HOW TO SHARPEN AND STROP A KNIFE
Itís rumored that a sharp knife is a manís best friend. We canít argue with that. Youíre here because youíre wondering how to sharpen your knife that has lost all the luster that it once had. Well, youíve come to the right place, my friend.
The witchcraft behind sharpening a knife is actually pretty straightforward. You want to take off thin layers of the blade to create a sharper edge. As you sharpen one side of the blade, a burr (the thin cutting edge of the blade folds over) will form. You then switch sides and work the burr going the other way. As you transition to finer stones, you can eventually get the burr off both sides, giving you that sharpness you were yearning for.
Note that some of the extremely hard steels that are used today can take a very long time to sharpen. There is a tradeoff of having very long edge retention and being able to quickly sharpen your blade. Follow these simple steps to find the best sharpening methods that work for you and your growing collection.
Find Your Angle
This is necessary for some guided sharpeners if you are not wanting to reprofile and change the angle of your blade.
You may have seen those homemade videos of knife owners using things like laser pointers and markers to find the angle to sharpen edges. Those may work, but let us save you the headache. Contact your manufacturer and they can tell you the blade angle. Your manufacturer will be much more precise than a DIY contraption. If you insist on doing it yourself, a tool like the Brass Bevel Gauge or Audacious Concept Dog Tag Tool can be a lifesaver.
Itís time to pick your poison. Each sharpening method and knife and tool sharpener has its advantages and disadvantages. We recommend starting with guided sharpeners until you get your feet wet.
Free Hand Sharpening Methods
Freehand sharpeners are for those that like a little danger in their life and would like the extra satisfaction of not using guides.
There are three main types of free hand sharpening stones: dry (used with no liquid), wet (use a honing or mineral oil), and water (yep, use with water). Some of the most popular sharpening stones are Spyderco Double Stuff Ceramic Stones, Hard Arkansas Pocket Oil Stone, and the Lansky Puck.
Many sharpening stones have both a coarse side and a fine side. Some only have one texture and youíll need to use more than one. Pick a coarser stone for more dull knives as it will be more aggressive in sharpening. Work your way up to a finer stone to finish it off.
- Find the Sharpening Angle - First, youíll want to set the blade flat on the stone. Slowly tip the blade with the cutting edge touching the stone until the edge is flat with the stone. This is the angle youíll want to keep throughout the sharpening process.
- Start Sharpening - You can now use a straight front to back motion, circling motion, or the most popular is running the blade from the heel of the cutting edge to the tip with the cutting edge facing forward. This should feel like youíre trying to shave off a layer of the stone. Do this an equal amount of times on both sides of the blade. Most steels will respond well to light pressure of about 1-3 pounds.
- Form a Burr - Check to make sure you are forming a burr. You can feel a burr with your fingers and usually see it in the light. Youíll want to create this from side to side and eventually work up to a fine stone that takes it off. If you are unable to form a burr, take a sharpie and color the cutting edge to make sure you are making contact with the whole edge.
Be sure that you are not pushing the tip down hard as it passes over the stone. This can cause it to round itself off and can be a pain to fix after the fact. Sharpening stones give a relaxing vibe when used, so long as youíre doing it right and the blade is actually sharpening. If not, well, thereís not a lot more frustrating in this world.
Guided Sharpening Methods
Guided sharpeners should be used by those that like a little guidance in their life and donít want things to be harder than they need to.
Spyderco Sharpmaker - The Sharpmaker is walking the line between guided and freehand sharpening. It comes with two medium ceramic stones, two fine ceramic stones, two safety rods, and the base/case. The base has slots for a 30 degree angle (15 on each side) and a 40 degree angle (20 on each side).
- Coarse Pointed - Use the coarse stones with the pointed sides facing each other. Hold your knife straight forward and pass straight down each side, going from the heel of the cutting edge to the tip of the blade. Do this about 20 strokes on each side.
- Coarse Flat - Move the brown stones so the flat sides are facing each other. Repeat the process above.
