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How should I start sharpening my knives?

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Knives I currently own:

Wusthof Classic: Santoku, paring (two sizes), utility, small chef's
Forschner Victorinox: 8" chef's knife
Shun: paring knife
WMF: 2 cheap knives that I've owned forever and are severely abused looking (and I no longer use)

Confession: I've never sharpened any of them. About once a week, I'll run them over a steel.

Full disclosure: I actually own a Chef's Choice 120. Still in the box. Purchased it a loooooong time ago. MIGHT still be able to return it. MIGHT not.

Just to be more confusing: I'm definitely interested in purchasing more knives. Certainly some Japanese (I know these are thinner and harder which makes them more prone to chipping.) Probably a chinese cleaver. Probably some more western knives too.

Question for all of you:

I'm very interested in getting my knives sharpened. I'm not interested in going to a pro. I want to learn to do this on my own. The question is, what's my best method of starting? If I can't return the Chef's Choice, then I'm sure there can be a place for it in my kitchen but it won't accomadate my future Japanese knives. I've looked into whetstones as well as products such as the Edge Pro and Wicked Edge. I've also looked at some handheld sharpeners. I've even gone so far as finding out about knife skills courses at two culinary schools in nearby Manhattan (this is the most intriguing option - but the soonest I could get into any of these won't be until April or May and my current dull knives just can't wait that long!) I'm getting very confused. Where do YOU think I should begin? My WMF knives can be my guinea pigs no matter what method I start with. I don't care if I ruin them while learning. My Victorinox is my most used knife but at about $30, it's not the end of the world if I distort that one either. I'm just very interested in learning how to keep a sharp knife.

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  1. It's really not hard to sharpen a knives and it doesn't require a lot of equipment. A medium grit bench stone of some kind is all you need.

    Like many things in life it can be made about as complicated as you would like to make it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: kengk

      Thanks for replying! With just a stone, wouldn't I need some skill before I could get it right? It seems as if products such as the Edge Pro are trying to make the task more idiot proof. (My untrained eye could NOT tell the difference between 15 and 20 degrees right now.) How much practice do you think it would take before I could "get it right"?

      1. re: sherrib

        "My untrained eye could NOT tell the difference between 15 and 20 degrees right now"

        As you get older and wiser like me, then you can tell. Just kidding. Really, the most important in knife sharpening is not about getting a 15 degree vs a 16 degree. The more important aspect to hold a steady angle. Whatever angle you may be holding, hold it stead. If you start with 16 degree, then end with 16 degree. What we don't want is to start sharpening at 20 degree and gradually changing to 15 degree at the end.

        1. re: sherrib

          I have a very fine ceramic rod and a 750 grit diamond stone. I pretty much use the ceramic rod as a "steel". When a few strokes of that won't restore an edge sharp enough to shave it takes about three minutes on the diamond stone to fix it back.

          I could sharpen a pocket knife sharp enough to shave when I was ten years old. It's not that hard and it doesn't have to be complicated.

          Get a stone, watch some videos on youtube and go to town on whatever knife you like the least.

      2. If you are willing to put in a few hours to test and play, then I recommend you to start with a ~1000 grit waterstone and an inexpensive knife, and just practice.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Thanks Chem! (I was hoping you would respond!) Where do I find said stone?

          1. re: sherrib

            Sherrib, You can buy online or in stores. I visited my local Chinatown and several of the kitchen stores carry the ~1000 grit stone. However, you have to ask for them. They are usually not displayed. You can also buy these stones from Sur la Table...etc, but possibly a bit overpriced:

            http://www.surlatable.com/search/sear...

            Chefknivestogo carries a large selection of waterstone:

            http://www.chefknivestogo.com/sharpen...

            Amazon also offers some decent stones, here is a Suehiro 1200 grit stone:

            http://www.amazon.com/Suehiro-D1069-D...

        2. Bottom line, you rub a knife on an abrasive at the proper angle.

          For proper angle get one of these if going freehand...

          http://www.harborfreight.com/digital-...

          http://www.chefknivestogo.com/anglecu...

