The cliché exists because it is true. A dull knife is a dangerous knife. When our trusty blade doesn’t have the edge, it once did, we tend to force the cut a bit more. Or we simply reduce ourselves to sawing whatever it is we are trying to cut. This extra pressure can allow the blade to jump and end up in an undesired location like your hand or finger. On a more serious note, if your personal defense blade is dull then it is little more than a small club. Sharpening your knife can seem like a mix of wizardry or late-night infomercial. Many people have a general idea of how to put the edge back on, but many have never learned how, fear not my steel-wielding friends, today we are going to go old school and teach you how to get a sharp knife!
Never Have A Dull Knife
A quick look online will expose you to countless versions of knife sharpening machines and kits. Some elaborate and some simple. Today however we are going to focus on what I believe is the best way to sharpen and that is with a wet stone. These can be manmade or natural depending on preference. Depending on the condition of your blade you may need three stones. A coarse stone to shape a beat-up blade, a fine stone to start really giving it an edge. And then a very fine or ceramic stone to give it a razor’s edge. The process is more time-consuming than quick sharpeners, but the results are worth the effort.
Find yourself a well-lit work area free of distractions. No, you can not put on your favorite TV show and sharpen a knife. Unless you like missing a finger because you got distracted. First up we need to soak our wet stones. Place them in a container where they can be fully submerged. Depending on the density of the stones it can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes for them to completely soak. You will be able to tell they are ready when they stop producing bubbles.
A Cut Above
Next, we will put the stone in its base or on a flat surface. Most modern stones come with a handy base to hold them in place. We now need to do some geometry. We want to sharpen the knife at the same angle it is currently sharpened to.
As a general rule, there are a few basic angles depending on the make of your knives. Most German and European blades are 16 to 18 degrees, Japanese blades are 10-15 degrees and single bevel blades are 10 -15 degrees as well. What I have found to be a good way to maintain this angle is to lay it on the stone at the right angle, then place your thumb on the spine of the blade like a brace. The blade should ride in the same spot on your thumb during the entire process.
Now we start the process. Hold the handle with one hand and use your thumb to apply pressure on the spine of the knife, at the same time use three or four fingers from your other hand to put pressure on the cutting edge. I like to use a forward motion on the stone as if you were cutting. Slide the blade forward along the whetstone, away from your body. Lift the blade when you reach the edge of the stone and begin again.
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Make sure you work evenly down the blade. I start with the heel of the blade and work my way up to the tip. Once you have reached the tip, flip the knife over and begin again. I will continue this process until the motion of the blade is smooth and free of “grabs” or resistance. At this point, I will change my stone and move to a finer surface. I will repeat this until I finish the blade on a super fine stone.
This process is time-consuming, but it will give you a very fine edge on your knife. A word of caution. This process may bring your knife to a sharpness you have not experienced. We tend to get comfortable with how our knives cut, to take care when you first test it out. No, it is not rocket science, but it is an art. You may wrestle with it at first but in time your friends will be asking you to sharpen all their knives. Stay sharp and stay safe!
This content was originally posted by Skillset magazine on Nov. 1, 2021.