How to sharpen your knife

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HOW TO SHARPEN A KNIFE

– study the knife in light to discover nicks and flat spots.
– peer down length of blade’s sharp edge to identify imperfections.
– the duller the blade, the grittier the stone you should use (anywhere from 200 for a very dull blade to 600 for a moderately dull blade)
– your number one consideration should be the angle at which you hold your blade while sharpening it. It might be helpful to practice your stroke on a piece of glass or ceramic, before you hit the abrasives.
– use your thumb on the back of the blade when sharpening short blades (up to four to six inches long) and your thumb and finger on anything that’s longer.

STAGES OF SHARPENING A KNIFE

– Stage 1: Working imperfections out of the blade with a coarse sharpening stone (a grit of 200 or less).
– Stage 2: Touching up a blade with a medium-grit stone of (400 or higher).
– Stage 3: Finishing your blade with a 600+ grit stone, then finalizing the sharpening with a 1200 grit stone or a leather strop.

PRACTICE SAFE SHARPENING

– beginners and frequent sharpeners should always use a pair of safety gloves.
– learn from someone you trust. Otherwise you’re going to learn what you should avoid though experience.
– always use a very light touch.
– keep the blade steady.
– pay particular attention to your sharpening angle.
– if you knife blade is longer than four inches, use two fingers on the back of the blade while sharpening.
– in some cases, you might need to remove the cover from a bench grinder, then turn it around, so you have an upward spin that’ll make it easier to use. In this case, the sharp edge of your blade will be facing up.

THE ‘OIL OR WATER’ QUESTION

– between honing oil and water, there is no definite winner.
– the term “honing oil” includes water- and petroleum-based sharpening oils.
– use water or water-based honing oil on diamond stones; and petroleum-based oils when working with natural sharpening stones.
– if you haven’t got any oil or water around, try spitting on the stone.
– final note: once you’ve decided to use oil, stones don’t take to water very easily, so you’re going to want to use oil for the life of the stone.

SHARPENING THE KNIFE BLADE, STAGE 1

– when using a coarse sharpening stone (with a grit of 200 or less), you can expect some mild scratching to occur. Don’t worry, you’ll get the scratches out later.
– study the light scratches you leave. If you’re keeping your stroke even and steady, the marks will be evenly dispersed with none deeper or more concentrated than the others.
– if scratches appear near the back of the blade, you’re holding it too flat against the stone.
– use this stage to really work out your stroke. Once you’ve got it down, you can transfer that stroke to a finer sharpening stone.

HOW TO ANGLE YOUR BLADE WHILE SHARPENING

– a blade with a wider angle away from its edge (giving it a blunter, pyramid-like appearance) is better suited for chopping.
– a blade with a thinner, tighter angle will be much sharper but more fragile. This type of blade is perfect for light and precise knife work.
– if you really want the perfect angle, hunt down your knife’s specs. It should list the precise angle at which the blade was cut from the sharpened edge. Measure this angle with a compass, then try to keep your blade at that angle as you slid it along the stone.
– always, always use gentle strokes.
– don’t fret too much if you’ve changed the blade’s angle — so long as the change isn’t all that drastic. You can always go back and fix it, or just stick with the new angle.

HOW TO REMOVE A NICK FROM YOUR BLADE

– concentrate on the nick first, by sliding that portion of the blade back and forth against your stone.
– once the nick is removed, switch to sharpening the entire length of the blade, and proceed as you normally would until the area where the nick was blends in with the rest of the blade.

HOW TO SLIDE YOUR BLADE ACROSS THE STONE

– no two people’s strokes are identical. It’s possible to slid from hilt to tip or from tip to hilt. You can also use a circular motion or a straight one.
– place a towel on a table, then lay your stone across it. This helps keep your stone stationary.
– your stroke should push the sharp edge of the blade across the stone, as if you were trying to shave a sliver of the stone off. It should NOT slide backwards across the stone.
– keep the blade in constant contact with the stone.
– use roughly two to three pounds of pressure (that’s not much at all!) when sharpening your knife. Using more than that, can damage the angle of your blade.
– keep the pressure consistent as you go.
– pay attention to the tip of your blade as many beginners have a tendency to push too hard at the last moment or to lift the tip off too lightly.
– keep track of every stroke you make, as you’re going to have to use the exact same number of strokes on the opposite side of the blade.
– try doing between 15 and 25 strokes on one side of the blade before switching to the other. Avoid switching sides with every stroke, as it’s easier to apply different amounts of pressure by doing this.
– with each stroke be sure you’re covering the entire length of the blade.