          Anyhow the proper abrasive gets complicated and depends the condition of the blade. There are waterstones, oilstones, diamond stones, ceramic stones, rods, triangles, sandpaper, and even more out there to choose from.

          I'd take one or 2 to get sharpened up by a good pro so you can then learn on the others. It is not an overnight learning process.

          I'll second Chems 1000-1200 grit waterstone idea. You will end up using that grit a lot.

          I had a Chef Choice 110 and it scrathed the crap out of the blades and the edge was nothing special at all. I'd say get rid of the 120.

          Jim

          1. If you CAN return the chefs choice please do so. Otherwise sell it as "new - unopened" on ebay and get some money for it.

            Here is a good initial resource to read: http://sharpeningmadeeasy.com/.

            There are a lot of ways to sharpen. The high end and expensive guided systems are the edge pro and wicked edge. You really don't need to spend that kind of money unless you really want to - or are starting a sharpening business. But they are good systems.

            There are a LOT of stones to pick from. Natural, synthetic, and diamond. I have ZERO experience with natural or synthetic whetstones. But it's my understanding that a decent stone is something like a 1000/4000 and costs (guessing) about $40-50. Some folks here can point out good choices for you. Bear in mind that, eventually, these stones will need to be flattened - with a diamond stone.

            I use diamond stones. They work quickly, as diamonds are vastly harder than all steels and even ceramic knives (and therefore can be used to sharpen them). Here is a good choice in a dual 8" bench stone with base (600/1200 grit). Just use water to lubricate, and nice gentle motions with little to no pressure. I have smaller stones of the exact same type as this. Once you sharpen up your knives, you'll strictly use the 1200 to maintain them (or get an 8000 stone xx-fine) to take them to the next level. I do really like my 8000 - but only for my best knives.
            http://www.amazon.com/DMT-WM8EF-WB-8-...

            An economical and portable choice would be: http://www.amazon.com/DMT-FWEEE-Doubl.... This is simply the same technology but in smaller stones. If I was starting all over again, I'd probably go with something like those nice big 8" stones.

            You can get a guide to use with either of these. But if you first practice on your crappy knives, your hands will get the feel quickly enough.

            If you feel a need to go higher than 1200 grit, really the best way to do that is lapping on leather or cardboard - treated with stuff like chromium oxide or diamond pastes. Or ... 3M abrasive films.

            But ... I don't bother doing any of that and it would be overkill for you at this point. One good stone and hours of practice is really what you need.

            Oh yeah ... and a nice pile of Sunday inserts, junk mail etc - that will soon be shredded piles of paper. Have fun!

            Jeff

            1. I'm guessing you live in NYC or one of the surrounding boroughs,yes?

              Korin(downtown NY) offers knife sharpening demos and carries some beautiful knives and stones.
              Be prepared to be overwhelmed..:-D

              http://korin.com/site/home.html

              13 Replies
              1. re: petek

                I live closer to Queens. I called the Sur la Table that's closest to me yesterday and asked if they had stones. I was put on hold and then told yes. I ran over there for them to tell me that they had actually ran out. They had no stones. Only an entire sharpening kit (Kramer I think) for upwards of $200. I then went to a little upscale kitchen store in Queens. They had a great looking selection of Japanese knives. I bought a stone and will be going there later today for a lesson. Can't wait! Will let everyone know how it goes.

                1. re: sherrib

                  Nice! Buying from a local purveyor is always best..

                  1. re: petek

                    Learning from one is even better! I'm glad I took the lesson. Learned much much more than I would have been able to figure out on my own. I only wish I owned more knives to practice on.

                    1. re: sherrib

                      Has anyone tried an Angle Guide for Sharpening Stones?

                      http://www.amazon.com/Messermeister-A...

                       
                      1. re: unprofessional_chef

                        Haven't use one.

                        My technique is to use a little block of wood to find at what angle the edge bits. Then transfer that angle to the stone and learn to hold it there.

                        1. re: scubadoo97

                          I used 2 pennies when I first started free hand sharpening and it helped me a lot.
                          I've also heard people using a matchbook to find an angle.

