From outdoor enthusiasts to chefs and beyond, a variety of people use knives on an everyday basis. Like any tool, a knife must be maintained properly in order to preserve its effectiveness. This includes sharpening your knife regularly to ensure its blade retains a potent edge whenever you need it. There’s nothing worse than reaching for your trusty knife only to discover it has a dull blade.
There are multiple ways to sharpen a knife, involving various other tools and instruments. This comprehensive knife sharpening guide will introduce you to several of the most popular ways to sharpen a knife, as well as the overall importance of keeping a blade in pristine condition.
Why Do I Need to Sharpen My Knife?
Everyone knows to handle a knife with care due to its sharp blade, but a dull blade can be even more dangerous. That’s because a dull knife requires the user to apply more force to successfully cut through a material. When you press more intensely with a knife, you’re much more likely to slip and cut yourself with the blade. A well-sharpened knife should comfortably cut through the material, giving you no reason to overexert yourself. This applies to cutting food, rope, wood, and other common materials.
How often you sharpen your knife largely depends on how frequently you use it. While blades made of harder steel typically retain their sharpness longer, a knife will naturally lose some sharpness with repeated use. Depending on your specific needs, you should plan to sharpen your knife a few times a year. Note that by sharpening, we mean creating a new edge to the blade by removing some material. However, you should realign the edge with a honing steel a couple times a week, or as needed to keep the blade effective. We’ll discuss these processes further below.
How to Sharpen a Knife
There are a variety ofknife sharpening tools you can use to maintain your blade of choice. Common types include a stone (or whetstone) and grinding wheel. Knife owners will also want to keep their blades aligned by regularly using a honing steel, sometimes referred to as a sharpening rod or steel.
Continue reading to learn more about each type of sharpening or honing tool, how to use them, and situations they’re best suited for.
Sharpening Stone (Whetstone)
Sharpening stones, also known as whetstones, are used to sharpen knife blades through grinding the metal. They can be made of natural quarried stone like novaculite (Arkansas Stone). On the other hand, some sharpening stones may be made from artificial materials such as aluminum oxide and silicon carbide. While there is some debate over the superiority of natural or man-made stones, either should do a more than adequate job in sharpening your knife.
Stones come in a range of grits depending on how coarse they are. The lower the grit, the coarser the stone. The higher the grit, the finer the stone. Keep the following grit grades in mind when determining which stone to use when sharpening your knife.
4000 to 8000: Very fine stones are reserved for refining or “finishing” the edge of a blade.
Under 1000: These coarse stones should only be used to sharpen damaged knives with chipped or nicked edges.
1000 to 3000: Stones of moderate coarseness can be used for general knife sharpening. Any stone you use to regularly sharpen a blade should be at least 2000 grit.
Once you’ve chosen the right grit for your needs, you can begin sharpening. Individual methods may vary, but you can follow these generalsteps to sharpen your knife with a stone:
- Hold the knife against the stone at a 20-degree angle. Make sure the blade is facing away from you.
- Slowly sweep one side of the blade across the stone in an arcing motion. Ensure the entire edge is being sharpened evenly.
- Turn the knife over and sharpen the other side using the same technique.
- Test the sharpness of the blade by slicing a piece of paper. If the knife isn’t sharp enough, continue sharpening the blade by repeating the above steps.
- Clean your knife and sharpening stone, then store them properly so they don’t dull too quickly.
Some stones can be used with oil or water (hence the term “water stone”), which may help them sharpen more effectively than dry stones. They also allow any waste material to wash away more easily. If you’re using an oil or water stone, allow it to soak for about 45 minutes before you begin sharpening. TryNathan’s Honing Oil to keep any stone lubricated with just a few drops, protecting it while you sharpen and helping achieve a professional edge.
AJapanese water stone is a great option for those looking to sharpen their knives by this method. This product features 1000 grit on one side and 6000 grit on the other, so you can easily sharpen or finish your knife blade with the same stone.
