Knife sharpening for the clueless?

Bartnmax

Richard Proenneke
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Ok, there's been some excellent ideas above but we all need to remember we're dealing with a self-professed 'beginner' here, so it's gotta be kept basic.
I believe that there's pretty much nothing better to start off with than the Lansky kit.
It is damned near fool proof & will teach you how to put the correct edge/cutting angle on your plades.
You'll very quickly develop the 'feel' of getting that edge put on right.
Once you've got a bit more experience with sarpening, then try out various other methods, but the problem with many of them is that as a beginner there is a high probability of your getting it wrong all too easilly.
That's the beauty of the Lansky kit IMO - it's damned near impossible to get it wrong.
As long as you follow the instuctrions the first time round so that you get the hang of using the kit, it's as near to fool proof as you'll get IMO.

Definitely the Lanksy IMO.

Bill.
 

Corin

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A large bench stone with a course and fine side is the go. Use with light oil or water. Bigger is better for the begginer . Something that will stay put under its own mass on the bench. A leather belt for stropping is ideal.

There are better things to use, but once you can sharpen a knife on a bench stone, you will be able to use anything.
 

Walden

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Ok, there's been some excellent ideas above but we all need to remember we're dealing with a self-professed 'beginner' here, so it's gotta be kept basic.
I believe that there's pretty much nothing better to start off with than the Lansky kit.
It is damned near fool proof & will teach you how to put the correct edge/cutting angle on your plades.
You'll very quickly develop the 'feel' of getting that edge put on right.
Once you've got a bit more experience with sarpening, then try out various other methods, but the problem with many of them is that as a beginner there is a high probability of your getting it wrong all too easilly.
That's the beauty of the Lansky kit IMO - it's damned near impossible to get it wrong.
As long as you follow the instuctrions the first time round so that you get the hang of using the kit, it's as near to fool proof as you'll get IMO.

Definitely the Lanksy IMO.

Bill.
Geez Bill just when I thought i had my mind made up. That makes a lot of sense.
 

Walden

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Thanks everyone for your input. It has give me a good foundation to start. Now it is time to put it into action.
 
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Bartnmax

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A large bench stone with a course and fine side is the go. Use with light oil or water. Bigger is better for the begginer . Something that will stay put under its own mass on the bench. A leather belt for stropping is ideal.

There are better things to use, but once you can sharpen a knife on a bench stone, you will be able to use anything.
Yeah I'd agree with regard to experienced knife sharpeners Corin but this is exactly my point, until he's experienced there's a bit too much margin for error with using blades by hand alone on stones IMO. I've seen so many blades buggered by guys that thought they knew how to sharpen blades but in reality didn't have the knowledge of maintaining correct angles, etc.
I've even had to 'fix' knives that were 'sharpened' by some so called 'professional' knife sharpeners (had a mate took his good hunting knife to one such 'professional' a few years back only to get it back finding they had put in on a grinder & all but butchered it - fortunately a bit of L&C, & much time & effort fixed it, to his immense gratitude).
I have some beautiful bench stones passed onto me from my father (he taught tool & cutter grinding as a profession for over 40 years) & I love using them as, along with a rag buff on the grinder, they produce absolutely exquisite cutting edges on my knives, but I would never consider recommending them for a beginner.

I think where a beginner is concerned they need some sort of mechanical guide to ensure they keep the blade angle correct as they sharpen.
I see learning the correct angle/s & maintaining it through the process of sharpening, as being absolutely crucial to good sharpening of any blade.
Once they get the hang of keeping the angle/s right then there are a great many methods that can be used, just as with the bench stones, but until they get the hang of keeping the angles correct then I would advise against any method involving free hand maintenance of the blade angle.
It's a bit like guys learning to make knives from the start. If they use a jig to grind their blades they can usually get it right, but if they try to 'free-hand' the angles when they initially start gringing their knives then they're bound to bugger a few until they get the hang of it.

What I have invariably found is that most beginners tend to 'roll' the blade as they take it across the stone & combined with varing the angle along the blade the end result is often a sharp blade, but one that only holds it's edge under light use, & for a short period of time. In the end, after very little use, they have a rounded cutting edge that won't cut butter. A well made blade, properly sharpened, will not only cut well but maintain that edge for a considerable period of time, especially if it's properly re-touched from time to time with a quality steel. I tend to do mine before each use with a ceramic stick these days, so that if the edge has deteriorated during stowage (been knocked or even just wearing against the sheath leather) it's restored to 100% sharpness prior to being used. In that way I find it works better & doesn't 'dull' by being used when the blade is not at peak.
Most people tend to start using their knife, & when they find it's not working well, then they touch up with a steel.
If it's 100% to start with it often doesn't need re-touching during use unless the use is severe.

