Recommendation? Final sharpening step: Arkansas vs Strop

Discussion in 'Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment' started by MTHall720, Apr 13, 2020.

  1. MTHall720

    MTHall720 Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    I don’t own any super hard steel. I’ve been doing the following sequence for sharpening but it is hit or miss whether the sharpness is sufficient for easy paper cutting. 1st is Coarse (when needed) DMT Bench stone, then Fine DMT, then Fine Idahone ceramic rod, but not sure what will do best for sharpness as the final step. I have been using a green compound on a cheap leather strop which I don’t how to easily clean. So big question is should I get a better quality compound or look for a Black Surgical Arkansas stone instead. I have a feeling the Arkansas may be pricey compared to the one I used to use about 40 years ago.
    Thanks so much for any thoughts.
    BTW: I don’t use any of my blades for heavy duty stuff like chopping or hacking and tend to prefer sharpness over an edge that is geared towards survival stuff.
  2. sickpuppy1

    sickpuppy1 Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 27, 2018
    Sounds like you really need to get to a point where you consistently get good edges with stones first, then worry about going to next step. reality says you should be easily cut paper every time b4 the finish. You should be able to shave the arm hair right off the stones.
    But to answer your question, stropping is my final step.
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  3. Mr.Wizard


    Feb 28, 2015
    The Idahone Fine Rod should be capable of nice edges that fly through catalog paper. Get the best edge you can off the DMT Fine, then strop on plain paperboard like the inside of a cereal box to reduce any burr. Then make a few strokes per side on the Idahone to refine it and strop on paperboard again.

    The paperboard without compound is unlikely to round your edge as can happen with a pasted leather strop, so this eliminates one possible problem. You can try the leather again later.
    MTHall720 likes this.
  4. MTHall720

    MTHall720 Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Thank you for the good suggestions.
  5. Papilio


    Sep 6, 2019
    From my point of view the color of a compound doesn't say anything about how fine it is. A green compound may be the finest one manufacturer has in stock, but this can be totally different when you buy one from another company. Green alone is not a quality mark.
    I have a strop with compound (mine is white, but I don't know how fine it is). And I am not sure what to think about my strop. Sometimes it seems to work, sometimes I think my knives loose sharpness. Actually I use a Surgical Black as a hone and this stone leaves a very sharp edge. I don't strop anymore after the Surgical. I don't have super hard steels, too. To get an even sharper edge after the Surgical Black the compound would have to be ~ 0.5 microns or so. I don't think that this would work with cheaper steels.
    As you have the rod, maybe a strop is a better option than an Arkansas. Whatever works.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2020
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  6. I've often posted about how much I've liked DMT's hones over others. The main reason I prefer them is, they're very good finishers in their own right. In other words, I've seldom found a need to do much, if any, follow-up stropping or refining on other stones, following either of the DMT Coarse or Fine hones. They finish cleanly at a light touch, with minimal burring issues - even with more burr-prone steels. The whole key is making sure the touch is light.

    For me, doing the finishing passes with an ultra-light touch, after setting bevels & apexing, is what makes all the difference in leaving an edge which sails through paper effortlessly. Make absolutely sure you raise a detectable burr first, so you know the edge is completely apexed. Then, thin the burr and refine the apex on the same hone with much, much lighter passes at the same original sharpening angle (this is how I do it, to make sure the geometry I set stays just as such). Keep test-cutting in thin, light paper, like phonebook pages or newsprint, catalog pages, etc, to monitor progress toward a clean-slicing edge.

    If I do any stropping at all, after finishing on a DMT Coarse or Fine, it's just a few passes on the sueded side of a leather belt or on my jeans. I usually leave it at that.

    For simple carbon steels, I'd suggest finishing with a finer grit, if using diamond hones especially. Diamond is so aggressive on steels lacking any wear resistance, that a Fine or EF diamond hone will still work very fast, but it will leave a working edge that's not too ragged, such as if finished with something coarser. This also holds true if using diamond hones on simpler low-alloy stainless steels like 420HC or equivalents (Case, Buck, Victorinox, etc). My favorite treatment for my Victorinox paring knives is finishing on a DMT in any one of their Coarse, Fine or EF hones with a very, VERY light touch. Their steel really responds to it, if the touch is kept very light.
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  7. Eli Chaps

    Eli Chaps Gold Member Gold Member Basic Member

    Apr 20, 2018
    I'll echo the need to have a good apex off the first stone. If I had to guess, you're either not getting a good apex to start or are crushing it in the later progressions.

