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by Steve Bottorff, Member: Ohio Knifemakers Association color photographs by Carol Butz

Introduction Testing Sharpness EQUIPMENT Sharpening Stones Guides Rod-Guided Systems Recommended Books on Knife Sharpening

Sharpening Made Easy Knife Sharpening Business INTRODUCTION

How to Start Your Own

I really admired my grandfather, who was a doctor, pharmacist, hunter and gardener. I especially admired two of his nonprofessional skills - even when he was in his nineties he could put a razor edge on a knife, then use that knife to put a perfect point on a pencil. I learned to sharpen with hand stones at Grandpa's knee, but I always had trouble with certain knives. For years I searched for the ultimate knife sharpening method. I realized that I might not have the skills required so I was willing to use whatever gadgets and machines I could find. Testing over 30 different knife sharpeners taught me what works and what doesn't, and I decided to write this article and share the information. BTW: I gave up on sharpening a pencil with a knife and bought a pencil sharpener.

The instructions that come with sharpening equipment is often inadequate. Some give no instruction at all. I note in this article when equipment comes with good instructions. There are two schools of knife sharpening - those who like a knife to keep some roughness from the stone and those who believe that it should be as smooth as possible. Both approaches have their benefits. Blades with a rough edge can be aggressive cutters, especially when the blade is thin. They have micro-serrations that act like a microscopic saw. These micro-saws are very well suited for slicing fibrous material, such as a rope. This edge is easy to produce because you just stop sharpening after a medium stone (200 to 300 grit). Blades sharpened this way do become dull faster as the points wear or bend, so frequent touchups are needed. Smooth edges are best for cutting with a straight push and are preferred by barbers, surgeons and woodworkers. Research done by John Juranitch of Razor Edge Systems (1) shows that butchers can cut more meat per shift and tire less when using a smooth edge. Analysis with an electron microscope (2) has confirmed that wood cutting ability is correlated to edge smoothness. Sharpening a smooth edge requires more work, but the results are worth it. TESTING SHARPNESS To be sure you are improving your sharpening; you need an objective way to test the results. Tests evaluating sharpness range from cutting silk to chopping trees. What you need is a test method that are useful in your workshop as you are sharpening. A major knife maker tests sharpness on nylon paint brushes.

Most people test an edge by rubbing their thumb lightly across the edge and feeling how the edge grabs as it tries to cut into the thumb pad. To keep your thumb calibrated, test a known sharp edge like a new razor blade periodically. Shaving hair on your hand or arm is another common sharpness test. Shaving sharpness can be achieved even on heavy hunting knives or an axe. I own a hunting knife that will shave even though the edge angle is a rather blunt 30 degrees. I use the term shaving sharp to describe this degree of sharpness and razor sharp to describe even greater sharpness. Razor sharpness is comparable to a razor blade and will literally pop the hairs off your hand or arm. Razor sharpness is only possible with both a polished edge and a small edge angle. Testing by shaving can be misleading if the blade has a burr or wire edge. Steel naturally forms a burr - a thin bendable projection on the edge - during the sharpening process. A blade with a burr will shave but will not stand up to hard use. To test for a burr, slide your fingertips lightly from the side of the blade over the edge. You will feel the burr drag against your fingers. Test from both sides, because burrs are usually bent over one way or the other. As your sharpening improves you will be looking for smaller and smaller burrs.

The glint along this edge means a dull blade. Many good sharpeners, including my grandfather, have learned to see a dull edge. Hold the blade in front of you with the edge in line with a bright light. Move the blade around a bit. A dull edge will reflect a glint. Nicks and burrs will also cause glints. When the blade is sharp these glints will be gone. Another test for sharpness is to press the edge lightly on your thumbnail at about a 30degree angle. If it cuts into your nail it is sharp. If it slips it is dull. The sharper the blade, the smaller you can make the angle before it slips. Try this with a new razor blade to see how a really sharp blade feels. The down side of thumbnail testing is that the little cuts in your nail get dirty and look bad until the nail grows out. For this reason some people do this test using a plastic pen or pencil.

The only affordable tool I know of for edge testing is the Edge Tester from Razor Edge Systems. The Edge Tester evaluates edges on a 100 point scale for sharpness and smoothness. The principle is similar to the thumbnail test, but the Edge Tester has a special material and shape for repeatable testing. If you're serious about sharp knives, get an Edge Tester. If you are interested in the sharpness testers used by industry, check out or THE EQUIPMENT SHARPENING STONES No shop is complete without at least one bench stone, preferably two or more of different grits. I recommend you buy the largest sharpening stones you can afford. Stones for shop use should be as long as the longest knife you plan to sharpen. Remember that Momma probably owns the really big knives around the house, and you will be expected to sharpen her 8 or 10 inch butcher knives. Smaller stones are handy for field use. Large tool suppliers such as MSC or McMaster-Carr and restaurant suppliers are good sources for sharpening stones. Natural sharpening stones include both stones found in nature and reconstructed stones. The original Washita and Arkansas stones were quarried natural stones, but now many stones sold by these names are reconstructed. The abrasive material is novaculite, a mineral related to flint and quartz containing mainly silicon dioxide. The relative hardness of novaculite is 6.5 on Mohs scale, just a bit harder than file steel. The original Japanese and Greek waterstones were also from natural sources. Natural abrasives work well on carbon steel knives, but they struggle with harder tool steels and tougher wear-resistant and stainless steels. For modern steels I recommend stones made with manufactured abrasives and industrial diamonds. Aluminum oxide, which has a relative hardness of 9.2, is also bonded to form reconstructed stones, including modern Japanese water stones (resin bond) and India stones (vitrified bond). Originally this material was from natural sources (emery and corundum), but manufactured abrasives have dominated since the early 1900s. Ceramic stones are made from alumina (aluminum oxide) or silicon carbide in a ceramic bond. Silicon carbide has a hardness of 9.5 and will sharpen anything except carbide tipped tool bits. Spyderco and others offer ceramic stones in a wide variety of sizes and grits. Industrial diamonds are made into hones by bonding them to steel and are therefore also called diamond files. Diamond has a relative hardness of 10. Two very different types of diamonds are used in diamond hones. Monocrystalline diamond hones last longer because the diamonds do not fracture readily. Polycrystalline diamond is less expensive. Diamond hones are made by DMT, Eze-Lap and others. DMT uses monocrystalline diamonds. EdgeCraft's unique answer to bench stones is the Chef'sChoice 400 series diamond file system. It consists of rather thin diamond hones that fit on a magnetic

holder. It is a very good value. EdgeCraft has a good pamphlet on sharpening which you can request from the address at the end of this article. An inexpensive alternative to stones is silicon carbide sandpaper. A piece of silicon carbide (also called wet or dry) sandpaper glued to a wooden block will work as well as a stone. Wet or dry sandpaper on plate glass is popular with woodworkers for sharpening plane irons and chisels, and for flattening the sole of planes. This method is called Scary Sharp by those who promote it. GUIDES You will also need a guide to control the sharpening angle. Guides are available for knives, chisels and plane irons. The drawback of most guides is that they waste about 3 inches of stone, so you would need a longer stone. If you mount your stone flush with your work surface, you can utilize the full stone length.

