Knife sharpening FAQ

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Q: Is it OK if I’ve changed the shape (or bevel) of my blade’s edge?

A: Yes. In fact, you’re probably going to have to if you use and sharpen your knife often. No metal, no matter how tough, can avoid wearing down over the course of years or decades. Changing your blade’s bevel might be necessary to extend the life of the blade as the metal wears down.

Q: What is a gut hook?

A: Found on hunting knifes, a gut hook is comma-shaped and located near the tip of the blade. It’s used to field dress animals without puncturing their intestines, which can damage the meat.

Q: What sort of grit should I use when sharpening my knife?

A: It depends on how dull your blade currently is. If it needs a lot of work, you’re going to want to start with a rough grit, perhaps 200 (the lower the grit number the coarser the abrasive). Eventually you’ll want to move to a 600 or so — good enough to produce a razor sharp edge, although there are even finer grits out there.

Q: Why would I need anything but a flat sharpener?

A: Flat sharpeners can ruin the edge on serrated knife blades. You’ll want to stick with taper sharpeners to get serrations and gut hooks sharp again. Taper sharpeners are long, skinny and cone-shaped. Like many flat sharpeners, they’re covered with diamond layers. “Pad” sharpeners are large and malleable, making them perfect to use on tools.

Q: Is it possible to sharpen a serrated knife?

A: Yes, but you’ll want to avoid a flat sharpening stone, which can ruin your serrations. You’ll need a cone-shaped taper sharpener, which you can fit between the serrations. Keep in mind that serrated knives are only ground into the blade on one side. You’ll only sharpen the side with the serrations taking care not to widen them as you go.

Q: How often should I sharpen my serrated knife?

A: Because of their unique construction, serrated knives are extremely difficult to sharpen, even with a taper sharpener. They’re prone to distortion and damage because they’re only cut into one side of the blade. Because they’re so easily damaged, it’s best to sharpen your serrated edges, only when absolutely necessary — if you notice a dull spot for instance.

Q: What is a high-relief blade?

A: “High relief” is most commonly associated with boning or “flat-ground” blades. It means the blade’s cutting edge gradually grows thinner from hilt to point.

Q: When do I need an angle guide?

A: You’ll want to use a mechanical guide composed of rods when your knife blade is longer than four inches. This ensures your blade doesn’t become unbalanced and that it transitions smoothly from hilt to tip. Smaller blades are easier to maintain smooth, even strokes on, and can easily be done by hand.

Q: Why are some edges serrated?

A: They increase the angle of your cut (rather than just having a single blade edge touching whatever it is you’re cutting), and therefore produce more dramatic results than a straight blade would. By spreading the applied pressure across several contact points, serrations allow you to essentially stab the object being cut in a straight and uniform manner. Serrations are excellent for cutting through rope and wood.

Q: How do I know when my blade is sharp?

A: You’ll need to look for the “thinning metal burr.” That means, the edge of the blade has grown so thin it’s starting to “turn up.” Essentially, you’ve reached the point where the blade can go no thinner. This should not be visible, but you’ll be able to feel it with a finger or your thumb. Once it’s there, your blade is almost finished. You’ll just have to switch to a “fine” or “extra-fine” stone (or even a strop) to eliminate that burr. Once the it’s gone, your blade is as sharp, or nearly as sharp as you’ll be able to get it. You’ll know you’re finished when you edge fails to reflect light (or “candling”).

Q: Should I use a strop?

A: Strops go beyond the call of duty for most knife users, but many enthusiasts find they want to get their knives as sharp as humanly possible. For them, a strop is the answer. If you’re just looking to sharpen your knife for general purposes, a hone should work perfectly.

Q: What is a strop?

A: A strop is a length of leather lubricated with silicon carbide or aluminum oxide rubbing compound. It’s used to fine-tune knife blades.