My advice for newbie knife sharpeners (2015 updates!)

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I just sharpened a 4.5" blade after dulling it on the bottom of a coffee cup. The knife is sharp, but not "razor sharp." It will cut paper, but only after I saw to get it started. Here's what I did:

400 grit stone:
1. 10 "edge leading" passes on each side. I could feel a tiny amount of burr on the left side of the blade, but not much at all on the right side. I really leaned into it too. I removed all sorts of steel if the color of the water on the stone is any indicator. I ran new water over it and knife regularly so it didn't build up.
2. 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1 - strop passes on each side. (edge trailing)
1000 grit stone:
1. same stropping passes as #2 above
3000 grit stone:
1. same stropping passes as #2 above.

Again.. the knife is sharp but not as sharp as I would like to be able to do. I am open to any advice on my process!

B
 
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After the 400 you should be able to push cut thin paper with the grain and almost against it. By push cut I mean literally pushing without any sawing motion.

I’ve watched Ricky’s videos as well and I although I quite like him I wouldn’t necessarily put stock in his stropping advice. I accept it works for him but if you are new to sharpening I would guarantee that your stropping is not consistent dependant on the side of the knife you are working on. You are possibly ruining your edge doing this. When stropping I would certainly re-apply your sharpie on the apex (if you’re not using a sharpie please do)

My guess if your knife is not fully apexed off the 400 or that there is still some burr remaining else you would be getting better results. Don’t move up in grit until you have an edge you are satisfied with else you will just be wasting time and effort.

Don’t be disheartened you will get there - it just takes some time
 
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Thank you Craig! Several questions. I really appreciate the advice!

I did the sharpie, but don't really know what I'm looking for? The sharpie was gone after 1 or 2 passes...

If I'm satisfied with the edge on the 400, why move up at all? I'm confused by this.... I haven't been satisfied with my edge ever. :)

What could I do differently to be "fully apexed" off the 400?

Do you have a suggestion on how to strop on the stone? I don't have a leather strop. How am I ruining my edge by stropping this way? I'm totally opening to trying something different. Can you recommend a video that will work on the stones I have?

Thanks again!

B
 

Blues

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Sharpie the entire bevel. You want to be taking steel off the entire bevel rather than raising the angle and plowing the very edge into the stone.

Your goal is to find and repeat a stroke that removes the Sharpie from the full width of the bevel with each stroke or, if you employ back and forth strokes...with each of those, along the entire length of the blade.
 
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Sharpie the entire bevel. You want to be taking steel off the entire bevel rather than raising the angle and plowing the very edge into the stone.

Your goal is to find and repeat a stroke that removes the Sharpie from the full width of the bevel with each stroke or, if you employ back and forth strokes...with each of those, along the entire length of the blade.

So, I should check the bevel after one stroke and keep remarking and checking? Does the water on the stone affect the sharpie mark? Thank you Blues!
 

Blues

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Water won't take it off. Usually alcohol or mineral spirits, by way of example, is necessary to clean off the marker.

When you hand sharpen it's not possible to be perfect in terms of maintaining the exact angle.

Try to get a feel for what the right angle looks and feel likes performed on both sides of the blade, and then work on each side until you join both sides at the apex. Don't stress over perfection...if you need virtually absolute, repeatable precision, you'll need to use a guided sharpener like the Edge Pro or others with a similar concept.

Look at the edge, (with the edge pointed up facing toward your eyes), under a bright light and if you see portions of the edge reflecting light, you either haven't apexed yet...or you may have some burr needing removal.
 
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I think you are probably not apexing the edge. Why? Because you are counting strokes instead of using an objective measurement of whether or not the edge is apexed. You also "can't really feel the burr" on either side after your first stone.

Counting strokes is an odd thing that some people try to promote as a proper technique. It is not a proper technique at all. Only observations can tell you when you are done grinding. If you started with a piece of 1/4" bar stock do you think that 10 strokes on each side would form a sharp edge? Of course not. You would need a lot more grinding. Observation (looking) would tell you this. This is why you must use observation at each stage to decide if you are done or not.

You need to spend more time with your first stone until you have fully apexed the edge. This means raising a burr on BOTH sides, FULL length, and then removing it.