The Razor Edge Guide The Razor Edge guide clamps on the blade with four Allen screws and I find it inconvenient to use. Also I managed to grind away some of this guide when I tried it on diamond hones. If you find a Buck HoneMaster, buy it. It is a good guide but no longer made.

Unknown, Buck HoneMaster and Razor Edge guides. ROD-GUIDED STONE SYSTEMS

The Lansky rod-guided sharpening system has been the industry standard for years, with good reasons. Rod-guided systems have a rod on each stone that slides through a hole in the guide. This controls the angle and also prevents scratching the blade with the stone. Since the guide slides on the rod and not on the stone, a smaller stone is needed. Rod-guided systems sell in the $30 to $50 range, depending on the number and type of stones. A variety of stones are available, including ones for serrated blades. They will sharpen up to a 4 inch blade before you have to move the guide to a new position.

Lansky, GATCO and DMT rod guided systems. Rod-guided systems are available from Lansky, GATCO, DMT and others. The Lansky has an aluminum guide that goes from 13 to 25 degrees in 4 steps; each angle is 3 to 5 degrees lower than indicated. The GATCO guide is aluminum and reinforced plastic and goes from 17 to 34 degrees in 6 steps, each step is about 6 degrees greater than indicated. I prefer the GATCO to the Lansky because of the GATCO's larger stones and selection of angles. The DMT Aligner guide is all plastic, and goes from 12 to 35 degrees in 7 steps, which are not marked. With DMT hones, which I do not have, the Aligner would be the pick of the litter for this size of system.

The EdgePro Apex Sharpening System The class act in rod-guided systems is the EdgePro Apex Sharpening System. Ben Dale, the owner of EdgePro, has spared no expense in his pursuit of excellence in hand sharpening. The Apex is rugged and uses relatively large 1 x 6 inch aluminum oxide waterstones. The angle guide is continuously adjustable for any angle from 10 degrees to 35 degrees, with marks at 10, 15, 18, 21 and 25 degrees. My measurements confirmed that the marks were accurate. The Apex comes with a good instruction book.

Footnotes: (1) The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening by John Juranitch (2) The Complete Guide to Sharpening by Leonard Lee


by Steve Bottorff, Member: Ohio Knifemakers Association color photographs by Carol Butz

Crock Sticks Slot Gadgets Electric Sharpening Machines For Home Use

Recommended Books on Knife Sharpening


CROCK STICKS Ceramic rod sharpeners, also known as crock sticks, are completely different than bench stones. The rods are held in a vee at a predetermined angle, and the blade is brought down against them in a slicing motion. You can manually make deviations from the set angle by tilting the blade.

Unfortunately most of these sharpeners come with only one grade of rods so they have limited use. An exception is the Tri-angle Sharpmaker from Spyderco. Their deluxe set comes with two pairs of ceramic rods, medium and fine, and a pair of medium diamond sleeves for pre-sharpening. A fishhook groove, a scissors position and a flat position extend the Tri-angle Sharpmaker for special uses. The Tri-angle Sharpmaker comes with a good instruction book.

Lansky makes a handy folding ceramic rod sharpener called Fold-A-Vee. It folds for easy carrying and features two angle settings for fillet and hunting knives. SLOT GADGETS There are a whole lot of gadgets on the market that promise easy sharpening. I have tried a lot of them in my quest. Theoretically with slot-type gadgets you just draw the knife through a slot a few times and it will be sharp. Many are worthless gimmicks, but some are worth considering. The most primitive type of slot gadgets uses a pair of tungsten carbide tool inserts set at an angle. A variation uses a set of overlapping carbide wheels. These literally scrape metal away from the edge, and leave a sharp, but somewhat ragged, edge. This type shapes the initial bevel but provides no way to hone or steel the edge. I bought one and it ended up in my junk box. Benefit from my experience and save your money. More refined slot gadgets use two sets of ceramic wheels or rods, one medium and one fine. This type hones well but is limited in its ability to sharpen. In the TwinSharp from J. A. Henckels these wheels are in the same slot. In theory you might use both in one pass, but in practice I found that changing your hand position changes which set of wheels contacts the blade. Knowing this, you can sharpen and hone separately. The TwinSharp is handy for touch-ups and I used it between regular sharpenings until I gave it to a friend.

The FireStone 1302 Knife Sharpener from McGowan Manufacturing is also a two stage setup, but with sets of four interleaved medium and fine wheels, each set in its own slot. This makes it more convenient if the knife needs more sharpening than honing or vice versa. The Firestone would be especially handy if you own their electric sharpener, reviewed below. McGowan also makes a variety of other manual sharpeners marketed to fishermen and bow-and-arrow hunters. These feature additional tools like a broadhead wrench, fishhook sharpener and line cutter. Like golf spike tools and shotgun choke removers that are often featured on specialty knives, these tools are indispensable when you need one. I picked up a FireStone SharpPocket because it was winner of a product design competition. This is a single stage sharpener with only medium grit ceramic wheels. Instructions say to go light on the last few strokes to polish the edge. In my opinion the ceramic wheels are too coarse for a good edge, and they wobble. It has joined my junk sharpener collection. If you are going to benefit from a slot gadget, it must hone at an equal or greater angle than your sharpening. The Chef'sChoice Model 450 uses diamond stones at the same angles (22.5 and 25 degrees) as the final two stages of their electric sharpeners. I keep one in a kitchen drawer for use between regular sharpenings on my Chef'sChoice Model 110.