So, my advice to any beginner is to use a method that involves the use of a mechanical rest that ensures correct angles are maintained.
This is the reason I like the Lansky kit so much. With regard to maintaining angles, until it can be learned by the beginner, the Lansky is a really excellent kit to use.

Bill.
 
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Corin

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Bill
I don't dispute that the lansky will give him the best edge as a novice but there is good reason here. To take your analogy of knife grinding with jigs. If you use jigs you will get a great result but after 5-10 years you will be no better at grinding knives. To get better at grinding knives you need to destroy a few. Once you have the skill though you have the skill and you can use it. I could always start a fire with some petrol and a lighter, it is much easier and far better than my friction fire but what do I learn?

It's all the same thing. Sharpening a knife on a stone is an art. One that cannot be learned without doing and one that once learnt is not easily forgotten. At the expense of a stone and a cheap knife like a mora, and a good few hours, the skills will be learnt.

I am not disputing the effectiveness of a lansky, but like anything of its kind I recommend you learn the basics first before the tricks and shortcuts. It is my opinion but the easiest way is not always the best.

Regarding the use of steels, I have fixed more knives that have been destroyed by the improper use of steels than anything else. I definitely would not recommend the use of a steel until stones are perfected.
My two cents.
 
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Red23

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a Mora is a good knife to practice with, also try one of those Old Hickory butcher knives, they have plenty of meat on them and they are pretty cheap (I've got three on order for under 50 bucks)
 

Bartnmax

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At the expense of a stone and a cheap knife like a mora, and a good few hours, the skills will be learnt.

Regarding the use of steels, I have fixed more knives that have been destroyed by the improper use of steels than anything else. I definitely would not recommend the use of a steel until stones are perfected.
My two cents.
I think that proper use of stones is something that needs to be taught Corin rather than just learned through trial & error.
Some do pick it up through trial & error, but so many dont, & may never.
The problem is that an incorrect angle can still produce a sharp edge & so the user thinks they have the process right.
Unfortunately that knife only stays sharp for a short period of time & the user never realises that if properly sharpened it would maintain it's edge a lot longer.
Simply put; because their knife is sharp to start with they never know what they're missing, & hence think they're actually doing a good job.
It's only when they are shown how to use a stone properly that they see the benefits.
Making mistakes never necessarilly means that lessons will automatically be learned.
It may just mean that the person continues making those mistakes.

I had a guy a couple of years back that swore black & blue that he was as close to an expert knife sharpener as is humanly possible, because he'd been sharpening his gear on bench stones all his life (nigh on 50 years) the way his father had shown him. I tried to explain to him why he was doing it wrong & how he could improve, but it was only when I managed to persuade him to come along with me to a custom knife show, and got him talking to the guys that really know how to sharpen knives, that he 'saw the light'.
I dont necessarilly believe that a person needs to ruin a knife (or number of them) to learn to sharpen it.
If properly shown a person should be able to sharpen a knife without ever ruining one.

I think if someone is going to start out using a bench stone then they are best served by making up a guide that they can rest the knife against to maintain the correct angle. When we consider that the 'correct' angle could be anywhere from 17 degrees to near 30 degrees (depending on the blade type it could actually be anywhere from 13 deg to 45 deg) it's not hard to see that an incorrect angle is easilly put onto a blade. A typical filleting blade f'rinstance would be around 17-20 degrees whereas your average camp knife would usually be around 25-30 degrees. Put a 17 degree angle on a camp knife & it'll still be sharp, no worries about that, but when faced with the myriad of camp chores it will quickly dull & could even break. There's not a lot of difference in angles from 17 degrees to 27 degrees (only 10 degrees) but it can make a huge difference depending on the blade type & it's use. I certainly wouldn't expect a beginner to learn the difference that 10 degrees (or less) can make to their knife, by trial & error. If starting out by using a bench stone then I'd recommend getting hold of an angle guide as per the pic below. Once the person has learned the correct angle maintenance they can eventually do away with the guide if they so choose.

