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Knife Sharpening Thread

Prompted by a conversation I was having with another member, I thought we could have a thread where people could share tips, sharpening setups, ask questions, or just throw up rambling, meandering thoughts about knife sharpening. Which is mostly what I'll be doing.

Judging by some of the pictures of people's kitchen knives, I'm guessing there are going to be a fair few members here who really know their onions on this topic, so we might all be able to learn something from each other I imagine.

Here's a picture of my sharpening station to get the ball rolling. I have quite a lot of stones, more than are pictured here in fact, because I do this in a (semi) professional capacity*. But the large majority of them - most of the natural stones on the top of the table - are more for fun/collecting. The large majority of my work sharpening is done on handful of synthetic stones in the bucket on the left. The only natural stones I use on a regular basis would be Washitas, Turkish Oilstones, and some Jnats for polishing.


1F05615E-2703-4DB5-9B26-F793EB82F575.JPG
* This is certainly not to say that anything I write should be taken as gospel. There are many different, equally valid, ways to sharpen knives, and equally as many people who are far better at it than I am.
 
And here are some thoughts for anyone wanting to start sharpening their knives, or learn more about it...

You've got a few different options open when you're starting out. There are honing rods, or steels. These shouldn't be regarded a one-solution sharpening setup; over time they will change the geometry of a knife, and it'll need rectifying. The only people I know who really use these are chefs working service in a busy kitchen, who might need a quick edge touchup in the 10 seconds between tickets. If you have the time to sharpen something properly - you probably don't need one of these.

Then there are those gizmos where you push or pull a knife through a little wheel, which seem attractive because every variable has been removed from the equation for you. The downside of that being that you are unable to change anything, and different knives need to be sharpened in different ways. I wouldn't necessarily recommend one of these for that reason, unless for instance you have a full set of Global knives and buy a Global brand sharpener, which I imagine has been designed to sharpen them quite well.

And finally there are stones, which is what people who want the best results are going to be using. Now you can get all sorts of clever angle guides and jigs which will help you sharpen accurately, and these do work very well I understand. Or you can 'freehand' sharpen, which takes more practice, but will allow you do do certain things that a jig system won't. One isn't necessarily better than the other, just that I freehand so that's what I know about.

Freehand knife sharpening on stones can seem intimidating, especially if you've just spent a fair whack of money on a nice knife and are worried that you might completely balls it up the first time you try to sharpen it. So let's say first: you won't. You're vanishingly unlikely to make a mistake that can't be rectified quite easily. You'll also hear people talking about angles quite a lot, you do not need to concern yourself unduly with this, whether you're sharpening your knife at 14 degrees or 18 degrees really doesn't matter. Simply be aware that a smart Japanese knife is likely to be ground more thinly than a smart Western knife, so will need a lower sharpening angle. I might sharpen a Japanese knife around 15 degrees, and Western maybe 22.

Which brings us on to what is important, and that's trying to ensure that you hold your angle, whatever it may be, consistently. This is the key to raising a consistent even burr all the way along the edge, before you start on the other side. The other thing that's important is de-burring; making sure that when you've finished that you don't have any burr remaining on either side of the edge. There are plenty of videos on the internet that talk about all this, and the best techniques to use (I've done one myself if anybody would like a link to a poorly-shot video explaining the basics), so I'll just give a couple of observations on how sharpening your knives might differ from honing a razor:

Chasing ultimate sharpness or fineness is not usually the end of goal of sharpening a knife. Extremely sharp or refined edges can be practically useless in a kitchen. This is because when shaving you are specifically trying not to cut something that is tough - your skin, you're trying to glide smoothly over it. When cooking you'll often need to cut something that is tough - the skin of a tomato for instance, and not glide smoothly over it if you're cutting at an angle (which you are because a tomato is round). For this a knife needs to have teeth and bite left on the edge, to dig in and cut the skin.

Because of this a normal knife will be finished to a lower grit level that a razor - I top out around 3k when using synthetics, you can go a bit higher or lower if you want, but probably don't finish above 8k, or below about 800.

