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Sharpening School Lesson #3: How To Thin a Knife

July 15, 2017 Comments (27) Sharpening School

Sharpening School Lesson #2: Grasping the Sharpening Fundamentals

Hello, It’s Peter Nowlan and in this Second Lesson I will discuss the very basics of sharpening, the fundamentals, and I will stress how beneficial the understanding of these will be to your own sharpening progress. This second lesson includes the article and the video. In case you missed it, here’s the first lesson.

Introducing Your Second Teacher: Jon Broida

As mentioned in the first lesson, we’re pleased to have Jon as a supporting teacher for KnifePlanet’s Sharpening School. Several parts of this article were written and edited by Jon. Here is his introduction video:

Lesson 2: Grasping The Sharpening Fundamentals

Stay Focused On The Technique

The basic concept of sharpening is pretty simple but we find ourselves watching people slice the top of a tomato off without holding the tomato for example and we see it over and over.  We see beautiful mirror finishes and fantastic hand made kitchen knives and for me, I found myself completely overwhelmed. Was I expected to be able to perform one of these miracle slices with a tomato? What if I couldn’t, was I doing something wrong? Was it the water stones I was using, perhaps I needed better ones or maybe I didn’t have enough diamond sprays and strops. Was my 2,000 grit stone not high enough?  I struggled with all of this because I fell into the media trap and thought that I had to have everything, if I didn’t have a 16,000 water stone for example, I may not get the knives as sharp as I see the folks on YouTube doing it.

In my opinion, none of this matters when you are learning and it doesn’t even matter when you are an accomplished sharpener. What I learned after a few years of struggling with that tomato was that It wasn’t the 10,000 grit Naniwa Chosera stone that finally enabled me to pass the test, The Rite of Passage that we often put ourselves though, it wasn’t anything fancy, it was one or two stones and an understanding of what it was I was hoping to achieve.  If the Water Stone Hoarding Police came to me and told me you need to hand over all your stones but you can keep three, the first one I would grab is my coarse stone, then medium and finally the Fine stone.  I made knives sharp when I realized that I needed to grasp the fundamentals, stop watching YouTube and practice.

The key to this article, my goal, with Jon Broida’s help, is to lead you in the right direction. Don’t worry about any water stone past 5,000 grit and remember, in time, you can get any knife in the world very sharp with one 1,000 grit stone.  Successful sharpening is NOT about the water stones, strops, sprays. Sharpness is a result of proper technique, I mean truly sharp knives, it is all about technique, not the brand of water stones in use. Don’t get hung up on the things that are not important to you, instead, get hung up on learning some basic things, getting one to three water stones and practicing.

Japanese Water Stones: What Are They?

Water stones, besides technique are the most important element of the sharpening process. Don’t think you need to have the best, most expensive water stones on the market, yes they are nice but you can get a King 1,000 stone for $30.00 and get the job done very nicely, better than new. I happen to use a variety of brands, my favourites are Gesshin, Naniwa Professional,  Shapton Professional and Shapton Glass and a variety of single grit stones like a Kityama 8,000. These are my favourites but until I had advanced beyond the novice stage, I couldn’t appreciate the difference in the brands and every one of them can get the knives as sharp as I want them to be.

From a purely physical properties perspective, water stones (whetstones) are abrasives that are either man made (Synthetic) or Natural, they were mined from caves in Japan. In this lesson we will be dealing with synthetic stones.

Physical Properties of Water Stones (Explained by Jon Broida)

Water stones are composed of an abrasive and a binding agent.  Abrasives include alumina oxide (and variants thereof), silicon carbide, diamond (sometimes, but not as often), and more.  Binding agents can be clay, ceramic, magnesia, resin, etc.  Stones can be fired in kilns (high or low temp), set at room temperature, compressed under extremely high pressure, etc., depending on the binding agent used.  Stone manufacturers can achieve varying results by controlling the abrasive type, abrasive density, binding type, binder hardness, etc.  It’s important to remember that more is not always better.  For example, increasing abrasive density past a certain point actually slows down cutting speed, as does making a stone too hard (softer stones release more fresh abrasive more quickly).  Also, some binding agents can also act as abrasives, as is the case with many hard ceramic stones.