I also agree entirely regarding use of steels.
One of my pet hates is watching guys sweeping away with their knives at a steel, like a demented butcher on a slaughter line.
I also reckon it should be illegal to sell cheap steels to beginner knife sharpeners ;-)
A guy with a bad steel, that doesn't know what he's doing, will ruin a good blade faster than using that blade to lever rusty, bent nails out of harwood ;-)
Then there's those that continue to use stones when they are well past their 'use by' date.
It stands to reason that if you're rubbing steel against stone for any length of time, apart from the blade getting worn (sharpened) the stone will also. I hate watching guys using stones that are about as flat as my stomache after xmas dinner (believe me that aint flat).
How can a correct angle be maintained on a stone that's concave? An experienced user might be able to continue using that stone but an inexperienced person using such a stone will almost certainly bugger the edge. Things in life wear - when they are worn - replace em.
IMO there's no place for nostalgia when you're trying to do a good job. You either have good tools or you dont. By all means keep Great Grand-dad's stone that he bought with him into Australia on the Mayflower in 1652 (TIC there folks) but when it comes to proper maintenance of tools you need to use good tools (stones, steel, etc) to maintain em. So, if it's old & concave - buy a bloody new one.

Knife angle guide.jpg

Bill.
 

Bartnmax

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FYI Red23
Here's a couple more jigs that demonstrate maintaining angles.
The one I use is actually the US made Gatco. The Lansky & Gatco are almost identical whilst the Lansky is a bit easier to get over here, hence my recomendation of that one.

First pic is the Gatco sharpener, 2nd the Lansky with suction base (similar bases are available for both the Lansky & Gatco as 'options')
The bottom left pic shows the 'EdgePro' sharpener whilst the last pic shows a comparison between (left to right) Lansky, Gatco, & DMT guides.

One last thing - there really is no need to ever do away with guides. It's not like the idea that using a guide somehow makes you less of a knife sharpener. It's not like it's the mark of a man to be able to sharpen a knife without one. I've been sharpening knives for nearly my entire life, for practical use & taught to me by someone whom has forgotten more about it than I'll probably ever know, & I'm quite happy to continue using guides to sharpen my knifes for the rest of my life. It makes it very easy & means I have it right each & every time. My opinion is quite simply; get one, learn to use it properly, witness the results 1st hand, & you'll probably never go back to sharpening without one.
It's sorta like Dave C says when he heads bush - "I aint out here 'roughin it', I'm out here 'smoothin it".
When I sharpen a knife I'll use any item that makes it easier, faster, & better.

Bill.

Gatco use.jpgLansky use.jpgEdgePro sharpener.jpgLansky, Gatco, DMT guides.jpg;
 
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Templar

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(Moderator hat on...)

Bill... no need to brow beat those with a different opinion on the matter, if they like bench stones better than sharpening systems then so be it, you do not need to try and convince the board that one is better than the other, as with all things it comes down to personal choice and experience. Even I stated in my own reply to use a lansky style system when you first start and then later move to a stone system if it was a skill that was wanted to be learned.

(Moderator hat off)
 

Bartnmax

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A large bench stone with a course and fine side is the go. Use with light oil or water. Bigger is better for the begginer . Something that will stay put under its own mass on the bench. A leather belt for stropping is ideal.

There are better things to use, but once you can sharpen a knife on a bench stone, you will be able to use anything.
Hey Corin, just wondering what you use on your strop?
I've used powdered jeweler's rouge in the past for stropping but whilst it's not hard to get it does mean a bit of running around to get it.
Have even used talc when I've run out of rouge.
Just wondering what you've found works best for stropping?

Thanks again.

Bill.
 

Bartnmax

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(Moderator hat on...)

Bill... no need to brow beat those with a different opinion on the matter, if they like bench stones better than sharpening systems then so be it, you do not need to try and convince the board that one is better than the other, as with all things it comes down to personal choice and experience. Even I stated in my own reply to use a lansky style system when you first start and then later move to a stone system if it was a skill that was wanted to be learned.

(Moderator hat off)
Apologies if I came across that way Karl, & especially Corin.
I certainly wasn't meaning to offend anyone & sincerely apologise if I have.
I wasn't implying that bench stones aren't any good at all.
I own several & have used em for years, but have also found that they may not necessarilly be the best choice for newbies.
I was just trying to put some reasoning behind the choice of product someone might find themselves faced with when starting out.
Yeah I 'spose reading back on it I might have gone on a bit too much.
Sorry 'bout that, especially to Corin if offense was taken. It was definitely not intended.