For about $2, the Normark sharpener is a best buy. The Normark knife sharpener is an inexpensive slot gadget that can be found at a sporting goods store next to Normark's fillet knives. It has two sets of ceramic rods set at 20 degrees. The medium gray rods sharpen and the fine white rods hone. I have used it to restore a slightly dull blade to shaving sharpness. It costs about $2, so it surely is the Best Buy. The Normark's 20 degrees is perfect for touching up a fillet knife where the initial edge was 17 or 18 degrees.

There is one class act in every category, and the Meyerco Sharpen-It is it for slot gadgets. Designed by Blackie Collins to be so simple that it could be used on horseback, the Sharpen-It features tungsten carbide wheels for the first stage and fine ceramic wheels for the second. The ceramic is so hard and fine-grained that it is more like using a steel. With this combination, the Sharpen-It performs well at both sharpening and honing. Unlike other slot devices, the Sharpen-It adds a third wheel to each set, giving two slots, and shapes them so that they sharpen one side of the blade at a time. This setup allows you to vary the bevel angle somewhat. Drawing the knife through at an angle decreases the bevel angle and gives a more razor-like edge. Since it is assembled with tamperproof screws, I could not measure the bevel angles, but this information is less important because you won't have to use it with another sharpener to get complete results. Also unlike others, the Sharpen-It can be used equally well left-handed. It is so compact when closed that it can be carried in the watch pocket of your jeans. The unit well built and sturdy, and features a tapered hone for serrated blades. A less expensive model is available without the tapered hone. ELECTRIC SHARPENING MACHINES FOR HOME USE Cheap electric knife sharpeners such as those found on can openers grind aggressively but with little control of angle or depth. I've seen many knives ruined by them and they have given electric sharpeners a bad reputation. Here are two electric sharpeners worth considering for household use. The FireStone Diamond Electric sharpener from McGowan is a fast machine that produces a toothy, aggressive edge with just a hint of a burr. I prefer a more refined edge and the Firestone manual sharpener reviewed above is just the tool to refine it. The instructions don't say so, but the designer recommends pulling the knife through the wheels a few times with the machine turned off to align the edge, effectively using it as a manual sharpener. But this edge, right from the machine, will slice right through a ripe tomato while a fine edge may not. The manufacturer specifies 23-degree bevels on all their FireStone sharpeners, but I measured 18 to 19 degrees on the electric sharpener and 21 to 22 degrees on the manual sharpeners. The18-degree hollow ground edge would be another reason for the aggressive cutting. The FireStone manual sharpener would hone it to a longer-lasting angle. Note: there is no generally accepted method for measuring bevel angle of hollow ground blades. I like to measure the wheel diameters and spacing and calculate the angle at the edge by trigonometry. This manufacturer suggests measuring the average angle of the entire bevel, but that varies with blade thickness. My low number is the angle at the edge, and my higher number is the average angle for a blade with 0.020 thickness at the back of the bevel, typical of a hunting knife.

The FireStone design features four interleaved, counter-rotating wheels like commercial machines, but without the adjustable angles that make the commercial machines so expensive. The wheels are 220 grit diamond-impregnated ceramic. I found it difficult to sharpen close to the bolster with the FireStone electric sharpener and, because it grinds so fast, you cannot play around much without grinding a swale into the blade. The instructions say you might need up to 10 passes on a new blade, but I found that every blade I tried was sharpened in a single pass and begin to show loss after only 3 passes. I suspect that repeated use of this sharpener would reduce knife life or require professional sharpening to re-shape the blade. I would prefer that this sharpener used finer stones and a slower speed.

The Chef'sChoice 110 features three sets of diamond hones, and does a great job of sharpening. EdgeCraft's Chef'sChoice Model 110 uses 3 sets of diamond hones and each sharpens at a different angle. The first stage is very aggressive, grinding even faster than the FireStone, but it is only used once to pre-shape the bevel. From then on you use the

second and third stages (sharpening and honing) only. The final honing is at a very sturdy 25 degrees, which will give very long edge life. (The Model 310 is similar, but with only the final two stages. I have not used one.) The Chef'sChoice is my recommendation in this class, with one caution - it has a tendency to scratch the sides of a blade, so I can't recommend it for collectible knives, but it is great for working knives. NEW REVIEW - electric.htm#chefschoice


by Steve Bottorff, Member: Ohio Knifemakers Association photographs by Carol Butz

THE SHARPENING PROCESS The Common Mistakes The Conventional Method A Multi-Bevel Method Multi-bevel with a Lansky Honing Using Oils And Water On Stones Recommended Books on Knife Sharpening


The mistakes commonly made in sharpening are uncontrolled edge angles, failure to establish a new edge, and leaving the edge too rough. The following methods address each of these mistakes. The keys to success are: 1) Use an angle guide to control the edge angle, 2) Sharpen until you raise a burr, and 3) Hone or polish the edge smooth. Some instructions refer to the sharpening motion as trying to slice a thin layer or a decal off the stone. This is bad advice, and here's why: most people won't hold a constant angle this way. Every different edge requires that you hold the blade at a different angle when slicing a thin layer. You instinctively raise the blade until you detect the edge working. This is almost a sixth sense, involving both feeling and hearing. The same thing happens when sharpening by hand. The duller the blade becomes the more you raise it more before you can sense the edge working against the stone. This creates larger edge angles as time goes on and the results gradually deteriorate. Skill and practice will overcome this problem, but the sure-fire way is to use a guide to maintain edge angle. If you do not remove enough metal to create a new edge, you will leave some of the dull edge in place. The easiest way to determine that you have removed enough metal is to grind until you have raised a burr. Steel will naturally form a burr when one bevel is ground until it meets another. You can then remove the burr in the honing process and have a sharp edge every time. A final honing and polishing will bring the edge to perfection. THE CONVENTIONAL METHOD For fast removal of the old edge, start with a coarse, fast cutting stone. Diamond stones are the fastest cutting manual stones, with Japanese waterstones second. The first step is where most of the work is, and you can benefit most from using a power sharpener. Set the guide and take a light stroke with the stone. Check the angle against the old bevel. If the new scratch pattern is on the back edge of the old bevel, you are lowering the angle. If it is at the edge, the angle is being increased. When the scratch pattern is centered on the bevel you are duplicating the original angle. Keeping the original angle is a safe strategy until you gain more knowledge.