Until you do this, you're going to be struggling and chasing the wrong thing. You must make full length burrs on both sides and remove them.

Good luck to you.

Brian.
 
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Thank you Brian! I am beginning to understand I think... can you tell me how to observe the burr and make certain it is on both sides?

Then, how does one correctly "remove the burr?" Is that through stropping or something else? Thank you for your help!

B
 
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That's very good advice that Blues and bgentry have given you.....others will likely chime in.

After a few strokes on one side, ensuring I'm hitting the apex using the Sharpie method..... I feel for the burr. Use the pad of your thumb against the edge....or a thumbnail. If your thumb or fingernail catches coming off the edge, you have a burr. Ensure that the burr runs the full length of the edge.

Flip the knife over, mark the edge using the Sharpie and start over. The burr can be removed by using light edge trailing strokes.

You need to apex the edge on each stone before you move onto the next grit.

Note: I don't count strokes, nor do I use a strop / paste combination. Ready to go to work after coming off the final stone.
 
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Most of your questions from my post have been answered by others. Regarding my stropping point, Ricky is very structured I.e 10 stroke on both sides then 8 then 6 etc.

The point of stropping on a stone is to remove the burr. If you are inconsistent in your stropping technique (which you will be having just started out) then following the number of strokes per side mantra will mean that you are not getting the results that stropping on the stone should give. I.e the burr is not being fully removed before switching sides. Don’t count strokes, simply strop on the stone until the burr is removed and then switch sides. If the burr has been partially removed it is perfectly ok to just work on the area where is hasn’t been.

When I started out free handing I was fully apexing the edge when sharpening, because of this when I was stropping on the stone I assumed I was hitting the full apex - turns out I wasn’t - the sharpie method showed me this.

Stropping on the stone works it can just be difficult to get the technique down. Go slow, get it right and then your speed will increase. Also be mindful that removing the burr on cheap stainless can be difficult.

As for what I mean when I say satisfied with the edge on the first stone, as others have said I mean fully apexed and therefore razor sharp. If you’ve got this the knife WILL easily shave your arm hair and easily cut paper. Going up in grit refines the already sharp edge, I.e reduces the toothiness of the edge and will push cut better. Higher grit stones do increase the sharpness but it is a law of diminishing returns.

If your not getting a razor sharp edge on your first stone then moving up in grit will not get you one. You have to build a house on solid foundations!!

Something else I have found useful is using angle wedges, you can buy them or make your own. You don’t use them to actually sharpen but to eyeball the correct angle to sharpen at. I’ve found they encourage consistency and build muscle memory
 
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Thank you Craig for the details. This is very helpful. I'm still a little unclear on two points. 1. how to tell when the burr is gone and the blade is fully apexed. 2. how to execute the sharpie method in it's entirely. Is there a video showing this technique?

Thank you again!

B
 
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Sharpie method:


The blade is fully apexed if you have a a continuous v shape along the length of the blade. A burr is where the point of the ‘v’ is bent over:

raising-the-burr.jpg


The easiest way to visualise if you have a fully apexed edge is to raise a burr fully on one side of the knife (across the full length of the blade), flip it over and do the same on the other side. You can feel this with your thumb when moving it vertically upwards towards the sharpened edge. On the above image you would feel the roughness of the burr on your thumb.

Stropping on the stone will remove the burr leaving you with a nice v shaped apex
 
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can you tell me how to observe the burr and make certain it is on both sides?

Then, how does one correctly "remove the burr?"

There's a lot of information online about forming and removing burrs. You might take a look at my Seven Secrets of Sharpening sticky at the top of this forum. I go over some basics about the burr in Secret #6. That might help you some.

My information there is a bit limited though: You might want to seek out some videos or other focused tutorials on burr formation and removal if my text doesn't give you enough info.

Good luck with your sharpening.

Brian.
 
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I've worked on 3-4 of my less expensive knives now and none of them are as sharp as people show in the videos I watch. I've gotten them to the point of having a burr all the way up and down the bevel on both sides using a 400 grit. Then I've removed the burr and moved on to the 1000. Same routine. All the videos say that by this point the knife should be super sharp and should easily push cut through copy paper. it seems to do that ok, but not quite as smoothly as the videos. Then I cut food with them and they aren't nearly as sharp doing that as are my high-end custom-made knives are. I've had some of these knives for several years and they are still sharper than those I just freehand sharpened.