I know no one who uses exclusively natural stones to sharpen on. Synthetic stones are far more common for knife sharpening than they appear to be for razors. You are also more likely to use multiple stones when you sharpen, because a knife can be allowed to get blunter than you would a razor and still be usable.

One of the most important factors in how a knife will perform is how thin it is behind the edge. Because of the shape of knife as you wear away metal over time you will naturally increase how thick the knife is, so it will occasionally need thinning. This should not be a concern with hollow ground razors because of the design which means you abrade metal at the spine as well as at the edge.

Because of the above you obviously have the angle set for you when honing a razor, whereas for most knives you do not. This might make freehand sharpening seem more difficult, but it's also more forgiving. If you make a mistake you can sort it quite quickly because you can apply far more pressure than you can with a razor. Once you have a bit of confidence you can do quite major repairs on a knife in a few minutes that would take many hours on a razor.

---

Do feel free anybody to add to the above, tell me it's all bollocks, or ask any q.s if I haven't explained anything well!
 
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I tried in my younger days to sharpen with a stone I got with a cheap Rambo knife (remember those?), it was a failure and I just ran them through the sharpener on the back of the can opener, good enough. Fast forward, can opener dies, never opened cans with it anyway so no loss except for sharpening. Had a buddy with one of these and it worked well enough and was stupid easy and that's where I'm at.
 
At work I have an Atoma 90 diamond plate, Naniwa(?) 400, Shapton GS 1000, 4k, 8k, .05micron diamond spray and an Idahone Ceramic rod. Stones get broken out every couple of months but get touched up on the ceramic rod daily. Some days I have my knife in my hand for 9 hours, some days I'm organizing the troops and supplies and never touch them. Example, on thursday I dice 50# of yukon potatoes, julienned 2 bushels each of zucchini, squash and red pepper, dice 20# white onoin and 20# oblique cut carrot. Other days I'll be cleaning 200# of salmon of beef tenderloin. The one touch up on the rod was all it needed. Rarely do I need more than the rod but and a very emphasized but, I get a good edge on my blades. Keep them thin behind the edge. I need to really thin my work horse but it is going to take some time to do and I'm not looking forward to it. She still cuts, just wedges a bit more than I would like on large onions, carrots and potatoes.

People do pay me to sharpen their knives, even people that come into the restaurant. People I used to work with call me to sharpen their knives etc. So many people can't hold a consistent angle or the proper angle for their blade geometry. I'm also one of two people that I know of that can sharpen asymmetric or single bevel knives although I am out of practice with single bevel blades. So I am handy but have plenty to learn still.

Hardest thing for me to learn how to do properly was get the tip work done properly. Sharpen enough blades, do a sharpie trick on em and learn from there.

Stones I have at home....... Its a decent amount. More than the five I keep at work but I think a King 600, Naniwa 2k Green Brick, a JNAT that is a knife finisher or I can use the dust to touch up a kasumi finish- it won't work well for razors or if it does, not my face. I have 60 Pink Brick somewhere and an Ardennes Coti that I never been able to get a good edge, at least shave ready for my face.

I think I'm forgetting a few.

The Shapton GS are great stones that cut fast and don't dish out. They are overkill unless you are super short on space. They work well for me. They take up a fair chunk of my toolbox but they take up a lot less space than similar grit stones. They also pack out easily enough when I need to take them to another restaurant to do a store call to sharpen a few knives for a meal or pocket change.
 
Wow, this is excellent timing for this topic. I just started sharpening my kitchen knives by hand and I am looking to get additional stones. I'll be following this, learning from you all.

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I tried in my younger days to sharpen with a stone I got with a cheap Rambo knife (remember those?), it was a failure and I just ran them through the sharpener on the back of the can opener, good enough. Fast forward, can opener dies, never opened cans with it anyway so no loss except for sharpening. Had a buddy with one of these and it worked well enough and was stupid easy and that's where I'm at.

I've just had to google what you meant by this, and my mind has been blown... I had no idea electric can openers existed. Never seen or heard of one before. I think they're one of those things that just doesn't exist outside the US (see also - 'Toaster Ovens').

It does however bring up the single most important rule of sharpening anything, which is: If it works, it works. :)
 
I've just had to google what you meant by this, and my mind has been blown... I had no idea electric can openers existed. Never seen or heard of one before. I think they're one of those things that just doesn't exist outside the US (see also - 'Toaster Ovens').

