Become an Edge Expert
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE PURCHASING:
1. Type of Blade: The type of blade determines what sharpener is appropriate.
- Straight Edge on both sides (flat grind or double-beveled edge): can be sharpened on most types of sharpeners either one side at a time or both sides simultaneously
- Straight Edge on just one side (a.k.a. chisel edge): requires a sharpener that allows for sharpening one side of the blade at a time (flat bench stone, precision sharpening system, crock sticks, sharpening rod/steel, or certain electric sharpeners).
- Serrations: requires a tapered diamond or ceramic file or triangular shaped ceramic rods or stones
- Gut Hook: requires a tapered diamond or ceramic rod or file
- Fish Hooks or Pointed Objects (darts, needles, etc.): requires a straight-line sharpening groove
2. Type of Sharpener: The type of sharpener determines your level of success. Some characteristics to consider when purchasing a sharpener are:
- Sharpening Skill level
A single type of sharpener might do a broad range of knives and tools. Others are designed to sharpen specific types of edges. For example, a flat dimensional stone can be used with knives and a great variety of tools, such as woodworker’s planes and chisels. However, a flat stone cannot be used to sharpen a serrated knife blade or a pair of scissors. Likewise, a tapered rod sharpener will sharpen some serrated edges, but cannot be used to sharpen the woodworker’s tools. A precision guided system will help the unskilled user to hold a constant angle while sharpening a knife, but a skilled user of a flat bench stone can achieve the same results sharpening free-hand. Study the range of sharpener types, consider your skill level, and select the style that most suits your needs and applications.
- Fixed angle: great for quick, effective sharpening; ensures the right angle every time
- Flat stone: requires skill or angle guide to ensure correct angle; also good for sharpening small tools such as planes and chisels
- Sharpening Rods & Steels: steels are good for realigning the edge; ceramic and diamond rods will also hone the edge as it realigns
- Precision Systems: guided sharpening systems that hold the knife blade at the correct angle to the sharpener. Precision Systems provide guaranteed results every time.
- Great for quickly restoring the edge of very dull knives; especially good if you have a lot of knives to sharpen
3. Sharpening Abrasive Material: There are five major sharpening abrasive categories: Arkansas Stones, Carbides, Ceramics, Diamonds, and Synthetics. Each of these abrasive categories offers its own unique characteristics and sharpening capabilities. No matter what your abrasive preference, all of these products will produce results. The choice really comes down to how much and how quickly you want to remove metal from the blade.
- Diamonds: Because diamonds are the hardest substance known to man, diamond abrasive sharpeners are fast, durable, and very effective. They are very aggressive and remove metal quickly. Diamonds are captured in a nickel plating process to bond with a metal substrate. Premium diamond sharpening surfaces are characterized by a unique interrupted surface that collects and hold the metal filings that ordinarily build-up on the sharpening surface and obscure the diamond abrasive. This allows sharpening with or without honing solution. Excellent for use on very hard tools or stainless steel. Diamond stones always remain flat, as opposed to Natural Arkansas and Synthetic stones which wear down with use, and will even sharpen carbides. They come in multiple grits.
- Carbides: very aggressive; removes metal quickly; great for quickly restoring a good working edge in 3 or 4 strokes.
- Ceramics: removes very little metal; excellent for finishing and maintaining a sharp edge. Can come in different grits, colors, or shapes.
- Arkansas Stones: Arkansas stones are genuine silica “novaculite,” indigenous to Arkansas. They remove the least amount of metal while polishing your edge to razor sharpness; No other sharpener can perform both these tasks simultaneously. They are the best abrasive for honing and polishing an edge to razor sharpness and are known as “the world’s finest finishing stone.”
- Synthetic: man-made stone; great for quick edge setting as well as final finishing. They also come in multiple grits, colors, or shapes.
SHARPENING TIPS AND NOTES
- The secret to sharpening is consistency of angle on the abrasive surface and equal treatment on both sides of the blade (if applicable).
- Every time you sharpen your knife, tool, or scissors you are removing metal from the blade.
- Alternate sides often (if applicable).
