How I sharpen things

Here's how I get things razor sharp

This is the system I've settled on and that I've successfully taught others to use.

I use the Lansky sharpening system - the deluxe with 5 stones. I had to replace my extra-coarse with a diamond version because I wore out the regular one re-edging all my relative's knives.

Put the knife in the clamp and get the guide rods on all the hones - tip: put the rod in loose and set the hone on the table - the rod will drop down to lie straight with the hone.

  1. Start with the extra coarse stone and a 20 degree angle. Work on one side of the blade and grind away until you can feel the metal start to turn under at the edge - it makes a burr you can feel if you drag your little finger from the blade to the edge. Wipe the blade down between steps.
  2. Flip the blade over and, using the extra coarse stone at 20 degrees, grind to a burr on that side. You've now shaped the relief for the blade. This makes it easier to re-sharpen the blade in the future.
  3. Flip the blade over (so the burr is UP) and switch to the coarse stone. Grind to a burr again - this will be pretty quick. Flip and do the other side. Wipe the blade down. This is just smoothing the relief.
  4. Flip the blade over again and switch up to the 25 degree slot. Grind to a burr on both sides with the coarse stone. This will take a little time but not nearly as much as it can take in step 1. Wipe the blade down. You're now shaping the actual edge. I like a two-bevel edge because it's stronger than a single bevel edge and lasts longer between sharpenings.
  5. Switch to the medium stone. Flip the blade over from the last step and grind to a burr - this is really just finishing the edge and should go quick. Flip over and grind to a burr. Flip the blade and do one stroke to take the burr off. Just do one or you'll make a new burr. Wipe the blade down.
  6. Switch to the fine stone. Do 10 strokes on one side, flip and 10 on the other. Flip and do 5 strokes. Flip and do 5, flip and 2, flip and 2, flip and 2 again, flip and 2 again, then do 10 strokes where you flip the blade each time. What you're doing now is removing the last of the burr (the multiple stroke sets alternating sides) and then polishing the edge. Wipe the blade down.
  7. With the ultra-fine hone do 10 strokes on alternate sides (flip after each stroke). Do a final two strokes with just the weight of the hone. Wipe the blade down.
If you got a good burr back in the first few steps you should now be able to shave the hair off your arm with the blade.
Important tip: go with the grain rather than against - if you go against the grain you don't see the bare spot until it's wider than the blade. A co-worker with rather hairy hands was faster than me and looked odd for a month or so.

I seldom have to actually sharpen my knives since I touch them up with one of those rolling wheel sharpeners made from recycled plastic and ceramics - it's called the Firestone sharpener. They sell a single angle one for honing broadhead arrows.

Taking it further

After I got a BenchMade knife I found out how to go beyond 'razor sharp' to 'scary sharp'. BenchMade knives come from the factory already scary sharp but in the forum they have I learned how they do it. Just sharpen your blade well as shown above and then strop it. Use a piece of leather if you have it, if not just use some cardboard - the back of a pad of paper works well.

Lay the strop flat on a table.

Lay the blade flat on the strop.

Draw the blade smoothly along the strop pulling away from the edge. The spine of the blade goes first. I don't know what you do for double-edge blades - probably lift the back edge just a touch.

At the end of the stroke either lift the blade off the strop to flip it or roll it over the spine of the blade - not the edge.

What you're doing it straightening and polishing the edge. The reason you lay the blade flat is that the strop will deform just enough to reach the edge of the blade (at least with a knife - you might have to tip an axe a bit). You don't want to try to change the edge when stropping, just polish it up. Don't try to rush things and strop fast like you see barbers do in the movies. Take your time and do it neatly. I don't count strokes, I do it while I've got a couple of minutes to kill. Carefully check the edge every now and again - you should feel it go from razor sharp to scary sharp.

Update!

For Christmas of 2003 my ever-indulgent wife got me a sharpener you have to see to believe - the EdgePro Pro model. Check out the EdgePro website for yourself. Basically it's another clamp & guide system but in the same way a Dodge Viper is just another car. With the EdgePro you set your angle (any angle you want - there are no slots / notches) to the edge. The knife isn't clamped, it rests on a table. This means that you don't get a different edge angle for narrow knives vs. wide ones. The stones are all high-quality water stones and the whole system is optimized for quick and accurate sharpening. They have two models, the Apex and the Pro. The Apex is all you need if you're not planning on sharpening all day, every day. We went with the Pro model because it has one feature the Apex doesn't - there's an attachment for sharpening scissors, chisels, and other such odd items. I'm still getting a feel for my new toy, but I can already tell you it's the same sort of quantum leap from using other guide & clamp systems as they are from the typical haphazard freehand sharpening. Oh, one other difference between the Apex and the Pro - Ben makes each Pro by hand as they are ordered. I've got number 1737 and it's not only signed by Ben, it's got my name right on it.


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