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How to Sharpen a Knife: DYI with these 13 Easy Steps - Kakushin

How to Sharpen a Knife: DYI with these 13 Easy Steps

In this blog, we will delve into the basic techniques of sharpening knives on traditional whetstones. Whether you are looking at sharpening your Japanese knives, your traditional kitchen knives, or even outdoor knives, this blog is constantly updated to provide you with an up-to-date overview featuring valuable tips and tricks that will ensure your blades become and stay razor-sharp in 2024.

Step 1. Choosing the Right Grit

The key to effective knife sharpening lies in selecting the appropriate grit for your whetstone.

You can view our variety of stones available: Sharpening Stone Collection.

For kitchen knife repairs or sharpening thicker outdoor knives, we recommend using grits ranging from #200 to #800 for their abrasive and quick grinding power.

Move on to grits between #800 and #2000 for a balanced sharpening that won't remove excessive material.

Finally, the higher grits, from #2000 to #10000+, are reserved for the final polishing. It's worth noting that while carbon steel blades benefit from the extra polishing, we typically see no added value exceeding #3000 on stainless steel knives.

Keep in mind that most stones must be soaked in water for 10-15 minutes prior to being used. However, some latest models on the market are called "Splash-and-go," which saves you that headache and should never be left soaking in water.

Whetstone Soaking

Step 2. Using the Right Angle

Understanding the right angle is crucial for achieving a sharp edge. For standard kitchen knives with a 50/50 grind, we suggest sharpening Japanese or artisan-made knives with a hardness of around 60HRC at 12-15 degrees. Knives below 59HRC should be sharpened at approximately 20 degrees, while utility knives like those used outdoors or for hunting and fishing may benefit from a 25-degree angle to avoid chipping while being put to work and bones, wood and other hard materials.

Keep in mind that a more aggressive edge (lower angle) requires harder steel to maintain sharpness. While using an angle guide can be common in some user-guides, you can also use everyday items found at home like dollars/coins to achieve the desired angle.

We found that using 5x 1 CAD dollars will give an approximate 15-degree angle on a chef's knife, and 6x 1 CAD dollars will give you closer to a 20-degree angle.

Coin Knife Sharpening Degree Hack

That being said, while precise angles sound great and professional, focus on maintaining a steady angle rather than obsessing over minor degree differences, as a properly held 20-degree angle can be sharper than an uneven 12-degree angle.

You can use a Sharpie marker in order to make a temporary line on your edge. This will help you ensure that you are keeping a concise angle while sharpening your knife. We will refer to this line later in the blog.

Step 3. The Right Pressure

Determining the right pressure during sharpening is subjective and depends on the grit and material of the whetstone. For basic sharpening, apply light pressure – enough to hold the blade, plus a bit more.

Watch out for red fingertips, as this could indicate excessive force. Remember that finding the optimal pressure is a personal preference, and experimentation is key to discovering what works best for you.

Step 4. The Process

Before your first go at sharpening, keep in mind that this is not a race and that efficient and steady movements are key to mastering knife sharpening. By utilizing the entire surface of the stone and a steady angle determined by our coin trip above, you'll stay ahead of the learning curve and be more efficient in your sharpening.
Sharpening Coin Hack

Step 5. Cover the Entire Stone Surface

Begin by using the entire surface of your whetstone. Make long, sweeping strokes to achieve better and faster results. This practice also promotes even wear on your stone. Avoid focusing solely on the middle to prevent premature erosion.
Sharpening Knife on Stone - Front

Step 6. Count Your Strokes

As you work on one side of your knife, make a series of back-and-forth movements. Count your strokes as best as you can. The goal is to repeat this stroke count on the second side. Ensuring uniformity in your movements contributes to maintaining a balanced 50/50 cutting edge.

Step 7. Detecting the Burr:

Continue your movements across the entire blade until you can feel a burr developing at the cutting edge. A burr is a slight metal protrusion that catches on your fingernail when rubbed. This signals that you've successfully sharpened one side of the blade.

If you created a Sharpie line earlier, you can reference back to it and see if your sharpening is even before you move to the second side.

Step 8. Transitioning to the Second Side

Once the burr is detectable across the entire length of the first side, switch to the second side of your knife. Repeat the process until you can feel the burr slowly bending toward the first side.

Maintain a consistent stroke count to avoid creating an uneven cutting edge.

Sharpening Knife on Stone - Back

Step 9. Moving to Polishing Stones

Once you can feel the burr on the second side, it's time to move on to polishing stones. The goal here is to release pressure and polish the edge, removing the burr. Be cautious not to spend too much time on the polishing stone to prevent the re-formation of a big burr.

As a quick trick, some will even use an edge forward movement in full strokes on their polishing stone to provide an optimal polishing and deburring of the edge. Here once again, keeping a steady angle is key.

Knife Deburr on Stone

Step 10. Gradual Grit Transition

Avoid jumping from a low grit to a high grit too quickly. Gradual transitions yield better results. The polishing process should be a smooth continuum for optimal sharpness and polishing results.

Step 11. Cleaning the Burr

After achieving the desired sharpness and polishing results, address the burr by using an optional leather strop and polishing compounds.

Refer to our leather stropping guide for more detailed information on this essential step.

    Leather Strop Knife Movement Forward

    Step 12. Sharpness Test

    To verify if your knife has been adequately sharpened, you can utilize the well-known paper-cutting trick or test its performance in the kitchen. Ultimately, as the one familiar with how your knife performed when it was new, you are the best judge of your own work.

    Paper Test Knife Cut

    Step 13. Stone Care & Maintenance

    Lastly, before you store away your sharpening and polishing stones, be sure to maintain them as well so that they remain flat and smooth. Once your stones start to cave in, they will lose their effectiveness and will need to be replaced. To prevent them from degrading, use a flattening stone or flattening powder at the end of every few knives sharpened to clean and flatten your stones. Then, let them dry and store them away.

    Flattening Stone

    To sum things up and to give you a bit of confidence in yourself, sharpening knives on stones is a skill that may not be mastered after the initial session. Don't give up! Once you grasp the technique, you'll be able to consistently maintain your knives, gradually reducing the time spent on each sharpening session, minimizing metal removal on your knife, and ensuring your knives remain chrisp-sharp all the time.

    If you feel that there are aspects missing from our 101 Sharpening Basics, kindly share your insights in the comments section below. Additionally, we'd love to hear about the outcomes you achieved using these straightforward and efficient techniques. Your feedback is invaluable in enhancing our resources for a more comprehensive experience.

    Thank you and Good luck!

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    Eric - April 28, 2024

    Thanks for this! Great article. Can’t wait to try out my new stone.

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