Oh, I did the sharpie routine too, so I think my angle is pretty good.

Will this get better or do I need to try something different? I'm actually considering giving up and getting a Hapstone or KWS (?) sharpening system. I spent quite a bit of money on these stones though.

Thanks

B
 

Blues

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When you removed the burr did you check by looking at the edge under bright light, or seeing if the edge skates to the left or right if you test the edge on your thumbnail? If you see bright spots on the edge, or it skates, you haven't removed the burr properly.

Does it feel like it catches when slicing on telephone paper?

Oh, and don't quit on learning freehand sharpening. It's a very rewarding skill.
 
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No skating on my nail. No bright spots. I can't find telephone book paper. :) I've tried it on ad paper that is sort of like a magazine and the push cutting is inconsistent. One of my knives I've worked on clearly has a rough spot in the middle of the blade, but I can't seem to work it out. It is right in the belly area and about 1.5-2" in length. Even a small pairing knife which seems sharp to me, isn't cutting through food as easily as my high-end pairing knife. The one I sharpened is a stainless Cutco pairing knife and I thought it was pretty sharp, but it's stiff when I cut out the core of an apple with it. My carbon-steel pairing knife that I've had for a few years cuts through the apple much better. I want the quality of what I do to be equal and even better than my carbon knifes from Cut Brooklyn.

I have a 3000 grit stone, but if I'm not getting it razor sharp with the 400 and the 1000, I don't think it will help to go up to 3,000.
 
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It's hard to stand by and watch the slow torturous climb without at least pointing out the door to the stairs . . . dare I mention there is an elevator in this building ?
I'm compelled to act . . . or at least to speak.
Hand sharpener here . . . I've been making sharp things for some fifty years now.
I sharpen drill bits and stuff all the time by hand with a couple of little diamond paddles.
etc.
That said I have a couple of thoughts . . . think of me as either insane or a true believer who has actually seen the honest to goodness divine light (glinting off my hair whittling edges).
Doesn't matter which . . . my irrepressible, unquenchable, passion and evangelical zeal hath runneth over.

Maybe . . . consider this :
If NOTHING will satisfy you but learning really great technique for HAND SHARPENING consider first getting a sharpening jig (of the ones I have I recommend Edge Pro by far). Once you get satisfying edges off the jig then work on duplicating the same angles and methods while hand sharpening. The jig will let you see what has to happen ( and just how precisely it has to happen) to get a sharp edge.

The advantage is you get stellar, sick, crazy sharp, beautiful-to-look-at, and EFFECTIVE cutting edges right away.
That pushes the satisfaction button.
Working on your technique to duplicate that by hand is then the challenge.

I'll post a vid of the EP by the designer and owner of the company then I'll post a vid of a person hand sharpening who is taking an edge from the dullest of the dull to disturbingly sharp off two stones and a strop.

Me ?
When it comes to pocket knives and kitchen knives I don't even consider hand sharpening though I fart around with this whole toothy thing with free hand from time to time.
When I want an edge that makes me grin from ear to ear and makes other people gasp when I demonstrate the level of sharpness . . .
Edge Pro EVERY TIME !


Part of what is going on in the video below is SUPERIOR EDGE GEOMETRY these things can't help but cut well. Ben in the Edge Pro vid at the bottom in this post demonstrates that with the dull but very thin knife cutting carrots. Thinness is everything.
Try this paper cutting with a 40 plus degree western edge at 30 thousandths thickness behind the edge and if you can do the same thing THEN you're a sharpener.

This is the vid where Ben Dale talks about how thinness cuts.
 
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Feb 27, 2019
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Wowbagger - Thank you for your post. I very much appreciate your writing style!

I also like your idea of using a sharpening system to help learn hand sharpening. I've watched countless hours of videos by Ricky the hand sharpener. I have followed his directions to a T and continue to do so. I'm missing something I think.. I have also watched a bunch of videos of the Edge Pro, the KME and the Hapstone V7 systems... also Wicked Edge (too expensive.) Right now I'm leaning toward the Hapstone...

One question - if you don't hand sharpen pocket knives or kitchen knives, what kind of knives do you save for it?

B
 
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