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Nov 9, 2011 01:32 AM

Knife Sharpening for Dummies...

Ok I've convinced myself to try my hand at knife sharpening. I've read many threads here and on other forums (gasp!) watched expertvillage and Martell videos about the techniques, stones to use, the lapping plates, the stone holders, the strops, and so on.

I've read about Dave Martell's recommended stones as well as going the Shapton route. While initially I was leaning toward Martell's recommendations, I'm now leaning toward the Shaptons mainly because they are splash-n-go.

I'm now in a bit of an overanalysis-paralysis situation. What is the minimum I need to get started to see if I have the patience to learn this? I don't want to get way over my head in equipment only to find myself frustrated.

Can I get a Shapton 1000 grit, lapping plate and strop and be happy with that? Or do I also need to get a finishing stone? Do I need to get a strop right away? I understand that the ideal would probably to get a few stones (thinking 1k, 4k, 8k), stone holder, lapping plate, and strop, but what can I start with minimally to see results without damaging the blade? I don't want to create a burr with a 1k and then damage the knife because I didn't remove it with a strop or a 4k.

The knives I'm using now are starting to get less sharp than I'd like so it would be an ideal time to see some major improvement from just a little work. If I don't start soon, I'll just have to send them off to get sharpened before I hurt myself.

Thanks in advance. Sorry if I'm repeating a question stated in previous thread.

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  1. "I'm now leaning toward the Shaptons mainly because they are splash-n-go. "

    Shaptons stones are not the only splash and go stones, but they are considered to be very good. I have some Naniwa superstones which are also splash and go, but my 1000 grit stone is a Bester:

    Diamond stones are also splash and go.

    "Can I get a Shapton 1000 grit, lapping plate and strop and be happy with that?"

    Yes, I think that is a great starting point. You can do some excellent jobs with just a 1000 grit stone. By only finishing at 1000 grit, the Shun knives still impress many customers: "Regular shun pro is finished on a sharpening machine using 1000 grit, just like the rest of the Shun line. "

    If I am learning knife sharpening all over again, I will start with a 1000 grit stone and a lapping plate/stone and see how I will like it. If you really get into knife sharpening, and your knives can support higher grits, then yes, then you can spend the money to get higher grit stones. Higher grit stones only make sense for high quality knives. I find my stone holder to be very useful, but you can wait on it as well. You can get a cheap $15 stone holder. This one works well for me:

    "I don't want to create a burr with a 1k and then damage the knife because I didn't remove it with a strop or a 4k."

    No, you won't damage your knife because you don't have a 4000 grit stone.

    As for stropping, you don't have to get the ideal leather with diamond spray setup first. You can, but you don't have to for the beginning. There are many inexpensive and yet reasonable routes. I use a plain leather belt. Many knife experts strop on the waterstones, jean pants, newspaper....etc. Please skip to 7:40 minute

    It is another question if you want Japanese newspaper vs English newspaper :D

    5 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Chem, Thanks for your great response. As always you're knowledgeable, thorough and a great asset to the site (as far as I know, right?) I doubt my knife will support much higher grits, so I think I'll be fine with the 1000 grit for now.

      I have another dumb question maybe you could help answer. While I was young and stupid (in college) I bought this cheap Faberware knife block set with a microserrated edges I rarely use the set so no real harm if they are damaged beyond repair. . Is it possible (or wise) for me to use a 500 grit (or maybe 250 grit) to grind off the serrations? Have you ever heard of someone doing this? I have no idea what kind of steel was used to make them.

      1. re: ahack

        "I bought this cheap Faberware knife block set with a microserrated edges I rarely use the set so no real harm if they are damaged beyond repair"

        I have a very similar story. I bought a cheap Tools of Trade knife block when I was in graduate school. They are not serrated. I could never get a real burr out of them. In other words, they are so bad that I couldn't practice with them very well.

        As for your specific question, yes you can remove the serrated teeth. Are they large serrated teeth or small ones The large ones will take a long time to grind out. If they are small, then it should not post much problem.

