Knife Sharpening-it's as close as your kitchen cupboard

Discussion in 'Knife Arts' started by elder999, Oct 16, 2011.

  1. elder999

    elder999 El Oso de Dios!

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    There’s a pretty fair sized Wiccan community in Los Alamos, yclept Our Lady of the Woods. About 15
    years ago or so, I worked with someone in the heirarchy of that organization. She heard that I made knives and swords, and came and asked me about making one for her, About 18 inches long, this shape blade, and this kind of handle with these sorts of gems on it. I’d probably have charged her about $3000 back then, for the sort of instrument she was asking for (I don’t make a lot of knives, but the last one I sold was for a bit more than that) but then she added that The edges have to be dull.

    To which I could only reply, You want me to make a dull knife?

    "Well, of course," she replied."It must never draw blood.

    Which I get, really-it must never draw blood. Make sure it doesn’t, then, but it’s a knife, and, metaphorically or otherwise, it’s supposed to cut things.

    Passed up on that job I did. Offended my religious sensibilities. :lfao: (And one of the reasons I tend to think of most Wiccans as being rather silly, unserious people, even if they’re not.)

    Once, (and how many of you have seen or done this one?) I watched a man open his pocket knife by pulling it partway open to a wide L-shape with his hands, and then push it the rest of the way open by swiping the edge against his thigh. That’s right, he applied enough force to the edge of his knife against his blue-jeaned leg to snap it into the open position, and no, it didn’t cut him. That indicated to me plain as day that I was talking to a man who did not know how to sharpen a knife. The way he applied that blade to his body made it clear that it never crossed his mind that he might be about to injure himself, which tells me there are no sharp knives where he lives. If he knew how to sharpen a knife, he would never settle for a useless (although attractive and cleverly designed) lump like the one he showed me that night. When I think about performing his maneuver with any of my own knives, it gives me a sick feeling...it would be messy.

    A while back, a couple of my coworkers and I were retiring old slings-used to lift equipment with a crane. They’re made from kevlar, and last quite a long time and are used to pick up ridiculous amounts of weight, sometimes, but they wear out-they have expiration dates, and colored strips inside them that show through when they’ve worn too much. The best way to "retire" them, and make sure no one uses them, is to damage them to the point that they’re useless, usually by cutting them. We found one with the red wear strip clearly showing, and I took out my knife and cut through it in one motion while my coworker held it-he looked up at me somewhat incredulously, because I keep my knives sharp, and it had cut through so easily.
     
    Now, I don’t say that to brag. I keep my knives sharp, but that’s not an especially big accomplishment. In fact, I really think it should be the normal state of affairs: Cook nourishing food; wear clothes that keep you warm, dry, and safe; and do your cutting chores with sharp tools. Why in the world would you do otherwise?

    I’m going to show you how to make a knife so sharp the hairs will jump off your arms in fear when they see the edge coming. You’ll never go back to using dull knives again.

    Sharpening is all about maintaining the angle of the blade to the sharpening surface. I have several grinding wheels and belts that I can use-these are the kind of equipment that a professional sharpener would use if your brought your blades to them, and most of them have some sort of jig to maintain blade angle. Likewise, the Lansky sharpening system, has ceramic sharpeners, and a set of clamps and jigs to maintain that angle., and some quality ceramic sharpeners.

    I also will use an old fashioned whetstone on carbon steel blades,
    [​IMG]



    And I have a little carbide/ceramic sharpener that I carry in the field with me-each time I use a knife, I’ll clean it afterward and give it a few swipes on this thing-tbe angles are set to about 20 degrees, and it keeps my knives nice and sharp-they can get dull pretty quickly when you’re field dressing an elk or other game.
    [​IMG]

