Are you the type of person who recognizes the benefits of always being prepared? Have you been called a lifelong learner? Do you like to master new, helpful, everyday skills? Survivalists, hunters, outdoorspeople, engineers, and military take notice!
Learning to sharpen your own knife correctly can save you thousands on new knives and agonizing time spent using dull ones. Not to mention the safety issues created when cutting with a blunt edge.Sharpening your own knives, whether they be expensive specialties or EDC, is a fantastic skill to boost self-reliance. It doesn’t take much time to excel. It just takes practice. With just a little bit of elbow grease, a stone, and some water, you are well on your way to razor sharp blades
How Often Should You Sharpen Knives?
There are quite a few reasons to keep your knife sharp, and easy slashing is only one. The most important reason to sharpen your cutting device is to keep yourself safe. It might seem counterintuitive, but a sharp tool is a safe tool
This is a difficult question to answer because people use their knives at different frequencies, and not all knives are made of the same mix of metals. The easy answer most people give is to sharpen your knives when they are dull. But how do you know if they are blunt?
To Sharpen or Not to Sharpen? That is the Question
If you use your cutting tools often enough, you will feel when they begin to need more pressure to do their job. This is the same for EDC knives, chef knives, pocketknives, hatchets, etc. This is the most accurate way to determine if you need to sharpen your knife.
If you don’t use your cutting device very often, you can use the signs in the next section to determine whether or not it’s time for a sharpening.
What Makes a Knife Sharp?
We have all seen the demonstrations on infomercials. An authoritative-looking person in a white lab coat tries to cut something impossible with an average knife. Then, he pulls out his company’s knife and makes quick work of the impressive item.
Those of us that always try to stay prepared want the sharpest knife possible, but what makes a knife sharp? You’ll know your cutting tool is sharp enough for use if it can slice through a sheet of paper.
If you like to live on the edge, put the blade on your fingernail. Apply no pressure. If it doesn’t slide around you’ve got a moderately sharp knife. Can it cut through a phone book? You have a very sharp cutting gadget.
What Can I Use to Sharpen a Knife?
According to Naval Officer Peter Nowlan, there are four primary techniques you can use to sharpen your knives, including EDC. You can use hones or freehand your technique on Japanese waterstones, of which there are multiple. European waterstones are known as whetstones.
If you have a workshop, you can utilize some common tools. These include electric sharpeners with belts and wheels. Finally, there are pull-through devices. Some are powered by manual labor and others by electricity.
If you are serious about sharpening knives, we recommend using waterstones. Although it might take a little bit of learning and confidence, we think it’s worth mastering the technique behind freehand sharpening on these Japanese stones.
Pick the Right Waterstone or Whetstone to Sharpen a Knife
According to the experts at ChefSteps, there are 4 different types of waterstones and whetstones. These are very coarse, medium fine, and very fine. Both of these first-rate sharpening stones come in both synthetic and natural.
Hint: The smaller the number the rougher the grit!
Water Stone or Whetstone Grit
Very coarse can be defined as a grit around 220. It is rare to have to use a stone this rough, and the primary reasons are creating a new blade angle and restoring damaged knives. Beware of how many times you swipe though, because a lot of steel will be removed from your knife.
Medium coarse stones work well on very dull, yet intact knives. This level of roughness is defined between 1000 and 1500 grit and doesn’t cut off as much material. Most cutting tools that haven’t been sharpened before only need this level of coarseness.
A fine grit is defined as around 4000, and is used to polish the blade to a “fine” tip. If you sharpen regularly, fine is great for your use.
Very fine is what you need if you are trying to achieve a blade you can see your reflection in. At a grit between 6000 and 8000, your razor blade edge will be able to pass the fingernail test with no problem. Keep in mind a knife this fine will need more frequent sharpening.
Synthetic Stones v. Natural Stones
The primary difference between synthetic and natural stones is how long you must soak them in water before use. Synthetic stones take a few minutes, while natural stones will need to stay in water for at least 24 hours.
3 Simple Steps to Get Your Edge Back
There are various ways to sharpen, but the most accurate way to get your desired edge is by using a Japanese waterstone. All you need is water, the stone, a stone holder, towel, and your own elbow grease to take care of your knives literally anywhere you carry your stone.
What are the Steps to Sharpen a Knife?
The first thing you must do is raise the burr. This is as easy as sharpening the knife on one side until the burr forms.
The knife pros at Lansky define a burr as a tiny sliver of metal on the edge opposite the one you are sharpening. It looks like a thin wire.
Do the same to the other side until there is no burr left. We recommend a medium or coarse stone. Wipe off with a towel before the next step.
Hint: Depending on the dullness of your knife and the grit of your stone, it could take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour to create a burr. For example, a fine stone will take at least half an hour to fix a dull knife.
Refining the edge you have created is the next step. For this, we recommend a fine or very fine stone.
Use the same technique with a lighter pressure to polish the bevel and blade to perfection. This also removes any scratches made in step 1.
Hint: The real work was done in the first step, so this should only take a few minutes. If there is any excess metal hanging onto the knife, use moderate pressure to remove.
Test the sharpness of your knife by any of the 12 tests recommended by bookbinder Jeff Peachy.
If you aren’t happy, but sure you created the burr, try a few more swipes on a very fine stone. If that doesn’t work, re-do step 2.
Hint: As with any new activity, practice makes perfect. Don’t give up, because this is the best way to sharpen your knives whether in the kitchen or out in the wilderness.