- Check your progress frequently.
- Handle a sharpener with care to protect the surface of the sharpening components. Protect the surface during use and storage.
- Use Sharpening fluid when sharpening with flat stones. Some people recommend sharpening dry and cleaning the sharpener as needed. We recommend always using a sharpening fluid no matter if the flat stone can be used wet or dry (i.e. diamond stones) because it keeps the pores of the sharpener clear and clean, dissipates frictional heat, and facilitates a smooth sharpening action. Always use a non-petroleum based honing solution or water to lubricate the stones. NOTE: Lubricant should always be used on a Natural Stone to avoid damaging the stone. Once you use oil on a natural, synthetic, or diamond stone, it is difficult to change back to using water. Treat the decision to use oil as a permanent one.
Use enough to keep a visible layer of fluid on the stone while you are sharpening. When the pool gets murky, pat or lightly wipe up with a rag and add fresh fluid. After every use, use a little extra fluid and wipe the sharpener clean and dry after use. After 3 or 4 uses, we suggest cleaning your stone with soapy water and a mild brush to eliminate debris build-up (swarf). Glossy grey streaks are an indicator of debris build-up. An old toothbrush works great for scrubbing the stones.
- Practice sharpening on a cheap knife. If you’re worried about damaging your good knives, find a cheap knife to practice on the first time you try to sharpen.
- Sharpen regularly. Regular sharpening may involve only fine-tuning the edge, but infrequent sharpening may require much more work to restore the edge. Sharpen the edge as soon as you notice it’s not working as well as it should. If you attend to the edge soon enough, it shouldn’t take much to bring the edge back to sharp.
- Keep your sharpener where you use your knives (shop, tackle box, kitchen). You will be more inclined to sharpen a dulled edge as soon as you notice it if there is a sharpener handy.
- Reverse or replace your abrasive materials when possible to ensure a proper sharpening process.
Sharpening Straight Blades
- The straight edge blade allows a smooth and clean cut. This edge can be used for firm and soft food like meat, vegetables, and fruit.
- Inspect your blade condition by holding the knife edge up and looking down the length of the blade. Look for nicks or flats spots reflected by light.
- Is the blade nicked or extremely dull?
If so, you should start the sharpening process with a coarse abrasive material (i.e. carbide blades, coarse synthetic stone, coarse diamond stones, etc.) to remove inconsistencies in the blade edge and take it from very dull to sharp, but not finished. After setting the new sharp edge on the blade, you should move to a medium or fine abrasive material for finishing.
- Is the blade somewhat dull or just in need of a touch-up?
If so, start the sharpening process with a medium abrasive material (i.e. Soft Arkansas Stone, Medium Grit Diamonds, etc.) or fine abrasive material (i.e. Hard Arkansas Stone, Fine Diamond Stone, Ceramic, etc.) depending on how dull your blade is on the edge. If you start with a medium grit abrasive, always finish the process with a fine abrasive material to smooth scratches from sharpening and remove any remaining burr.
Sharpening Very Small Tools and the Tip of Your Blade
For very small tools or the tip of your knife blade, a sharpener with an uninterrupted surface works best because the small edges and points will not catch on the uninterrupted surface. All of Smith’s interrupted surface diamond sharpening stones have a Micro-Tool Sharpening Padä with an uninterrupted surface that is appropriate for small tools and the tip of your blade. Solid surface diamond, Arkansas, or synthetic stones also work well in this application.
Because you are working with a small object, exercise restraint:
- Do not use pressure when stroking the sharpener.
- Alternate sides often (perhaps with each stroke), or you may wear away part of the tool.
- Check your progress frequently—take small steps.
Sharpening Serrated Blades and Gut Hooks
Sharpening serrated blades and gut hooks require either a specially-shaped sharpener or abrasive material and a different sharpening technique. Usually, a tapered, round file style sharpener or typical pull-through style sharpener with specially-shaped abrasive stones will achieve the most consistent results.
