facts] What Is the Best Way to Sharpen Knives? (Knife Knowledge)
Sharpening your blade is the last step of knife making. Each knifemaker will have their preferred method for sharpening blades. The knifemaker can choose which method is best for them, but it’s what really matters. Any method that works well for your knife will work.
There are many sharpeners on the market. It can be overwhelming to choose from so many that most people end up with dull knives. While each sharpener is different, the basic principles of sharpening are the same.
Stones are one of the most popular types of sharpeners because they can be bought at hardware stores virtually anywhere. Stones are the most affordable of all sharpeners. There are many stones to choose from, with each offering its own pros and cons.
Oil is not required for certain stones, but water is. The lubricant reduces friction during grinding and helps to remove swarf so the stone can function properly. Swarfs are tiny bits of metal that are removed during sharpening. Every stone has a particular grit. It’s good to have several stones so that you can change between a coarse and fine grit stone. Here are some common whetstones on the market.
Water Stones – Water stones require water to lubricate. Water stones are among the softest of all whetstones. Their surface is constantly being worn away when used. Water stones have a unique property that allows them to be used as abrasive surfaces, making them great for sharpening. The knife’s bevel is honed by the dust from the worn-out surface. Indentation forms often on top of the stone as it creates new surfaces. The Japanese waterstone is one of the most desirable water stones on the market. These rare water stones are extremely sharpening but very expensive. Another example is the Synthetic water stone that is made from aluminum oxide and resin.
Oil Stones – Oil stones need oil to lubricate and are more rigidly formed than water stones. Expect a messy workspace when using oilstones. Oil is more expensive than water, so it can be more difficult to use. Although they aren’t as easy to polish as water stones, they wear down much faster than water stones. Arkansas stoneis an example of an oilstone, as it is a natural stone that was mined in the United States. Although these stones are slower to polish than artificially produced oil stones, they can still provide a good polish for your edges. India stones are man-made stones that are made of aluminum oxide or resin. These stones are cheaper than Arkansas Stones, and they don’t wear as quickly as synthetic water stones. Silicon Oxide has the fastest polishing ability of all three types of oilstones but it doesn’t have a fine edge.
Ceramic Stones – Ceramic stone is made from a combination of aluminum oxide and ceramic powder. Ceramic stones can function properly without the need for lubrication, however they are more expensive than other whetstones. Ceramic stones don’t tend to wear down very quickly and last for a long time. These ceramic stones can be fragile so use them with care. Also, they are only available in finer grades.
Diamond Stones – These stones are usually made of miniature, artificially created diamonds. They can be used to sharpen your knives. Diamond Stones are the same as Ceramic Stones but do not need lubrication. Because the stones’ surface is not being etched, they are flat. Although diamond stones do not offer a better polish than other whetstones they are easier to polish and can be used quickly.
Other than whetstones and other sharpeners, they can also function in the same manner as whetstones. These sharpeners can be operated either by machine or electric, so they are less hassle than whetstones. Here’s a list of some of these sharpeners.
V-sharpener – V-sharpeners have two edges that make the shape of Vs. A blade must be moved through the V using light pressure and the edges need to be ground. To achieve consistent results, the V sharpener must be placed at a specific angle. A whetstone can make it difficult to maintain this consistency. This tool has a downside: it can change the shape and form of your edge as a result of the blade losing steel over time.
Belt Grinder – You can also use your belt grinding machine to sharpen your knife’s edge. A fine belt will hold the knife at the right angle. Because the metal is being removed at a rapid rate, this can make it difficult for novice knifemakers. Your belt grinder will make a slightly convex grinding.
Crock Stick – Crock sticks have a fixed base with ceramic rods that protrude at an angle. To sharpen a knife, your knife must be held against the rod. Depending on the grind of your knife, these tools may be difficult to use.
Buffer – A buffer machine has a soft rotating wheel that can be used on your handle as well as your blade. You can adjust the abrasiveness of different compounds and wheels to achieve your desired result. This machine can produce excellent results for your knife’s edge. This machine can create great results for your blade’s edge, but it is important to take extreme care as this could cause injuries and accidents to untrained knifemakers.
The most sensitive component of your knife is the thinness of its edge. Your knife’s edge is also the part of your blade that receives most of the beating. Even if you use the toughest of all steel available, your edge will still wear over time and, thus, will eventually require edge maintenance. How a blade’s edge is sharpened will stay the same regardless of your first blade or your thousandth.