HOW TO TELL WHAT YOU’RE ACCOMPLISHING WHILE SHARPENING

– dry off your blade.
– hold the blade lengthwise and peer down it from hilt to tip.
– look for similar angles on both sides of the blade.
– single out dips, nicks and flat points, if they haven’t been removed.
– clean your stone, particularly if you notice grayness, yellowness or streaks in your oil or water.
– if everything looks fine at this point, move onto a finer grit stone, such as a 600.
– add oil to the stone and sharpen using the same techniques you did earlier, but this time applying a much lighter touch (around one pound of pressure).
– as you work you way across the blade, the finer stone should remove all scratches from your blade.

HOW TO FINISH SHARPENING YOUR BLADE

– many blade owners finish sharpening their knives with a grit of 600 or so, although others move onto a finer grit such as a 1200 and/or a leather strop. It’s a matter of 1) your personal preference, and 2) what you plan to use your knife for.
– continue sharpening the blade with single strokes until you can’t feel any imperfections.
– remove all traces of the burr and other irregularities.
– the blade should be nearly as sharp (or sharper) than it was when you bought; although you can get it even sharper by using a strop.

USING A STROP

– a strop is a very thick piece of leather (or, in some cases, woven cotton), which is used to “fine-tune” a blade, eliminate the “burr” and get it as sharp as physically possible.
– leather is preferred over cotton, as cotton has a tendency to retain too much of your sharpening compound.
– strops are not a requirement of the sharpening process, but many enthusiasts use them to get an extra degree of sharpness.
– you can use with various “rubbing compounds” with your strop, including Aluminum Oxide and Silicon Carbide, both of which can be found at most hardware stores.
– your leather strop only needs oiled before your first use. It will retain the oil needed for subsequent sharpenings.
– use a soft, virtually-flat angle to avoid biting into the strop and dulling your blade.
– we strongly recommend you glue or nail your strop to a piece of wood, as this will ease the sharpening process.
– ALWAYS avoid letting any water come in contact with your strop, even while cleaning it.

HOW TO KNOW WHEN YOU’RE FINISHED SHARPENING YOUR KNIFE

– identify the “thinning metal burr,” also known as the “feather” or “wire.”
– you’ll be able to feel the burr just as the edge of your blade grows extremely thin.
– stop sharpening when you feel the burr “turning up” or failing to grow thinner, and switch to a “fine” or “extra-fine” stone (grit numbers 600 or higher).
– once the “thinning metal burr” is eliminated, your blade is as sharp, or nearly as sharp as you’ll be able to get it.
– an extremely sharp blade will be able to shave the hair off of your arm or leg.
– another method for testing sharpness, perhaps the most common, is to place the edge at a 45-degree angle against your fingernail or the side of a Bic pen. If the blade does not slide, it’s sharp.
– a perfect edge will not reflect light.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR KNIFE BLADE SHARP

– sharpen your blade carefully and regularly making sure you never overheat it as you go. Overheating can damage or destroy the temper on your blade, which will greatly weaken it.
– don’t go too long between sharpenings. If you’re blade’s in top shape, it’ll perform tasks easily and efficiently. If you start sawing at things you need to cut, you could damage your blade, or at least dull it very quickly.
– stash your sharpeners in common areas so you’ll be tempted to sharpen your blades more often.
– most knives were designed for a particular purpose. If you go beyond your blade’s stated capabilities, you’re likely to dull your edge, or, perhaps, break or crack the metal. You’ll probably be voiding your warranty in the process as well.

HOW TO SHARPEN SERRATED KNIFE BLADES

– serrations wear down faster than straight blades, and they’re much harder — if not impossible — to keep sharp.
– serrations are only cut into one side of a knife’s blade. The back of the blade provides support for the serrations.
– because they’re prone to damage while sharpening, we recommend you only attempt to sharpen your serrations when absolutely necessary.
– twist your sharpen as you go for better results.
– never use a flat sharpening stone on serrations. Use a cone-shaped taper sharpener.
– pick a taper sharpener with fine (600) to extra-fine grit (1200) and a diamond layer.
– serrations wear quickly and are virtually impossible to maintain on a long-term basis.
– once they’re worn down excessively, eliminate them by sharpening your blade until the edge is straight and all traces of the serrations have disappeared.

DIFFERENT METHODS FOR SHARPENING SERRATIONS

– choose the method that feels most comfortable to you (although we recommend Method No. 1):
1) Slip your thumb under the blade, so you can maintain a consistent angle while you push the sharp edge toward the tip of the sharpener.
2) Pull the serrated edge toward the handle of the sharpener, being sure not to widen the serration.
3) Hold the sharpener in place, put a thumb against the back of the blade, then slide the serration up and down on the sharpener. This makes it difficult to see what you’re doing, but it’s a much faster approach.