Black marker helps show the honing angle, here with a rod-guided system. If you can't see the scratch pattern, try darkening the old bevel with a black felt tip marker, then stroke the stone again. The scratch pattern will stand out against the dark marking. When the angle is set correctly, grind one side of the blade until you have removed the old edge. Grind until you have raised a burr. The burr will appear on the side opposite the one you are grinding. With experience you will learn how to stop with just a small burr in this step. If you are not sure, grind until you can feel the burr. Then turn the blade over and grind an equal amount off the second side.

Feeling the burr. A burr is a natural occurrence in steel when one bevel is ground until it meets another. When I was learning I would show my work to my grandfather, and he would often show me that I had a burr. It seemed sharp, but the burr would eventually bend over and become dull. I tried to avoid ever raising a burr for years after that. As a result I never got anything quite sharp. Now I know that one of the secrets of sharpening is to raise a burr, then hone it away. Ceramic knives and some very hard steel will not raise a burr. Here again experience will tell you when you have ground enough. There are three basic strokes when you sharpen - sliding the stone onto the edge, sliding it off the edge, or circular strokes. At the first stage, any of the three is okay, although sliding the stone off the edge makes a larger burr, which in turn makes it easier to detect. For the next step use a medium stone. Its purpose is not so much to remove material as to grind away the scratches made by the first stone. The medium stone should be about twice as fine as the first. If you started with a 180 grit stone, you can use 320 or 360 now. Use circular strokes until the old scratch pattern is gone. Then do an equal amount of grinding on the second side.

You might still be able to detect a small burr at this stage. Finish with a few light strokes sliding onto the edge to remove the burr. This is where slicing a decal off the stone is an accurate description. The blade should now be sharp with no burr. The edge now has 320 or 360 grit micro-serrations, which is good enough for many uses. The micro-serrations are providing some of the apparent sharpness now but they will wear and bend. A steel or a touch-up stone will straighten them and bring back the sharpness. Continue to the next step if you want a longer lasting edge. For the third step use a fine stone, 600 or 800 grit, and hone using only strokes going onto the edge. Alternate sides with every stroke. This will help prevent forming a new burr. Your edge should now shave. Test it as described above. If there is roughness, go back to the medium stone. If there is no roughness but the edge doesn't have enough bite, continue with the fine stone. When the blade becomes dull, repeat the medium and fine stones. Only when the blade becomes nicked or damaged will you need to go back to the coarse stone. A MULTI-BEVEL METHOD

This variation will give you a longer lasting edge than the conventional method described above. The multi-bevel edge that results is similar to the convex edge found on Moran and BlackJack knives and the Trizor edge on Chef'sChoice knives. This method can be adapted to many types of sharpening equipment.

The first step is to grind an initial edge bevel about 5 degrees less than you want your final angle. This is sometimes referred to as pre-sharpening or thinning the blade. You will put a little more work into this step, but you will save some work later. Grind until the old edge is removed. As described above, the proof is that you have raised a burr. Now change to a medium stone and set your guide for a few degrees greater angle. On a clamp-on type guide you increase the angle by moving the guide closer to the edge. On a rod type systems you can easily select another angle. Other systems have different ways to adjust the angle. See the section below for a method using the Lansky sharpener. When you get to the fine stone increase the angle again another couple of degrees. Hone with strokes going onto the edge and alternate sides with every stroke. You are now grinding only a small area right at the edge, removing the burr and the scratches from the medium stone. Since a finer stone cuts more slowly, it usually takes quite a bit of work to remove the previous step's scratches. By increasing the angle by a couple of degrees when you change stones, you focus this work on a smaller area near the edge and reduce the work needed MULTI-BEVEL WITH A LANSKY SHARPENER

A multi-bevel edge can be accomplished with a Lansky Sharpener by fixing the rod at different positions with each stone. Here is an easy way to do a multi-bevel with the Lansky: 1. Push the rod into the coarse stone as far as it will go and still have the screw tighten against the flat. This decreases the angle by a degree or so. Do extra-coarse stones the same if used. 2. Mount the rod on the medium stones in the center of the flat per the instructions. 3. Push the rod into the fine stone only far enough to tighten the screw against the flat. This increases the angle by a degree or so. Do the ultra-fine the same if you have one.

Now, when using these stones you will automatically create a three bevel edge. Tip: replacing the thumb screws with flat head screws will give you another 1/2 inch or so of useful stone. HONING You can further improve the edge by honing the edge on an ultra fine Japanese, Arkansas or ceramic stone, 1000 grit or better. Maintain the same angle as the final step above. USING OILS AND WATER ON STONES In North America we usually use oil on sharpening stones; in the rest of the world they use water. Tests by John Juranitch show that because oil carries the dross against the edge, better results are obtained with a dry stone. However, natural stones tend to clog without oil. I prefer ceramic and diamond stones used dry, and my second choice is Japanese waterstones. I'll leave this up to your personal preference, with the following guidance. With India and bonded Arkansas stones you can use oil or use them dry. Clean them with paint thinner. Use and clean Japanese waterstones only with water, but store them dry and soak them before using. Ceramic and diamond stones can be used dry or with water. Clean them with water and scouring powder when necessary. Washita and natural Arkansas stones can be used with oil, water or dry, and cleaned accordingly. If you have used water on a stone and want to change to oil, let it dry thoroughly, and then oil it. Once you have used oil on a stone, it is difficult to change back


by Steve Bottorff, Member: Ohio Knifemakers Association

Knife Steels Sharpening Theory Stropping Using Steels Power Sharpening Machines - continued Paper Wheels Sharpening ceramic knives TABLES Mohs hardness scale

