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New to sharpening – question about technique

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This topic contains 3 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  tcmeyer 07/12/2018 at 1:52 am.

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    So I recently picked up a WE130 and a set of 800/1000 stones. I’ve been practicing on a few inexpensive knives and wanted to double check my technique to make sure I’m doing things properly.

    I start would with mounting the knife fairly centered and level on the spine. I’ve been picking an angle that makes sense for the application which for something like a chef’s knife, I set the WE130 to ~17 DPS (as indicated by the inside edge of the bracket). Measuring with a digital angle cube I’ve found that despite the setting, I’m getting more like 15.4-15.8 DPS (varies left to right) I’m assuming due to the height of the blade. I cover the edge in sharpie and make a few passes with the 1000 stone. If it goes from bottom of the edge to top of the tip, I move it a bit forward, and visa versa (found many need to be pushed quite forward). A lot of the knives I’ve been working with have been exceedingly dull, so I’ve just treated it like a re-profile and not worried about checking to see if my angle is good or not.

    Starting with the 100 stone, I apply very light pressure and work on one side (up and out stroke toward tip) until I’ve created a bur, occasionally giving the other side a few strokes to give my arm a rest. Once I get a burr (when a cotton swab catches on the opposite side) I switch to the other side until a burr is created. This takes on average for me about 100 strokes each side coming from a completely untouched knife. I clean the blade every so often to stop accumulation of metal shavings.

    Following this, I work up in the grits, alternating left / right with each stroke, with light strokes. After about 30 strokes each side, I give one side 5 in a row and check for a burr, doing so on the other side as well if I detect one, and then giving a couple left / right strokes before moving on to the next grit. I do this all the way up to 1000 grit and find that about 40 strokes each side is sufficient. I haven’t been creating a microbevel, but if I were, my plans were to increase 2 DPS and do ~5 light strokes each side. I also have some strops, but have yet to use them.

    Once I’ve finished up to 1000 grit, I find the knives are sharp and will cut paper, but only slicing, not a push cut. I understand that a lot of sharpness, etc, has to do with the steel and angle itself, so I’m curious if this is a problem with my sharpening technique or simple that I need to go higher in grit to achieve the sharpness that I’m looking for?  I also don’t know how accurate I should be with setting angles, namely if I should try to get the sides to match within what resolution of degree (1 degree, 0.5, 0.2, 0.01, etc)? I’m also not sure how stropping should be done, i.e. before or after microbevel, and at what angle? Any help is appreciated! Thanks.


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    Cameron, the angle markings/indexes on the square bare are just an approximation.  You should set your desired 17º (dps)  angle using  the angle cube.  Is that what you did when you determined the actual angles were more like 15.4º and 15.8º ?  After you realized the actual measured angles (i.e., using a zeroed out digital angle cube) were less then desired, did you loosen the locking screws and move your mini “L” brackets wider out from their current setting by a couple divot holes, then rechecked the angles with the angle cube.  At this point you should make your fine tuning adjustments with the micro-angle adjustment screws, in or out as needed to reach your 17.0º setting. (Within your devices resolution is fine if that’s the best you can achieve). Then when both sides are measured at 17.0º with the diamond stone leaning against the knife edge at the center of the vice, you should make sure all your adjusting screws are snugged tight to prevent any movement while sharpening.

    I always start with a scrubbing motion to one side.  When I feel the burr on the opposite side along the entire length of the knife edge, heel to tip, I’ll switch the scrubbing to that opposite side and repeat the entire process.  Remember it’s usually easier and quicker to raise the burr on the second side than the first side burr.  Drawing a burr is a physical indication that you’re grinding steel off and up to the edge of the knife edge, (i.e., the apex).  I continue stroking till both sides are equal in the bevel height.  At this point I do left-right-left-right alternating strokes to insure I have brought the edges up to the center and apex.  Then I feel all along the entire length of the knife edge heel to tip to verify even sharpness.  I continue to work the as necessary till it feels evenly sharp along the length of the edge.  I use a lighted magnified visual aide to verify I have reached my apex, each side bevel is equal in height, and my scratch pattern appears consistent along the entire blade length.  Then I’m ready to step up a grit.  Each different knife and each different steel depending on its starting condition can take more or less time then the next knife.   I do not count strokes.  I work by feel and visual inspection of my progress.

    I do not draw a burr again with subsequent grits.  I believe it is unnecessary and waste steel.  I check by finger feel for sharpness.  The knife edge should look and feel smoother and sharper and the scratch pattern should get finer and closer together as you progress through the grits.  I do verify my set angle with the digital angle cube at each grit change and micro-adjust accordingly.  Other Wicked Edge users may not do this.  It’s up to you your preference.

    Each grit I start with a light one sided scrubbing stroke across the entire blade length heel to tip then switch sides.  I again follow up with alternating left-right-left-right strokes doing it, again, systematically the same, to blend the length of the edge and verify it’s apexed along the entire edge.  When it sounds right, feels right and looks right I’ll move up to the next grit. Again I don’t count strokes.  I attempt to keep my work even side to side and visually verify my progress.  Each subsequent grit may take less effort than the prior grit.

    I do check the edge for progress of sharpness at each grit by pulling a small square piece of news paper down onto the sharpened edge while holding the paper at the bottom corners.  As I work up the grits I can feel the paper cut easier, smoother and with less resistance.  If not I look to see what needs to be done to make improvements.

    When I finish with the final grit level I want to utilize I reduce my set angle by 2º each side.  In your case, to 15º.  After cleaning the knife edge and blade sides clean of debris I begin a strop progression.  This is always edge trailing, up and off the edge, and alternating, left-right-left-right strokes.  Depending on what I’m sharpening and how polished an edge I want I’ll either use a two grit strop progression or four grits for a more polished bevel.  It’s is very discernible, for me, the different in edge sharpness feel between unstropped and stropped knives.  A properly sharpened knife, (i.e. with the edge drawn to an apex) when stropped should be easily able to push cut news paper if it was sharpened with enough care and proper technique.

    I have been able to easily push cut newspaper with a knife made of cheap soft steel sharpened at 20º dps that was stropped in two grits, 4µ/2µ.  I believe time and technique makes the different. Stropping is always the very last and final step.



    (MarcH's Rack-It)

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    How many knives have you sharpened at this point? My experience was that the first several knives did not turn out nearly as sharp as I had expected. Like you had done, I also used the diamond stones without the strops. My first edges were similar to yours; slicing paper, but not smoothly and not push cutting. I suspect that the strops will help a lot with performance.

    In contrast, I sharpened a very cheap Faberware kitchen knife on Saturday. I sharpened it at 20 degrees per side and only up to 600 grit. I then stropped it with the 4 micron / 2 micron strops. It push cuts thin news print and is hair popping sharp. It won’t hold that edge for long because the steel is very soft, but it only took about 10 minutes of work to get it there.

    Follow Marc’s advice and keep sharpening cheap knives. It won’t take long for things to improve noticeably.

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    I want to make a point here regarding the initial objective of reaching a burr on one side.  We’ve preached here about producing a full-length bur on one side before proceeding to the other side.  But if you have a REALLY dull knife and work one side only, your apex will be well off-center when you finally get a full-length burr.  I suggest that you work both sides alternately – maybe 10-20 strokes on one side, then the same number on the other side until you produce at least the start of a burr.  Then you can stay with that side until the burr is full length.

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