Bill.
 

Corin

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Hey Corin, just wondering what you use on your strop?
I've used powdered jeweler's rouge in the past for stropping but whilst it's not hard to get it does mean a bit of running around to get it.
Have even used talc when I've run out of rouge.
Just wondering what you've found works best for stropping?

Thanks again.

Bill.
I use a polishing stick (white) that works great. the same stuff you would use on a polishing wheel.

Apologies if I came across that way Karl, & especially Corin.
I certainly wasn't meaning to offend anyone & sincerely apologise if I have.
I wasn't implying that bench stones aren't any good at all.
I own several & have used em for years, but have also found that they may not necessarilly be the best choice for newbies.
I was just trying to put some reasoning behind the choice of product someone might find themselves faced with when starting out.
Yeah I 'spose reading back on it I might have gone on a bit too much.
Sorry 'bout that, especially to Corin if offense was taken. It was definitely not intended.

Bill.
Mate you would have to try a darn sight harder than that to offend me! :_lol:

Just so we are clear I totally agree with you regarding the Lansky as a system. It is simply from the original post "Part of my learning process is sharpening a knife correctly" I don't agree the lansky is the best system for that though I do see it's merits. Without being shown correctly he will absolutely damage the knife. That is how I learn things and it works for me, though that does not mean it will for everyone. A bit of internet research, and a few you tube videos, and he will have enough formation to get started. If he then identifies the faults he is finding he can work on correcting. Finding a good teacher is harder than it sounds.
 

Bartnmax

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I use a polishing stick (white) that works great. the same stuff you would use on a polishing wheel.

Finding a good teacher is harder than it sounds.
Yeah I use jeweler's rouge in block form on my rag buff but I generally prefer a powder for the strop.
I find it tends to give a more even coverage (less lumps & bumps) than sticks/bars, but as I still consider myself a novice with regards the use of strops (hence preference for using a rag buff which I am very experienced with from my trade) it may just be the way I'm using it (application of the rouge that is - I'm pretty comfortable with the use of the strop, I just dont tend to use one much).
Have heard a few guys have used it in paste form also but heve never tried it.

You're not kidding about it being hard to find good teachers.
I think that tends to apply to a great many areas these days.
As a mechanic I've come across some truly great tradsmen in the 35+ years I've been in the game, but some of em, whilst being great at what they do, are bloody abysmal teachers. I definitely think teaching in itself is a skill that some have & are good at, whilst others may never make it.
I 'spose some people can pass on what they know whilst others just aren't able to do that.
I think there's a nack to it that comes naturally with some, can be learned by some others, & may never be learned by yet others.

Regards bench stones I have a preference for good sand stones as opposed to sil'carbide. I have both & find that a good, fine grained sandstone will put a far better edge on a knife but greater care of the stone also needs to be taken as sandstone can be damaged quite easilly by poor technique, whereas sil' carbide can be abused something terrible & still do the job. I have a fine arkansas stone that was nearly ruined by my bro after he decided to use oil on it rather than water. I managed to salvage it by rubbing it back (using white spirit to wash away the impreganted oil) with another slightly courser stone.

Guides are great but they also have their limitations a swell. It's not like you can pop your GB SFA into a lansky.
Sooner or later, if someone's going to continue to sharpen their own knives, I think a person does need to develop the ability to do it 'by hand'.
Larger blades such as machettes & even some of the larger knives just wont fit into a Lansky type clamp & axes/tomahawks are definitely a 'by hand' propostion. The crucial element is all in developing that 'feel' to maintaining the angles.

Generally, natural stones such as sandstone, etc I believe are best used with water only whereas artificial stones such as sil' carbide can be used more successfully with cutting oils. Cutting oils can very quickly clog up the pores of natural stones. I also have a preference for incandescent lighting when sharpening as opposed to fluro lighting. I find the lighting can make a big difference when viewing an edge. Not saying fluro cant be used but I've found incandescent better. Dunno if it's due to my poor eye sight or not(I am short sighted but not drastically so).

Many thanks again Corin. Good to know we're still good.

Bill.
 