Abrasive grits Suppliers To Read Further BOOKS

KNIFE STEELS Traditionally knife blades are made from steel, an alloy of iron with carbon and other elements. The steels used in knives are called high carbon steels and typically have a carbon content of 0.5 to 1%. This steel in its unhardened or tempered state is easy to shape by forging or grinding. It can then be heat-treated to hardnesses suitable for knives. High carbon steel takes an excellent edge, but it has no corrosion resistance. Most knives today are made from some form of stainless steel. Stainless steel is made by adding 12% or more chromium to the alloy. It is a little harder to work with and sharpen, but it has the advantage of corrosion resistance. Because of this, it will hold an edge longer in wet conditions. The term surgical stainless steel is meaningless, because there is more than one stainless steel used for surgical instruments. Other elements added to steel to improve hardness, toughness and wear resistance are cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel and vanadium. The most popular stainless steels in use today are the 420 and 440 families. A typical kitchen knife will be made from one of these steels or a close relative. They are easy to sharpen and have moderately good edge retention. 440C is an excellent compromise of price and performance and is used by many custom and production makers. 440C is slightly more difficult to sharpen than the others, but has better edge retention. If you buy specialty cutlery or a custom made knife you will have more steels to choose from. ATS-34 is used by custom makers and by a few production makers, notably Benchmade. Among steels, CPM-440V is the edge retention champion, but it is difficult to sharpen. BG-42 challenges CPM-440V in edge retention, and is as easy to sharpen as 440C. Only a few custom makers are using CPM-440V and BG-42 at this time. Powdered metal technology makes it possible to incorporate higher percentages of alloying elements than will stay in solution in molten steel. Increasing desirable elements like carbon and vanadium has created a whole new family of steels like CPM440V mentioned above. CPM stands for Crucible Particle Metallurgy, and CPM is the pioneer in this area. Look for new knives to be produced with steels that start with CPM and end with a V.

Steel is heat treated to control its hardness. Steel hardness is measured on a Rockwell hardness tester. Knife blades may vary from about 55 to 62 on the Rockwell C scale. Blades over 60 Rc are difficult to sharpen and chip easily. Using combinations of tempering and annealing, the maker tries to get the perfect balance between hardness and strength. You want enough hardness for wear resistance without being brittle. Cryogenic treatment, freezing with liquid nitrogen, is used to quickly complete any further transitions in the steel that would normally take place over time, creating a more stable blade. Sometimes differential heat-treating is used to combine a hard edge with a tough spine. Mechanical methods can be used to create this same effect. Laminated steel with a hard core that becomes the edge and tough outer layers is available in both regular and stainless. The samurai sword is a well-known example of both differential heat treatment and mechanical layering. Laminated steel is different than Damascus steel. Laminated steel has all the layers parallel to the edge for strength and hardness. Damascus steel has the layers at various angles, and is often chosen for decorative effect. Another approach to knife steels has been taken by knifemaker David Boye. His knives are made from cast stainless steel. His steel has a matrix of carbide dendrites that are exposed to form a micro-saw when sharpened. These carbides are highly wear resistant. The search for edge retention led knifemakers to try the wear resistant materials like Vascowear. It is used in industrial knives subject to high wear. Vascowear is a high vanadium steel that has great wear resistance. Another wear resistant material is Stellite, a cobalt alloy with about 30% chromium, 3% or less iron and 1 to 3% of other elements. Since it contains so little iron, it is technically not steel but a cobalt-chromium alloy. Stellite tests at a low Rockwell C hardness, about 38 to 40, but it contains harder carbides that do the cutting and retain the edge. Stellite will tie or beat CPM-440V for edge-retention, but it is very difficult to sharpen. A cobalt-chromium-tungsten alloy named Talonite is similar to Stellite. Both alloys cannot be heat-treated and are non-magnetic. Titanium is known mainly for making lightweight, high-strength fasteners for aerospace use, but it is also used for knife blades. Titanium is favored for salt water diving because of its excellent corrosion resistance. Like Stellite and Talonite, titanium has a low Rockwell C hardness, but it has good wear resistance and requires diamond hones to sharpen. Titanium is also non-magnetic. Ceramic materials exhibit very high hardness and wear resistance. Boker, Kyocera and others make knives with ceramic blades. In the future expect to see surface coatings take a greater role in blade technology. It is now possible to coat extremely hard materials like carbides, nitrides ceramics and even diamond onto steel. This can dramatically improve edge retention, and application of these materials to only one side can result in a blade that is self sharpening like a beavers tooth. And dont think the underlying material will always be steel. Carbon and

ceramic fibers have some superior characteristics that I would love to see incorporated into knife blades. The materials used for grinding are measured on another scale intended for minerals. It is called Mohs' scale after its inventor, Friedrich Mohs. The original Mohs' scale runs from 1 for talc to 10 for diamond. Scientists introduced a new Mohs' scale that spreads out the scale between silica and diamond to make it more closely equal to physical hardness, but it never caught on. Because the Mohs and Rockwell scales use different methods they cannot be compared exactly, but knife steel is roughly 5.5 on Mohs' scale and files are roughly 6. A chart at the end of this article compares these scales and the new Mohs' scale. SHARPENING THEORY

A knife edge Several things - blade thickness, blade shape, edge angle, edge thickness and edge smoothness, determine cutting ability. Blade thickness is set by the manufacturer and has a great effect of slicing ability. Your hunting knife will never slice like a fillet knife or a kitchen knife, no matter what you do to the edge. It is possible to change blade thickness a little near the edge, but that can make a big difference in cutting ability.

Blade shape likewise is set when the blade is made and is determined by the usage. For instance, more belly or curve helps skinning and fillet knives slice, while a reverse curve is needed on a linoleum knife. Blade shapes like serrations and reverse curves give an aggressive look to fantasy knives. Serrations help with some cutting chores by letting the edge attack repeatedly from different angles, always slicing the material a different point. This lets you cut with less pressure. In my opinion serrated edges are desirable for three common cutting tasks slicing tomatoes, slicing bread, and cutting rope. Rescue workers like them for cutting rubber and Kevlar. All other tasks are done as well or better with a plain edge (sometimes called a fine edge). A plain edge is also easier to maintain. Sharpening is about the remaining three items - edge angle, edge thickness and edge smoothness. Edge angle is measured between the center of the blade and the bevel or flat cut by the stone. Most Western knives are double bevel, so the total angle at the edge is twice this angle. Asian knives and woodworking tools are single bevel, and the resulting smaller angle can make them aggressive cutters. That is why sashimi knifes seem so sharp. Edge angles can vary from 10 degrees to 40 degrees, but most are between 15 degrees (fillet knives) and 30 degrees (survival knives). Different angles are suited for different tasks. What's suitable in the kitchen will not do for camping. Twenty degrees is about right for kitchen knives, twenty two degrees is good for pocket knives, and twenty five degrees gives a long lasting edge to a camp knife. A good starting point is to duplicate the angle the maker put on the blade. Edge angle is difficult to measure after the fact, but is fairly easy to control when sharpening by controlling the angle between the stone and the blade. Any edge thickness under a few thousandths of an inch may be considered sharp. Paper is about 2 to 3 thousands thick and will cut you if conditions are right. Edge thickness naturally increases with wear. Ideally the flats cut by the stone would come together to make a perfect edge with zero edge thickness, but edge thickness is limited by several factors. First is malleability, or the tendency for steel to move when it is pushed. The yield strength of steel is thousands of pounds per square inch, but as the edge thickness approaches zero, it takes only a fraction of an ounce to move it. The force of your hand with a stone or steel can move enough steel to create or smooth a burr. The second limit to edge thickness is edge smoothness. You can't have a 1/10,000-inch edge if you have scratches 1/1000 inch deep. The grit of the cutting stone determines scratch pattern or smoothness. Good edge smoothness requires careful work with your finest stone. STROPPING Stropping the edge to a mirror finish on a leather strop or a buffing wheel charged with a fine abrasive can improve an edge beyond where the hone leaves off. When stropping