With regard to abrasives, I think it’s important to note that when a stone is rated at a specific grit, it doesn’t mean that all of the abrasive used is exactly that grit.  Abrasives are usually graded on a bell curve system, with tolerances varying by manufacturer.  There are always coarser and finer grits included in the mix, but the bulk of them will be at or close to the stated grit.  In some cases, these standard tolerances are set by the government or overseeing body (as is the case with the JIS system in Japan), but there are times where companies will use tighter tolerances than required.  Also, in Japan, the JIS system only controls grits up to the 8000, and beyond that, the companies use their own standards and methods to determine grit (with little or no oversight).

In the case of resinoid based stones, soaking can soften the stone, improving cutting speed, mud development, tactile feel, and water holding on the surface.  We can also condition surfaces on other binding types to achieve certain results.

What Do Water Stones Do For us?

At first, when I was learning, I didn’t really have time to appreciate what I was working with, I concentrated on the fundamentals, making a knife sharp.  As soon as I started getting my knives sharp however, that all changed.

Water Stones are the source of the most personally satisfying action that I have ever attempted. Although the stones come brand new, they instantly create a sense of doing something traditional, historical,  the simple action of drawing the edge of knife over a stone is incredibly relaxing and joyful. If you let it,  the synergy between the stone, the knife,  the water and your hands will deliver moments of joy that keep repeating itself every single time you sharpen.

If it was not for these collateral benefits provided by this art form, I doubt that I would be writing about sharpening the way that I do, I would certainly not be excited about it. The knives would be sharp, that’s it.  Even after thousands of knives, the emotional feedback that freehand knife sharpening provides is intoxicating and it compels me to keep at it. The really cool thing about this is that you can reach this level of sharpening bliss very soon after you start. This is not something that you have to wait years for, the personal benefits are like low hanging fruit, you just have to choose whether or not you will pick the fruit. If sharpening a knife is simply a means to an end, than your journey will be quite different than mine.

I realize that this may all sound a little strange but believe me, for those who sharpen regularly, it is a very common thing. Even people who watch freehand sharpening comment on its therapeutic value and often just stare, transfixed by the movement.

Coarse, Medium and Fine Stones 

When you make your choice of brands, whether it is Gesshin, King, Naniwa, Shapton,  or Suehiro Cerax, do not think of them as your Beginner’s Set. Or don’t look for a no name set of stones to start with thinking that you can dump them for better stones when you progress in skill. I recommend you purchase one to three water stones of a reputable brand and think of them as the last stones in that grit range you will need. (unless they wear out). The stones will grow with you, they will give you whatever your skill level allows you to draw from them. And always remember: It’s all about technique, not the stones.

When I pick a knife up to sharpen it, the first thing I do is examine it to see if anything is going on that will prevent me from sharpening it properly, is the tip bent, is the blade bent, are there any chips? Assuming that the blade is fine, just dull, I always approach the sharpening with the same thought process, I follow a pattern.  I think, coarse first, then medium and finally the finishing stone. This is a proven setup and the time spent on each stone will vary with the knife and your level of skill. Typically, I spend the most amount of time on the coarse stone using different pressure levels and the least amount of time on the fine stone.

Coarse Stones (Ara-to)

Coarse stones are rough and range in grit from 120 to 800, (lower grits can be found),  some folks will call a 1,000 grit stone rough. For me, they are the most important stones in my line up and again, this has changed from my early days when I was subdued by YouTube and Forums thinking that I need the highest grit stones possible. These stones are the workhorse of a knife sharpening project. Their aggressive but still gentle abrasive properties have the power to remove fatigued metal effectively and quickly and establish bevels and a primary edge. With manipulation of pressure, they can make a dull knife very sharp, and you will see that your ability to develop sharp edges on your coarse stone will lead to exceptionally sharp knives. In fact, it is very important to make your knife sharp on your first stone, don’t rely on higher grit stones to make a dull knife sharp, spend the time on the ara-to and you will reap the rewards as you follow up with your naka-to and shiage-to.

Another item that is often discussed on sharpening forums is the coarse stone and how beginners should avoid them due to their aggressive metal removing properties. This thought process is completely wrong. It is like the guitar teacher telling a student “I’ve removed two of the guitar strings to start your lesson with because you’re not smart enough to learn with six strings”. Learn to use the best tools for the job, if the knife is dull and a coarse stone is going to enhance the sharpening process than use it. I have never damaged a knife because I used a coarse stone. It is a matter of learning to vary pressure and use only what is necessary to get the job done.  You won’t learn if you shy away from it though, overcoming any fear of using a rough stone is going to build a very strong layer of confidence and a sturdy foundation.