This video from Japanese Master Sharpener Vincent shows you how to sharpen your knife using this method. We understand some people learn better visually, so we wanted to show you as well as tell you.
How Do You Sharpen a Coarse and Fine Knife?
In order to sharpen a coarse and fine knife, we recommend a whetstone. These are also known as sharpening stones and diamonds, and they have both a fine and a coarse side. Using a whetstone is different than the waterstones discussed above.
Here are the basic steps as outlined by the Art of Manliness:
Depending on whether the stone is synthetic or natural, soak it in water for the recommended time. Natural needs 24 hours and synthetic needs a matter of minutes.
Use mineral oil or another viscous material like spit to lubricate the side of the stone you are using.
Beginning on the rough side of the knife, cut with an upward motion across the entire whetstone. Doing this motion on both sides creates a burr, which is just a fancy word for a wire-thin edge.
What Angle Should a Knife Be Sharpened At?
The type of knife you are sharpening determines at what angle it should be ground. An every day carry knife such as a pocketknife should be sharpened between 10 and 15 degrees. If you are interested in a pointier blade, go for 20 to 25 degrees.
The angle at which you should sharpen your blade really depends upon the manufacturer’s recommendations. If you cannot find them online, the Sharpening Supplies Team has advice for choosing any angle between 7 and 30+.
If you are new to what can quickly become a hobby, it can be difficult to keep your wrist, arm, and shoulder at the correct angle. Sharpening guides can help with this step until you feel confident doing it all on your own.
Should You Wash a Knife After Sharpening?
After you have completed the steps with either the waterstone or the whetstone, there may be some leftover metal on the blade. Not to mention the gorgeous and useful muddy sludge that could be hanging onto the knife. So should you wash after sharpening? What about after honing?
When you grind your knife, no matter how you do it, there will be microscopic metal shavings leftover. We recommend running the blade under water first, then wiping it dry with a towel. If you are using your knife for food prep, you must not skip this step.
Washing your knife is not necessary after honing, because this process only reshapes the metal. It doesn’t shave anything off, so there is nothing to clean off.
How do I Keep My Knife Sharp?
In order to keep your knife sharp, there are a few guidelines you should follow. There will, of course, be situations where you can’t help but break these rules. However, the more you can do the following things, the less you will have to sharpen your knives.
Try not to cut on stone, metal, glass, or other hard surfaces
Wash by hand.
Don’t just drop in a sink with other kitchenware
Store separate from other steel utensils and knives
Between using stones, you can hone to keep your knife in tiptop shape. The steel honing rod straightens the edges of your cutting tool so you sharpen less, which means you waste less of the knife blade. Longevity and performance should be enhanced. If not, it’s time to use the stone.
This video by Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer teaches you his technique to sharpen your cutting tool with a honing rod right in the kitchen.
Can You Use a Knife to Sharpen a Knife?
Knife on knife, known to some as poor man’s steel, has been a technique used throughout the ages. How well does it work? Is it recommended? What if you don’t have a fancy waterstone, whetstone, or steel rod?
Using the back of one knife to sharpen the blade of another is cool to watch in the movies, but in real life, this method doesn’t produce the desired results. If anything, you will end up damaging the edge. The key to sharpening knives is using a material stronger than the steel of the knife.
According to Tim of the Cutting Edge, there are 10 objects laying around your house you can use instead. Out in the wild? Survivalist Brad Buckner teaches you how to use a rock when you are in a hard place.
Do Knife Sharpeners Ruin Knives?
Electric sharpeners, belts, wheels, and pull-throughs are all examples of what we refer to as knife sharpeners. These tools reduce the need for knowing angles, thinking about pressure, and choosing a type of stone. But are they a solution or a problem?
According to the law, you may use deadly force in self-defense. Some states add the defense of others and the defense of property to that.
Half of the states have “stand your ground” laws, stating that you can defend your home, rather than retreating. You need to know what your state has to say about it.
There are a few reasons why we cannot recommend these products to any serious outdoorsperson, and survivalist Thomas Xavier agrees:
Knife sharpeners are made for the average knives. If you have a brand name, nice knife, you won’t want to leave sharpening to chance.
These items remove massive amounts of steel, which is only okay for cheap big box store knives that are easily replaced.
You have no control over the blade or bevel.
How Often Should I Get My Knives Professionally Sharpened?
The question remains: should I get my knives professionally sharpened? There are some advantages to having a professional recreate the angle of your blade every once in a while. This is especially true if you are a beginner and aren’t sure of your results over time.
Whether or not you decide to have a professional sharpen your cutting tools, there are a few ways you can go about it. You can search for local sharpeners, and some still make house calls like back in the olden days!
How Much Does it Cost to Sharpen a Knife?
You can find reputable knife sharpeners online. Simply send in your knife, and for a small fee they will sharpen and send it back. We’ve found prices as low as $6.97, and companies such as Wusthof offer guarantees on shipping and results
Knife Sharpening Takeaways
We hope some of your confusion around sharpening your own knives has been cleared up, and you realize literally anyone can learn how to raise a burr, grind it down, and create a knife edge that slices and dices like new!
Keep in mind the most important takeaways and you will be fine:
- When sharpening knives on your own, it’s important to use only the best products: steel honing rods, waterstones, and in some cases whetstones.
- Decide on your angle, and perfect your movement. There is no shame in using an angle guide.
- Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your perfect knife edge won’t be, either. Like most things worth learning in life, practice is key.