                          1. re: petek

                            My big problem with the penny or quarter method and I assume the angle guide, is the angle will be different depending on the width of the blade. And you really don't know that that angle is. It could be 10,13 or 15 degrees?? Who knows

                            I like to find the current angle and keep it there unless I'm trying to reprofile.

                            1. re: scubadoo97

                              "And you really don't know that that angle is. It could be 10,13 or 15 degrees?? Who knows"

                              True enough.The "coin trick" is not an exact science,but it did help me in the beginning.I thought about getting one of those plastic guides,but I heard they might damage the stones and possibly the blade..

                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                Use a protractor and cut several 15 degree wedges from construction paper, thin sheet metal, or cardboard.
                                The length of the wedges should match the width of your different knives. Place the wedge on your stone and your knife atop of it, You can see how high the back of your blade has to be above the stone for the proper angle. It don't take too much practice before you will be able to do it automatically.

                                I prefer a medium India oil stone for most of my sharpening in my shop. i keep a 1000 grit Japanese water stone in the kitchen for quick tough up if needed. For best results soak a water stone in water for a couple hours before use. If you don't do this the stone will absorb the water you put on it and you wind up using up more time putting water on the stone than you do sharpening. Another benefit of the water stones is that you only have to rinse the knife with water when you finish sharpening. If you use an oil stone you have to wash the knife with soap and water. I have found kerosene to be the best oil to use on a stone. It does not clog the stone like many of the so called honing oils. WD-40 is also good. When my oil stone start to clog i boil them in a mixture of TSP and water. Cleans up the stone like new. Water stones you have to flatten as they become worn. You do this with 150 grit wet/dry sandpaper on top of a piece of heavy plate glass (plate glass is perfectly flat) using plenty of water. Check it with a straight edge. I strop my knives on a home made leather strop generously rubbed with Jeweler's Rouge.

                                .

                        2. re: sherrib

                          "Learning from one is even better!"

                          Keep practicing on your not so good knives,then when you feel comfortable enough,treat yourself to a nicer knife.
                          What makers did they carry there?

                          1. re: petek

                            I just looked on his card and he has a website.

                            https://www.ekiblade.com/

                          2. re: sherrib

                            Congratulations! It's great that you were able to get a lesson!!! You'll have super sharp edges in no time!

                            1. re: jkling17

                              Tried doing one on my own at home. Will definitely take some time for me. But, I'm ready to practice. Wish I could stay home all day sharpening ;)

                    2. Hi, I would consider reading "An Edge in the Kitchen" by Chad Ward (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0061188484

                      )

                      I recently purchased it and it taught me a lot more about knives than I thought I would ever know. He discusses everything you would want to know, and it gives you a more holistic, robust knowledge of your cutlery, which (in my opinion) will help you appreciate sharpening more. He goes over different methods and different sharpening systems, and you'll be well on your way to sharpening greatness!

                      That's my two cents, at least. Hopefully that will help.

                      17 Replies
                      1. re: JustyBear

                        Justy,

                        We're on the same page. I went to the bookstore last weekend to see if they happened to have it in stock (they didn't). It's in my amazon shopping cart as we speak.

                        In the meantime, I've sharpened two knives today. A parer and a santoku. The parer was a disaster to sharpen. I'm getting the feeling that it has ended up LESS sharp than when I began :( The santoku, on the other hand, came out great. It was much easier to sharpen and I was able to get a great burr on it. Also, the tip on it was much easier to sharpen due to it's straight shape. In either case, I'm having a great time practicing, dirty fingernails and all!

                        1. re: sherrib

                          What make of paring knife was it Sherri?

                          Some steels are easier than others and there are some that are utter junk. Also depends how dull it was. Last night I had a set to do that the blades were so dull it took 3X as long as a just dull knife. This was with a belt sander using an 80 grit belt.

                          If your angle is more acute than the original there will be a lot of thinning of metal before you reach the actual edge and notice an effect.