    Now, I’m not going to recommend that you go out and buy a Lansky sharpener, though I do have one-and I like it, or a whetstone or even the little field sharpener. You already have an excellent sharpener in your cupboard. The humble ceramic coffee cup. You see, ceramic coffee cups are made out of exactly the same stuff that ceramic sharpening stones are made of—ceramic. Most of the surface of a ceramic mug is glazed to protect it, but but when they put the mugs in the kiln to bake on the glaze, the ring on the bottom, where the cup sits on the rack, remains unglazed, leaving the abrasive material exposed. I asked one of my potter friends what that ring was called, and he said, the ring on the bottom of the mug. :lfao: So turn your cup over and, voila, ring-shaped, medium-grit ceramic sharpening stone.
    [​IMG]
    The first time you give this method a shot, I’d recommend something with a thin blade like a paring knife or fillet knife. A thick blade like a cleaver or hunting knife will have more metal right behind the edge to be removed (That means it will take longer, and we don’t want you to get discouraged and give up before you have tasted success.
    [​IMG]
    Simply apply the edge of the knife to the unglazed ring on the bottom of the cup. Do this at a 20-degree angle or maybe somewhat less. To figure out what a 20-degree angle looks like, hold the knife vertically, then move it halfway to horizontal. That is 45 degrees. Halfway again makes 22.5 degrees. A tiny little bit lower than that is about 20. What angle you are sharpening at is not nearly as important as picking one angle and sticking with it consistently.


    So at your 20-degree angle, rub the edge on the ring with a small circular motion. Make a circle about ½-inch in diameter. The ring should turn black—this is steel coming off the knife, exactly what we want to happen. Rub, rub, rub in a circle. You can use some pressure, but don’t lose the 20-degree angle. Proceed all the way up the knife in ½-inch increments, then flip to the other side. Do it again. Rub, rub, rub, ½-inch circles, all the way to the tip. The first time you sharpen a knife this way, you may have to flip back and forth a number of times. This is because you are changing the angle of the edge, and removing some metal. Subsequent sharpenings will be quick because the angle will be prepared for you. Again, it is important to try to maintain a consistent angle.

    Here comes the interesting part. This is the key to effective sharpening with any method whether traditional or newfangled. You know you are actually sharpening the edge of the knife when it forms a burr. That is what matters—the burr. You can grind on your knife for half an hour, but if there is no burr forming, then something is wrong, and you are not removing metal from the edge of the knife. What exactly is a burr? A burr is a little lip of metal that forms on the side of the knife opposite the abrasive. If your coffee cup is on the table, then you are removing steel from the downside, and your burr will form on the upside. You should be able to feel it with your fingertips and see it under a bright light.
    The burr is a white line along the very edge. If you have never sharpened this way before, you will not know what it should feel like. You may think you feel it, but you’re not sure…when the burr is formed properly, it will be big and unmistakable.

    When you have a nice big burr on one side of your knife, all you do is flip and repeat the circular motion. Now you will be rubbing the burr into the ceramic. Sharpen a little bit lighter, with a little less pressure now than you did at first. When you make one whole trip to the tip of the knife, the burr should have flipped entirely to the opposite side again. Flip and repeat. As you repeat this process, flipping the burr from one side to the other, sharpening with less and less pressure each time, the burr should be getting smaller and smaller. You can’t just continue using the same heavy hand, because you’ll continue getting the same fat burr. So lighter and lighter, smaller and smaller. After a few flips, it should be entirely gone. At this point, the knife is sharp.How do you know you’ve got it? Here are some good tests of sharpness: Slice a tomato. Shave off armhair-with the grain. Filet the ink of a piece of paper-not that hard, but looks impressive! :lol:

    How often do I sharpen? That's a matter of taste, but, safety wise, I usually will resharpen as soon as resistance through whatever I'm cutting increases-that's why I carry the little portable sharpener-you can carry a whetstone as well.
    Remember, a sharp knife is a safe knife. Wrestling with and straining against your knife is just asking for an accident. So keep them sharp—it takes no more equipment than a coffee cup.
     