The serrated edge has notches or teeth like the cutting edge of a saw. In general, the serrated edge will work better for slicing cuts, especially through hard or tough surfaces, where the serrations tend to grab and bite (or pierce) through the surface quickly. Serrated Edge blades require a tapered rod or triangular-shaped surface to sharpen. These unique shapes allow you to sharpen the whole cutting edge of the serration as well as the tips. If you use a flat stone to sharpen serrations, you can only sharpen the tips of the serrations.
- Normally, serrations have a grind on one side of the blade only. Sharpen the grind side only.
- If you are NOT using a sharpener with fixed angles, Hold the sharpener at the angle that matches the original edge angle. Fixed angle sharpeners eliminate this requirement.
- If using a tapered rod style sharpener, put the pointed, narrow end of the sharpener up against the serration and stroke the sharpener into the serration—away from the edge of the blade, toward the spine. Stop stroking when the width of the taper sharpener gets to the same width as the serration (do not enlarge the width of the serration)
- Rotate (spin) the sharpener as you go for even, consistent sharpening.
- Check progress and continue until sharp.
NOTE: Sharpening serrations on a flat stone will only sharpen the tips of the serrations. Although not optimal, just sharpening the tips alone will improve results.
- Like serrations, the gut hook requires a tapered rod to sharpen the edge.
NOTE: Do not try to fill the entire width of the gut hook with the wide end of the sharpener. This will enlarge the gut hook curve and distort the cutting edge.
- Put the pointed, narrow end of the sharpener up against the open end of the gut hook. The narrow, pointed end of the sharpener should face in toward the thickness of the blade, away from the edge of the gut hook.
- Hold the sharpener at the angle that matches the original gut hook edge angle. This will maintain the correct sharpening angle and prevent you from getting cut by the blade tip. If applicable, make sure to hold the same angle when sharpening each side of the gut hook.
- In a forward and sideways motion, stroke the sharpener from one side of the gut hook to the other. Spin the sharpener as you go. As with sharpening a blade edge, the objective is to start at the edge and stroke away from the edge.
- Alternate blade sides if needed. Do the same number of strokes on each side of the blade’s gut hook if it is ground on both sides. Keep the number of strokes to a minimum to avoid distorting the gut hook shape.
- Check progress and continue until you feel desired sharpness.
Sharpening Fish Hooks and Small, Pointed Objects
Sharpening fish hooks and other small, pointed objects (darts, needles, etc.) requires a straight-line sharpening groove. Do not use a flat stone to sharpen these objects.
- Place the fish hook or pointed object in the groove, with the point in the same direction you will stroke.
- Hold the hook or point in the groove and stroke it to the end of the groove.
- Because you are working with a small, thin object, exercise restraint
- Check progress frequently—a few strokes may be all you need.
- Do not use a lot of pressure when stroking.
- Check progress and continue until you feel desired sharpness.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best Sharpener?
The best sharpener is the one that does what you want it to do. You should choose your sharpener based on your sharpening needs, your sharpening expertise, and type of sharpening material needed to achieve the edge sharpness required. No matter what sharpener you choose, they all will work, but in their own unique way.
What is the best angle to sharpen your knife?
The consistency of your angle is more important than the degree of the angle that you use. Keeping a consistent sharpening angle on both sides gives you the sharpest possible edge. We recommend a 23⁰ angle per side as the best general purpose-sharpening angle on most sporting and outdoor knives. You can use whatever angle you wish or feel comfortable using, but remember to use the same angle on both sides in order to achieve the sharpest possible edge.
How often should I sharpen my knife or tool?
The only way to keep a sharp knife or tool is never let it get dull. We recommend that you touch up your knife or tool after every use, which makes it quick and easy to re-establish a sharp edge. If you let your knife or tool edge get dull, it is harder and takes more time to re-establish the edge to the desired sharpness.
How do I know when my knife is sharp?
You can test you knife by cutting a piece of paper or you cut food with it to see if it is sharp. Some people think shaving hair from your arm indicates your knife is sharp, but we do not recommend this method. Over sharpening your knife can be just as bad as not sharpening your knife. Once you obtain a sharp edge, stop sharpening.