                          Jim

                          1. re: knifesavers

                            The paring knife and santoku are both Wusthof Classic. Am I right in saying that because the paring knife is smaller, it has a smaller edge and thus making it more difficult to sharpen? Or, it could just be I'm new at this. The santoku should have been duller (it's older and I use it a lot more.) In fact, the santoku had a knick in it that I noticed disappeared after I was done. It was much MUCH easier to get the burr on the santoku.

                            1. re: sherrib

                              The paring knife will be weirder to sharpen because in order to get the regular angle (20?), the spine of the blade will be much closer to the stone than it would be for the santoku.

                              It is basic trigonometry. So the sin of the angle (20 degrees) is approximately .35. This means that the ratio of the distance of the spine to the board should be 35% of the width of the blade.

                              I'm not sure if that makes sense, but this means that if you have a 3 inch blade, the spine will be about 1 inch above the stone for 20 degrees, and if it is 1 inch (I think the classic is actually thinner than that for the paring knife), it would be .35 inches above the stone.

                              I quickly made a picture to show you what I'm talking about. The ratio of what is marked "distance from stone" over "width" should be .35

                              I'm assuming you know this (this is for anyone else who is interested), but if you don't get that ratio correct, you will have a bigger angle, which will cause you do have a wide edge, making it seem dull.

                               
                              1. re: JustyBear

                                So, what you're saying is that 20 degrees for one knife (i.e. santoku) will be very different than 20 degrees for another (i.e. small paring knife) as far as the distance of the knife spine to the stone. Ok, this makes sense. I'm beginning to have a light bulb moment. Thank you so much for the drawing - it helps a lot!

                                1. re: sherrib

                                  Yeah! It feels weird at first, but if you think about it, it starts to make sense. I've added another "profile" of a knife (in red). Hopefully that shows you how the distance of the spine from the stone will change. It feels kind of weird, but if you keep that in mind, it could help out?

                                   
                                  1. re: JustyBear

                                    This is making perfect sense AND it's helping me visualize it. Thank you so much. I just put my stones in water to soak. Will let everyone know how I do with the paring knife. But this revelation makes me wonder. What size knife (width) is the penny trick supposed to work for? I haven't used this method. In my lesson, I was taught to find the edge by looking at the knife edge and feeling for it while sharpening (which I probably WASN'T doing when sharpening the paring knife since it probably felt too low and weird compared to the bigger knifes I had already sharpened.)

                                    1. re: sherrib

                                      "In my lesson, I was taught to find the edge by looking at the knife edge and feeling for it while sharpening"

                                      What method were you taught find and feel for the edge?

                                      1. re: scubadoo97

                                        I was told to lay the knife flat on the stone - the edge won't be touching the stone and you will see the "black line" along the edge where it's not touching. Concentrate on the small area you intend to sharpen. Then, start slowly lifting the spine, with the edge touching the stone the entire time. You'll see the black line disappear. The instant it disappears, this is when you know you have the correct angle. The feel thing is not something he particularly taught, it's something I realized during the lesson. At the correct angle, I noticed it feels more like you're abrasively gliding the knife along the stone rather than scratching against or digging into the stone.

                          2. re: sherrib

                            The paring knife being narrow will seem like a different angle when held at the stone compared to a wider blade with the same edge angle. As knifesaver mentioned, if you are sharpening at a more acute angle you may not have hit the edge yet. Find where the knife bits to get an idea how you need to hold the knife at the stone. This really works well to duplicate a current angle

                            To do this lay the knife flat and slide it edge leading while slowly lifting the blade until it bits on a piece of wood or something soft. A telephone book would work too. Now you have found the proper angle to sharpen at.

                            1. re: scubadoo97

                              Once I realized I wasn't getting a burr, I did try different angles. I have a feeling that I DO need to work this knife longer. I just want to be sure I get the correct angle first. I'm going to try running it along something soft as you mentioned. There was definitely something wrong with whatever I was doing. And this is going to kill me until I get it right. (I'm noticing that as people are talking to me, I'm tuning them out and thinking about edges and angles instead.)

