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Feb 20, 2012 01:50 PM

How should I start sharpening my knives?

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:


            Chefknivestogo carries a large selection of waterstone:


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


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

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

          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.


          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:

            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.

            An economical and portable choice would be: 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!


            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


              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: 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.


                          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 ;)