        Is it wise? That I think you will find out after working on the first knife :) You will then notice if the results you got worth the effort you put in. It may not, but you won't know for sure until you try it. I will said that it is not worth it if the serrated teeth is large. Just too much work on you and probably scratch the heck out of your stones.

        I think both SanityRemoved and cowboyardee comments on an inexpensive practice knife is good. You do not want to practice with an expensive knife, but you don't want to practice with really crappy knives, like my Tools of Trade.

        1. re: ahack

          Those cheap Farberwares will just make you mad. A friend asked me to do some straight edge Farberwares that, other than no microserrations, looked identical to what you describe.

          Worst steel EVER! Falls in line with what the other guys described on cheapies.

          They weren't mentioned but if you can find some used Dexter Russell SaniSafe, Sof Grip, or V-Lo knives they are easy to resharpen and take great edges. They are very common "house" knives in restaurants and are usually easy to find at swap meets/flea markets on the cheap.


          1. re: knifesavers

            I agree with Knifesaver (Jim) as well as cowboyardee. Dexter-Russell, Victorinox, Kiwi knives....etc are all decent knives which are easy to sharpen.

            1. re: knifesavers

              Alas, they will stay relegated to the back shelf corner. There chance for salvation will not likely come. Poor knives. I do have some Victorinox and other random knives that can be used.

              Thanks for the info!

        2. Hi Ahack,

          As you discovered there are many ways to "get the job done". Technically, you could do this for very little by buying a few sheets of sandpaper and a few sheets of 3m lapping film. And then a mousepad and either some scraps of wood or scraps of glass. A LOT of the pros use just a belt or disc system with lapping film to wrap things up. Some pros using nothing but 3m lapping films. These are the crazy folks that actually whittle hair.

          While I'm very impressed by all that, and did my research as you are doing yours, I realized that I'm not like some of these folks. My arms aren't robotic and while I do enjoy sharpening my knives, I want to be SURE about my angles and to get it done quickly. I also want my edges to be RAZOR sharp.

          So, for me, a guided system was defintely the right choice. There are several guided systems out there. If money is no object, you may want a Wicked Edge or Edge Pro Apex. I wasn't keen on spending that kind of money. Of the other systems, DMT was by far the most well-known for their diamond plates, and many pros use them to set the initial edges and then go really nuts with 3 levels of lapping or stroping down to .05 microns etc. I admire their work and skill but that's beyond the needs of any kitchen.

          DMT has 2 different guided systems. One of these relies on a magnetic clip so I passed on that and opted for their screw-down clamp system - the DMT Aligner. The DMT Aligner is reasonably priced and will give you GREAT results, very quickly. It comes in 2 versions, I'd recommend the DMT Aligner Deluxe so that you get the coarse along with the fine and x-fine. This comes with the aligner and the coarse (325), fine (600) and extra-fine (1200). I also highly recommend the add-on XX-Fine stone (8000 grit). You can get all that for about $65 on Amazon.

          The coarse is perfectly capable of redoing primary bevels from scratch. But, if you will be doing a bunch of those, then you may with so also get the xx-coarse, which is that much more aggressive and eats through the metal quickly.

          With ALL of these stones - be gentle and light, and use lots of water. Let the diamonds do the job, not your arm. Start with one or more of your CHEAP knives, so that you can set some primary bevels, mess them up and then fix them afterwards.

          You may wish to also get an inexpensive 10X or 20X loupe, so that you can still see the burr with the finer grits. You'll be able to FEEL the burr regardless, and this is what I do.

          Knocking the burr off the edge really is no big deal. One or two GENTLE wipes with the x-fine or xx-fine usually does the trick. You will NOT damage the knife if you dont remove the burr fully. The burr will merely bend over faster than the real edge will and you'll lose some effectiveness. A few light passes with the 8000 grit will fix that in seconds. For the most part, I just keep my xx-fine in the aligner and use that for nearly all my touch-ups. I also use it to set a "micro-bevel" at the very very edge on some of my larger knives.

          This combination will get you very very sharp edges that gleam in the light. And all of them will EASILY shred paper. Watch your fingers!

