1. How to Choose the Right Sharpener

What Kind of Blade Are You Sharpening?

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 One Side

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).

Serrated Edge

requires a tapered diamond or ceramic file or triangular shaped ceramic rods or stones

Scissors

requires a straight-line sharpening groove

Broadheads

requires a straight-line sharpening groove

Gut Hook

requires a tapered diamond or ceramic rod or file

Fish Hook or Pointed Objects

requires a straight-line sharpening groove

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What Style of Sharpener is Best?

Manual Sharpeners

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.

Electric Sharpeners

Great for Everything

Electric Sharpeners reat for quickly restoring the edge of very dull knives; especially good if you have a lot of knives to sharpen

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What Level of Abrasion Do You Need?

Diamond

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.

Carbide

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 Stone

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.

Hard

Soft

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2. General Sharpening Tips

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.

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3. Sharpening Tips By Blade Type

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.
  • If the blade is nicked or extremely dull, 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.
  • If the blade is somewhat dull or just in need of a touch-up, 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 Small Tools and Blade Tips

  • 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 Pad 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

Serrations

  • 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 Pad 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.

Gut Hooks

  • 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 Pointed Blades

  • 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.

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4. Frequently Asked Questions

1. 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.

2. 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 23° 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.

3. 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.

4. How to 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.

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