It does however bring up the single most important rule of sharpening anything, which is: If it works, it works. :)
Believe me you are not out anything by never having experienced the insanity that is an electric can opener, a solution looking for a problem, they are noisy, take up counter space and make a real mess that is difficult to clean out of the machine when it all goes sideways. My 78 year old mother can open a number 10 tin with a manual crank.
 
At work I have an Atoma 90 diamond plate, Naniwa(?) 400, Shapton GS 1000, 4k, 8k, .05micron diamond spray and an Idahone Ceramic rod. Stones get broken out every couple of months but get touched up on the ceramic rod daily. Some days I have my knife in my hand for 9 hours, some days I'm organizing the troops and supplies and never touch them. Example, on thursday I dice 50# of yukon potatoes, julienned 2 bushels each of zucchini, squash and red pepper, dice 20# white onoin and 20# oblique cut carrot. Other days I'll be cleaning 200# of salmon of beef tenderloin. The one touch up on the rod was all it needed. Rarely do I need more than the rod but and a very emphasized but, I get a good edge on my blades. Keep them thin behind the edge. I need to really thin my work horse but it is going to take some time to do and I'm not looking forward to it. She still cuts, just wedges a bit more than I would like on large onions, carrots and potatoes.

People do pay me to sharpen their knives, even people that come into the restaurant. People I used to work with call me to sharpen their knives etc. So many people can't hold a consistent angle or the proper angle for their blade geometry. I'm also one of two people that I know of that can sharpen asymmetric or single bevel knives although I am out of practice with single bevel blades. So I am handy but have plenty to learn still.

Hardest thing for me to learn how to do properly was get the tip work done properly. Sharpen enough blades, do a sharpie trick on em and learn from there.

Stones I have at home....... Its a decent amount. More than the five I keep at work but I think a King 600, Naniwa 2k Green Brick, a JNAT that is a knife finisher or I can use the dust to touch up a kasumi finish- it won't work well for razors or if it does, not my face. I have 60 Pink Brick somewhere and an Ardennes Coti that I never been able to get a good edge, at least shave ready for my face.

I think I'm forgetting a few.

The Shapton GS are great stones that cut fast and don't dish out. They are overkill unless you are super short on space. They work well for me. They take up a fair chunk of my toolbox but they take up a lot less space than similar grit stones. They also pack out easily enough when I need to take them to another restaurant to do a store call to sharpen a few knives for a meal or pocket change.

The Shapton Glass stones are probably the only stones I know that are pretty much universally liked across the board. Other brands and lines of stones will have some grits that are very good, but others that are apparently a bit pants, whereas SGs seem to be good at every level. I'll probably be getting myself an SG500 quite soon I think.

Your Naniwa 400 is probably like to be either the Pro/Chosera (green), or the Super/Specialty Stone, (blue). I've only tried the latter, but was quite impressed.
 

Doc4

Stumpy in cold weather
You have a nice collection of stones.

* This is certainly not to say that anything I write should be taken as gospel. There are many different, equally valid, ways to sharpen knives, and equally as many people who are far better at it than I am.

Wetshavers have long held in high regard those who can do a good job of sharpening a straight razor. This led to the term "honemeister" first as a term of respect, and eventually as a self-applied term of self aggrandizement. Eventually someone here at B&B asked "what does it take to become a honemeister?".

The reply: an ego and a hone.

(That, BTW, was the best post on B&B ever.)

You, I am glad to say, are not a honemeister.
 
You have a nice collection of stones.



Wetshavers have long held in high regard those who can do a good job of sharpening a straight razor. This led to the term "honemeister" first as a term of respect, and eventually as a self-applied term of self aggrandizement. Eventually someone here at B&B asked "what does it take to become a honemeister?".

The reply: an ego and a hone.

(That, BTW, was the best post on B&B ever.)

You, I am glad to say, are not a honemeister.

Haha, excellent! Thank you - I'm glad to hear :).
 

