This article is written for those of you who are not satisfied with just having a sharp knife, and for those of you who would like to make your knife as sharp as the devil himself. There are many ways to sharpen a knife, and my method is just one of many, so before we begin, let me explain the pros and cons of this particular sharpening method.
The best thing about this method is that, if done properly, it can result in a ridiculously sharp knife. The worst thing about this method is that it takes quite awhile to do it correctly.
Also, I have found that this method is not very good for sharpening cheap knives. If your knife is some cheap piece of junk that you bought for 5 bucks, this method will sharpen it, but it will never attain the same sharpness that a good knife would. Therefore, this method would be impractical for sharpening cheap-ass knives because of how long it takes.
If you are trying to sharpen a low-quality knife, just go out and buy a sharpening device like the one pictured below:
To use these, you just run the edge into the V-shaped notch and pull back as shown:
The thing that separates low-quality knives from good-quality knives is mainly the quality of the steel. So, if you actually have a knife that is worth a damn, and you want it to be real good and sharp, and you are willing to put in some serious care to make it as sharp as possible, then you will need:
- Your knife
- A good sharpening stone
- A steel file
- A leather belt
- Some oil (water and other liquids can substitute, but oil is better)
- An understanding of what is written below
A word about the oil; as far as I know, any kind of oil can be used, or almost any kind of liquid. Obviously, don't try to use a liquid that leaves a sticky residue like Pepsi. I have used my own spit numerous times and it works well.
As for the part about understanding what is written below, here it is...you need to understand the difference between a rough edge (which is what your knife probably has now) and a razor edge (which is what we are going to put on it).
The biggest and most obvious difference between them is that a rough edge tapers twice, while a razor edge is one smooth taper. The drawing below illustrates the difference. It shows what the edges look like when you look at the knife point-on.
The rough edge is what most knives have when you buy them. This is simply because it is easier (and therefore cheaper) to sharpen a knife this way. Chances are, this is what your knife has. Changing it to a razor edge will not remove nearly as much material from the blade as the drawing might seem to indicate. It simply illustrates a change in the shape of the blade. A razor edge cuts much better, but takes much more skill to create and maintain.
We will begin by taking the steel file and using it to grind off that pesky rough edge. It doesn't really matter which direction you grind in (for now) because you are just removing some metal that you don't want. However, you do need to be careful that you are grinding in the right place. The right place is shown by the arrow in the picture below:
As you can see, you grind at the point where the second taper begins. This will gradually turn it into one smooth line, as you see in the drawing marked "razor".
So, use the thin edge of the file against the right place as shown...
And then grind back and forth against that spot. Check your work frequently, using your eye and your thumbnail. Once again, you are looking for one smooth taper. Do not stop grinding until you have that. If you skimp on this step, none of the other steps will work.
When you have finished removing the rough edge from one side of the blade, turn the knife over and get the other side of the blade:
Here are a few pictures of me grinding the rough edge off of a pocketknife blade:
Once again, do not move on to step 2 until the rough edge is completely removed.
Now that your edge is properly shaped, we must hone it to that keen sharpness that I have promised you.
To do that, we will sharpen it on three different surfaces: first steel, then stone, then leather, in that order. The technique we use for all three surfaces will be more or less the same. So, we shall begin with steel.
Oil or wet the whole blade of your knife. If your file is dirty, clean it with a wire brush. Now, set the end of the file against a table and hold it up at about a 45-degree angle. Set the edge of your knife against it as shown:
Now draw the knife back and up the file, making sure to keep the edge flush against the file...
And continue on until you reach the tip of the blade.
A word here on pressure: Use about as much pressure as you would if you were spreading butter on toast. Too much pressure and your knife will just get mangled and big chips might come off the edge. Too little pressure, and it won't get sharp.
Now, turn the knife over and get the other side. Notice that this time you start at the tip rather than ending at the tip:
Repeat this process until your blade reaches a reasonable level of sharpness. Only experience will tell you exactly when to move on to the next step, but when it has become noticeably sharper than it was before, it is probably fine to move on to the next step.
Remember to use the same number of strokes on each side. If you repeat this process exactly you will be grinding evenly, but if you want to make three strokes on one side, then turn it over and do three strokes on the other side, that is also fine...as long as you sharpen it the same number of strokes on both sides.
Start by wiping your blade clean, then lubricate it again with fresh oil (or water, or spit, or whatever else you may use). Then, lubricate your stone thoroughly. Set the stone flat on a table. A rough surface works better because the stone slides around less. Using your finger against the blade to keep it flush against the stone, draw it across the stone diagonally in the same way that you did with the file. Once again, start at the base of the blade, grinding on the left-side edge of the blade, as shown:
Now flip it over and get the other side, starting at the tip end:
As before, make sure the edge remains flush against the stone, so that your grinding angle is consistent. As before, use about as much pressure as you would if you were spreading butter on toast. And also as before, be sure to grind evenly on both sides. When your blade has become noticeably sharper, it is probably time to move on to the next step.
This is the final step which will give your blade the razor-sharp cutting edge you want. By this point, it should already be pretty sharp, but this is what will make it as sharp as the devil himself. Old-time barbers used to use this trick to sharpen their razors. Start by taking your belt and passing the end through the buckle, so that you can loop one end around your foot like so:
Now, you stretch the belt out and oil/wet the hell out of it. The more the better. After the belt is thoroughly lubed, you just use it as if it were a sharpening stone or a file, but with two differences. The first difference is that you do it faster. The extra heat generated by the friction aids in creating a razor-sharp edge. The second difference is that you do not draw it back and forth in the same way. Instead, you draw it up one side:
Then down the other:
Notice that you are not dragging the edge across the leather as before...that would probably cut your belt up. Just repeat the above process, up one side and down the other, until that part of your blade is sharp enough to shave with. Test this by carefully shaving a section of your arm like so:
Be careful here...I will not be held responsible if you cut yourself. Now, once that section of the blade is sufficiently sharp, move up the blade to the next section and do the same thing. When that section of the blade is sharp enough to shave with, move up again, and so on until you reach the tip and the whole knife has been made razor-sharp.
I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial. It might take you awhile to get this process right, because it is kind of an art in itself. The first time you try to do it, you may get very frustrated, but just remain patient and refer back to these instructions if you have any problems. Feel free to comment if anything here is unclear or if you have any questions.
So in closing, have fun with your newly-sharp knife, and please don't stab anyone with it unless you really have to.