                              1. re: sherrib

                                Sorry if you mentioned this elsewhere and I just didn't see it. But about creating a burr:

                                Some knife steels form large burrs more easily than others. Obviously, you have been able to create and feel a burr, since you did so with your santoku. If the paring knife you're sharpening is a shun classic, it should create a burr reasonably well, and not feeling one is generally an indication that your bevels have not met - probably because you're sharpening at a more acute angle than that at which the edge is set. Scuba's suggestion for finding the edge angle is a good one; the magic marker trick also works. But if you're sharpening a different paring knife, the problem could conceivably be that the steel it uses doesn't form a large burr as readily as that of your santoku.

                                One thing to keep in mind until you're good at finding your angle and detecting a burr is that there are several factors while sharpening that affect the size of the burr you create and thus how easy it is to detect said burr. For starters, it seems to me that, generally, the more obtuse the angle of sharpening, the smaller the burr. Also, switching sides of the knife while sharpening can not only 'flip' the burr to the other side of the edge but also makes for a smaller, harder-to-detect burr in general. Sharpening one side only until you can detect a burr (and then trying to do the same amount of work on the other side, assuming a symmetrical edge) might be the easiest way to make sure your bevels are meeting until you have a little more experience.

                                Don't get me wrong - if you're new to sharpening, the most likely problem is that your bevels aren't consistently meeting. But if you are starting to feel relatively certain that you've done enough work to make those bevels meet but still aren't feeling a burr (or maybe you're sharpening at such an obtuse angle and that find it hard to believe you could be missing the edge itself), then the problem could be just that you aren't creating a burr that's big enough for you to reliably detect it.

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  "Some knife steels form large burrs more easily than others"

                                  Agree.

                                  Excellent and comprehensive as always.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Thanks chem. I've been posting a little less on the knife threads recently - you keep on beating me to all the good tips and advice ;)

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      cowboy,

                                      Not anymore. I am getting very busy with other stuffs too, which is really a good thing. I will try to at least keep an eye on the knife posts and interact with you guys.

                                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Very true. Please note that you may not be able to SEE the burr - but you should be able to FEEL it fairly easily. Try nice light strokes with your stone and feel for the burr every 5 passes. It really shouldn't take that long to bring a burr up - UNLESS - your angle isn't quite right. Please let us know how it's going!

                                      1. re: jkling17

                                        After my last try on the paring knife, I realized one side had no noticeable edge at all. Oops. Today, after JustyBear's visuals, I tried again with the spine much closer to the stone this time. I did, in fact, get an edge and definitely had no trouble detecting the burr (yay!) I sharpened, polished then did the paper test. When I push cut, my paring knife is actually slightly sharper than the santoku. Neither are as clean or sharp as another (very cheap) knife that he hand sharpened for me that day. But, that, of course, should be expected. Looking at the knives I did on my own, I see what needs to be improved. Thank you all so so much for taking the time to answer my noobie questions!

                          3. John,
                            To be honest, I haven't watched your sharpening videos yet. I went straight to the videos describing single bevel and double bevel Japanese knives along with what they're used for. I'm SURE I will reference these videos again when I'm ready to plunge into the world of Japanese knives.

                            1. I am not being a smart a##. Take a knife skills class. You will learn how to properly sharpen knives, how to hold them correctly, where your pinch should be, if you are using a hone, improperly referred to as a sharpening steel...it doesn't sharpen. You will learn a lot of skills you will have for a lifetime.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Candy

                                Candy, I registered for one last week. It's a three day, 15 hour course that, unfortunately, doesn't start until May. My hopes are that it will teach me things I don't know and also improve on the things that I do know.

                              2. Korin offers free knife sharpening demonstrations if you live in nyc or can get there. All you have to do is call and see when they are doing it.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Chocolate_Penguins

                                  Thank you! A trip or two to korin is definitely in my very near future. There was a knife store close to me that has now sadly closed. That was where I initially learned to sharpen. I have two dull knives right now that need sharpening. I want to try sharpening them on my own before going there. And, of course, I want to drool over some knives.

                                2. I use this system, it is foolproof for maintaining and adjusting angles. YouTube also has demos using it. Mine has the the diamond stones and a arkansas stone for finishing. I can shave with my knives.
                                  http://www.kmesharp.com/kmeknshsy.html