or buffing you always stroke off the edge to prevent cutting into the strop or buff. STEELS A butcher's steel is a round file with the teeth running the long way. They are intended for mild steel knifes that are steeled several times a day, but are not suitable for today's tougher and harder steels. I know a knife shop owner and knifemaker that disagrees, but in my opinion they belong in a knife museum along with natural stones. A meat packer's steel is a smooth, polished steel rod designed for straightening a turned edge. It is also useful for burnishing a newly finished edge. Because steels have a small diameter they exert high local pressure. Therefore they affect the metal in a knife when used with very little force. The secret of using a steel is to use an angle about 10 degrees larger than the final honed edge, and use light force. I am not aware of any guide for use with steels. The Raz-RSteel from Razor's Edge is marked for the proper angle. It's use is similar to crock sticks. A variation on the steel is the ceramic steel, where the steel rod is replaced by a ceramic one. Since ceramic is an abrasive, it can polish as well as burnish. Ceramic steels are available from many suppliers. I prefer to use a steel in the vertical position as pictured, instead of the in-the-air method.

Small ceramic steels are sometimes called zip-zaps. They are available in several grades, and are useful for sharpening serrated knives, or carrying in the field for quick touchups. Ceramic sticks without handles are available very cheaply at pottery shops if you want to make your own. There are people that swear by burned out quartz lamps for sharpening rods. They are textured at about 500 grit, and are harder than natural stones. POWER SHARPENING MACHINES - continued While hand sharpening meets the needs of most of us, a machine is the way to get the work done. Here are some power sharpeners worth considering if you do a lot of sharpening. A wet wheel machine is very useful if you have to remove a lot of material, like regrinding a broken tip. The water prevents over heating the blade and ruining the temper. Sears and Wen sell small wet wheel grinders for about $30. They are suitable for light use. The Sears Home Sharpener rest is easy to adjust and can be set from about 10 degrees to 90 degrees. It is reversible so that you can grind on of off the edge from the same rest setting. There are several 10" wet wheels available for $150 to $400. Delta and Makita sell horizontal waterstone grinders for about $200. AMT sells a version for about $100. The advantage of these is the flat bevel they put on knives. They are popular with woodworkers. Larger wet grinders for professional use cost from $400 to several thousand dollars.

The wet wheel machines mentioned above have a limited number of guides or fixtures available, mostly for planer and joiner knives and other woodworking tools. The only wet wheel grinding system with guides and fixtures for all sharpening needs is the expensive Tormek. I will review the Tormek in Part five. Woodworking catalogs offer a variety of rubberized, nylon and composite buffing wheels for sharpening. These are usually sold industrially for deburring and polishing. They require skill and practice, and they are expensive. I think paper wheels are the best choice for the home knife sharpener. PAPER WHEELS If you are comfortable using power tools, try a paper wheel system. Paper wheels are safer than buffing wheels and less likely to catch and throw a knife, but you still work with the wheels moving off the edge, like stropping, for safety. I use the paper wheel set from Razor Sharp Edgemaking Systems They are often seen demonstrated at gun and knife shows, and are also available from knife making supply shops and woodworking tool stores. These wheels mount on a grinder or buffer. The sharpening wheel is coated with silicon carbide, and grease is used to cool the blade. Buffing compound is used on the other wheel for honing. Cost is about $35 for the wheels, plus another $30 to $50 if you have to buy a bench grinder. Most paper wheel sets are 3/4" wide. Koval Knives sells its 1" wide 8" paper wheel set for only $25. Their 6" set is also 1" wide and sells for $20. I also found a cheap 1/2" set made from gray composition board instead of laminated paper. Avoid it, look for the white or brown paper wheels. I've had good luck with this system. The sharpening wheel raises a burr quickly. The honing wheel polishes the burr off and leaves a mirror finish comparable to stropping by hand. Both operations are done with the wheels moving off the edge for safety. Using paper wheels requires a little skill, but once you get the hang of it, it is very fast. I sharpen twenty knives at a time for my church's kitchen, and I can do them in less than 30 minutes with this system. The most difficult knives I ever tried to sharpen was an old set of Gerber kitchen knives. They were so hard that natural stones hardly touched them. Diamonds would grind them, but I don't have a diamond stone fine enough for a shaving edge. Paper wheels is the only system that has ever brought these knives to a razor edge. I use paper wheels a little differently than recommended by the manufacturer. Normally a grinder wheel turns toward the user, and grinding is done on the front, where debris is thrown downward. The instructions for paper wheels say to use this same rotation but sharpen on top, where debris is thrown toward you. This seems inherently unsafe to me. Here is how to modify a grinder for safer use of paper wheels.

I recommend you buy a dedicated grinder motor for this purpose. Changing the wheels too often can introduce wobble in them. When you buy a grinder make sure it has removable guards, because you are going to take them off. Put a good light over the grinder so you can see the burr as it develops then polishes away. Mount the grinder so the top of the wheels moves away from you, and sharpen and hone on top of the wheel with the edge away from you. This lets you see better, and debris or anything caught by the wheel is thrown away from you. Hold the blade level and work near the top for a small angle, down the wheel closer to you for a larger angle. If you thought trigonometry was something you learned in school but never thought you'd use, think about this. When the blade is horizontal the angle between the blade and the wheel is equal to the angle between the point of contact and vertical (identical triangles). I've marked angles of 0, 15, 20 and 25 degrees on my wheel. I put zero at the top and position the blade at the angle mark I want to grind before I start the motor. Then I turn it on and hold the angle steady as I move the knife lengthwise. Practice a little and you will learn to see the burr and where to hold the blade to get the proper angle.

