Sharpening Phobia

Jun 20, 1999
I have a problem. I love knives, but I am a novice. I have never learned to sharpen a knife but I don't want to screw up one of my knives learning how to. So how do I learn the art of sharpening without sacrificing a blade? Any info. would be appreciated. Thanks,
You need a Spyderco tri-Angle Sharpmaker, available via the forum here and you won't have any problems. This system is easy, foolproof and very reliable.

I would also go to the FAQ section on this site and read the section on sharpening...but if you're looking for the easiest system out there, you can't go wrong with the Sharpmaker. The new version will come with a video, too!




I agree with Kodiak, get the new Sharpmaker (model 204). If you want to go freehand, get one of those cheap Spyderco knockoffs (about 3-5 bucks), at least they're good for something.


I'm a fellow novice, still on his 2nd or 3rd knife and can vouch for what the others say...I bought the Spyderco 204 and have been practicing on some dull kitchen knives so as to not mess up my nice folders (yet).

I get all the practice I need and my kitchen knives finally gets some decent edges.

Just thin sliced a steak now using a cheap utility knife with a sorry edge that was done over using the 204 per the instructions that came with it. Impressed the hell out of me and everyone.
I suggest screwing up one of your knives. You'll get the technique down pretty quick, then you can fix it.

Oh yeah, and if you intend on using these things, expect big, ugly, disfiguring scratches. It's usualy not that bad, but your knife will get scratched. It's best to be a pessimist, that way if things turn out all right, you're pleasantly suprised.
Although it takes longer to put an edge on a good knife there's just something nostalgic about freehand sharpening vs. using a doodad, IMO. I use two stones, a 300 grit Norton India stone (coarse) and a black Arkansas stone (fine). The beauty of freehand sharpening is it takes a LONG time to screw up a blade if you're doing something wrong. Always sharpen the knife at the same angle and practice, practice, practice. I have a Lansky I use if I want to change the angle of the edge on a knife.

"There's nothing friendlier than a wet dog"
"The more people I meet the more I like my dogs"
This appears to be a recurring theme here in the forum so I'll enter my recurring response. (See "best sharpening system" as a topic in this forum for yet another lengthy rehash of which miracle sharpener is the most miraculous.)

Just as most fishing lures are designed to catch fishermen and to separate them from their money, so it is with the increasing quantity of expensive gizmos that prey on one's fear that sharpening a knife is difficult. This appears to be a growth industry with unlimited potential.

I recommend that anyone who has a few spare moments and the lack of scruples to use them to the detriment of knife owners design yet another miracle sharpener. There will be no lack of people willing to pay your price for yet another device that won't quite produce an edge equal to one that any nine year old could accomplish in the not too distant past. And this nine year old could do it using only a raised portion of the sidewalk.

If you are intent on blowing money that might otherwise be spent on another knife or a gift for your spouse, spend it on a decent stone at least six inches long (Norton makes wonderful stones) and a bit of leather a foot or so long. You now have what is necessary to sharpen a knife to the best and keenest edge anyone can imagine. Grandad accomplished this with the smooth side of a brick and the sole of his boot.

Desert Rat

[This message has been edited by Desert Rat (edited 04 July 1999).]
I was getting pretty proficient with my Lansky system, until I realized that I shouldn't always have to use a pair of plyers to turn the adjustment screw, they sure don't make screws like they used to
, it twisted apart!
What do you guys think of the GATCO Edgemate(?), it has 6 angle choices on each side.
The Lansky system only has four, 17, 20, 25, and 30. I use the 25 on my working knives, but I would prefer a 22.5 angle if I use the 20, I will end up with a 40deg. angle blade, and if I use the 25, I will end up with a 50deg. angle blade, I'd rather end up with a 45 deg. angled blade.
Does the Gatco sharpener have a 22.5 option?
Is there a sharpener of similar design that allows you to set any angle you want?Thanx

"All of our knives open with one hand, in case you're busy with the other"
I agree with what the Rat said. In my case, I use a flat diamond stone, with the wooden base removed, because it is lighter, more compact, and tougher. It puts an edge on equal to, but no better than, my Arkansas.

I bought a sharpening doo dad once. It had to sticks jutting up in the air at weird angles. I couldn't figure out how it worked, so I returned it and got an Arkansas. I tried a flat ceramic once, but it proved to be too fragile/frangible in the field.

I have never learned to strop, mostly because I have never tried. Sharpening knives is not difficult. It's pretty much a case of doing it. I don't even keep the same angle on both sides of the knife. I have found it more expedient to just sharpen the left and right side of the blade at my "natural" angle. That means it doesn't even require concious thought for me to sharpen my knives. And I can still get a shaving sharp edge on them in no time flat.

The moral to the story; Sharpening is no big deal. Make like a sneaker and just do it.
Thanks Snick!

