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May 12, 2011 11:47 AM

So, how many tries does it take . . .

. . . to figure out how to sharpen a knife on water stone? I decided to get a stone just to try it out, it's a Norton 400 on one side 1000 on the other. I also decided I would learn on the paring knife, if I screw it up too badly, it's inexpensive enough to buy a new one. It just doesn't seem like it should be that difficult, I've watched a couple of vids online, I'm doing the slicing a layer off the stone thing, but it's not getting sharper. I've worked on it two seperate times now and although I can see the gray steel on the white stone ,1000 grit side, the knife doesn't seem any sharper, and it doesn't seem sharp. I spent a good half hour last night, with zero progress. One vidio showed the guy take about 5 strokes per side on two different grits of stone and then slice like he was cutting air. What's wrong?! Panic!!

All is not lost, I can sharpen a chisel on it just fine, but for some reason I'm not having any luck with a knife.

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  1. Well it all depends.How dull/damaged was the blade to start with? Is it a German,French,Japanese knife?carbon or stainless steel? Answer these questions and I'm sure you'll get the answer you're looking for..

    Also try looking up JKnifeimports on youTube for some great knife sharpening videos.

    1 Reply
    1. re: petek

      It's a Wusthof Classic and it really wasn't all that dull, just enough that I thought I could get it sharper. It seems like every time I think I'm about to get an edge, I loose it. I've been giving it the apple test, it doesn't cut any easier than it did before I started. I've only used the stone with this one knife, no other sharpening, so the stone is new, flat, wet, etc.

    2. Mikie,

      There are many possible reasons. Since you know how to sharpen a chisel, I feel rather stupid to tell you the more obvious reasons like angles and burr. Instead you should consider this: Is it possible that your paring knife is just made of a poor steel which cannot take on a low angle edge? That may very well be it. Your technique is correct, but the steel is bad.

      1. "... I'm doing the slicing a layer off the stone thing ..."

        I've not watched any vids, so I really can't comment too deeply about this, BUT.....
        It sounds like maybe your angle is too shallow.

        For the Wusthof, you should be at 1/2 of 45°. Hold the knife perpendicular (90°) to the stone, then angle it over half-way between vertical & horizontal; that's 45°, right? Now lay it over half-way between 45° & horizontal & that's the Euro sharpening angle. Any shallower than that & you're not hitting the edge when you sharpen.

        But it's just a guess.....

        1. Hi, mikie:

          I'm going to take a flyer here, and guess that the problem is that you started with a paring knife. With your chisel, you're used to something tall, and it's easy to see and maintain the angle. A paring knife might be too short from edge to spine for you to accurately gauge and hold the angle. Try putting it in a small binder clip to fix a test angle and see if you get the same result.


          BTW, don't be hard on yourself if you never get it right. I'm one of those who--mostly--can't sharpen, and I've spent a lot of time and money trying. My thinking is either you have it or you don't, and most don't.

          4 Replies
          1. re: kaleokahu

            Kaleo: Aprox what is the angle on a small binder clip? I might give it a whirl myself..


            1. re: kaleokahu

              "I'm one of those who--mostly--can't sharpen, and I've spent a lot of time and money trying."

              Kaleo, you can sharpen. You just cannot sharpen your knvies as well as you want to.

              1. re: kaleokahu

                Thanks, I saw the binder clip thing on the internet but didn't try it yet. Got one in my pocket now, I'll give that a try.

                I'm a guy that's used to doing things with his hands, I build some great looking furnature, work on cars, splice rigging, you would think I could sharpen a knife.

                With a chesil I cheat and use a guid most of the time, it's sooooo easy that way.

                1. re: mikie

                  Hi, mikie:

                  "I'm a guy that's used to doing things with his would think I could sharpen a knife."

                  LOL. Join the club, buddy. That's why I said not to beat yourself up. I MAKE knives and I don't have the aptitude for scary sharp. Wire inlay? No problem. Good folder fitment? Easy. Mirror polish, distal tapers, filework, scrimshanding, engraved bolsters, big hollow grinding? Child's play for me, compared to attaining really sharp.

