A knife is probably the most useful tool for the outdoorsman, and learning to sharpen a knife is an important skill that will take time to perfect. But with some practice and concentration, anyone can learn to keep their knives sharp and ready for the next cutting job. Through years of experience in my knife sharpening business, I’ve developed a system to quickly get a sharp edge that I’ll share with you in this article. I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide to two methods of knife sharpening: First, with a traditional sharpening stone. Second, with sandpaper and a mousepad. Yes, you read that right, a mouse pad sharpener.
There are many great knife sharpeners on the market that are easy to use and effective. But, learning to sharpen a knife with a stone is a skill that everyone should know. Now, there are many options for stones ranging from cheap synthetic stones that wear out after one or two uses, to high quality Japanese water stones that cost hundreds for each grit. For this knife sharpening tutorial, I will be using an inexpensive, but effective, medium natural Arkansas stone that I have had for years.
Step 1: Water
I like to use water on my rocks, so I start by submerging my rocks in a Tupperware container filled with water while I prepare everything else. It’s not a good idea to use dry stone because metal shavings will “freeze” the stone and render it ineffective. During the sharpening process you can rinse the stone and soak it again. Too much water spilling on the stone during the process will not be a problem, but too little can be. Make sure your stone has plenty of water throughout the process. Read more: How to cut green onions
Step 2: Marker
Take your marker and color the sharp bevel. This allows you to see where the stone is contacting the edge so you don’t go too shallow or too deep. When the marker moves, you’ll know you’ve reached the top of the ledge.
Step 3: Find the angle
Hold your knife by the blade and place it on the stone facing you. Place the fingers of your free hand on the spine of the knife (back/not sharp) and let the tips hang and rest on the stone. Keeping your fingers in the same spot and letting them barely drag over the stone will help you keep a consistent angle until you really get the feel of it.
Hold the spine of the knife at about a 20-degree angle to the stone. Starting at the tip of the knife, make a light pass just touching the edge and then move up and away from the stone until the heel touches the stone.
Then check where the marker is worn. If only a thin line is cut off at the very edge, your angle is too steep and you need to keep the blade slightly below the stone. If the marker is only worn on the other side of the bevel, you were too shallow and you need to bring the blade a little higher off the stone. Make a few passes until you find the sweet spot where the entire edge is contacting the stone, then go to step 4.
Tip: Finding and maintaining a consistent angle is the hardest part of sharpening with a stone. An angle guide is a handy accessory to purchase with your whetstone. The guide will keep your angle consistent and act as training wheels as you get used to freehand sharpening.
Step 4: Raise a Burr
Now that you have your corner, pass over the rock until you feel a burr on the edge. Carefully (and lightly) “wipe” your thumb or finger across the edge. Make sure the motion is perpendicular to the edge, not parallel to it. One will make you feel the burr, and one will probably cut you.
It should feel “rough” on one side and smooth on the opposite side. Sometimes you can see the burr. It may look like a micro-bevel that catches the light, but it’s actually a small “flap” of metal that’s folded over at the edge.
When the entire edge has a burr, you can go back to step 3 and do the same thing on the other side. (When you lift the burr to the other side, the burr may start to come out and look like a very fine piece of wire as it detaches from the edge.) For most people, the hardest part of this process is changing hands with the knife to your no. -Training the dominant hand may take some time. If you can’t get the hang of switching hands, you can flip the knife so the edge is away from you and keep it in the same hand. But for that you have to learn the motion backwards. Either way works well as long as you keep the angle consistent.