help with knife sharpening


December 9, 2013, 12:05 PM
I have an 800 grit Japanese water stone. And I have a smiths combo diamond sharpener with the coarse on one side and fine on the other. I know 800 grit isn't very fine for water atones. But its actually higher then the fine diamond.

Not even counting the water stone, I have seen plenty of knives get pretty sharp with the fine stone (750 grit) once I get this down I will get finer stones (wither diamond or water or both)

i must be doing something wrong. It looks like I'm getting the angles right as best I can tell. I even used a sharpie on the edge to see how I was doing. It was removed evenly. I'm doing the same amount on both sides. I have tried various durations. From just a few strokes a side. To 3-5 min a side. I worked with a crap kitchen knife, I worked with an old hockey butcher knife (I use it as my outdoor and bushcraft knife) and I tried a folding buck knife that I EDC. And none of then are getting even a decent edge. Using the paper test none of them are even cutting it. Just ripping. Even without finer stones and a strop they should be able to cut the paper I would think. I used to have my knifes sharpened at bass pro and all they did was take it to a grinding wheel. It wasn't very fine and they didn't use a strop. Yet the old hickory and the buck would shave hair off my arm and slice through paper. The buck I could almost shave with.

I worked with the old hickory the most.I could feel the bur after sharpening each side, on the longer sessions. I did start using my boot to strop just to see if I t would help. It didn't.

Any advice? I really would prefer the learn the skill and not get a gismo that does the angles and all that. My grandfather had just one stone. Yet he could take a $5 knife (though 5 got you farther 15 years ago) and dang near shave with it when he was done.

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Sam Cade
December 9, 2013, 12:29 PM
Usually the problem in situations like this is consistency in the way that the edge of the knife is meeting the stone.

Focus on keeping your strokes identical and remember that freehand sharpening is a difficult skill that takes much time and practice to develop

December 9, 2013, 12:53 PM
For softer steels I use an old Norton bench stone. For harder steels I found the Norton useless. The blade would skip off with no appreciable gain in sharpness. I had to switch to a Smith diamond hone. I use it the same way as my Norton and it works pretty well. I wish it were a bit finer but is sufficient. I use oil on it and pull the knife onto the sharpener using pretty light pressure. A bit more than just the weight of the knife but not a death grip. Death grips come in handy when trying to reprofile a knife but are unnecessary when only sharpening. You shouldn't feel a burr on the edge unless you are wiping the blade off the stone. Remember, pull the blade onto the stone as if you are trying to cut it. And use lube.

December 9, 2013, 03:45 PM
Do you have a 5 or 10x loop?
Stand under an overhead light and look at your edge from both sides under magnification. I expect you'll see the burr you are creating. Look to see if your edge is even (the same angle) from choil to tip and from side to side.
Once you can actually see what you are doing, learning to correct your mistakes becomes much easier.

December 9, 2013, 04:36 PM
If you create a burr you can feel you are too aggressive on one side. What angle are you working at? It can make a difference and depends on the hardness of the steel. A hard brittle steel will chip the edge at a 30 degree angle. Back off to 25 degrees and you will get a more functional edge. I use a Works belt sharpener with very good results. I used to use a Lansky. Good results with either if you do your part.

December 9, 2013, 05:03 PM
A lot of first-timer sharpening woes are because the knife has a bevel that is crooked and/or too obtuse. The other thing that can be neglected is removal of the burr. The rest is up to hand-eye coordination, but that's relatively minor, IMO.

Working up a burr is generally going to happen, esp the first time you sharpen a knife. Most knife steels will work up a burr at the 20-30 degree angles you are going to be sharpening your secondary bevel on general use knives. The first time you sharpen a factory knife, you should usually try to get a burr all the way across the blade. This is because the factory most likely screwed up your edge and it's not straight all the way across. Until you work up a burr all the way across the blade, you aren't sharpening the entire edge.

If you can't work up a burr all the way across, you might need to start with 100-200 grit sandpaper, and you might need to work on the primary grind a bit in order to thin the bevel. When you work on the secondary bevel, do this at a shallower angle than you want your final edge. Final edge will be 30-40 deegrees on most of your knives, but the secondary needs to be 20-30.

Work it until you have a burr all the way across. Alternatively, if you're lazy, you could leave the edge warped and just sharpen it with a sharpening rod.

You can rub in circles, too. This is faster and it works just the same as stroking in one direction.

Now you have a nice burr all the way across. And your edge angle is a nice 20 degrees, let's say. It's now prepped to take an edge. Do not attempt to cut anything yet, or you'll rip out the edge. If you are going to do any sanding or buffing, do it now.

There are a few ways to remove a burr. One is just by lightly stroking over a stone at a slightly steeper angle than what put the burr on in the first place. This is what I would generally do, since this is how you are going to sharpen the next step anyway. For example, if the bevel is 20 degrees, that's 10 degrees per side. And say we want the final edge angle to be 35 degrees or so. That's a 7-8 degree difference per side. So it's a pretty significant difference, actually. Just a half dozen strokes on either side with your water stone or your fine stone at this steeper angle, and you should be done sharpening. The burr should fall off on the first couple strokes, and you'll get a nice cohesive edge. You will want to stop once an good edge is on there, cuz the more you sharpen, the wider your microbevel gets.

Now, you will have put on a new, tiny burr. You can remove this by stropping on a leather loaded with buffing compound. Alternate sides.

Test the edge how you deem fit, and if the edge fails, then straighten it with a steel and deepen your microbevel.

