My advice for newbie knife sharpeners (2015 updates!)

Jul 13, 2011
My advice for newbie knife sharpeners (2015 updates) - Sharpening Technique

Here's my spiel. I agree with what others have said: you need to just get some stones (you can start with just 2: coarse and fine), take a deep breath, and jump in feet-first... Of course, if that is the only advice people give you, then they are giving you crap advice. That's what inspired me to write this little post. You need a little more advice than "Just start sharpening," since it's all new to you. You need a little guidance. I could have used a little guidance when I was getting started, besides just "Google it, bud," or "just get a stone and start doing it." So here goes:

All I can say is that your first stop should be employing your powerful search-fu for "sharpening" on YouTube and watch a LOT of vids before you even start sharpening yourself. Here's a few I recommend, but there are many, many more worth watching.

2015 CAVEAT: Note that it is impossible to see how much pressure a sharpener is applying (and where) in a video of someone else sharpening. It is simply too fine a motor manipulation to perceive with your eyes as you’re watching someone else do it. Rest assured, these guys are very much tuned into their stones, hands, fingers, and blades -- and pressure is constantly on their minds as they are sharpening.

Rick Marchand has great technique. He's using Japanese water-stones here.


This is the first in a 5-part series, I believe. The guy has a ton more videos to watch, too. I recommend you watch all the ones that have something to do with sharpening.


This guy (I didn’t realize in 2012 that this was knifenut, aka Jason_B) explains some great fundamentals and techniques for moving up in grit. Also watch the second part in the 2-part series, which is about stropping. Good demonstrations.


This guy (I didn’t realize in 2012 that this was CrimsonTideShooter) does a fast progression through all the steps (extra coarse all the way to strop) to give you a "quick and dirty" sense of the sharpening process. He has lots of more detailed videos, too, which you can watch.


That will give you a concept around which to build. Read all the stickies in this forum. Here' s a few other threads I recommend, too:

I highly recommend these treatises on sharpening by Chad Ward and Joe Talmadge, too:

And keep a few things in mind. Note that it will be impossible to really visualize these things; just keep them in mind. As you start sharpening (after watching YouTube videos and reading all the above threads), these things will make more sense and eventually come into clearer focus:

Point #1.
To keep the correct angle along the entire blade, through the curves and the belly, as the blade contacts the stone along its belly curve, you must lift the handle to keep the angle consistent. See? Hard to visualize, I know. Watch the videos, read the posts, and try it yourself and it will eventually make sense. Don't worry about doing it perfectly at first. Practice makes perfect. Let the bevel guide you. If you are hitting the right angle along the whole edge, the bevel should be evenly-wide, from heel to tip. Adjust as needed, lifting the blade a bit along the curve, as you sharpen more knives and as you learn what your unique “quirks” are.

Point #2.
Simple tip for "eyeballing" angles: 90 degrees is holding the blade perpendicular to the stone. half of that is 45. half of that is 22.5. Bring it down just a tad lower and you should be at 17-20 degrees, generally considered a good utility angle for most purposes.

Point #3.
Don't push too hard, but also don't be afraid to use a little pressure. Your knife's blade is a piece of solid steel, not a crystal wine glass. It can take a little rough handling. You won't ruin your knife. After a while, you'll get a sense of what pressure you need to use on your stones to cut the steel correctly. Remember that diamonds are very, very efficient at cutting steel and only require light pressure... if you have diamond stones, which I highly recommend. I recommend the DMT stones, both Duosharp and Diasharp. As the old adage goes, “let the diamonds do the work.” You also risk dislodging diamonds if you use too much pressure on a diamond stone.

Point #4.
Number of strokes? Time frame? It depends. If you want a working edge on 420C that will competently cut a piece of chicken in two, you might spend a few minutes on a coarse Arkansas stone. If I am reprofiling a bad edge from the factory, I might spend 10 - 20 minutes or so with an apprx. 200 grit stone. I'll spend another 10 - 30 minutes with the high grits and finally the strop. So again, it depends on your goals, your steel, your blade, etc. As for whether to stroke heel-to-tip, tip-to-heel, back stroke, front stroke, whatever, etc... everybody prefers something different. You'll get a feel for it.