SHARPENING CERAMIC KNIVES Diamond stones will sharpen a ceramic knife, but you must remove all scratches caused by the diamonds. Scratches act as stress risers and can cause the brittle ceramic blade to fracture. Silicon carbide wheels or stones can be used to sharpen ceramic knives, which are made of relatively softer aluminum oxide. Since paper wheels use silicon carbide abrasive, they too can sharpen ceramic knives. SC wheels can also remove the scratches from sharpening with diamonds. Ceramic blades will not raise a burr. You have to use the other tests to determine if you have created a new edge. TABLES

MOHS HARDNESS SCALE This chart was moved to its own page. Click this link to jump to Mohs STONES AND ABRASIVE GRADES - FIVE DIFFERENT SYSTEMS COMPARED This chart was moved to its own page. Click this link to jump to GRITS SUPPLIERS This chart was moved to its own page. Click this link to jump to SUPPLIERS TO READ FURTHER Click this link to jump to BOOKS Woodworking catalogs have lots of sharpening equipment for hand and power tools, and most of it can be used for knives. The best book on tool sharpening is "The Complete Guide to Sharpening" by Leonard Lee. It has a chapter devoted to sharpening knives. "Sharpening Basics" by Patrick Spielman covers sharpening knives as well as tools. Knife making catalogs are good sources of information. Blades N' Stuff, whose catalog was an encyclopedia of knife making, is no longer in business since the death of Bob Engnath, but their information is on the WWW at "The Gun Digest Book of Knifemaking" by Jack Lewis and Roger Combs has a good chapter on sharpening. "Step by Step Knifemaking" by David Boye covers sharpening with a belt grinder and buffer, as well as manual sharpening and stropping.


by Steve Bottorff, Member: Ohio Knifemakers Association


The secret of sharpening If there is a "secret" in knife sharpening, this is it: Woodworkers write and publish more about sharpening and have more sharpening toys than knife makers and collectors. To learn more about sharpening, read Woodworking books and catalogs. SHARPENING METHODS I HAVE USED: This section moved to systems.htm PROFESSIONAL KNIFE SHARPENERS Although I think the Chef'sChoice 120 is as far upscale as I think any household would need, here is a listing of the professional knife sharpeners and their features: Hantover - really just a grinder with flap wheel sander on one end and felt honing on the other. Creates convex bevel, requires skill and safety glasses. $225 Ekland - stainless steel knife guides, slow running wheels to avoid overheating, single angle, looks like the Chef'sChoice but works differently. $241 Chef'sChoice 2000 Commercial - this machine produces a double bevel edge, unlike the triple bevel produced by their home machines. $340 Hook-Eye Belt grinder - aluminum oxide belt similar to a knifemaker's belt grinder creates a flat bevel, requires skill and safety glasses. $429 Tru-Hone - 3" 220 grit counter-rotating wheels create a toothy hollow grind edge. Adjustable angle allows a three angle bevel that offsets the fragility of the small wheel hollow grind. $625 Heavy Duty $810 I now have a Tru-Hone, and while I do not like it as a major sharpener because of the dry grind and the small wheels, it does a great job of giving a toothy slicing edge to knives that have been sharpened on my wet grinder. Friedr. Dick SM-110 - special shaped water cooled wheels, one for each side, create flat bevel. Variable angles. Counter-rotating honing wheels to remove burr. $1493 SM111 adds adjustable honing wheels and a buffing wheel for a more refined edge. $1624 I have a SM-111, and it is the closest I have ever seen to a complete sharpening system in one unit - wet grinding, honing and polishing. It is only for knives - the scissor

attachment has limited use - but can do 400 a day. Great for a big shop or knife rental service. Manabo - wet honing on the inside surface of specially shaped wheels creates a strong convex edge, variable angle, should provide the best edge holding and knife life. $1965 Let's see, $1965 would buy almost 20 $100 chef's knives. If I could charge $5 per sharpening I would have to sharpen 393 knives to break even.... No, I don't think so. Miscellaneous Technical information Chef'sChoice The angles and grits on the Chef'sChoice 110 and 301 machines are as follows: Stage 1 20 degrees 100 grit Stage 2 22.5 degrees 200-300 grit Stage 3 25 degrees 500-700 grit Thanks to Sam Weiner of EdgeCraft for information and support. Some other sharpener angles Normark 20 degrees Hunter Honer 21 degrees Byers #1 20 degrees

Sharpening Made Easy

Knife and Cutlery Sharpening Information and Equipment Sharpening Home Page Sharpening Made Easy Book Sharpening School Start Your Business booklet. Shear Sharpening booklet Knife Sharpening DVD

The original article on the Razor Sharp system appeared in the February 1977 issue of Popular Science. Popular Science retains all rights to the article and has denied our request to reproduce it on the Internet. So, under the fair use principle for copyrighted material, we can only quote from the article for teaching purposes. Many thanks to Gary Alpaugh for preserving and scanning the article.

You can get a razor edge on all of your tools and knives by following these simple steps By JOHN A. JURANITCH * John Juranitch got interested in sharp edges as a barber in the Korean War. Later he began a full-time study of blade design and composition, abrasives, honing, steeling and other subjects related to blades and sharpening. Today, he runs a business called Razor Edge Systems in Ely, Minn. "The real expert we have to please is the meat cutter," says Juranitch. "You find a man who has pulled a blade 10 hours a day for the last 20 years. He has no Ph.D., but he will tell you if a blade is sharp. All he has to do is bury it about six inches in cold beef and pull . . . Many times when we're working a blade, we will notice blood. But we have to hunt for the cut, because a sharp edge produces a painless cut." Despite all the misunderstandings and misinformation that produce so many improper sharpening methods, Juranitch claims that getting a nearly perfect edge isn't difficult - if you understand the principles and follow a few simple rules. Read on to learn the sharpening secrets of a pro.