The majority of skill/art in hand-sharpening is getting the belly and tip to flow seamlessly into the straight portion of the blade. On most knives you want the angle of the edge to be more obtuse at the tip, and gradually shallow out over the belly - unless you want to lose the tip everytime you drop the knife. If you can't even get the straight part of your blade sharp, I bet it's just due to an obtuse or crooked bevel on your blade. As said, fixing that takes sandpaper and a lot of elbow grease. Heck, on a factory Svord Peasant it might take an hour on a belt sander.

December 10, 2013, 12:15 PM
Best advice I can give is practice, practice, practice. Get some cheap kitchen knives and using bench type (mounted, roughly 2"x8" x3/4' thick). Try maintaining the desired angle first. I prefer Bench stones in Medium India and Hard Arkansas. I hone one side with the India till I feel a burr then go to the other side of the blade. Finish by a circular motion on both sides of the blade. Proceed to the hard Arkansas and do likewise. I also like to "strop" using leather or cardboard. I'm a big fan of the Sharpmaker but it STILL does not replace the stones in my book. A good strop can be made from an old leather belt glued to a piece of wood 1&1/2 x 10 x 3/4 with the cardboard glued to the other side.

Bartholomew Roberts
December 10, 2013, 01:32 PM
I don't know much about freehand sharpening as I use a Wicked Edge; but I can certainly confirm that many knives come from the factory with an uneven edge.

December 10, 2013, 08:43 PM
I am far from an expert but I can usually get a pretty good and lasting edge on my knives. I found when I trained myself to REALLY ease up on how hard I was bearing down I got much more consistent and acceptable results. I use a Smiths sharpening kit a lot and also do some freehand.

December 10, 2013, 08:52 PM
I think you are over sharpening each side. Reduce the number of strokes per side and apply light pressure to the stone. Pay attention to your sharpening angle and try to keep it consistant.

December 11, 2013, 08:50 PM
Here's a really nice video that explains microbevels.

December 12, 2013, 01:19 PM
My daughter has taken to watching Gilligans Island of late and we have been observing various tribal groups sharpening machettes on a big rock a couple of times in the third season.

When I was a kid some of the black workmen I worked with used unusual sharpeners that seemed to work just fine. One swore by an old red brick, another used the hardened concrete threshold of one of our warehouse sliding doors. One did his initial shaping on a concrete curb out by the street and finished with the bottom of a coffee cup he kept for drinking from.

Not pretty but hard to argue that they were in fact getting decent edges on their hardware store blades.

I really believe that to a very large extent that sharpening is more a how thing than a what thing. What you know HOW to do with whatever you have is more important than WHAT you have to do it with.


December 14, 2013, 09:16 PM
For years, I thought that microbevels were an easy way to get a decent edge, but that the best edges could not be obtained with one. It wasn't until I finally committed to trying them that I realized how wrong I was. So give it a try.

For years I reasoned that a microbevel is "blunting" the edge. After I spent 20 minutes putting on a 25 degree secondary, I could not bring myself to blunt the edge to 35 degrees. So my first tests of a microbevel were only a degree or two steeper than my secondary. Which obviously sucked, because the edge is still too thin, for one. And for another, the burr and tear outs on the edge are not being completely removed. So if you try one, make sure it's at least 4-5 degrees steeper than your secondary.

If you use a microbevel, your secondary can be fairly sloppy and really coarse. It doesn't matter (much). As long as you are working up a burr (on both sides of the blade BTW; if there's a low spot on one side of the knife, you will work a burr on one side only, and you cannot sharpen this spot until you sand it out), you don't need to worry a bit about how sharp the knife is(n't) at this point. Raise the angle at least 4-5 degrees from there and hone on a microbevel with your fine stone.

And it doesn't even matter if you can hold a consistent angle. More important is consistent and even contact with the stone without letting the edges of the stone dig into the blade.

Think of the ideal knife as a cookie cutter. It has a thin blade and a rounded edge. It doesn't matter that the knife isn't sharpened, because the overall blade is thin enough to easily cut ookie dough. The rounded edge is fine, because it's strong and it's sharp enough. But we need our knives to cut more than cookie dough, so we need some sort of edge on our knives. But what angle?

It just so happens that a knife edge of about 36-40 degrees is acute enough to cut just about anything that a knife needs to cut. If you made a wedge shaped knife with a 36 degree primary down to a zero edge, it would be too fat to cut effectively, but it could still shave hairs and take shavings off of paper. If you grind a quick and dirty 20 degree secondary on a knife and then quickly put a 36 degree microbevel on the knife with a fine stone, now you have that same edge angle, but the knife is thin enough to slice through stuff. In fact, it will perform almost identically to a knife with a finely polished 20 degree secondary down to a zero edge (and that's not easy to put on), but it will be almost as strong as a knife with a 36 degree secondary bevel with zero edge. This is the "cookie cutter" shape, utilizing a relatively blunt but thin edge to do the cutting.

Some will complain that microbevels are an annoyance, because after a few touchups, you will have to shape the secondary again. That's a foolish argument. If your secondary bevel IS your edge, you will have to reshape AND HONE your entire secondary every time you sharpen. And you will still have to reshape your primary grind when the secondary bevel gets too fat... unless your knife has a scandi grind. And if you don't know by now, there doesn't exist a knife steel hard and tough enough to hold a pure sub-30 degree scandi grind through any kind of hard use. And with a scandi, you have a relatively long and laborious process to resharpen the knife in any case.

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