So in conclusion, after you've read all those resources and watched all the vids available on YouTube and mentally noted my above points... NOW is the time to give you the advice everyone gives: you need to just get some stones (you can start with just 2: coarse and fine), take a deep breath, and jump in feet-first.
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Apr 15, 2012
Damn this is great! Thanks Mag! I've been perusing the forums and watching videos like you advised, but this makes it much more clear and concise as to where I should start.
Mar 7, 2001
Good advice overall!

Even after freehanding for years, watching Jason(knifenut)'s video gave me new insight on belly and the tip/point.

His youtube is mredgy18.
Nov 1, 2011
Nice thread and advice, also check out Crimsontideshooter on the forums here hes jdavis on youtube, he has a lot of videos on sharpening and is a good guy.
Jun 4, 2010
Thought I'd put together a description of how I freehand and some of my thoughts on sharpening in general. There's a great many ways to get good results, so hopefully we can pool our collective methods and all learn something here. Disclaimer, I present info here based entirely on observation and experience - I am no expert or professional. My thanks to MagnaminousG for starting this thread.

I've been freehanding for 20+ years, only in the last 10-12 been getting very good results consistently and really understanding what I'm doing. Much improvement over the last 5-8 years and participation on the forum has spurred me to do a lot of noodling and have learned a ton that way as well. Most of the useful stuff I've learned came in a handful of insightful leaps, it wasn't two decades of frustration. With a good road map a newbie should be grinding reasonable quality edges in fairly short order, with increasingly good results as time goes on.

Here goes, have to start somewhere
Edge angles - very important. You should use the most acute edge your steel will take and hold for its intended task. The quick guide is to take a piece of paper and fold it few times - first fold is 90 degrees, second is 45, third is 22.5 11.25. On the block of wood I use for a stone base I have marked 12.5, 15, 17.5 and 20. Generally I shoot for 28 degrees inclusive and nothing broader than 35 for hatchets, axes, machetes. As I'm freehanding I don't obsess over the exact angle as long as it stays at or under my target within a couple of degrees.


Stone types - Diamond and silicon carbide cut the fastest, aluminum oxide a bit slower and leaves a smoother finish. Natural stones impart a very smooth finish but also cut very slowly and on some modern steels might have considerable trouble grinding. For starting out I always recommend silicone carbide from a quality manufacturer. Feedback is good and it will grind any steel. Keep this in mind as you learn, some abrasives work better with different steels, and some stones can be loaded up or glazed and this will crush your results. If you have a real head-scratcher it might be your stone (or less rarely a bad heat treat on your steel). Usually its just poor observation or incorrect assumptions - always believe your eyes.
All grinding produces swarf (removed metal particles) that should be removed from the stone or sandpaper. On diamonds they can be swept off, for sandpaper the use of crepe rubber block (sold for unclogging belt sanders) is very helpful. On whetstones if used dry they should be swept frequently - swarf particles can clog the pores of the stone or clog your sandpaper and reduce grinding to a crawl. It also reduces feedback and if allowed to be ground into the stone can damage it, requiring it to be resurfaced (lapped). In some cases on waterstones or lubricated whetstones it can be allowed to build up a bit at the finishing level to add a bit of polish to the edge. This does not work well on a dry abrasive, so keep it clean. Water or soapy water can help keep the pores from clogging, oil will actually suspend the swarf and lift it right off the surface of the stone. There has been much discussion over the use of a lubricant on a stone and how to deal with swarf and stone debris. You'll have to puzzle that out for yourself. Personally I highly recommend using oil or soapy water with all stones (do not use oil on diamonds - not sure why). The addition of a bit of dish soap to water enables one to use it on an oil stone without the need to boil or degrease the stone first. On some waterstones a few drops of soap in the bath will keep the stone from drying out as quickly as it might.

Steel to stone - my adopted philosophy is to use as much of the stones surface as possible. On a waterstone this keeps stone wear even and reduces dishing, on a whetstone it spreads the accummulated swarf around the stone requiring fewer stops to clean or re-lubricate.