Tirvine

ancient grey sweatophile
As one who sharpens knives for cooking and does not go down the rabbit hole of fetishes for polished edges, pristinely correct technique, etc. I use Tojiro ITK and Sabatier carbon steel and one of those cheap Wusthof triple sided water stones. The stones are fairly small and narrow. After soaking the stones I hold the blades at the desired angle lengthwise along the stones and rotate in a gentle oval for a few second on each of the finer grits. It works exceedingly well. I refuse to be intimidated by this stuff, and although I have watched videos and know how to do it "right," my technique goes much more quickly and gets great results for a cooking edge.
 
As a follow up to my probably overly-long post above, here are some thoughts on some good stones to start with. These aren't 'beginner' stones in that you'd want to upgrade to something better once you'd had a bit of practice, more that if you were getting only one or two stones - these offer the kind of versatility you'd need. As ever there is more than one way to skin this cat, and lots of other good stones (and indeed methods as @Tirvine noted ^) out there. But here are some things I like; they are my most regularly used stones, and not too expensive...

Suehiro Cerax 1k/3k Combination - If you've got mostly Japanese or Japanese style knives, and they're in good shape this stone is all you'd ever need. The 3k side of this stone (Cerax 3k is also known as the 'Ouka') in particular is just a dream. Stone needs soaking for about 15 mins.

Norton Silicon Carbide 'Coarse and Fine' Combination - If you have mostly Western knives, or knives that are quite blunt you'll need a coarser stone than a 1k, this comes in about 140 and 400. There are various posher Japanese waterstones of this kind of coarseness, but I like the Norton because vitrified SiC is incredibly fast and hard wearing when doing coarse work, and not expensive. This is an oilstone, though you can use with water (I do).

King Deluxe 1200 - This is bizarrely good, and very cheap. I use it in pretty much every sharpening or polishing progression I do. Though it won't do the coarse work that the Norton above will. Works best with a long soak, or 'permasoak'.

Turkish / Cretan Oiltone / (old) Washita - A few naturals for good measure. These are the only stones I know that could really be rearded as a 'one-stop-shop', able to to do coarse work all the way up to fine finishes. A lot of natural stones are good for very specific parts of knife sharpening or polishing, but Turkish and Washitas prove the rule. Exceptional knife sharpening stones, both best used with oil.

---

As I said - there are many other options. The Shapton Glass stones mentioned above would be a good bet too, and they are true 'splash and go' stones, so need no soaking. Naniwa Pro/Chosera are very widely liked too.

The last thing I'd say is: the mistake a lot of people make when starting (imo) is getting stones that are too high grit, thinking they'll make the knife sharper/better. You're far better off just having one or two useful stones and knowing how to use them well, than having a load of pointless mega-fine finshers. I don't own a synthetic stone above 4k.
 
At work I have an Atoma 90 diamond plate, Naniwa(?) 400, Shapton GS 1000, 4k, 8k, .05micron diamond spray and an Idahone Ceramic rod. Stones get broken out every couple of months but get touched up on the ceramic rod daily. Some days I have my knife in my hand for 9 hours, some days I'm organizing the troops and supplies and never touch them. Example, on thursday I dice 50# of yukon potatoes, julienned 2 bushels each of zucchini, squash and red pepper, dice 20# white onoin and 20# oblique cut carrot. Other days I'll be cleaning 200# of salmon of beef tenderloin. The one touch up on the rod was all it needed. Rarely do I need more than the rod but and a very emphasized but, I get a good edge on my blades. Keep them thin behind the edge. I need to really thin my work horse but it is going to take some time to do and I'm not looking forward to it. She still cuts, just wedges a bit more than I would like on large onions, carrots and potatoes.

People do pay me to sharpen their knives, even people that come into the restaurant. People I used to work with call me to sharpen their knives etc. So many people can't hold a consistent angle or the proper angle for their blade geometry. I'm also one of two people that I know of that can sharpen asymmetric or single bevel knives although I am out of practice with single bevel blades. So I am handy but have plenty to learn still.

Hardest thing for me to learn how to do properly was get the tip work done properly. Sharpen enough blades, do a sharpie trick on em and learn from there.