HOW TO SHARPEN A GUT HOOK

– gut hooks are often found on the back of the blades on buck knives, and are used for cutting open animals without damaging the organs inside.
– use a cone-shaped taper sharpener (commonly used for sharpening serrated knives) to sharpen gut hooks.
– remember that gut hooks are sharpened on both sides of the blade.
– push your sharpener (starting with the narrow end) toward the gut hook’s edge, as if you were trying to slice a sliver of metal from it while holding the knife still.
– don’t be tempted to fill in the full curve of the gut hook, as this could distort the edges, widen the hook and/or damage your blade.
– much like sharpening a serrated knife, you’ll need to push and rotate the taper sharpener as you go.
– be sure to match the angle of the gut hook’s edge.
– with gut hooks and serrated knives, less is always more, as the edges are weaker than the edges of a straight blade, and they have a tendency to easily distort.

HOW TO SHARPEN A FISH HOOK

– manufacturers produces special sharpening stones for fish hooks, and you’ll need to find one of these.
– look for a “fish hook groove,” which has a small, curved track inside where the hook will be placed and stroked.
– place the hook in the groove with the point in the direction you plan to stroke (either direction will work).
– travel the full distance from the beginning of the groove to the end.
– because hooks use relatively fragile metals, you’ll need to use a very soft stroke.
– check your progress frequently. You’ll probably be finished sharpening sooner than you imagined.

HOW TO SHARPEN TOOLS

– consider obtaining a sharpening pad if you plan to sharpen larger tools on a regular basis.
– sharpening pads provide a large, flat, uninterrupted surface suitable for anything from a lawnmower blade to a machete.
– secure the pad to the surface on which you plan to work.
– use strokes similar to those that you would use on a knife blade.
– bigger objects will require two points of pressure on the blade (perhaps your thumb and a finger). This will ensure you’re applying the correct angle to the blade as you slide it across the stone.
– in some rare instances, it might be better secure your tool blade in a vise, so that you can move the sharpening pad across it. As the pad is somewhat malleable, this will be easier accomplished than it might with a sharpening stone.

HOW TO USE A SHARPENING STEEL

– sharpening steels are either conical or rectangular with a handle that looks like it could belong on a screwdriver. They’re long and most-commonly used by butchers.
– steels are used to work bends or nicks out of your blade. They’re NOT for routine sharpenings.
– stay away from diamond steels and sharpeners unless they come with a really fine grit. Otherwise, they’re likely to damage your blade.
– select a steel that’s roughly the length of you knife blade if possible.
– when selecting a grit for your steel, always err on the side of caution. one way to do this is to stick with “polished-no cut” steels, or — one-level above them — “fine cut steels.” Other grit ratings include “coarse cut” and “regular cut.”
– always use a very light touch, as steels can damage blades faster than any other commonly-used sharpening tool.
– pull your blade’s edge across the steel rather than pushing it against the steel or pushing the steel against it.
– remember to keep your steel sharpened as well. The best materials to sharpen steels are Emory cloths with grits between 180 and 400.
– ceramic rods with fine grits (1200 or higher) also work excellently when touching up a blade.
– hold a steel immobile while in use. Be careful not to push the steel into the blade as you struggle to hold it still.
– keep your arm and wrist straight while stroking your blade across the steel.
– all motion should be generated in your upper arm and shoulder.
– you’ll need to switch hands when sharpening the opposite side of your blade, as you should always be pulling it across the steel.
– study your thumb nail as you go. This will help you maintain a consistent angle while you sharpen.
– the angle used with your steel should be just a bit sharper than the cutting angle you desire (say 20 degrees instead of 15).
– always clean, dry and oil your steel after use.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR BLADES NEVER SEEM TO GET SHARP

– when sharpening, be very conscious of the angle at which you’re working as you might be altering the original shape of the blade.
– cheap, soft blades — like that used on axes — will dull very quickly and require much upkeep.
– avoid blades that haven’t been appropriately tempered, which can cause chipping during the sharpening process. Shop with trusted dealers or stick with respected manufactures to be sure your temper will hold.
– don’t be afraid to give up on a blade. Poorly made blades just won’t hold an edge after they’ve been dulled. Unless you’ve got sentimental attachments to the knife, it’s probably time to move on to a better blade.

USING A BENCH GRINDER OR FLAP SANDER

– always wear goggles and gloves when working with a powered grinder.
– if you’re going to try your luck with a grinder, be SURE that it has a slow revolution (max. 1200). Otherwise, you’re almost certain to change your blade’s transition angle or even damage your blade irreparably when it heats up while sharpening.
– it is possible to modify a regular bench grinder so that it operates with slower revolutions. Do this with a “electronic speed controller” available at most hardware stores. With it, you’ll be able to tweak the speed of your grinder’s spin. Remember, slower is always better.