I use a coarse stone with every knife that I sharpen because every knife that I sharpen is dull. If the knife is not too bad, if it isn’t that dull, can I still use a coarse stone. Yes I can but I will use a level of pressure that is most effective for each knife.

Do not be afraid of coarse stones, 400-600 grit stones are fantastic and take a knife that is exceptionally dull to one that will shave arm hair and certainly sharper than new.

Coarse stones will make scratches in the bevels as they sharpen, nothing visible to the  naked eye but clearly seen in a Loupe (10x-15x magnifier). These marks, or teeth can be reduced in depth on a coarse stone by adjusting pressure. If you are concerned about scratching the blade you can tape it with painters tape leaving the edge and bevels exposed.

Medium Stones (Naka-to)

Medium stones are 800, 1,500, 2,000. The 2,000 is right on the line between medium and fine and more towards a fine stone. It is a very important stone and often is the final stone used depending on the steel that the knife is made of, it is not uncommon at all to go from 400 grit to 2,000 grit and finish the process there.

I often follow a 400 grit stone with a 1,000 grit stone and I will use less pressure because the burr has already been formed, I will discuss the actual process a little later on. The 1,000 grit stone is quite important as many sharpeners start with this stone and also finish with it. If one stone is all you plan on using than the 1,000 is the way to go. It will reduce the scratches created by rougher stones and refine your edge and is very very capable of producing exceptionally sharp knives. If the knife I am sharpening is made of average quality steel, this is often the final stone in the process. It is of course possible to use any combination of stones and go as high as you want with this calibre of knife. However, over refinement  can and will lead to poor edge retention as excessive refinement, (grinding on higher grit stones) will remove metal behind the edge,  the secondary bevel and this is what provides support to the Primary Edge.  So don’t feel you need to use every stone you have, you must learn to evaluate the needs as applicable to each knife but for general purposes, average knives can be finished on a medium stone, 1,000 – 3,000 for example and better, harder knives can be finished on finer stones, with the hardest knives being capable of very high levels of refinement, 8,000 grit and higher.

Finishing Stones (Shiage-to)

Finishing stones are 3,000 grit and above and usually reserved for knives made of better steel which will be discussed. By the time I reach for my finishing stone which is often an 8,000 grit stone, the knife is sharp. This stone is “cleaning” the edge and replacing any scratches left on the bevels with extremely small and invisible scratches, the bevel will appear to be very highly polished and obviously quite sharp.  This is the stone I spend the least amount of time on, not to imply it is less important, it is very important but all the hard, work, the burr forming and major burr removal has been done. This is the icing on the cake. 

Steel: How it Influences Your Approach to Sharpening

We can pretty much describe steel, which is an alloy, as either being carbon or stainless. This is true of both Western and Japanese knives. Carbon steel is made in a forge, a mixture of iron and carbon and to create a stainless steel, Chromium is added to prevent rusting.

Knives are made from steel that is produced in blast furnaces or electric furnaces which come in different varieties and are differentiated by the percentage of other materials added to the steel.  The most common are are: Chromium, Tungsten, Vanadium, Manganese, Molybdenum. the following can also be used: Nickel, Cobalt, Sulfur, Silica. All adding different attributes to the steel, tensile strength, edge stability, wear resistance, rust and corrosion resistance. They can also have negative effects on ease of sharpening, grain size, toughness, etc., depending on the amounts added and how the steel has been heat treated.

 Rust Resistance

 Reduces brittleness and promotes hardening

 Increases toughness

 Increases corrosion resistance

 Increases strength (edge retention)

 Steel Impurities that impact toughness, hardness, and grain size

By this time, you are no doubt aware that the steel used to make knives is of varying quality and hardness and knives are made differently, hand forged and mass produced. We don’t need to know the name of every steel but what we should know is how a “hard” knife differs from a “soft” knife and how we should influence our approach to sharpening each of them. We should not pick up every knife as if blindfolded without some thought on what lies ahead, what steps are necessary to make a particular knife sharp. Of course, if you sharpen your own knives only you will know exactly what you’re dealing with.  Now if we have one water stone only, a medium grit stone (800-2000 grit), our options are limited but it is still important to understand.

