This article is all about helping novice sharpeners start their journey the right way, I didn't myself but I've learnt much since those days. First of all, it's important to know what is NOT important at the moment and in some cases, never that important.
It's all so vital to know that to be a successful sharpener and that just means making a dull knife a knife that can be used again, a knife that slices whatever it is you're cutting rather than tear at it. You need to make a knife a pleasure to use again, and that is not too difficult.
I am very frequently asked what the best stones to use are, a fair question of course but know that if you just starting out, and perhaps experiencing a little difficulty, having the best stones in the world, if there is such a thing, is not going to help.
For now, forget about things you may hear like :
- What is the best grit to finish a European knife,
- What is the best angle to sharpen a knife at for cutting vegetables;
- What is best, a toothy or polished edge;
These are things that having nothing to do with learning to sharpen and these topics can be discarded.
I will answer them quickly here so we can forget about them.
- Whatever grit you want but between 1,000 and 3,000 will work nicely
- You don't need specific angles for specific items, learn one angle at first.
- Not important, there is no right answer, the best edge is a CLEAN edge, free of any remaining burr.
Don't get hung up on the brands of water stones, you can start with a 1,000 King stone for $30.00. You will learn to develop muscle memory and consistency on this stone as well as any other stone. In fact, until you build muscle memory, you won't appreciate the feedback and results you obtain from various stones, they may all feel the same.
The most important thing to know about knife sharpening are the fundamentals, an understanding of what it is that you need to do. With this knowledge, it's pretty much just practicing and as boring as that MAY sound, it is the key. There are no quick tricks to learn, you just need to practice until your body gets used to the new motions of sharpening and those muscles necessary for sharpening start to develop.
Angles: Just use one angle at first, remember that all kitchen knives are sharpened between 10 and 20 degrees basically so why not split it, why not sharpen your "learning stages knives" at 17 deg per side for example. I suggest using your pinky to find the right angle, your pinky isn't changing shape so if you put your pinky between the stone and the spine of the knife you will get an angle of 16-18 deg, depending on the width of your pinky. Experiment with it and did you know that there is an angle guide on your iPhone.(Swipe left while on the compass App and experiment with that)
I think we can place the art of knife sharpening under two broad categories, BURR FORMATION and BURR REMOVAL and I have said this many times in previous articles I know.
If you have watched the Sharpening School Videos on Knifeplanet.net, everything you need to know will be demonstrated and talked about. They are easy to find and are linked on my website.
Don't get hung up on everything you read on knife Forums and on YouTube. Find a video that you like and stick with it and then get down to building muscle memory and in turn, confidence.
You will have problems of course, we all do so when it happens, just slow down and focus and be patient. If you are not having fun, put the knife down for a while.
Don't hesitate to email me if you have questions.
Thanks for sticking around.