                  There are production guys at Grohman in Canada that can put a nice sharp edge on their knives with one heavy (as in near-bodyweight) pass each side on an immense bench stone. After seeing that and funiculating with every jig and angle setup ever sold, it's hard not to just let the ones who "have it" do it.

                  The problem is often that many of the pro sharpeners don't have the aptitude, either.

                  Good luck.

              2. I'll try to trouble shoot ya. Unfortunately, I can't tell from your post exactly what the problem is.

                First off what type of paring knife are you sharpening? I ask because I have encountered some knives - cheap, lousy ones - that just can't get really sharp. They'll cut paper, but that's about it. I don't recommend learning free hand sharpening with the crappiest of the crappy for this reason. Something that you know will take an edge is much better (forschners, Dexter Russells, Kiwi, etc). This could conceivably be your entire problem.

                Second question - do you sharpen with the edge away from you or toward you? Related- how are you gauging your angle? Most beginning sharpeners gauge angle/keep it consistent by looking at how high the spine is off the stone. This actually makes a paring knife one of the hardest knives to sharpen for someone new to freehanding - with a taller knife, wiggling the spine a mm or two doesn't change the angle too much, but with a paring knife, a couple mm of wiggle greatly changes the angle. You'll have an easier time practicing on a chefs knife or santoku until you have 'the feel' and don't have to rely so much on your eyes.

                Also, sometimes when people are learning and progress is slower than they'd like, they start sharpening fast and/or with pressure, like they've maybe seen Dave Martell and other good sharpeners do on videos. While some people can work like this, for a beginner who is likely having a hard time keeping a consistent angle, it's counter productive. All focus should be on making good, consistent strokes.

                Finally, it's possible that you're just sharpening at a much more acute angle than that paring knife is set at. If you're essentially reprofiling rather than hitting the edge bevel itself, it can take a long time to sharpen. Likewise, you could be sharpening at too acute of an angle for the knife to really take an edge (problems with carbide tearout and edge rolling with crappy steel) or too obtuse of an edge for the knife to ever feel especially sharp (maybe 30+ deg per side). These are probably things you know, but I say em anyway - sharpening chisels feels a good bit different from sharpening knives, and there's no shame in misjudging your angles.

                It will almost certainly take you months of practice until you are able to sharpen a blade with only a minute or so (or less) per stone. And even that won't happen with badly neglected or especially abrasion resistant knives. Don't feel bad it's taking you a while. When I've taught people to sharpen, I've gone so far as to tell them not to expect a sharp blade in the first session. Session 2 is often much better.

                5 Replies
                1. re: cowboyardee

                  Oh, i just noticed you said it is a wusthof classic. That eliminates the possibility of problem #1. My bad.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    You could try marking the cutting edge also with a sharpie to see if you are indeed getting the edge or thinning behind it , that's what it sounds like to me

                    1. re: Dave5440

                      This is true. However, because of the work he put in this session, we're not sure he has a good bevel to work from. Like I said, if he applied a much too acute or much too obtuse bevel (or even a wildly varying inconsistent bevel), the magic marker trick will only tell him where he is, not where he should be, If that makes sense.

                      Ideally, I recommend starting over with a non-paring knife, maybe trying the magic marker trick on that knife, and returning to the paring knife once he has a few successful sharpenings under his belt.

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        I was just thinking if he hasen't affected the cutting performance either way there is a very good chance he is behind the edge , but I agree it is much easier to learn on a larger knife

                        1. re: Dave5440

                          30 minutes of grinding behind the edge at 1k grit is often enough to remove much or all of the original bevel. And even more problematic, we don't know for sure that he was grinding behind the edge.

                          Though your thinking is right on that it's one of the likeliest causes of his troubles. The magic marker trick wouldn't hurt - it just won't be all that helpful unless Mikie is also able to determine exactly what went wrong in the first place and then compensate.