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How to learn to sharpen well...

Discussion in 'Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment' started by kestrel57, Jul 17, 2012.

  1. kestrel57


    Jun 4, 2012
    I have very strong hands but am slightly klutzy when it comes to knives (or most things). Anyway, I want to develop at least some ability to sharpen a straight edge knife. I was thinking a soft, cheap steel (such as on the tenacious) or even kitchenware. What tool would be a good buy for a beginner, one who will probably never be a great sharpener --- compounded by benign tremor and, to a lesser degree, carpal tunnel in the wrist.

    And any NYish (I'm in Manhattan (a lot) sharpeners --- yes, they sell sharp knives at a few stores such as Paragon but won't sharpen. (Of course the City probably has over 2 million handguns :).
    Anyway, I could also try NJ or Eastern Pa (maybe the best bet). I'd probably be willing to send. Thanks!
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2012
  2. mkjellgren


    Nov 1, 2005
    Honestly your best bet is just going to be practice, and lots of it.

    You can buy angle jig setups like the edge pro or wicked edge which are absolutely excellent and nearly idiot proof but are going to run you in the neighborhood of $250-300.

    Another good system is the dmt aligner. It is similar to the edge pro and wicked edge but less refined, many people report good results.

    The spyderco sharpmaker is also a very highly thought of sharpening system, but it does have its limitations. The sharpmaker requires knives have a primary bevel angle of less than 40° inclusive in order to be effective. However, if in fact your knives are suited for the sharpmaker, it can achieve some stellar results.

    With all that said, I recommend learning to freehand sharpen. It's just far more satisfying than any sort of jig setup. All you really need to get started are a few bench stones in varying grits and a willingness to learn. In terms of stones, I recommend dmt diasharp stones for the coarser grits and spyderco's ceramics for the finer grits. I personally go dmt coarse -> dmt fine -> spyderco medium -> spyderco fine -> spyderco ultrafine and then finish with a strop with fine green compound. I set all of my primary bevels this way, and I set them all to roughly 25-30° inclusive so that they can be touched up on the sharpmaker.
  3. climbingrocks


    Jan 9, 2008
    I would recommend Murray Carter's sharpening DVDs. They are some of the most informative videos around and are excellent for starting a good foundation. You can get them from his website. Just google his name. Best of luck.
  4. Chris "Anagarika"

    Chris "Anagarika"

    Mar 7, 2001
  5. Magnaminous_G


    Jul 13, 2011
    +1. I just finished watching both! :D
  6. Benuser


    Nov 19, 2010
    Start with simple carbon steel, e.g. Opinel. More advanced stainless with their specific deburring problems will come later. Ward's An Edge in the Kitchen is still a great introduction.
  7. Robs92XJ


    Apr 3, 2012
    I have three tips:

    1) Start with a mora or scandi grind. This has a wide flat edge bevel that you can rest on the stone. As long as you apply a bit of pressure it basically will lay itself flat at the angle you need to sharpen. Whereas with a very small conventional secondary bevel you have to guess what the angle is and try to hold your hands steady.

    The most difficult part of the sharpening stroke to me is following the belly curve to the tip- you have to lift the handle up from the stone as you get closer to the tip. With a scandi bevel you can really feel where the bevel needs to rest on the stone, and you can start to develop the feel for how much to lift the handle as you sweep along the belly curve. Once you have the feel it is more intuitive to pick up a secondary-edged knife and hold the angle around the belly curve.

    2) Bio-mechanics: I think the principle is to keep the movement confined to the joints that are furthest from the knife. In other words, instead of moving your fingers and wrists, move at the elbow, shoulder, and waist. If you are in a standing position you can even bend at your knees. Try to think of your arms from the forearms down as a fixed jig; once you have the angle set in your "jig", keep it that way, and move the entire jig across the stone with the rest of your body. If you try to do the movement with your wrists it is difficult to hold the angle steady. Hopefully this makes sense.

    3) Sharpie. Mark the edge before you take it to the stone, then after a few passes look and see where the sharpie was removed. You have the angle right when the sharpie is removed across the entire edge bevel, keep adjusting the angle until this is achieved. Even if you have almost no skill, you can get a good edge if you make rigorous use of the sharpie. The skill will just let you do it more efficiently.

    Other than that, just practice. Besides the mora I recommended, just get some cheap pocketknives or kitchen knives, something you're not afraid of ruining. Dull them by lightly dragging the edge at 90 degrees to the stone, then try to sharpen. Once you get it sharp, dull it again and repeat. That would be the fastest way to learn.
  8. wdtorque


    May 29, 2010
    Good thoughts. Opinel, scandi on a Mora, and maybe low end Chicago Cutlery. Zabars has a wide variety of knives.
  9. Chris "Anagarika"

    Chris "Anagarika"

    Mar 7, 2001

    Your tip #2 is the secret untold:thumbup:

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