Getting Started Sharpening

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

by:  Jesse Nelson

Getting Started Sharpening

Whether your knives were handmade by a Japanese master or if they came from Walmart, if you can’t sharpen your knives, they aren’t much good to you. Very little equipment is needed to sharpen a kitchen knife, but so much is available that it’s hard to know exactly what you need. This article will help you pick out the essential equipment and show you exactly how to use it to achieve a razor sharp edge.

What you will need

You will probably need to spend about a hundred dollars or less to get started. I recommend a stone, a stone holder, a stone fixer, and a spray bottle. The stone will cost about 35, the holder 20, and the fixer about 50. The bottle shouldn’t cost more than a dollar or two.

In the image above you can see some of the items I use to sharpen my knives. On top I have the Bester 1200 sharpening stone. On the bottom left I have an extra coarse diamond plate for flattening the stone. And on the bottom right I have a stone holder used to keep the stone from moving around while I sharpen. All of these items can be found on It’s not important to get the exact same equipment, any stone of about 1000 grit will get the job done. I don’t recommend getting more than one stone until you have become more experienced with setting the bevel.

Setting the bevel

What makes a knife sharp? I have drawn a picture to explain it more simply than words can.

As we rub the knife against the surface of the stone, we remove metal and begin to form a burr.  It is essential that in order to produce a sharp knife, we first must produce a burr that runs the entire length of the blade.  You will be able to feel this burr with your finger.  We then will flip the knife over, produce another burr on the other side, then remove that burr.  If we do this correctly the edge will look like the drawing on the right, and it will be sharp.

Before we can sharpen we need to prepare the stone.  That means either soaking it in water for a half hour or so, or just spraying water on it with our spray bottle, depending on which stone we have.  Then we need to learn a grip to hold the knife at a precise angle.  There are many different grips and strokes, I will show you one easy way.  With your right hand grip the knife by the handle and lay the knife on the stone on its side.  Then using 2 fingers, press down on the edge.  Here’s a picture.

Your right hand is holding the angle and your left hand is providing downward pressure.  The approximate angle can be determined by laying 3 coins under the blade like this.

You now just slide the knife forward and back over the stone, making sure to maintain the angle with your right hand, and keep some downward pressure with your fingers.  The point under your fingers is the point of the knife that is being ground down.  After a few strokes move your fingers over an inch and keep doing this until you feel a burr all the way along the edge.  Then flip the knife over and repeat until you have another burr.

Removing the burr

The final step is removing the burr.  This is a step that cannot be skipped.  The easiest way to remove the burr is to slice into a piece of wood gently with your knife a few times, making sure that your entire length of the blade makes contact with the wood.  Then take some newspaper and lay it flat on the table.  Rub your knife back and forth across the newspaper, holding it at the same angle you sharpened at.  Your knife should now be razor sharp. If it’s not, run the knife through the wood again, and against the paper again, until it is sharp.

More on finding the angle

Finding the correct angle to sharpen at takes some time and skill to learn.  Using 3 coins just gives you an idea where to start at.  With time you will be able to tell if you are sharpening at the correct angle by the noise that the blade makes as it runs over the stone.  You can actually hear the difference in vibration when the edge is contacting the stone.  Next month I will explain some more advances strokes I have developed to makes the process of sharpening easier and more enjoyable for the more experienced sharpener.  If this all sounds like too much work, you can always send me your knives and I will make them sharper than new.

Jesse Nelson

  1. Rich says:

    A u-tube presentation of your technique/s would be very helpful.

    • Hi sir. I did not write the article, but you can get basic sharpening techniques from Look for the sharpening video section. Mark Richmond demonstrates beginning sharpening techniques. I’m sure some videos of advanced sharpening techniques will arrive shortly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s