The steel used in knives is measured by an indentation process represented by the Rockwell Hardness Scale (specifically the Rockwell C scale when it comes to kniveas), this is where we see numbers like 56 associated with a knife. Kitchen knife hardness ranges from 50 in the lower (softer) range to 67 in the extremely hard scale and in fact 67 is an uncommonly hard knife.  The Rockwell hardness is a measure of impact hardness, where a probe is pressed into the surface of a material, and the amount of force required to make an dent is measured.

We often see numbers like 61-63 or 60-61, as hardness can vary across the surface of the knife, and the readings are almost never 100% accurate.  Also, not everyone measures every single blade they make, so the numbers often represent their target range, as opposed to a measured range.

Average knives are softer and often less expensive while better quality knives can range in hardness from 60 to 66 with each rise in numbers representing a very significant level of hardness and in the skill of the Blade Smiths who forge these knives.  For example, if you purchase a Chef Knife from the local kitchen store for less than $100.00 it is likely an average knife in terms of steel hardness. That is fine, most of use average knives, even if we have a really good knife that was hand made, we still may use average knives. These knives will vary in hardness from 50-56 on the Rockwell Scale. It is also important to keep in mind that harder is not always better.  For example, harder knives may hold their edges longer and be more capable of holding more acute angles, but will also likely be more brittle.

At this stage, the novice stage, it will suffice to know that the steel used to make all of our knives varies in hardness, the higher the number the harder the steel and this will have an impact on the sharpening process.

A Global knife for example,  is in the 56-58 range, this is common knife and typical of decent knives. Most hand made knives such as Fujiwara, or Masakage run in the 62-64 range and remember, each number represents a significant increase in hardness. This is not a matter of adjusting a dial to turn up the heat to make steel harder, there is very specific set of skills required to make these knives using world class steel such as Aogami or Shirogami, just as an example. Again, there is a long list of steels but for now, we will just concentrate how they impact sharpening.

However, it is noteworthy to describe why we would want a harder knife, if the steel is that hard, isn’t it brittle or hard to sharpen for example and what about the cost?

Most people will be surprised to know that a very good hand made knife from Japan can be purchased for less than $200.00 and often it is the different handles on these knives that raise the price. Also, not all of these “dream knives” are made in Japan, some of the best knives in the world are forged in North America, think of Murray Carter and Bob Kramer, their knives are highly sought after and for good reason.  Yes, a very hard knife is more prone to chipping than a “softer” knife, you need to be educated on how to prevent this. Most knife retailers will provide an information sheet on proper care and handling. The fact that you can chip a hand made knife should not be your reason not to buy one if you are inclined to do so. It is simply a matter of being aware of how that knife will act if for example you try to cut some semi-frozen meat and twist the blade or if you hit a bone, use a glass cutting board or just store it improperly. If you damage a knife, the knife is not the problem, you just damaged a good knife, it’s a matter of not repeating the mistake and enjoying the knife for many years.

Hardness and Sharpening

There is a wealth of information available on the steel used in cutlery and I highly encourage you to do some research. When I started sharpening in the 70’s, I didn’t do any research at all and I should have.

If you have a 400 grit water stone and you sharpen an average knife, you will be able to grind metal at a certain speed depending on the sharpening technique and skill and of course the water stone itself.  If you were to put that knife aside and pick up a Fujiwara, (hand made Japanese knife) for example with a hardness of 63-64, it will feel very different on that same stone using the same technique. Likewise, a knife made from ZDP 189 steel will again feel very different as this is one of the hardest steels used in knife making in the world.  This is to be expected and should come as no surprise. Your technique to sharpen knives of varying hardness should be the same but with adjustments to pressure and angle and your ability to have patience.

A Japanese knife that was hand forged in Japan like the Kotetsu Bunka made by Shibata San in R2 steel can and should be sharpened differently than a Global or Henckels Chef Knife.

If we sharpen a Kotetsu and a Henckels Chef knife, both with very different steels at the same angle of 20 deg per side, the Kotetsu will lose much of it’s cutting performance.

If we sharpen the Kotetsu and Henckels Chef knife at 12 deg per side the Henckels will be very sharp but will lose it’s edge very quickly. The steel, being softer will not hold up to the force associated with any average cutting tasks, it will be too fragile.

Knowing this, and I realize that this is very common knowledge, but knowing this should influence your approach to sharpening different knives. You need to know the knife you’re using and how to sharpen it.

I will talk about this in the video but basically we can place kitchen knives into two categories when it comes to our approach to sharpening them.