     

     
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  2. jks9199

    jks9199 Administrator Staff Member

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    Great guide, but one comment... Angle does matter, when you start getting into tools more than knives. 20-ish is a good general purpose edge. But it won't hold to heavy use (like chiseling or chopping) as well, so I tend to go closer to 30-ish for chisels and axes. I've seen references suggesting as steep as 45 for planes!

    In fact, I've got to take my stones into work and clean up the knife I carry there. Also got to invest in the stuff to sharpen a serrated blade...
     
  3. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    Interesting read, Elder :tup:.

    I tend to be the 'go to guy' amongst my friends when it comes to sharpening short blades, for which I have to thank my paternal grandfather teaching me how to do it (he used to do cobbling as a side line to bring in extra money so he needed to keep his cutting blades good and sharp).

    But it had never occurred to me that the bottom of a mug could do the job that my whetstones do - extra shame given that I used to be a ceramics curator :eek:.
     
  4. David43515

    David43515 Master Black Belt

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    I worked as a knife maker in the custom shop at Busse Combat Knives for 7 years before I married and moved to Japan.Don`t feel bad Sukerkin, it never occured me either until I saw a Japanese housewife do it on the bottom of a bowl at a church potluck. It was such a cool and obvious idea that I felt very foolish for never having thought of if.

    Very cool post Elder, thanks. And yes, I`ve seen people who`ve never had a sharp knife do foolish things to "test" the edge. We actually had to revert to putting dull display knives on our tables at shows to keep idiots from bleeding all over our table clothes.
     
  5. Bob Hubbard

    Bob Hubbard Retired

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    Thread stickied. :)
     
  6. mook jong man

    mook jong man Senior Master

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    Great handy tip Elder , could you use the same method to sharpen scissors ? My wife grooms the dog and the scissors get blunt after a while.Also if you don't mind me asking , what does your tattoo mean?
     
  7. elder999

    elder999 El Oso de Dios!

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    Yes, you can use the same method for scissors.Most scissors are bench ground, though, so you only would sharpen the one side on each blade.


    It means "I wouldn't harm a fly.":EG: :lol:
     
  8. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    Inspired by this post, I went to see what one of my heroes, Ray Mears, had to say on the matter. Oddly, for such an experienced bush-crafter, in this video, his sharpening kit was actually more technical than I would have imagined:

    [yt]hjKd3g9GFG8[/yt]
     
  9. jks9199

    jks9199 Administrator Staff Member

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    Another easy, quick way to sharpen a pair of scissors is to simply take a piece of emery cloth or sandpaper, and cut into repeatedly. Kind of like making fringe...

    I had a metal shop teacher share that trick with us, because we started to throw away "useful" emery cloth. He also demonstrated that most people only use about 1/3 of a hacksaw blade, because they don't use the full length of the blade. He took a "worn out" blade that a student wanted to replace, and proceed to cut through some rebar or similar stock.
     
  10. jks9199

    jks9199 Administrator Staff Member

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    Just a note -- this is on par with a pocket sharpening jig. Not the same as a real sharpener, but a nice way to keep 'em in shape while working.
     
  11. David43515

    David43515 Master Black Belt

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    Oddest "sharpening" I ever saw was when I was out shopping with my old boss Jerry Busse. We ran into one of the local police officers who was a customer and a true knife-nut. He asked Jerry if he could bring his Leatherman out to the shop sometime to have the edge touched up because he thought it was getting dull. Jerry looked at it and realized the edge wasn`t dull, it had just rolled a bit. (Most knives dull by chipping on a nearly microscopic level, creating flat spots on the edge. And you need to reshape the edge by revoving steel with an abrasive.The fine edge on a deeply hollow ground blade, like a straight razor, is apt just roll over a bit before chipping so it`s just not standing straight up. This is why you run a razor over a strop or run a kitchen knife over a steel. You`re just bringing that maleable edge back to the center and making it stand up straight.)

    So Jerry ran the Leatherman`s knife edge back and forth across his palm a few times as if he were stropping a razor....and I`ll be danged if the thing wouldn`t shave when he was done.
     
  12. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    This in one heck of a great thread.
     

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