    Very light stropping off the course stone can help if you need it but with or without it, you should be able to cut receipt paper off the course stone. For low carbide steels, green chromium oxide on leather should work fine.
    MtnHawk1, Ourorboros and MTHall720 like this.
  8. Craig James

    Craig James

    Oct 30, 2018
    I own 4 stones, a DMT coarse, a Chosera 800 and a no name 2000/6000. The latter is shocking, coarser than the grit suggests it should be, super hard so that it tends to glaze after a couple of knives and loads up like a MF.

    For all my knives I tend to stop after the chosera and deburr on the stone after both. I use the DMT infrequently now that my edges are set.

    All my knives, even the cheap stainless variety will cut newspaper effortlessly against the grain just off the DMT, and off the chosera against the grain on thinner phone book paper. I only really use the 2000/6000 to polish wood working tools.

    I tend to finish all cutting edges on a strop loaded with cheap green compound or bare leather. I just find it easier to ensure all burr remnants have been removed. After this we can whittle hair. Why all this regurgitation of my sharpening habits? I guess my point is that with the equipment you currently have you should be able to get an edge that you are very happy with. I’m not sure that buying an Arkansas will give you the improvement you are necessarily looking for.

    As others have inferred it sounds like your technique is letting you down along your progression. Sharpen, test, repeat would be my advice to identify which bit is letting you down - before buying expensive hardware...
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  9. MTHall720

    MTHall720 Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Thanks so much everyone. After reflecting on the advice here I will check to be sure I have a burr which I haven’t done. When we say a burr are we talking about a thin strip of metal that forms which can be knocked off with just a light touch? I’m doing my best to maintain a consistent angle. I have however forgotten about checking for a burr. I also should change the paper I use to check the sharpness since I use a heavy print paper which is quite thick.
    Craig James likes this.
  10. Mr.Wizard


    Feb 28, 2015
    A burr can appear in several different ways. It can be a strong ridge or hook on one side of the edge that can catch and scrape when the edge is drawn backward in a stropping motion over a plastic pen barrel, thumbnail, etc. It can appear as a thin strip of foil that clings to the edge and flexes easily when it is touched lightly from the side. It can be small and aligned with the edge, invisible and sharp enough to pop hairs, yet weak such that it crushes the first time the edge used to whittle clean heartwood. And relatively new to me is the concept of negative burr, where if I recall some of the edge breaks off leaving a rough plateau behind. Usually the first type is what (I believe) people mean when they instruct to sharpen until you raise a burr, but not all combinations of steel and stone form this kind of burr so you need to be able to check that you have reached the apex with another method if necessary.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
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  11. Eli Chaps

    Eli Chaps Gold Member Gold Member Basic Member

    Apr 20, 2018
    You'll be able to feel it. Before you start sharpening, or any time really, lightly glide your thumb or fingertips across the bevel's edge (from spine to edge type motion, not along the edge as in cutting). It should be smooth all the way up and down the edge on both sides. No catching. When you sharpen, if you apex the edge, you will then feel a catch or roughness when you do this. The burr forms on the opposite side you ware working on the stone. When you can feel that along the entire edge, that side is apexed. It's okay to focus on small spots that aren't forming but I like to add full edge strokes in there too. Maybe, I don't know, ten strokes on a stubborn spot, then two or three full strokes, check and repeat as necessary.

    Now you do the other side, same thing. When you can feel that burr along the entire edge on this side, you have fully apexed your edge.

    And this is a prime opportunity to screw up the work you've just done. We all have and sometimes still do it. You have to remove the burr from that side without ruining the apex or forming more burr on the other side.

    Many prefer very, very light, edge trailing strokes on the stone for de-burring. Some will slightly lower, some maintain, and some will slightly raise the angle to do this. This is just stropping on the stone. For stropping on leather, I like very light edge trailing strokes and a lower angle. The slight give of the leather can roll up the edge just a touch and get the burr off.

    To me, this is the trickiest part of proper sharpening so be patient and don't get discouraged if you have set backs.

    Also, a marker for the edge bevel let's you see what you're doing. It's an incredibly valuable tool.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2020
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  12. Ourorboros


    Jan 23, 2017
    In my experience, thicker paper (like really high quality printer paper) cuts easier than thin paper (like newspaper). Thicker paper stands up in the path of the blade and doesn't twist and warp around. I keep using the same type of paper to have a consistent comparison point.
    MtnHawk1 likes this.
  13. Craig James

    Craig James

    Oct 30, 2018
    I’d like to emphasise this point, I find this as well. As you lighten the pressure I find it increasingly difficult to maintain the correct angle. Removing the burr effectively is often the difference between screaming sharp and not sharp at all
    willc likes this.
  14. bucketstove


    Sep 23, 2014
    What angle and thickness?
  15. 000Robert

    000Robert Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 28, 2020
    I use magazine paper because I have plenty of old magazines to use.

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