Soft Knives (57 or less)

  • Can be sharpened between 15-20 degrees per side.
  • Can be finished at 1,000-3000 grit with good results.

Hard Knives (58-67)

  • Can be sharpened between 10-15 degrees per side.
  • Can be finished at 3,000 grit and higher with good results.

The numbers are above should be looked at as general guide only and not rules. We can sharpen a knife at any angle and finish it at any grit we just need to be aware that levels of sharpness and edge retention will be directly impacted by our choices. Higher grit levels will be more refined and offer a smoother cutting feel, but will loose tactile feedback and bite.  Lower grit levels will have a large amount of edge bite.  Similarly, more acute angles will feel sharper, but be more fragile or brittle, while less acute angles will be more tough and durable, but feel less sharp.

The Sharpening Process: Important Notes 

The actual process is demonstrated in the accompanying video but there are some key points to remember as we move along and watch the video.

Note: The information provided is for those standing while sharpening, if you sit down everything should still be the same but just be aware that I stand and sharpen.

Burr Formation

This is critical to sharpening success. While it is possible to sharpen a knife without actually forming a burr, the timing and skill required to do so is not something we need to be concerned about now and I only mention this as I know there are folks who may be reading who will point this out. Burr formation is a one time event with one knife. We form one burr on each side of the knife on the first (or only) stone in use. After that, once a burr is successfully created on both sides, from heel to tip, evenly, then the focus shifts to BURR REMOVAL and that process continues until the knife is finished, until you lay it down. The Burr is the metal that is moved from the bevel/edge of each side of the knife as you sharpen, the abrasive properties of the stone in use and your personal sharpening technique including pressure are responsible for this. The  Burr starts off as your friend, but as soon at your friend arrives, you need to start the farewell process and often, that friend is reluctant to leave. (You will learn some pretty persuasive measures.)

While I say that one burr is formed on both sides of the knife, it is entirely possible and likely that you will form additional burrs as you sharpen. It doesn’t take much pressure to do this but this is fine. The goal is to finish the knife with NO BURR.

Burr Formation is a skill that will develop over time, the developmental stages involve:

  1. Initial burr formation. Getting a burr formed and being able to detect it with your fingers.
  2. Improved burr formation. In which the burr formed is becoming smaller and smaller and eventually it is extremely subtle. This skill comes with time and your ability to detect the burr, even the finest burrs will also improve.

Burr Removal is a skill that is just as important as for burr formation and absolutely essential.  The method that I use involves diminishing levels of pressure and you will see this in the video. Some folks just run the edge, once sharpened, through a cork, or piece of wood to ensure that there is no “wire edge”,  no lingering fragments of metal that have formed below the edge during the process. The sharpening and pressure process will weaken the burrs connection to the edge but often this is not enough to disengage that final tiny strip of metal,  so these actions will do that. Whatever method is used, again, it is essential to edge stability and overall sharpness to finish with as clean an edge as possible.

Angles

There are two angles we need to deal with, one is the Sharpening Angle which is the angle derived by the height of the spine of the knife off of the stone and the other is the Angle of Approach as Jon terms it, this is the angle of your arm from the point of your elbow, this is 45 degrees and it is the perfect angle to sharpen at, it is a very comfortable, stabilizing approach to sharpening.

The Sharpening Angle (SA) is your angle to choose and as mentioned it is usually between 15 degrees and 20 degrees per side. There are a variety of ways to find this angle, from math to the Angle Finder on your phone. There are also some recently new on the market Angle Guides, wedges that provide precise angles jigs from 10-20 deg.  There are angle guides that you can slide onto your knife as well but I find these just get in your way as you move the knife over the stone.

The Angle clues you eventually use are visual guides, once you start the sharpening movements, you’re on your own. They can be left nearby on the end of the stone as a ref point to check your angle but ultimately,  it will be your freehand supported by muscle memory that takes you from Point D (Dull) to Point S (Sharp).

I wish to emphasize that in my experience, the SA that I chose, whether it was 11 or 17 deg per side, has never been source of contention among anyone, including Executive Chefs who carefully scrutinize my work, nobody has ever said to me “I see you sharpened my knife at 17 deg, I was hoping for 18 deg” for example. Sharpness will be a result of your consistency in 3 areas:

  1. Time
  2. Angle
  3. Pressure

What you do on one side of the knife, you should strive to do on the other when you sharpen symmetrical knives, where you want to keep a 50/50 grind.  These three things will all blend together in time,  as your skill and muscle memory develop. In the meantime, you can still create the sharpest knives you’ve ever seen, just with a little work on technique and practice.