I thought I might be all alone out here.

Desert Rat

Well, I'll agree and disagree.

Freehand sharpening is a great skill. It means sharpening is less of a pain because you don't have to hunt for doodads, and for the lost screws for the doodads, and the carrying case the doodad came in, etc. It also means you can travel lighter, with just a stone and not a whole sharpening doodad to go along with it. It's also extremely satisfying. I highly recommend taking the time to learn the skill.

That said, there are two things to keep in mind before you insult everyone who uses doodads:

- With a doodad (say, the Razor Edge clamp), every stroke will be at the exact -- and I mean EXACT -- same accuracy as the previous one, minus some microscopic wear on the stone and the clamp. The BEST someone can hope to do freehand is approach the accuracy someone gets with the Razor Edge; but you'll never match it. You can get knives scary sharp freehand; you can get 'em sharper with the right doodad, provided you have the knowledge.

- You guys have put in the time and worked up the skill to sharpen freehand. That's great, big pat on the back, here's your t-shirts and mugs welcoming you to the club. But it isn't so easy for everyone. I know guys who try for years and never quite get it. Chances are much of this is due to just lack of hand skill (something that must be trained), but it's also due to overall bad technique. The doodads let the user concentrate on the fundamentals of sharpening -- getting a burr, grinding it off, proper choice of angle and grit, etc. -- without having to also worry about the edge accuracy. By the time their sharpening fundamentals are down, then they'll also be ready to concentrate on just edge accuracy without a doodad.

I mention this last point because I don't think I'd have ever gotten good at freehand sharpening if it wasn't for the Razor Edge clamp. It let me explore the burr, grits, and all the other good stuff. And meanwhile, the motion used with Razor Edge is precisely the motion used freehand, and the muscle memory carried over.

Lastly, of course, some people just don't want to put in the time to learn freehand sharpening, and despite the condescending views freehanders have of them, it's their choice. Nothing wrong with it, if they're happy using their doodad, getting a dead-accurate edge, and using their knife, my hat's off to 'em.

All that said, I personally feel freehand skills are a must for any knife lover.

Thanks Joe. A reasoned position well presented. I have no wish to appear argumentative, but I do wish to be understood.

Until recently I simply thought that the whole raft of sharpening gizmos were silly -- that they were a way to provide a panacea to folks who might better use an easily learned skill and a little common sense. But that opinion changed recently when I saw and handled a little custom folder ruined by one of these "systems" in the hands of a true believer who was a self professed expert in its use.

Both blades were reduced to scrap metal. The story was that it had been made specifically to the order of a customer who didn't tell the maker that it was ruined when he asked for a refund. The maker made the refund, sight unseen, and later received the knife in a condition such that little could be salvaged but perhaps the back springs.

I've never handled one of this maker's knives that didn't have a fantastic shaving edge on it, and I believe he wouldn't send one to a customer in any other condition. But this genius either couldn't recognize a sharp knife, or just had to try out his super-dooper-sharpener on something, and he ruined both blades. No matter. He gigged the maker for the mess he and the sharpening system made.

So I hope I'm being clear here -- I am recommending against the use of any of these things when learning a simple skill will suffice. Some of them have some good stones, so save those before you scrap all the rest of the stuff, but sharpening is a simple skill. Find someone who can do it and learn, and get back to using and enjoying the knives we have.

Desert Rat

[This message has been edited by Desert Rat (edited 05 July 1999).]
Desert Rat -- what exactly was wrong with the blades on the ruined knives? Interesting to know what was wrong, so other's could look out for it. Or did the guy just sharpen the blade away?

What were dead flat keen edges had been turned into an erose, wavy line of false edge tendrils and chips. Under a tad of magnification it looked like the Sierras at nightfall, and fully a 16th to an 8th inch of the blade steel was simply gone -- somehow chewed away. I couldn't have worn away that amount of steel in ten years of sharpening, and I hone a lot. And I can't imagine how to take a straight edge and turn it into a roller-coaster outline.

We had a new (of course the knife in question was new too, just ruined) knife of the same description to compare the damage to. It was a distressing comparison.

So once again I suggest, get a sort of mild stone, a piece of leather, and go at it easy. And if it's already sharp, leave it alone.

Desert Rat

[This message has been edited by Desert Rat (edited 05 July 1999).]

[This message has been edited by Desert Rat (edited 05 July 1999).]
I have sharpen knives by hand for years
even when I worked in a packing plant and I could have had them sharpen by machines, I found the best was a large 3sided bench stone. Start with the corse and work your way down to the fine. Get your self a cheap knife not one made out of a hard blade and practice and dont forget a ceranic stick and a bucthers steel and sand it down to smooth with fine lines in it and then your are cooking with gas.
We never went with a razor edge we used
a lazor one. Good luck and practice a lot.
Just about everything is easy once you have the motions ingrained in your muscles. If you have been sharpening freehand for any length of time it comes just as natural as tying your shoes. If you have not done it for any length of time then it seems very hard because its time consuming and progress is fairly slow.