          1 Reply
          1. re: jkling17

            Yeah, I would definately splurge for the Apex Edge if I had the cash to blow on this hobby. I do recognize the DMT name from the lapping stones and will look into their sharpening system. Thanks for alerting me to their existence. Very interesting...

          2. Lots of good points already. No matter what method of sharpening you use I would always practice with a knife you don't care about. A used knife for a couple of bucks or a knife nobody wants any more is a good place to start if you don't own one. Make sure the blade is straight. A decent length is helpful with muscle memory as you get the experience of maintaining the same bevel for the entire length of the knife. I think it's easier to do shorter knives after learning to do longer knives versus the other way around.

            Get your practice knife to a level where you are truly happy with it's cutting performance. Use it a bit then sharpen again and repeat till you feel confidant then go on to your knives you care about.

            3 Replies
            1. re: SanityRemoved

              I do have a lot of access to knives which I don't care about. Thanks for the advice, especially on the shorter knives v. longer knives.

              1. re: SanityRemoved

                That suggestion is a good one in general, but it's also sort of a double edged sword (pun not intended - does that even count as a pun, really?)

                When I first tried my hand at sharpening, I had some difficulty. I was using cheap nameless Henckels knockoffs that I didn't much care about, thinking it would save me from damaging nicer knives. I could get em sharp to an extent, but not as sharp as I had hoped. I moved on to other knives and got better results. Once I got better at sharpening, I tried the cheapo knives again and discovered the issue - they just didn't sharpen well beyond a fairly coarse grit. Poor grain structure. And since an important part of learning to sharpen is testing your edges to see that you are getting results, I realized in retrospect that I wasted a lot of time trying to get a hair-popping sharp edge out of a knife that was hindering my efforts.

                So when learning to sharpen, I recommend using a knife that is inexpensive, one that you don't care much about. But ALSO one that you know will take a good edge. This is where a Kiwi knife or a Victorinox can be very handy. This is a good inexpensive option:
                Why not a paring knife? It is cheaper and it does sharpen well enough, but it's harder to learn good technique with your hands using a paring knife. A slightly longer and wider blade will help you develop better habits.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  Thanks for adding and clarifying a point I neglected to include. Truly a double edge sword, and can work with a less costly knife that you find is easier to sharpen and a better performer than a knife you spent more on.

                  Pocket knives that never sharpen to my liking become toolbox knives (used for everything a good knife shouldn't be used for but no other tool will work), kitchen knives that won't sharpen end up somewhere until you feel the need for some self flagellation and you try again.

              2. You have a lot of options, and the good news is you'll probably be fine with any of the options you are considering. None of em are bad.

                But I lean toward your initial instinct - go with a 1k shapton stone. Get a lapping plate (though you don't necessarily need one immediately). Consider also making your own strop - scrap leather, green crayon chromium oxide, a piece of wood you have sitting around, and some spray on adhesive will make for a decent functional strop for maintenance between sharpenings (I also use newspaper, but I use it primarily as the last step of my sharpening, not as maintenance). And you can put it together for under $20. The stone holder is nice, but not strictly necessary - I personally never bothered getting one and sharpen instead on either a damp rag or on rubber non-slip pads.

                There is endless variety to different sharpening stones, and minute differences to your results with different stones. That can be fun to play around with and analyze and chase 'the perfect edge.' But the better I got at sharpening, the more I realized that you can get excellent results with any decent waterstone in any vaguely appropriate grit. And as such, I really appreciate splash and go stones - you can get good results, and they're quick and easy to use. I personally use Naniwa Superstones, but they're a little soft and could be easy to gouge for a beginning sharpener. So I'm thinking the shaptons are a good call for you.

                A higher grit stone is nice to have, but you don't need it yet. A lower grit stone is good if you wind up reprofiling or sharpening any super dull knives (incidentally, if you get a coarse stone, you might want to shy away from splash and go stones, since the best coarse stones seem to require more of a soak).

