Idle Musings: Sharpening Blades is Actually Complicated

(As with a number of other musings, I’ll do an actual article on this at a later date. Remember, kitchen knives need TLC too)

They don’t tell you these things most of the time. You’d think the process of scraping a long steel bar over something to make it slice better would be simple. Sounds simple, right?

It’s not.

To begin with, what state of repair is your steel bar in? Is it carbon steel, and if so is it rusted? You should probably use rust remover or sandpaper to strip the rust first if it is. Make sure there’s no food or other gunk stuck to it, that’s going to clog up your sharpener. On that note, what are you using to sharpen with? More sandpaper? Sharpening steel? Whetstones? Waterstones? Industrial diamonds? What grit are you thinking?

If you’re setting the edge for the first time or it’s seriously messed up, you should use a grinder if you’ve got one. Otherwise or if this is your first time sharpening, you’ll probably want an ultra-coarse whetstone. Probably no higher grit than 240. A diamond sharpener at 120 would definitely be best, though. But once you’ve got the edge on, you’re going to find 120 is too coarse to cut well. It’s so aggressive it keeps getting stuck on things.

Wait, your edge feels sharp but it doesn’t dig in like it should? Well, that’s because you sharpened lengthwise! You need to sharpen perpendicular to the length of the blade to set good micro-serrations. Start over!

Alright, now you’re going to want to move up the grits. 300 is okay, but you should probably go up to at least 600 on a diamond sharpener for best effect. You want an aggressive edge, but you don’t want it so toothy it keeps getting caught. Hold on, hold on, you’re sharpening at too steep an angle. You’re just removing metal from the body instead of working the edge. Tilt it up a bit, would you?

What do you mean, it’s too complicated? It only took us five hours to get this far!

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