Checking Your Progress

Before you begin to sharpen, inspect the blade for anything that will hinder the work. Even if you are

Sharpening setup. With bright light to inspect the edge.

sharpening your own knives, this quick look, if done every single time will become part of a pattern, part of your technique.  Eventually, your own knives will not be enough to satisfy your hunger for sharpening, you’ll find others and this quick visual check will aid you at some point.

As you sharpen the knife, when you think your burr is formed and your removal of the burr is in process, stop and look at the edge of the knife under a good light source. This minor change to my sharpening regime a while back made a significant difference in the quality of my work. The light will reveal any areas on the edge that you have not quite finished working on, the light is reflecting off of metal that is still not removed, it is not aligned. The reflections will likely be in one or two small areas along the edge, your job will be to remove them by going back to work with as much pressure as required on the same stone, it just takes a moment, monitor the work regularly by inspecting the edge and keep at this until you can see no light at all. As you finish, have a final check. I do this on every stone that I use.

Flattening Your Stones

Flattening water stones is in my opinion, is imperative. Over time, you may hear folks talk about how flattening water stones is unnecessary, it will lead to premature wear and you can get your knives sharp without flattening.  Perhaps some of that is true, I am not here to call anyone a liar. I just think they are wrong having that thought process. Water Stones come flat, there is a reason to keep them that way. The surface of the stone, when used can become clogged with metal fragments, the process of flattening removes that, it keeps the surface pristine and fresh, like the day it was purchased. Also, when we use a stone regularly, over time it will “dish” in the middle of the stone, the glide path that we use to sharpen. We hold our knife at a particular angle, the spine of the knife is held at a distance from the stone to achieve that angle. Let’s say that distance is half of an inch and the angle achieved is 19 deg. If we move the edge of the knife over a stone that is dished in the middle, that distance is no longer half an inch, it is more than that. This is stretching it for sure but the bottom line is that you should keep your water stones as flat as possible and also the edges should be chamfered, not sharp.

You will also notice that the non-flat believers use the flat part of the stones to sharpen, so in fact they do believe in flat stones, they just don’t want to flatten them as it removes parts of the stone and thus they wear out. I will just buy new stones and in the meantime, keep them flat. For the purposes of this lesson and any lesson that follows, please assume that I am keeping my water stones flat, as flat as possible, the way I bought them.

To keep my stones flat I use a DMT Lapping Plate. There are many stone flatteners available from the diamond plates made by DMT and ATOMA to Flattening Stones to simple products like rough sandpaper or even drywall mesh. Think FLAT first and then choose  your flattener.

Stropping 

Stropping a knife is for many sharpeners the final piece of the puzzle and one that can leave the edge startling almost. Even stropping has grown over the years with a wide variety of different compounds that can be

Personally, I use either a bare leather strop or a finishing stone to complete my cleaning of the edge process. I don’t want to rely on any compounds to finish my work and possibly compromise or even hide an unstable edge.

I will demonstrate stropping on bare leather and you can decide how far you want to take it.  For me, the bottom line is to keep the entire sharpening process as simple as possible.

DO NOT think you need to go out and purchase exotic sprays to achieve sharpness, think of them as something to explore down the road, when the “School of the Fundamentals” are behind you.

Summary of Lesson #2

Proper sharpening involves possessing the knowledge of the steel and an understanding that over sharpening and excessive pressure will have a negative impact on edge retention.  We don’t want to just pick up a knife and start grinding away on the stones without a little forward thinking and appreciation of what the stones/abrasives are capable of.  It’s quite simple and all you need is a little knowledge. For example, If I have picked up a $40.00 kitchen knife to sharpen, before I start, I know that I will not need any stones higher than 1,000-3, 000 grit. It doesn’t mean I can’t use a 5,000 grit stone as long as I know what impact doing so will have.

Manage your expectations, forget the YouTube videos of people performing miracle slices on tomatoes.  While they do reflect a level of skill of course, they can be deceiving and a source of frustration for novices who think this is something that they have to be able to do.

Have a basic understanding of the process, of the fundamentals and then build up muscle memory, establish consistency and practice. Passion, even a little bit will help of course.