- Fine Pointed - Put the white fine stones so the pointed corners are facing one another. Repeat the process.
- Fine Flat - Finish with the flat parts of the white stones facing one another and repeating the process.
When the stones have been used for many sharpenings, they can build up with steel and become slick. Clean the stones with household cleaners and a scouring pad.
Wicked Edge - The Wicked Edge is popular because itís extremely precise and easy to get razor sharp edges. It works by having the knife set in a vise and moving the sharpening stones on pivots along the cutting edge.
- Set the Knife - Line up the blade with the ruler and tighten the vise.
- Set the Arms - Set the arms to the angle you want the cutting edge to be. Some versions of the Wicked Edge have a digital angle gauge that shows the degree of the bevel.
- Start Sharpening - Use the stones in an up and down motion to form a burr along the blade. Do this on both sides and eventually move to the finer stones.
Be sure to wipe the blade before moving to a new stone. Let the stones do the work; they donít require a lot of pressure.
Benchmade Work Sharp Field Sharpener - This handy little tool has 20 degree ramps that give you a sense of the blade angle to use.
- Find the Angle - Using the guiding ramps, start with the coarse stone and move the blade from the heel to the point 5-10 times. Do this with the cutting edge leading so itís like youíre shaving the top layer of the stone.
- Rotate - Move to the finer stone and do the same.
- Strop - Move to the leather strop and move the blade along with the cutting edge trailing.
You can sharpen serrations using both the small ceramic rod and the fine side of the large ceramic rod. Move the bevel of each serrations forward and backward along these rods. Check out our Serrated Knife Sharpening Guide for more information.
Scissors and fishhooks can be sharpened with the fine ceramic rod. Hatchets and axes can be sharpened using the coarse diamond stone.
Powered Sharpening Methods
Youíre in the big leagues now. Itís very important to use care with powered sharpeners because they can heat the blade and soften the steel if used incorrectly. Powered sharpeners are great for those adrenaline junkies that thrive in the presence of power tools.
Darex Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener - This is one of the best guided power sharpeners money can buy. It comes with three different belts ranging from coarse to fine.
- 80 Grit - Start with the 80 grit belt. Using the adjustable angle guide that snaps into place, move the blade from the heel to the tip five times on each side.
- 220 Grit - Change the belt to the 220 grit and do five more passes on each side.
- 6000 Grit - Use the 6000 grit to finish the blade. Go from side to side for a total of 10 passes.
The Darex Work Sharp is very easy to use and is a quick way to get hair shaving sharp blades in no time at all.
Stropping a Knife
A leather strop is used to finish a blade and create a very fine, smooth edge. They are used by those that are meticulous and want the best edge their knife can sport. Some people skip stropping and just sharpen their knives, but that wonít give as fine of an edge as stropping will. Some popular strops are the Flexcut and the Rite Edge leather strops.
How to strop a knife:
Sharpening Life Hacks
So, youíre a free spirited individual that says no to the conventional way of doing things. Or maybe youíre just stuck somewhere without a sharpening tool. These everyday items can help sharpen your knife in a pinch.
Car Window - Simply roll your window down halfway and use the top edge as a sharpener. Set the blade flat on the window, tilt it until the angle matches and make light strokes on each side with the cutting edge going first. Voila, youíve got yourself a sharp blade again.
Ceramic Mug - Flip that mug over and use the uncoated ring on the bottom to touch up your blade. Like the car window, place the blade so that the angle of the edge is flat and then make strokes from the blade end to the tip on both sides.
Nail File/Emery Board Desperate times call for desperate measures. Find the closest female and ask to borrow her nail file. Use it to sharpen your blade. Give it back to said female. Proceed to use your blade in all its sharpness and glory.
Small River Rock - Finding a smooth river rock can feel like striking gold when you need a desperate sharpening. These are great to use wet to touch up a blade thatís needing some love.
Smooth Spine of Another Knife - Not the ideal situation, but it will do in an emergency. Thick, hard blades will work best in this situation. Simple sharpen the dull blade on the back of the other by using it like a sharpening stone.