Stones I have at home....... Its a decent amount. More than the five I keep at work but I think a King 600, Naniwa 2k Green Brick, a JNAT that is a knife finisher or I can use the dust to touch up a kasumi finish- it won't work well for razors or if it does, not my face. I have 60 Pink Brick somewhere and an Ardennes Coti that I never been able to get a good edge, at least shave ready for my face.

I think I'm forgetting a few.

The Shapton GS are great stones that cut fast and don't dish out. They are overkill unless you are super short on space. They work well for me. They take up a fair chunk of my toolbox but they take up a lot less space than similar grit stones. They also pack out easily enough when I need to take them to another restaurant to do a store call to sharpen a few knives for a meal or pocket change.
Out of curiosity, what is your workhorse knife?
 
As a follow up to my probably overly-long post above, here are some thoughts on some good stones to start with. These aren't 'beginner' stones in that you'd want to upgrade to something better once you'd had a bit of practice, more that if you were getting only one or two stones - these offer the kind of versatility you'd need. As ever there is more than one way to skin this cat, and lots of other good stones (and indeed methods as @Tirvine noted ^) out there. But here are some things I like; they are my most regularly used stones, and not too expensive...

Suehiro Cerax 1k/3k Combination - If you've got mostly Japanese or Japanese style knives, and they're in good shape this stone is all you'd ever need. The 3k side of this stone (Cerax 3k is also known as the 'Ouka') in particular is just a dream. Stone needs soaking for about 15 mins.

Norton Silicon Carbide 'Coarse and Fine' Combination - If you have mostly Western knives, or knives that are quite blunt you'll need a coarser stone than a 1k, this comes in about 140 and 400. There are various posher Japanese waterstones of this kind of coarseness, but I like the Norton because vitrified SiC is incredibly fast and hard wearing when doing coarse work, and not expensive. This is an oilstone, though you can use with water (I do).

King Deluxe 1200 - This is bizarrely good, and very cheap. I use it in pretty much every sharpening or polishing progression I do. Though it won't do the coarse work that the Norton above will. Works best with a long soak, or 'permasoak'.

Turkish / Cretan Oiltone / (old) Washita - A few naturals for good measure. These are the only stones I know that could really be rearded as a 'one-stop-shop', able to to do coarse work all the way up to fine finishes. A lot of natural stones are good for very specific parts of knife sharpening or polishing, but Turkish and Washitas prove the rule. Exceptional knife sharpening stones, both best used with oil.

---

As I said - there are many other options. The Shapton Glass stones mentioned above would be a good bet too, and they are true 'splash and go' stones, so need no soaking. Naniwa Pro/Chosera are very widely liked too.

The last thing I'd say is: the mistake a lot of people make when starting (imo) is getting stones that are too high grit, thinking they'll make the knife sharper/better. You're far better off just having one or two useful stones and knowing how to use them well, than having a load of pointless mega-fine finshers. I don't own a synthetic stone above 4k.
But the 8k can make you giggle when you slice through a carrot and don't get any feedback as the knife goes through.
Those polished edges need more work to stay that sharp though. Is the giggle factor worth that $200 for a stone ? Not really. Even the guys i know cutting fish for sushi don't go over 4k.
 
For my kitchen knives (at least the western ones) I've long been a fan of the Spyderco Sharpmaker system. Not because it is the best, but because it overcomes my weekness, which is keeping the blade at a consistent angle on a bench stone. It can get the blade to a level where it will pop arm hairs, or slice a squishy tomato, and that is all I need.

Having said that, I have been practicing with oilstones lately, and making some progress.
 
But the 8k can make you giggle when you slice through a carrot and don't get any feedback as the knife goes through.
Those polished edges need more work to stay that sharp though. Is the giggle factor worth that $200 for a stone ? Not really. Even the guys i know cutting fish for sushi don't go over 4k.

Ah yeah! There are certainly plenty of experts who do like to go up to 8k, though I quite like a edges a little less refined (or perhaps I don't want to risk rolling an edge on a fine stone and then having to go back ;)).

Funnily enough though - the only knives I do always finish very high are yanagiba, though that's probably because I'm polishing them as well. I have a few old yangi that I've restored, and spend far more time polishing them, and thinking about how pretty they are, than actually using them 😬.
 
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