Top 5 Sharpening Questions Answered
Our sharpening specialists answer hundreds of questions via phone calls and emails every week. While each call or email is unique, there are many questions that share common themes. Here are our Top 5 Sharpening Questions.
How do I know which grit to start with?
Starting with the coarsest grit isn't always necessary. Starting with the finest grit isn't always enough. Fortunately, there is a reliable method for choosing an initial grit. Feel for the burr.
To begin, select a stone in the middle of your grit options. This may be a 1000 Grit water stone, a fine DMT Diamond Stone, or a fine Norton India Stone. This really is guesswork at first, but with experience, you'll get better at it. Using your chosen grit, give your knife a dozen or so strokes on one side. Let's call this side one. Now check the edge on the opposite side, which we will call side two. You are checking for a burr.
To feel for a burr manually, gently place your thumb on side two after working side one against the stone. Then slide your thumb away from the edge. Always move perpendicular to the edge, never along it. A burr is a bit of waste metal forming at the edge. If a burr is present, you will feel a slight catch as you move over the edge. Check several points over the length of the blade. The presence or lack of a burr will indicate if you have the right grit.
There are three possible outcomes:
- A burr forming in some spots along the edge indicates a good starting grit choice.
- A heavy burr along the entire length of the edge indicates you've already sharpened that side completely and you're probably starting too aggressively. Try starting with a finer grit next time.
- No burr anywhere along the edge indicates too fine of a grit or your edge is just very dull. Switch to a coarser and repeat the process. If you're already using your coarsest grit you'll have to keep sharpening, but consider adding a coarser grit to your sharpening tool kit.
TIP: If you have difficulty feeling the burr, an LED Magnifier can also be used to check visually. But with practice, your finger is still the easiest way to feel a burr.
How do I know when I am done with a particular grit?
When is it time to move on to the next grit? Feel for the burr and check the angles:
- The first part comes back to the burr. The presence of a burr indicates that the edge has reached a good shape. When there's a burr along the entire length of the edge on side two, you have done everything you can do on side one with that grit. Now flip the blade over and work side two until you have a burr on side one. When you have a burr on the entire length of side one, check to see that your angles are even.
- Keeping the angles even is the second part. After creating a burr on both sides, inspect the bevels on each side. If one is longer than the other, continue to work on the short bevel until they are even lengths.
When you have created the burr on both sides and verified that your angles are even, it is time to move on to your next finer grit and repeat the process. The burr will get smaller as you move through finer grits, but it will still be there.
How do I know what grit to finish with?
How fine is fine enough? The answer depends on your needs.
Everyone's need from an edge is different. Are you cutting transparent thin slices for sushi or cutting rope? The goal is an edge that cuts what you need it to. There is no universal answer to how fine of a stone to use, but a finer stone leads to a sharper finer edge. Below are some specific examples of finishing grits on some popular sharpening stone types.
Consider the different stone types:
- Water Stones - Water stones 3000 grit and higher are generally considered to be finishing stones. A 3000 grit stone will leave a fine edge suitable for many situations, it may have a small amount of tooth to the edge. Water stones 5000 or 6000 are common finishing grits, and give a good slicing edge with a very slight tooth. Water stones 8000 and higher will leave very smooth and polished edge for clean cuts.
- Oil Stones - The fine grades of the Crystolon or the India Stones are used by some as finishing stones. However, they will leave a quite toothy edge that cuts with a good deal of sawing action, this may be suitable for cutting soft material. However, many people prefer to continue on to Arkansas Stones to refine the edge.
- Arkansas Stones - All Arkansas Stones are potential finishing stones. Soft Arkansas gives a slightly toothy edge. Hard Arkansas is finer and gives a smoother edge with just a hint of a tooth. Hard Black and Hard Translucent leaves very smooth edges often compared to about 6000 grit water stones.
- Diamond Stones - The 600 grit fine and the 1200 grit extra-fine are often cited as finishing stones. The fine will leave a toothy edge good for cutting soft material, the extra fine will be smoother, which will cut harder materials much easier. There are select diamond stones available in 4000 and 8000 grits if you want to have a polished edge using diamond stones.
Opinions vary greatly and you may want to experiment with different grits to see how they perform for your needs. As a general rule, the finer the grit, the finer and sharper the edge.
What's the best sharpening angle?
15 degrees? 20 degrees? Higher? Lower? It depends.
Sharpening angles are a balancing act. Lower angles are sharper and cut more cleanly with less effort. Higher angles are more durable, but don't cut as cleanly and take more effort. Lower angles are less durable and degrade faster. Higher angles are more durable and hold up longer. The angle is a balance between cutting ability and durability. The quality of the steel and the materials being cut factor in when deciding the angle to use.
For reference, consider these general angles:
- Below 15 degrees is found on specialty knives used for delicate slicing of soft materials.
- 15 degrees is common for kitchen knives used primarily for slicing.
- 20 degrees is common for general purpose kitchen and outdoor knives.
- 22 degrees or higher is used for outdoor knives when durability is the primary concern.
When selecting an angle, consider what you are cutting and how often you want to resharpen. If you choose an angle in the 15 to 20 degree range, you will be in the standard range for most kitchen knives. Some knives used for slicing or paring can withstand a lower angle. If your knife is used for chopping, being on the higher end of the range will save you from having to resharpen as often. Choosing the proper angle can fine tune your knife, If your edge isn't cutting cleanly enough, lower the angle or if your edge isn't holding up well enough, raise the angle.
How frequently should I sharpen?
How often? Sharpen lightly and sharpen often.
Sharpening is not a once and done proposition, it is ongoing maintenance. No matter how sharp you make an edge it will degrade with use, so you will need to sharpen again. You can wait until your edge no longer cuts, but the best time to sharpen is before you notice loss of cutting ability. Loss of cutting ability means your edge is dulling. The duller the edge, the harder you have to work to cut with it. Keeping your edge as sharp as possible makes it easier to use.
In real life, edges will get dull before you have a chance to sharpen, damage will happen, and angles will need to be raised or lowered. It would be impossible to maintain an edge at perfect sharpness indefinitely. The important concept here is that sharpening more often using only finer grits is more efficient than sharpening less often using coarse through fine grits.
When you sharpen before your edge is significantly dulled you will use fewer grits, spend less time per sharpening, and have a more consistently sharp edge that is easier to use. When you wait until your edge is dull, you will use more grits. You will sharpen less often but each sharpening will take longer, and your edge will fluctuate from sharp to dull making it more difficult to use.
We hope you have found sharing these questions helpful. We're always happy to answer any sharpening related questions, so keep them coming.