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bubba5603

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If I might jump in here, I have a question to ask that has puzzled me for some time. I have always used honing oil for all of my sharpening, except with diamond impregnanated sharpeners. I have seen time and again about water stones, and about not using oil on fine/extra fine arkansas stones. My question is what is the benefit of the water stone vs using honing oil. Any time that the pores of my stones start to have an appearance of being, for lack of a better explaination, clogged with residue, I have simply washed them by hand with dishwashing detergent, and after they have dried, just carry on with oil and go on sharpening. It seems to have worked for me for years, and now for the big question, am I doing something wrong? I know that that is a subjective question, but I will not take offence to any comments that a) can explain what, if anything, I am missing here, and b) can offer me a alternative that can assist in my blade maintenance, After reading Bill's posts, I definately understand his statements in refernece to beginners and needing to learn correctly. I am famous for quoting things that instructors in the military have taught me, and in this case it is "If you learn to do something right the first time, you will always do it right. If you learn to do something the wrong way, you spend the rest of your life trying to learn the correct way" or words to that effect (usually puncuated with much profanity).

If I can also be so bold as to use two quotes in the same response, I have been considering more on what Bill said about the Lansky system (which you can see previously in this thread that I already stated that I own and use one) and it brought to mind something that I tucked away in the memory banks a long time ago. I believe that it came from the exibition archer Byron Ferguson. It is something that I remind my kids of when learning new skills. That is "Practice does NOT make perfect...perfect practice makes perfect."
 

Templar

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For an Arkansas stone, it is recommended to use light hone oil, and to clean the stone after use, Arkansas stones are also known as oilstones.

Japanese waterstones have a reputation for fast and efficient sharpening. As the supply for natural stone fades away, man-made stones are becoming more available and important. Oilstones are another choice, but they don't compare to the waterstone's speed. Onereason that waterstones out perform oilstones is that waterstones are made up of soft abrasive particles that break off during use. Each stroke across the stone breaks loose a small amount of particles, constantly exposing new and sharp particles. The loose particles also build up a muddy abrasive slurry that helps to speed up the sharpening process.
Oilstones on the other hand do not have the same characteristics as waterstones. Instead of the abrasive particles breaking off, they round over and become dull. At the same time, oil residue and metal particles can fill up the stone's pores, reducing the ability of the stone to produce a sharp edge.

Source: http://www.woodturns.com/articles/tools/jap_waterstones.htm

Hope it helps... I use oilstones myself and have never had any problems with them, I think bushcrafters got the whole waterstone thing from the UK when Ray Mears recommended them, I say use what works for you, if you want fast sharpening and superfine edge use the more expensive water stones, if you want a more utility edge stick with the oilstones.
 

bubba5603

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Thanks Templar,

I have never heard that before but now reading that, it makes sense in most regards. The only thing I would now ask is why do the stones that I use oil on seem to last for years? Is it because the soap is lifting the oil and steel particales out of the stones pores, or is this just my theory?

With your Moderator cap on, should we start a new thread on this so as not to take away from the OP's questions on beginner sharpening vs. oil and water stones??

John
 

Templar

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I think a new thread would be best, as we don't want to confuse the issue too much for the novice stone user...
 

dmm

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Realise this thread seems to have finished, but it seems an appropriate place to add.
I recently received my Wicked Edge from this Australian distributor.
Took quite a while to arrive, but now that it has, I must say I have improved quite a few kitchen knives and an old pocket knife.
It probably took a few hours to get the hang of, and there are lessons to learn, like don't loosen the clamp on the blade if you aren't ready to catch it the knife! I like that you can use two paddles and alternate hands, although it requires concentration. I also found I could listen to the sound of the stone on each side of the blade and hear inconsistencies with my stroke.

Now I'd tried sharpening by hand with my Fallkniven Dc4, and I'd tried the wet and dry sandpaper technique. Minimal success. I'd still carry a small stone in the field, and I still need to practice that technique. Also I'm not convinced the Wicked Edge will be a good match for a convex edge, although the maker has a video demonstrating a technique. Probably worth considering that the stones themselves are fairly long and of a decent size to use as traditional stones in different grits if one was so inclined.

For me, it's great to have a jig available at home which I now I can use to restore an edge.
My only complaint, and it's minor, and seems not to effect results, is that there is a little play in the clamp, i.e. not a perfect match of tolerances.
 
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