Knife Sharpening Tips: It's All About the Angle

News & Tips: Knife Sharpening Tips: It's All About the Angle...

All outdoorsmen use a knife and yet how to obtain an edge remains a mystery to most. It takes some skill but it doesn't require a PhD. Our granddads used whetstones but with today's super hard knives, you'd work all day to obtain an edge.

KnifeSharpening blog
This is the author's favorite stone — Smith's Tri Hone Sharpener.

But if your edge catches light, it has a flat or dull spot.

I've worked for three of the Top 4 beef packing plants and taught knife sharpening seminars at Bass Pro Shops and many other places. To condense all of this into one small article will be impossible but let's hit the basics and then it will be up to you to practice.

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How to Sharpen a Knife

The key to sharpening a knife is to hold the same angle the full length of the blade and to do the same number of strokes on each side. It doesn't matter if you go backwards, forwards or stand on your head, but it's easiest to maintain the same angle by cutting into the stone.

Every knife manufacturer uses a slightly different angle. Try to match the original angle and shave the top layer off the stone. Pressure speeds up the process, but again, the most important thing is a consistent angle.

knives tools shop nowAfter doing your rotations, if you feel good, stop and check it out on a piece of paper. If your edge is whacked out, slow down and focus on a consistent angle. Like I say, if you obtain a consistent angle, you're there.  

In actuality, that's all there is to it, and yet if it's that simple why do so many people struggle?

Common Mistakes When Sharpening Knives

The most common problem is changing the angle as you hone. I find it easier to keep the correct angle as I go into the curve of my blade by lifting my elbow. Otherwise I tend to flatten out.

smiths diamond stone sharpener
Smith's fine diamond stones

Another issue is using cheap knives. At one seminar I attended, I noticed someone having trouble getting an edge. No wonder — he was using a cheap knife. He had no confidence in his sharpening ability due to a bad knife, not his sharpening ability.

Grinders rapidly shorten the life of the blade. If you mis-use your knife and break off the tip, you have no choice but to reshape the blade on a grinder. But be careful so you don't overheat the metal and take out the temper.

To get the hang of it, start with a softer knife. They hone down faster and help build up your confidence.

I like the Smith's fine diamond stones. I've seen other diamond stones that have inconsistent surfaces.

If you've been taught a different method, don't freak out. If your method works, stick with it. If you're having trouble, try a few suggestions in this article and see if they work.

Cleaning the Sharpening Stone

Clean your stones with warm soapy water to remove metal particulates. If using an Arkansas stone, apply a few drops of honing oil to it. The oil carries the metal fragments away.