                As Chem pointed out, you don't need a higher grit stone to deburr. Stropping strokes on the1k stone flipping the knife every stroke or two weakens the burr, and you can then remove the burr but gently cutting into soft wood or cork (use only the weight of the knife, if that). Stropping strokes on newspaper laid on a flat surface at a slightly high angle also can remove the burr while leaving you with a fairly refined edge.

                1. Just adding noise to the conversation, maybe....

                  You really only need a 1000 or 1200 grit stone to get started. The Shapton ad copy says, "The case has rubber feet help prevent slippage," so you don't really need a holder. Like CBAD, I use a thin foam waffle pad (rug anti-slip underlayment) to keep my waterstone from moving. You probably won't need a flattening stone for the first year, at least. (Unless the Shapton is REALLY soft...) And I'd question the need for a strop if you're only using a 1000 or 1200 grit stone to get started. If you must, use an old belt, like Chem, or newspaper.

                  Besides my "soak-em" waterstones (under $50 for separate 1000 and 6000 grit Suehiro stones from Mike's Tools online), I also bought Spyderco's Medium & Fine ceramic bench stones. They can be used completely dry, but I actually prefer to use them as splash-n-go stones, placed on that rubber waffle pad I have. I bought one for $25 at a store closing, & the other for $22 as a "2nd" from Midway Knife And Tool (online).

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Eiron

                    "You really only need a 1000 or 1200 grit stone to get started"

                    A great point I forgot to stress.... it does not have to be exactly 1000 grit. I think 800, 1000, 1200 grit stones will all serve the approximate function.

                    "1000 and 6000 grit Suehiro stones from Mike's Tools online), I also bought Spyderco's Medium & Fine ceramic bench stones...."

                    So which set do you like better -- now that you have more time to play with them. Suehiro or Spyderco?

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Chem, actually, I use them on different knives. So it's not a straight-forward answer. I use the waterstones for the harder VG-10 knives, & the ceramics for the softer Forschners, Cutco & "mongrel" knives. The ceramics don't cut quite as fast for me as the waterstones.

                      I did sharpen my son's Forscher santoku on the waterstones when he brought it home this summer. Holy crap, that thing was dull! I tried the medium ceramic first & it was taking me forever, so I switched to the waterstones just to get thru it.

                      I guess I'm using the ceramics simply because they're quicker to set up, & to "save" the wear on my waterstones from sharpening the softer knives (which require more frequent sharpening).

                      1. re: Eiron

                        "Holy crap, that thing was dull! "

                        Oh yes, I remember that story. Thanks.

                    2. re: Eiron

                      "And I'd question the need for a strop if you're only using a 1000 or 1200 grit stone to get started."
                      My recommendation isn't so much because a strop is 'necessary.' It's more that it's nice to have. And also that they can be made in 15 minutes out of things most people already have sitting around their basements along with a stick of chromium oxide buffing compound you can find for under $5 on amazon.

                      If you load it up with compound, a strop can function well as a form of maintenance, a way to keep from having to sharpen quite as often. Even for an edge that is only taken to medium grit. Untreated leather and newspaper aren't quite 'grabby' enough to do this well.

                      I do use newspaper, but not as maintenance. I use it immediately after finishing at a high grit to limit wire edge issues and refine the edge just a smidge.

                      Of course, everyone winds up having their own routine, and mine is merely what works for me. But it's so cheap and easy, I thought I'd toss it out there.

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        I agree with you, it is nice to have. I guess I was just thinking that it wasn't "necessary" as a piece of starting-up equipment. I like your suggestion of using a cork to de-burr the edge. But then, I always seem to have a recently-useless cork hanging around (if you know what I mean). :-D

                        I was thinking that a single stone is really all that's needed to get started. The rest can be added if the interest is there.

                        1. re: Eiron

                          "I was thinking that a single stone is really all that's needed to get started. The rest can be added if the interest is there."
                          Totally true. We can tend to overwhelm someone new to sharpening with information. But all you really need to start is a decent medium grit stone and some practice.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Overwhelming someone who is new with a lot of information is what I'm guilty of as well, and why I asked the question. I do appreciate reading about your insight and experience on all the knife threads. Thanks for your contribution to the forum and this thread. It continues to be very helpful.