I determine my intended angle using a folded paper or eyeball to the lines on my base. I put the stone on a bench in front of me at about navel height, running at a 45 from left to right. I use my dominant hand to hold the handle and determine pitch of the blade into the stone, fingertips of my support hand are lightly placed on the blade right where I'm grinding, so I move these along the blade as needed - shorter blades they can usually stay in one place with fingers spread along the length. Placing the blade across the stone at a 45 (so now I'm working almost straight fore and aft) I use a scrubbing motion - very short back and forth - starting at the tip and working back to the heel (some folks go heel to tip). I find I have much more consistent angles by using smaller movements - for me the longer the stroke, the greater the possibility I'll start to loose my intended angle. In practice it winds up as a long series of very shallow overlapping zig zags - sometimes doubling back or hovering at a specific spot that needs more attention. When I switch sides, I'm now moving almost straight across the stone left to right, keeping my grind path at roughly a 45 degree angle to the cutting edge, still scrubbing in a zig zag pattern.





Stopping often to inspect the progress and moving all around the stone, moving it on the bench if necessary. I'll also add water/oil or brush the stone clean as needed to keep the surface cutting well. Working around the belly requires the handle be lifted a bit, and if a recurve, the handle will need to be lowered a bit (be careful on diamond hones sharpening recurve - easy to tear out the diamonds along the edge of the stone, and aggressive recurves should be done some other way). How much the handle needs to be lifted will change for every blade profile and edge angle, so must be learned by feel. As a general rule, don't lift more than needed and check frequently to start.




I grind until a burr forms along the entire edge. Generally it will form unevenly, so I inspect often and only grind where needed. Flip and repeat. Now that I've ground a fresh apex I'll flip and reduce pressure and length of stroke. In most cases I now switch to an edge-leading only stroke and slowly work the burr down using short, light passes. Generally I set the blade on the stone, move it a short distance, stop, lift it off and repeat. My goal is to grind the burr using light enough pressure that it doesn't just flatten out and flip sides. I also want to grind as much as possible on the burr itself and not the bevel. Care must be taken to not broaden the angle at this point ( skill-wise, removing the burr cleanly is 85% of a good sharpening job IMHO). When its no longer visible on this side, I'll switch and repeat. Generally the burr should be quite small and can be almost entirely eliminated with this method. My acid test of burr and wire edge removal is to very very lightly backdrag the edge along a hardwood dowel two or three times - I don't want to compromise my edge, but I do want to make sure the apex is clean and the edge will last a long time. This will reliably turn any remaining unsupported metal along the apex and I can then get rid of it. The edge of a workbench or cutting board works well too. I will also do this early on if I created a larger burr during initial grinding, only use a lot more pressure to make the burr stand extra proud for faster removal.

Now, If I'm whipping up a coarse edge I'll move on to finishing. If I'm further refining the edge I'll move on to the next stone in my progression. IMHO all sharpening ends with some form of edge trailing stroke. The only notable exception I can think of is the act of steeling, which is a whole other load of variables.
Perhaps the most common method is to strop on compound worked into leather, on plain leather, or on some sort of paper or pressed cardboard. In my philosophy one should use a grit close to the stone value they stopped at. A 220 grit silicon carbide stone = 220-400 grit abrasive particle (probably silicon carbide or diamond). Jumping too far up the scale seems to give less than stellar results. I suspect because the coarser edge has a broader apex, polishing it down results in rounding and smoothing of the friction producing irregularities without appreciably thinning the apex. This can often give you an edge that will shave arm hair very well, but fails at most other tasks compared to the same edge unstropped. Using a matched size particle seems to reduce this smoothing tendency. On a machete or hatchet that will likely never be used in a draw cutting manner, I'll strop with fine compound till they're highly polished and this seems to reduce resistance when chopping. Smaller EDU knives I'll try to save as much of the grind texture as possible. Stropping is a science in itself and there's an excellent sticky at the top of the main page. The basics are to use light pressure and approach at a slightly lower angle than you were grinding at to avoid rounding of the apex. Use the compound sparingly and evenly on the surface. I use an exact reverse movement to my burr removal stroke - fairly short, edge trailing passes from tip to heel (this why I go tip to heel when grinding - to help muscle memory) like a plane taking off. Some folks recommend starting and stopping while still in contact with the strop - I do it both ways and haven't noticed a difference. I try to keep my stropping to a minimum in any event. Again, just don't allow the edge to sweep off the strop and the polishing angle should remain fairly consistent. Most often I simply strop on some newspaper wrapped around whatever stone I'm using. Stropping will frequently reveal hidden burrs or wire edges, so don't feel bad about going back to the stone briefly to clean it up some more before going back the strop. If I'm using waterstones I can do some edge trailing strokes on the stone itself exactly as described for stropping on compound, and in some cases eliminate the need for any further finishing, but I almost always strop on newspaper for a final step.



