My Tools –
The main tool that I use for sharpening is a Worksharp: Ken Onion Edition Knife and Blade Sharpener. It allows me to set the angle, belt speed, and stroke to put the perfect edge on any blade. The knife sharpening process involves 3-5 different belts, with grits ranging from 120-4000, in order to have full control over the shape of the edge.
Courser, lower number, grits are used for restoring a completely worn-down edge and for use with hard metals, such as carbon steel or Damascus steel. Finer, high number, grits are used for delicate edges, such as straight razors and professional hair-styling scissors, as well as honing a blade between uses or after sharpening.
Honing vs sharpening –
“Sharpening” is the process of removing small amounts of metal to expose a sharp edge. “Honing” pushes small amounts of metal into the correct shape instead of removing it (technically very very small amounts of metal are also removed during the homing process but you would only know it using a scale or microscope sensitive enough to pick up individual molecules), resulting in a smooth finish. The general rule-of-thumb is that honing will keep a sharp knife sharp but will not restore a dull edge even if only slightly dull.
Sharpness vs durability –
There is an inverse relationship between the sharpness of an edge and its durability. The simplest way to imagine this is to think of an ax and a scalpel: an ax is nowhere as sharp as a scalpel but you can cut down multiple trees before it gets blunt, while a scalpel would be worthless after cutting through just 1 branch even though it is so sharp it requires practically no force to cut with.
The primary factor that determines where an edge lies on the sharp/durable spectrum is the angle it is sharpened at. The construction material is also a factor but most house-hold items can be sharpened to a wide range of angles with no problems.
There is a lot of discussion about angles in the sharpening community. There are a lot of reasons why different blades are sharpened to different angles but it boils down to the intended use of the blade and where it should be on the sharp/durable spectrum in order to perform its intended function as long as possible (remember, the sharper an edge the more vulnerable it is to deformation and blunting).
These are the angles I use for different items. I find they are perfect for 99% of my customers but if you want me to use a different angle, just let me know and I will do so.
- 40 degree – cloth and utility scissors
- 30 degree – cleavers and yard care equipment
- 25 degree – pocket, hunting, and utility knives
- 20 degree – most kitchen knives
- 17 degree – Japanese style kitchen knives
- 10 degree (or less) – razors, and professional hair-styling scissors