Bench grinders provide another way to sharpen a knife. These tools feature a high-speed spinning wheel that can be used to trim wood, plastic, metal, and other materials. You may already have one in your workshop or garage, in which case you can get right to work maintaining the edge of your knife blade.
Sharpening with a grinding wheel may seem easier and more straightforward than a hand-powered method like using a whetstone, because you’re essentially letting the wheel do most of the hard work. It certainly generates a lot more power by spinning than you can produce by hand.
However, using a bench grinder does come with some reasons for caution. Because it rotates at such high speeds, it may cause the metal in theblade to overheat, making it more brittle and prone to cracking. Using a variable speed grinder allows you to control the speed and reduce heat build up however we also recommend keeping a bucket of cool water nearby to dip your blade in periodically for cooling. Grinding wheels also remove material from the blade very quickly. If you’re not careful, you may take off more than you intended, diminishing the useful life of your knife.
When using a grinder, it’s important to hold your knife against the wheel at an appropriate angle (around 45 degrees should do it) and not overexert yourself. The wheel is spinning fast enough that you don’t need to move the blade around dramatically to get the job done. Just follow the natural shape of the knife until you achieve the desired sharpness.
That said, many will agree that a grinding wheel may be better suited to sharpening an axe or lawnmower blade. If you want to sharpen your knife most effectively on a grinder we recommend using knife sharpening wheels designed specifically for the job. Our Knife Sharpening Wheel Set is the choice of many professional knife sharpeners. One wheel is coated with silicon carbide grit and the other is smooth for polishing. The set comes with everything you need to sharpen like the pros.
As we mentioned earlier, sharpening a knife is a deliberate process and should not be performed on a daily, or even weekly basis in most cases. However, knife owners will still want to take steps to keep their blades in top form between sharpening. That’s where a honing steel comes into play.
Also known as a sharpening steel, whet steel, or sharpening rod, this tool is typically made of steel, ceramic, or diamond-coated steel. Rather than remove material from the knife like a stone or grinding wheel, a honing steel instead realigns the blade. The edge of a knife blade will often curl or curve after frequent use. A honing steel will restore its proper alignment, allowing the knife to cut more precisely and without excess effort from the user.
Honing steels are available with a smooth or ridged surface. A steel with ridges produces more pressure at the point of contact, which may allow you to more easily hone a harder knife, or hone a blade more quickly. A smoother surface may be the better choice if you’re looking to hone with more precision.
After you’ve chosen a sharpening rod, you can follow these generalsteps to hone your knife:
- Position the steel perpendicular to your work surface, with the point facing down. You should hold the steel at arm’s length with your non-dominant hand.
- Press the bottom of the knife against the top of the steel as if you were going to cut into it. Hold the knife at a 15- to 20-degree angle.
- Run the blade down the steel, applying only light pressure as you smoothly bring it toward you.
- Follow the above step for the other side of the knife. Proceed to hone each side of the blade about 10 times. (This may vary depending on how hard or dull the knife is.)
- Clean the knife and test its sharpness by cutting through paper. If it’s not sharp enough, continue to hone as needed.
If you need a new sharpening rod, theCrystolon sharpening steel by Norton is worth a look. It’s made of 280-grit silicon carbide, helping you achieve a sharper edge than other honing steels. You can use it with oil or water, and it’s perfect for quickly restoring the finish to kitchen knives and other blades.
Though a honing steel doesn’t actually sharpen your knife, it still plays an essential role in maintaining an effective blade.
As a knife owner, you take pride in your blade, especially if youmade it yourself. Sharpening your knife ensures it remains as effective as the first day you used it, whether for cooking, outdoor excursions like hunting and camping, or other activities. Make sharpening and honing part of your knife maintenance routine to protect yourself from the dangers of a dull blade and save money in the long run since you’ll get more use out of your knife and won’t need to buy or make a replacement.
Jantz carries a large selection ofproducts to sharpen your knife, including many of the tools discussed in this guide. Find the ones that work best for you, and feel free toask our knifemaking experts for advice.