How to sharpen a knife: Keep your hone from moving by putting it on a soft piece of rubber or tacking small pieces of wood around it. Use a Razor Edge guide (photo above) to establish the proper angles for primary and secondary edges, or try this trick: Fold one 90-degree corner of a piece of paper in half. Fold in half again, and you have 22.5 degrees. Hold the blade at this angle or slightly less for your primary-edge face (right). Fold the paper again and you get 11 degrees. This is the angle you should use with the coarse hone for the secondary edge. Use whichever motion you prefer, back and forth or circular, being very careful to hold the angle constant. If you have trouble knowing when the burr forms (see diagram next page), check with a magnifying glass; once you see that curl you'll learn to feel it with your fingernail. When you go to the fine hone to form the primary edge, stroke the knife into the hone as if you were trying to slice it. Use only light pressure, as the edge is microscopic and pressure will distort it. Make alternate strokes on opposite sides of the blade. When the edge will shave hairs from your arm, it is usable. If you wish, concentrate on one section of blade at a time, leaving the curved tip until last.

Considering how long people have been using sharpened edges, you'd think we'd know a lot about them. But most people - even professionals in the field don't. I've seen men who have been sharpening knives for half a century and still have little idea of what they're doing. We're found that the largest meatpacking companies in the world don't know what to tell new employees when it comes to sharpening. Before I get down to the secrets of sharpening, let me tell you some of the things we've learned that aren't true. First, despite what you hear to the contrary, fine manufactured hones are far superior to the natural ones. That's not to say that natural hones are no good; they're just highly overrated. And second, I'd like to puncture the biggest myth going - and I can hear the howls already. But we've learned the hard way. You're better off with a dry hone. I don't care what every sharpening book in the world says. You can save that oil and use it in your crankcase. The basic problem with using oil for sharpening is that as you sharpen, grit from the hone and steel particles from the blade become suspended in the oil and form slurry. The very fine edge you're putting on the blade actually runs into the particles of hone suspended in the oil. It's as though you were trying to sharpen your blade by running it through a sand pile.

I've had this point proved to me many times. A few years ago, we were called into Iowa Beef; the worlds largest. The meat cutters thought our edges were great, until one day management asked us why we didn't use oil. We explained situation, but they asked us to try anyway, just to see what would happen. So we used oil. It wasn't long before the reports started coming back from the lines that the quality of the edges had dropped. So we cleaned all the oil off the hones and the reports suddenly got better.

For true sharpness, try the Razor Edge steel. With the wings set to the proper angle and the knife blade parallel to the center support, the blade wipes the steel edge at precisely the right angle. If your hone is saturated with oil, wash it thoroughly with hot water and soap before using it next time. Keep your fine hones clean by wiping with a rag; vigorously slap coarse hones on your hand, and all the loose particles will fall out. One final tip: All new hones come with a smooth, dull finish on them and will not work properly until you wear through that surface. As for sharpening itself, it doesn't make any difference what kind of blade you have. Sharp is sharp, whether you're cutting whiskers, leather, wood, or meat. When you begin a sharpening job, remember the two critical steps. First, do a good job of tapering the edge back with the coarse hone. This produces blade relief, and is the most important part of sharpening (the diagrams show why). A blade with good relief will sharpen easily to a high quality edge. Second, set the primary cutting edges with your fine hone. Don't get too anxious, pay attention to your angles, and you'll always be able to get a knife-edge that will shave the hair on your arms without touching your skin. For further info, write Razor Edge Systems, Box 604, Ely, Minn.

Edge design and sharpening Edge design starts with a decision on how much taper to build in, and is determined by what you plan to do with the edge. The rule is to taper it back just short of the point at which it will collapse when worked most severely.

Thus for a chisel, A would be best. For a knife designed to do everything from cutting rope to opening 55-gallon drums, B is a good choice. But for a professional meat cutter and most of your kitchen, hunting, and pocket knives, taper back to C.

For meat cutting, Juranitch hollow-grinds the taper this way: The blade is 0.02 of an inch thick an eighth of an inch behind the cutting edge, and 0.04 of an inch thick one-quarter inch back. The tapering is called relief, and its importance cannot be overstressed. A blade with good relief will sharpen quickly; one with poor relief, slowly. Only a blade with good relief will take a superior edge.

Keep taper angle in mind as you begin sharpening a blade. Chances are, a dull blade looks something like A. Held at the proper angle during sharpening, it will grind to shape B. When it reaches this point, a small burr will rise as shown. This is critical; it tells you that you have ground enough. You may not be able to see the burr, but you can feel it by running your finger over the edge at a 45degree angle or by running a fingernail across the edge. Now turn the blade over and grind on the other side, making sure your burr comes up (C).

The most important secret of sharpening : To this point, the blade has been ground to form a secondary edge face. But for a really sharp edge, you must form the primary-edge faces that come together to form the actual cutting edge. The secondary faces were formed on a coarse hone, since a good bit of metal might have had to be removed. Now, for the primary edge, switch to a fine hone and increase the angle. This is called double edging and is the secret of a really fine edge

_______________________________________________________________ ____________ What does an edge really look like?

The editors of Popular Science were curious about what an edge looks like under high magnification. So John Juranitch sharpened a number of knives by different processes, then cut almost through the blades on a grinding wheel so that we could snap off one-inch-long sections and have them photographed under a scanning electron microscope. We took them to Structure Probe, Inc., of Metuchen, N.J., where the following pictures were made.

Anatomy of an edge

At 100X magnification, the secondary edge shaped with the coarse hone can be seen at top. The smoother surface below is the primary edge.

Oil vs. dry honing An edge made by a hone has some tooth pattern no matter how sharp. These edges are shown at 3000X magnification. The dry-honed edge (top) is somewhat rough. But the one honed in oil (bottom) has several large chips taken out of it something like an arrowhead that has been chipped away to produce an edge. Juranitch suspects these chips were caused by particles of grit suspended in oil, claims this edge would not compare with a really sharp dry-honed edge.

Try steeling for a really superior edge The steeled edge has been smoothed out (top) into an even sharper cutting edge, as though someone had wiped the frosting on a cake with the side of a knife. Notice that there are no primary furrows (caused by the hone) left in the steeled area. Bottom photo shows a more heavily steeled edge. The metal has actually flowed back as though it were molten. This is an edge no hone will ever equal. But be careful not to over steel. In some microphotographs we've taken, you can see a thin hair of metal peeling away from such an over steeled edge. That ruins the edge and the blade has to be honed again.