The process of sharpening is not complicated, I can remember my Father and Grandfather making tools very sharp using an old, worn out oilstone. They did not fret about the things we tend to complicate sharpening with. They stuck to a pattern, a rhythm and it worked, it still works. We bring both sides of the knife together at the Apex of the knife to form a Primary Edge. We remove fatigued metal and expose fresh steel along the way and we can do this over and over. We don’t need to be perfect, we just have to work on being precise as humanly possible and that just keeps improving as we navigate the stepping stones along our sharpening journey.

In future videos and articles we will talk about additional sharpening fundamentals such as thinning, cross sectional geometry, distal taper and micro bevels.

I hope you enjoyed the 2nd lesson. Many thanks to Mr. Jon Broida for his input and continual mentorship to me personally over the past several years. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. If you sign up to our newsletter, you will be notified when lesson #3 is published.

> Go To Lesson #3

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27 Responses to Sharpening School Lesson #2: Grasping the Sharpening Fundamentals

  1. Frank says:

    Very informative. See, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Picked up several nuggets of knowledge I was unaware of. Also, the instruction to think about the knife and what you want to do before you start, will probably prove invaluable. Thanks for your hard work and passion.
    Frank

  2. Henry Clark says:

    Thank you for posting 2nd lesson. Looking forward to watching and reading in detail.

  3. Tim says:

    Thanks so much for publishing the second lesson. Worth the wait. I have been practicing a lot and I am finally improving my muscle memory.

  4. Daniel VE says:

    Great. The best sharpening lessons I have found online. Can’t wait to read and watch the 3rd lesson. Thanks so much for your help Peter and Jon

  5. Fran says:

    Well written and filled with valuable information. Love this series. Looking forward to the next lesson greetings from Belgium

  6. Sharpdream says:

    Very helpful. You have motivated me to get back to sharpening my knives. Thank you sir

  7. Jen says:

    Thank you so much, very interested to see what’s coming up next! Thanks Jon and Peter

  8. Remy says:

    Thank you.

  9. rita says:

    Thanks I have joined the school 🙂 Am I the only female sharpener here?

  10. Ste says:

    The quality of this is incredible. Thanks for doing this, and sharing all of it for free. Keep up the great work.

  11. Peter says:

    Thanks to all who made such nice comments. I am particularly pleased with the article, it was several weeks in the making and Jon helped me quite a bit along the way. Knifeplanet does a great editing job as well. Rita, it’s possible you’re the only female, but that’s pretty cool. Thank you for being here. It means a lot.
    Much respect to all. Have fun

  12. Bevin Modrak says:

    Good stuff as always Peter. I very much appreciate the thoughts on getting it sharp on your primary stone and refining from there. I’m self taught using Murray Carter’s DVD’s and all the resources available on the net. I keep coming back to your materials the most often. I’ve often thought about going back to a minimalist approach and using no more than 2 stones to “check” myself if you understand what I mean. Have I strayed from the basics? I would love to hear your thoughts or Jon’s thoughts on maintaining angle consistency a bit more. You have done such a great job of highlighting the role of pressure, and particular changing the angle as you move to the very tip any keys on angle consistency would be welcomed. For instance for a true novice beginner any thoughts on grip and angle? How hard you hold the knife? Particular fingers to focus on to help lock in that right angle? Personally I found focusing on pressure at the beginning hampered maintaining my angle. Making sure you’re not rocking the blade and creating a convex… Again, thanks as always for sharing the joy of sharpening!

    • Peter says:

      Bevin thank you, you’ve made some great points. I don’t think you need to go back to 2 stones, I’m pretty sure Mr. Carter uses more than 2 as well. Yes I think that there is a lot going on when just starting so manipulating pressure and holding an angle may be a lot to take in, it is. I would just work on 2 levels of pressure at first moderate and light. The only way I can think of at the moment to assist in angle stability is to build muscle memory. This is the difference between freehand sharpening and using a jig. So you could just keep sharpening the same knife, honing it really and repeating the Sharpie trick. Murray tells us we need to sharpen about 20 knives to build muscle memory. It will come
      , I struggled as well. Perhaps I’ll do a short video on this. Thanks again , great comments.

  13. R. Biewend says:

    I’ve been sharpening my own knives for years and been satisfied when I could shave the hair on my arms. That sharp could cut meat and filet fish. But I always knew there was a much higher degree of sharpness to be had and didn’t know anyone who knew how. Looking forward to lesson 3. I’m retired now and this is for fun. Thank you.