Maintaining the edge can involve stropping, quick touch ups with whatever the last stone was that was used in the progression, or both.

Most often I use a 1000 grit waterstone to do my fore and aft grinding and a 6000 grit waterstone to backhone and polish, and plain newspaper to finish. I came to it the long way around, but my method is very much like that popularized by Murray Carter. My edges using this method are generally "hair whittling" or very nearly so yet still have a lot of bite. I find I cannot backhone on most whetstones and get the same results, I find edge leading produces the cleaner edge on hard stones. My other favorite method is a one-step sharpening using the fine side of a Norton Crystalon (silicon carbide) stone and mineral oil. These edges are not as "nice" but tend to last longer under daily use and are very easy to whip up. Will still shave arm hair and just clip facial stubble. With heavy use of compounds, these edges can be made to whittle hair, but refer back to my statements re stropping abrasives and grit size.

As mentioned on a number of threads, pressure control and developing a feel for where the apex is are critical to good sharpening and freehand in particular - this cannot be said too often. There are a million and one variables most related to finishing and maintenance. Its been brought up several times on the forum that there's no sticky detailing the nuts and bolts of how individuals get their work done - decided to put pen to paper and give a write up. Hope this is somewhat helpful - I apologize for the length and not making a video, but for a Luddite like myself it would take an entire weekend to make a 3 minute show...I hope others will contribute similar and maybe we can get a sticky going or at least something worth bumping.

Rick Marchand

Donkey on the Edge
Jan 6, 2005
Thanks for mentioning me, Mag.:thumbup:... I'm flattered.

I found that I started getting better edges when I thought less about technique and went by "feel/instinct". Just like knifemaking, when I think about it to much I get caught up in the details and lose track of the task at hand.

I use waterstones and sharpen away from the edge in a stropping motion. I also finish strop with newspaper but I wet it down. There are some really good sharpening rigs available but I like the freedom of hand sharpening on stones. I recently downloaded Murray Carter's Sharpening Fundamentals and really like it. I have stopped obsessing about getting the ultimate edge and my results are actually better than ever before.
Jul 13, 2011
Chris "Anagarika";10959921 said:
Good advice overall!

Even after freehanding for years, watching Jason(knifenut)'s video gave me new insight on belly and the tip/point.

His youtube is mredgy18.

Nice thread and advice, also check out Crimsontideshooter on the forums here hes jdavis on youtube, he has a lot of videos on sharpening and is a good guy.

I just watched some of both guys' videos. Very good. I wish I had stumbled across these videos earlier. I added them to my post. :D
Jun 7, 2002
wait till you see my trained nanobot sharpeners. they can hone your knife edge to one molecule while it's in your pocket. :D

oh, and good thread. i went through a lot of knifenut's and crimson tide's sharpening vid and they basically got me started.
Jun 22, 2012
Thanks a lot for this thread Mag_G it has helped me a lot! I watched some of these vids and downloaded Blade Sharpening Fundamentals. Bought some water stones (what I origionaly wanted to get but looked at every other possibility) and had a good day at it! Totally agree with Rick about the feel instinct thing. Doing it helps to understand it and now I will learn more, to practice, to learn more, to practice, etc, but I already feel good enough to get by.

Cheers everyone for the input here its all very helpfull.
Dec 29, 2008
Great thread everybody, amazing to have a knife community like this! Thanks HeavyHanded for your explanations and pictures!! And yes, a video would be awesome !!!