Sharpening can vary widely in terms of techniques, tools and process which will vary by blade design and purpose. There are many mechanical options available, but typically there are limits to how accurate a fast moving belt or stone can create a perfect edge. This is why have a static sharpening surface, like a water stone, while moving and controlling the blade over the stones delivers a better final edge.
Sharpening knives on water stones is a multi-step process. A planned progress is determined by what kind of knife is being sharpening, what steel the knife is made of and what series of stones will deliver the best results. There are really two surfaces to manage throughout sharpening, the surface of the knife and the surface of the stone.
Sharpening Culinary Knives
The degree angle maintained for the blade on a stone will vary by virtue of the kind of knife and the intended use of the final edge. For culinary knives, the desired angle is typically 11-15º which is important to maintain throughout the process if you’re really going to have a chance at refining that edge throughout the progression of stones.
Getting to Sharp
Heat Treatment is a term that implies several steps to ensure the steel is hardened to hold an edge without being so brittle that it would chip or snap while in use. Heat treatment needs to be a balanced approach to ensure the right amount of toughness, edge retention and sometimes flexibility. Think of these three traits on a sliding scale where achieving more of one usually results in a less of another. These traits also vary by steels used and become more complex to manage when you forge more than one steel into a single blade.
The Wire Edge – Creating a Burr
Throughout the sharpening process you should be sensitive to feedback from stone and the knife. Listening to tonal changes as the knife is stoked over the stone, creating and feeling the burr that builds with your finger tips and knowing when it’s time to move onto the next stone are all factors that determine how well a knife is sharpened.
The Final Strokes – The Strop
The final steps are only going to be successful if the entire process was properly managed to that point. Using good light, being patient and sensitive to the process will get you there, but there are no real short cuts.
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