KNIFE SHARPENING IS EDGE CARE
“Fill Your Bowl To The Brim, It Will Spill. Keep Sharpening Your Knife, It Will Blunt”.* Lao Tzu
Nowhere in the digital world or among those who offer education (for a fee or for free) is the concept of “reference” promoted as an integral part of knife sharpening (as of November 2022). Understanding the impact of your actions on your knives is central to learning how to make them sharp and practice proper edge care. If you have knowledge or are just beginning we know that incorporating reference as part of your learning and practice will impact the quality of the result and add to the longevity of each knife you care for.
EDGE CARE / a starter kit
– 1 Sacrificial Knife/ because you are gonna mess it up…. So what…. you have to start somewhere. 8” is most likely the best learning length.
– Stone(s) / 1,000 grit whetstone is THE sharpening stone, it’s all you need to sharpen. So when you are starting don’t spend money on your first stone. Combo stones are useful and having an edge polishing stone (a stone with a grit of 3000 and up) is a great balanced beginning. We recommend that when you purchase a combo stone you always combine 1,000 grit with a higher number, never a lower number. For example 1,000 grit and 4,000 grit never 1,000 grit and 600 grit (R1). If you do then you will have to purchase a third stone because the lower grit numbers take off far to much steel too fast. One stone to sharpen one stone to polish the edge you create. That is the place to start.
–2 dish-towels, fold the towels, wet them and place the stone on the wet towels to secure it during practice.
–1 black sharpie pen
–1 piece of white paper card stock (something more durable than printer paper) at least 2” longer than your longest knife and 5” wide (you will need one piece for every edge your care for.)
EDGE CARE THE PRACTICE
- DO LESS USE LESS/ With everything you learn about edge care (all of which is personal), do it with less pressure and less often because the goal of edge care is to extend the life of your knife. Steel removal reduces the life of your knife. Take it easy, there is no rush unless you want to fill the pockets of retailers for no reason.
- KNOW WHERE YOU BEGIN, TO KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE CHANGED/ The ability to refer back to the beginning of your actions is the foundation of learning how to care for an edge. Recording the original profile of each knife you care for on a piece of card stock defines your starting point. Being able to refer to it helps you evaluate your actions and how they are affecting the edges overall shape. So use it as you work on the edge of your knife. This makes sure you are maintaining as best you can the original sharp edge shape you started with. Alter the shape of the cutting edge and you change what the knife can do and the intent of the original blade design. (Do this for all your knives you take to ‘professional sharpeners and you will see how much steel they remove and if the change the shape of the blade.)
- IT’S IN YOUR HANDS/ No matter what level of skill you achieve or which angle you are working on, consistent movements on both sides of the blade is what you are training for in your hand and wrist movements. Drawing a 20mm black line on both sides at the edge provides a clear visual feedback of your movements against the stone. This assists in teaching you how to hold your wrist and hands in a position to remove the same amount of the black marker along the whole of each side of the edge of your knife. This will also teach you what angle to hold your hand and wrist in for the changing angles of different knives.
- LISTEN TO YOUR ACTIONS/ Listening to the sounds you are making is critical. Your goal is to make the same sound on both sides of the blade as you work towards a finished result no matter the grit of the stone you are using and the angle you are trying to create. Each knife has its own sound, learn them and your edge will benefit.
- PICK ANY ONLINE VIDEO FOCUSED ON SHARPENING THAT YOU ENJOY AND TURN OFF THE SOUND/ Watch the video while following steps 1 through 4 above. Our opinion is the best practice of edge care is to move the whole length of the blade, not in sections. This teaches you the curve of the blade. Unless you move the whole length of the blade you never learn to connect with the engine of the knife which is the shape of your sharp edge. This is why sectional sharpening turns shaped edges into straight edges over time (we recommend R2). Apply the same steps to whatever grit of the stone you are using ( steps 1 through 4).
- STROP YOUR KNIFE/ Stropping is a finishing step before use and in between sharpening of a knife. This practice can never harm your edge if you follow step 1. To achieve a level of comfort practicing with this tool follow step 5. The smooth side of a 4” X 8” piece of vegetable tanned shoe leather with a chrome oxide compound @ .5 microns (R3) will make a perfect finish to your knife. Stropping is a nominal maintenance practice in between sharpening for all types of steel set at any angle. To achieve the best result you must move the knife like you do on the stone its whole curve not just by section across its length.
- PUT IN THE TIME … ENJOY THE PROCESS BECAUSE YOU NEVER STOP LEARNING/ For a beginner it could take anywhere up to seven hours of practice to hit the wall for you to decide if you love this or you don’t. If you don’t then the money you have spent won’t be that much. If you do… keep at it. Once you have used up your intro gear you will appreciate the choices being offered in 1,000 grit stones available online from many vendors. A truing stone (R4) is a necessary tool for the ongoing maintenance of your stones in their service to your edges. Take care of the thing that takes care of you!
THE PRACTICE OF HONING IS A SEPARATE ARTICLE SOON TO BE POSTED
R1. A GOOD SOURCE OF INFORMATION FOR BEGINNERS ABOUT WHETSTONES.
R2. EXAMPLES OF KNIFE SHARPENING HAND MOVEMENTS BY TWO INDIVIDUALS ONE VERY SKILLED AND ONE KNOWLEDGEABLE BOTH USING THE SAME STONES.(except for the hand movements hacherandkrain does not endorse any content or opinions of these two videos.)
While the list of sharpening experts on youtube is long, if you don’t know where to start take a look at both of these within the time frames indicated. They both offer sound approaches to movement which will give you a great base from which to build your own skill and both are using the same stones to demonstrate how they each approach the practice.
Bob Kramer is the most well known MASTER BLADESMITH of THE AMERICAN BLADESMITH SOCIETY (ABS) his post is to promote his knife sharpening kit.
(demonstration of his approach to hand movement on his stones runs from minutes 1:40 to 8:30)
A review of the the knife sharpening kit carrying BOB KRAMER’s name / review by: Burrfection
(demonstration of hand movement from minutes 17:17 to 25:37 using the same stones)
R3. HOW TO MAKE A STROP (again there are many different approaches to making a strop. This post is comprehensive and makes sense. It’s not the only one but it’s the one i feel i can suggest if you have questions email firstname.lastname@example.org
Chrome oxide, compounds an approach, there are many alternative suppliers.
R4. HOW TO AND WHY YOU NEED TO TRUE (MAKE FLAT) YOUR SHARPENING STONES.
This post is really good because it saves you money by using waterproof sandpaper, simple and great way to keep your stones in perfect shape for sharpening your edges.
Technical reference paper on sharpening