  14. Joe T says:

    Thanks so much. I have only 1 stone at the moment so I am working on pressure.

  15. Ryan says:

    Nice to read about stone flattening. I think it’s very important to keep stones flat even though many people don’t

  16. Ral says:

    Great read. Can’t wait for lesson 3. Gracias!!

  17. Knife Planet editors and Peter, Well done! Sharpeners Report always enjoys Peter’s posts on social media and now that I see this, I hope you’ll stay in touch. You Definitely covered the basics so thoroughly, On point! ! I’ll refer our beginner fans to this article in our next newsletter.

    For those who master this lesson and are looking for more than a hobby, see our book, “Knife Sharpening as a Business” on Sharpeners-Report.com

    And to the female commentor, the good news is there are many woman sharpeners out there! Some less visible.

    • Peter says:

      Thank you Judy. I’m going to take a look at that book myself, I started my business about 8 years ago but I’ll still read it and learn from it undoubtedly. Thanks for being here..
      Much Respect
      Peter

  18. Ian Redmond says:

    Very informative and interesting! Thanks Peter. I think it’s important to rewatch these lessons to freshen the mind as you go along and hopefully avoid complacency, wasting your time and more importantly not wreck a great knife.
    Thanks again.
    Red

  19. Josh says:

    Hi Peter,

    Great video once again, well done. I spoke with you via email a couple months ago, since then, I’ve received my new set of stones (I could not be happier with this decision) and I have a question about lapping now. Forgive me for asking such a simple question, but do you have to flatten all of your stones, or is it just the course stone? I purchased the Naniwa lapping plate and have 400, 800, 1000, and 5000 grit stones. Can / should I use my higher grit stones (1000 / 5000) on the lapping plate (220 grit), or will that ruin the stones? I also have a prep block (600 grit), would one use that for any grit stone, or is there ‘rules’ one should adhere to when using it.

    Once again great video again, I’ve already learned so much from this, and the previous one. Cant wait for the next one.

    Cheers,

    Josh

    • Peter says:

      Josh, hi, those are very nice water stones. You can use the lapping plate on all the stones. You need to keep all the stones flat but you’ll find that the coarse stone requires flattening more often. In fact the 5,000 won’t need to flattened very often. I sharpen every day so it’s a little different for me. For the person who sharpens their own knives only, you won’t have to spend a lot of time on this. I think that 600 grit stones is a cleaning stone. You can use it to clean the surface of all your stones with it. Thanks Josh

  20. Kelly Ziadie says:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks very much for the time and effort you have taken to produce such clear and informative material. I am about to start my journey and have followed your advice and invested in a set of 3 Naniwa stones. They each arrived with a small stone that I understand is called a Nagura and vaguely know that it is for cleaning the primary stone. I apologize in advance if this has been covered elsewhere that I missed, but I have 2 questions related to this.

    I have seen in some of Jon’s videos where he casually rubs the main stone with it at the beginning of a session… is this something that should be done?

    If so, all 3 stones came with a similarly colored nagura with labels written in Japanese of course…. are they the same/interchangeable or do I need to be careful not to mix them up?

    Thanks again for your help.

    Kelly

    • Peter says:

      Kelly hi and thank you. Those are basically cleaning stones. You don’t need to rub the surface of them for sharpening but they will clean the stones. Nagura stones are commonly used on finishing stones, 5,000 grit and above. But they are better quality nagura then the ones that came with your water stones. It certainly doesn’t hurt to use it on your highest grit stone though. They are all the same though, so you only need to open up one of them. It’s important to have a flattening plan as well.

  21. Matt says:

    Thanks to Peter and John for taking the time to put together these amazing lessons. I have been using naniwa water stones for a while now but only recently came across some of Peters videos and blog. It has helped me immensely to simplify and improve my methods. I really appreciate your honest and trustworthy advice. I am looking forward to the next lesson and perfecting this amazing skill. Thanks again!

  22. Victor says:

    Hi Peter, fantastic materials as usual from you and Jon.

    Quick question – I understand that you raised a burr on the coarse stone, and then used the medium and fine ones to refine the edge, without raising a burr again. Is my understanding correct? Basically I’m wondering if it makes sense to rise a new burr on every stone or just on the first one.

    Thank’s,
    Victor.