Knife Sharpening How Tos

Knife sharpening has the reputation of being the most difficult knife maintenance task! Without the proper tools and procedures it can be.

Today’s modern stainless steel knives are very hard and with some maintenance, they will stay sharp for a long time.

Below are some basic instructions, along with a technique I have used for years.

Most times, if the knife is not too bad, you can “sharpen” the blade by just running the blade across a sharpening steel. A knife sharpening steel is a round steel rod included in most older cutlery knife sets or available as an accessory item.

This is not a knife sharpening device, it simply corrects the rounded over edge.

Simply hold the sharpening steel upright with the tip pressed against a solid surface and run the knife downward at a 20 degree angle. Here is a suggestion to help you determine the 20 degree angle.

Take a piece of paper and fold at a 45 degree angle. Fold it again. Now you will have a 22.5 degree angle. Not 20 degrees, but within 2 ½ degrees.

If this procedure does not fix the problem, move on to sharpening.


Most of the quick and easy knife sharpening tools are designed so that you simply pull the knife through a guide. These tools will not align the edge.

The edge rolls over with use. It especially does if used on a hard surface like glass or ceramic.

KEEP THE KNIFE SHARP! More people are injured by a dull knife than a sharp one. WARNING: Anything that has a sharp edge can be dangerous. Knife safety is YOUR responsibility.

Keep your fingers away from the blade. ACCIDENTS DO HAPPEN!

Go slow, stay focused and MOST IMPORTANT PAY ATTENTION.

Here are three methods of knife sharpening.

The File:

The first method starts with the file. It cleans up the edge.

A file is the tool that will allow you to get the knife edge into shape fast, especially if it is dull and has a rough edge.

    • Use a flat file with a fine tooth pattern to clean up the original edge.
    • Clamp the knife or the file in a secure device such as a vise. Or clamp to a table edge in a manner that will not allow the knife to move.
    • Always push the file AWAY from the blade, NEVER push the file toward the knife edge.

The sole purpose is to recreate to original edge. Some people prefer to clamp the file and drag the knife over the file.

  • Always cut into the file and always point the blade away from you.

Sharpening Stones:

This is the second step in the first method. Now we are getting to the real workhorse of any knife sharpening system.

  • Stones come in many different shapes, sizes and grits. The finer the grit, the less scratches it leaves behind and the less material it cuts and the more work you must put into the final product.
  • Types of stones range from Arkansas Stones to Diamond to Japanese Water stones to India Stones to traditional grey or tan stones made from aluminum oxide.
  • A course grit will cut faster but will leave more scratches in the metal. (e.g. 80 grit sandpaper will leave 80 scratches per inch; 120 grit will leave 120 scratches per inch; and 1600 grit… well you will really have to look to find the scratches.
  • There are many different knife sharpening stones to choose from. Your choices range from basic pocket stones to really fancy motorized sharpeners.

I have some friends that swear the Arkansas stones are the best in the world. I think the real difference is the user, their skill and patience level.

What ever you buy, the stone should be flat and large enough to make the knife sharpening easy for you.

Different stones use different methods to keep the surface clear of the remover material.

  • the Arkansas stone uses oil; and
  • the Japanese stone uses water.

Make sure to follow the manufacturers recommendations.

Sandpaper:

This is the third step in the first method. It is a little known technique towards sharpening knives that works surprisingly well.

Originally this came from a very old Boy Scout field manual according to my dad. I modified it to use with the tools I have.

    • I use a drill press that will allow me to turn a wooden wheel at 250 RPM. The wheel is a piece of 5/8 inch MDF cut into a 6 inch diameter circle.
    • Apply a 6 inch piece of self stick automobile sandpaper in a grit of 320 to 600. You can find this at any local automobile parts store.
    • Place a bolt through the disc and the sandpaper. Secure it with a nut and insert into the chuck on the drill press.

DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS WITH A PORTABLE DRILL, as it is not steady enough or slow enough to work safely.

Make sure to wear leather gloves and safety goggles.

  • Turn the drill press on.
  • Place the knife blade so that the edge of the knife is facing the bolt. Tilt the knife to approximately a 20 degree angle.
  • Then press very lightly to allow the sandpaper to cut into the edge.
  • Pull the knife away slowly and examine the edge. You should see where the sandpaper cut into the edge of the knife.
  • Flip the knife with every pass to sharpen both edges.
  • Repeat until you get the edge you are looking for.

BE CAREFUL as the knife is getting sharper with every pass.

Sanding stick:

    This is the final step in the first method.

    • Take a paint stirrer from you local big box.
    • Spray some adhesive on it and stick some 600 grit (or finer) sandpaper to it.
    • Drag the sharpened knife along the stick several times to really dress or really polish the edge.

You will be amazed with the final result.

Rod and Clamp System – also called angle tools:

This is our second method. This device uses a clamp that attaches to the back side of the knife blade. It has guide holes to help the knife sharpening stones maintain the correct angle for sharpening the knife blade.
The clamp will greatly assist you by constantly using the correct angle.

Be sure to keep the stones lubricated with the oil that is included.

I use the Lansky system. It works extremely well.

Motorized sharpeners:

This is the third and final method. They are becoming more affordable and functional all the time. You can now find some at your local orange big box that range from $129 to $249.
They have built in tool rest to help you control the angle of the knife blade.

The more expensive model goes the slowest, which is better, as it will not over heat the blade as fast.

In conclusion:

The primary objective has been to show you some basic methods to keep the cutlery in you home sharp.
This is not the only method to sharpen knives, just some that I have used and know to provide satisfactory results.

If you find something that works to your satisfaction stick with it.

Dave Altman
 

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