The Scandi grind is one of the easiest grinds to sharpen and is perfect for beginners since the angle needed to sharpen your edge is relatively easy to determine. Other grinds have a secondary bevel on the edge itself; that’s why they are difficult to sharpen. The angles that you will need to sharpen your edge will differ depending on your blade’s design and your steel thickness. The edge geometry you used in selecting and creating your grind applies for sharpening as well. The initial step to sharpening your blade is to visualize the results that you desire for your knife.
Before starting, ensure that you have adequate lighting in your workspace. The sharpening process is similar to grinding since it involves starting with a rough grit then slowly transitioning to finer and finer grits as your progress. It would be best if you saw when you had eliminated your lines from your previous grit to sharpen your blade correctly; however, this can be difficult, especially since you’ll be working on a smaller area. If you create a new edge on an old blade, you need to remove the damaged steel on the edge first, exposing the new metal underneath. A new edge can then be made using this steel. Investigate your blade thoroughly before you sharpen them. You can use a magnifying glass to identify small chips and cracks to assess any visible signs of damage.
The key to sharpening is matching the angle of your blade’s edge with that of the sharpener. By keeping this angle consistent and transitioning your edge across finer and finer grits, you will be able to eliminate the metal that is not necessary for your blade’s edge. The sharpening theories are not that challenging to understand, but good results take a skilled hand and fine attention to detail.
Consistency is one of the critical factors in sharpening. If every stroke you make when sharpening is at a different angle, your knife can become dull. A sharp blade has clean, uniform angles. Freehand sharpening takes practice and patience. Use slow, steady hands, and take your time. Please choose a method and routine for sharpening and stick to it. Repeating your process over and over will commit it to muscle memory and make it second nature.
The grit that you will be using last to finish your edge depends on you. Your edge will have micro-serrations during sharpening, compared to grinding which creates a scratch pattern. If you use rough grit for your final grind, the micro-serrations on your edge will be bigger. If you plan to make top quality knives in the future, it’s best to use extremely fine grits for your final grind.
How To Sharpen Your Blade
Using a belt grinder is ideal for sharpening a blade, but the problem with belt grinders is that they are stationary and are not available anytime when you need to sharpen your knife. If you tend to travel frequently or you are in a remote area, you won’t have the luxury of using a belt grinder easily. It’s a good idea to learn how to sharpen your blades using a whetstone. Investing in this skill allows you to sharpen your knife anytime, anywhere.
A beneficial technique that you can use when sharpening your blade is to use a marker to color your blade’s edge. This is similar to what you did during the grinding process, as this allows you to see where you are removing metal and the parts that are not coming into contact with your sharpener. You can see the angles at which you are grinding your blade. A strop can remove the last of the burr and clean and align the micro serrations formed on your blade. This can be an old belt, clot, or even cardboard. The final touch to your blade is accomplished using a strop. To start, mark the edge of your blade using a marker, then hold your knife flat on its side on your rough whetstone.
Tilt the spine slightly upwards, so the edge of your blade is resting on the whetstone at a very sharp angle. Move your blade across the stone gently as if you were trying to slice a small piece of the stone. Ensure that the whole length of your blade comes into contact with your whetstone. Repeat this several times while maintaining the same angle.
Burrs will start to form on the opposite side of your edge as you begin to remove steel from the edge. A burr is a rough, raised metal curl resulting from grinding metal. The burr should appear evenly along the entire length of the edge.
Once a burr is formed along the entire edge, change sides. Repeat the process until a burr is present on the other side. If chips are present in your blade, you’ll need to continue grinding using a coarse whetstone until all the metal is removed beyond that chip. Once your edge is formed using the coarse whetstone, change to a finer grit stone and repeat the entire process. Clean the final burr on your blade’s edge using your strop. Stropping utilizes the same motion that you did as you sharpen your blade on a stone, but in reverse. Instead of moving forward, you move the blade backward, dragging the edge on the strop. Use light pressure and make several passes on both sides of the blade.
Lastly, test the edge of your blade to know if you have fully sharpened your blade. There are different methods to assess if your blade is sharp enough. You can try cutting through paper, through meat, or even drawing the edge along a fingernail. The best way to test if an edge is indeed sharp is to try using your knife for its intended job. A properly sharpened knife can complete its designated task with gusto. Try out your knife in the field, and the more you become accustomed to your blade, the more you will tell if it’s starting to lose its edge.