The main problem that I have seen is people generally think it should be almost instaneous. When they watch someone who knows what to do it only takes them a minute, but yet when they try no progress is being made after 10-15 minutes of grinding away. Unless you understand what you are trying to achieve it can be frustrating.

The biggest single problem has to be angle matching. Snickersnee, you mention above that you sharpen at your natural angles. That is precisely the problem that most beginners have. They are not sharpening knives that the bevels are suited to them like your project has become matched to you. Thus they either have to adjust their angle to match the bevel on the knife or remove a lot of metal.

As for rigs destroying knives, sure they can. However freehand work can as well, and of course is farmore likely to do so as it has no safeguards and rigs have at least some.

I believe these "doodads" are there for a purpose, and that's to help the beginner learn and understand the very basic fundamentals of sharpening.

It all looks easy, but it's not. I've always been amazed at how my dad sharpens all his knives and cutlery and wanted to do the same. I saw him doing it freehand. I tried mimicking the moves, and ended up with a pile of iron filings, and a ruined knife edge.

Even after asking for Joe T's help (Thanks, Joe) I managed to get a good edge, not too sharp, but good enough for starters. By guidance (and perseverance) I eventually learned freehand sharpening. But I still bought these sharpening gadgets because it's not everyday that I have time to sit back and enjoy doing freehand sharpening, which takes longer.

They are by no means a do-all, end-all sort of thing. They are meant to help a beginner start from scratch. Only after you acquire the skills and the basic knowledge on how a knife gets sharp, can you then proceed to doing it freehand. And these "doodads" can and will help you gain those skills and knowledge.

Of course, nothing beats the joys of freehand sharpening, but only if you really know what you're doing.

As a beginner knife-knut, and consequently a novice sharpener, I'll venture my $.02.

All views presented are excellent. Let me just say that as a 40-something office worker with more work (and now knives) than time to sharpen them, I appreciate any scraps of information I can glean from others.

Desert Rat and Snick... it's good to know I can count on a brick or sidewalk in a pinch... I hope I can get proficient enough to do so in the near future. I guess I need to use the edge of the curb for those recurved blades

I didn't grow up among knife enthusiasts and I don't know of any around me at work, so practicing or asking other people in my white collar office for their opinions on knife sharpening or edge testing is likely to raise more than just an eyebrow or two.

Time to practice at home is at a premium because of family matters... I hope anyone with kids can appreciate how difficult it can be to get a few hours to yourself without being asked to help with homework or "honey-do" things.

That being said, any novice will grab at any gadget that will help him/her get started with the minimum of time and effort. I'm not saying these gadgets are the means to that end... but to some extent they promise to be and that's all we have available to us.

If a 1-2 hour freehand sharpening workshop were offered around my area, I'd jump at the chance... but these aren't the kinds of classes they offer at adult ed or community college (at least not at mine).

Naturally, our most ready resource for information is the local knife dealer and of course the expensive gadget is what they'd be expected to promote... heck, to hear them you'd think that the idea of freehand sharpening is a popular myth.

So I welcome any sharpening tip I can get to hone my skills, be it a doodad, the instructions or hints on a box or website, or especially this forum. As you've all pointed out, this is a skill not easily mastered by looking at pictures or by a rote following of printed instructions... it's a very tactile experience that comes with practice and any aid that helps me to get there faster has my buck (for now).

The most practical tip has been to practice on some cheap knives first before committing my new preemo knifes to the stone. In observing this, I think I've avoided the heresy Desert Rat described of butchering a fine piece of metalwork in the name of education.

When you're short on time, there's probably no substitute for someone standing there and showing you what to look for and to do. Hope to catch a class someday maybe at one of those knife shows ... then I'll just have to figure what to tell the LEO I was doing with my knife on the sidewalk
Ya know, this very discussion developed on the rec.knives newsgroup about a year or so ago, with the two camps dividing up along gadget and non-gadget lines.

The decision was finally made to agree to disagree and to let everyone make up his or her own mind.

I know I would prefer to be able to put a razor edge on my blades with only a Norton stone and a strop, but, in my 25 years of working with knives in leatherwork, woodwork, hunting, fishing and cooking, I have proven myself to be "sharpening impared". I have tried to learn to sharpen freehand, but can no more seem to learn than I can seem to learn to skate the half-pipe at age 42.

I have a Sharpmaker 204 now. Carries about the size of a large Norton or Arkansas stone. All my knives pop hair off my arm. I am happy in my disability...

A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes bleed the hand that uses it.
-Rabindranath Tagore