Everything You Need to Know About Knife Sharpening

What is Sharpening?

Needless to say, sharpening consists of restoring their edge to the blades. But what exactly does sharpening mean? And what is the difference between sharpening and using a rifle?

A sharpening gun can be found in a drawer or knife block in many kitchens. Their owner regularly runs his knives along the rifle. This straightens the edge of the blade. Because the frequent use of a knife creates a bit: a curvature on the edge of the blade which is not visible to the naked eye. Running the knife through a gun realigns the metal particles at the microscopic level. Straighten the wire.

With a sharpening gun, you do not remove material unlike sharpening. After a while the edge of the blade becomes dull, it is inevitable. Removing metal from both sides of the blade reform its edge, it is sharpening.

The angle from which you sharpen determines the degree of sharpness. But beware: a smaller (sharper) sharpening angle makes the knife more vulnerable, so it needs to be sharpened more often. For Japanese knives, an angle of about 15 degrees is recommended, while Western knives usually have a sharpening angle of about 20 degrees.

Why You Need to Sharpen Your Knife?

Why sharpen? Because your knives get dull over time. Each cutting movement performed is like an attack on its edge. Quite logical you will say. The question then arises: why is it a problem to have dull knives?

A matter of ease

Obviously, a razor sharp knife cuts easily. Try slicing a tomato or onion with a blunt peeler. You will see the knife slide along the skin. It is therefore necessary to exert more force and lateral movements, this is much more tiring than with a sharp knife which allows you to cross the meat in a single movement while flexibility. Likewise, your muscles will feel the difference between two or twenty ax movements to fell a small tree.

Safety first

Also, as we have already mentioned, a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife. It sounds contradictory, but it makes perfect sense. If you have to exert more force to decide, you tend to make uncontrolled movements more quickly. And if we take the simple example of the tomato: the risk of cutting yourself is much higher with a dull knife. And to make matters worse, as we exert more force, the cut will be deeper. Whereas a uniform cut caused by a razor sharp knife heals faster and better than a cut caused by a dull knife.

Extend the service life

We have already mentioned it above: sharpening (in time) considerably extends the life of your knife. If you wait too long, you need to remove additional amounts of steel. If it is a question of lower quality steels, sharpening will not be possible at all. You can then throw away your knife (even if it was a cheap knife, it’s a shame). Maintain your knife regularly, store it neatly in a knife block or knife guard, only use wooden or plastic cutting boards for kitchen knives and – with the exception of of course axes or cleavers – do not use your knives as an ax.

And above all, don’t forget that sharpening your knives yourself is a very cool activity!

Who can sharpen knives

The answer to the question “who sharpens your knives” is obvious to us because we are sure that you can do it yourself. Some are reluctant to take the plunge, but they shouldn’t hesitate any longer. Just because there are knife sharpeners out there that offer their services as ‘professionals’ doesn’t mean your knives will be sharp at their best. The result is usually as sharp as a new knife while much better results can be achieved. With the right equipment and a little practice, you can become an absolute grinder yourself!

The advantages of sharpening yourself

Sharpening your own knives, scissors, axes, wood chisels and anything that has a sharp edge has many advantages. The first being the pleasure of sharpening oneself.

The pleasure of sharpening your own knife!

Even if the result achieved is essential, the activity of sharpening in itself is also very satisfying. While some have cooking as a hobby, others are passionate about sharpening their knives. The feeling of cutting with a knife that has been given a razor sharp edge yourself, is simply wonderful.

Know your knife perfectly

Many pocket knife owners are real enthusiasts, they have a special affection for their knife. This can also be the case with a beautiful Japanese chef’s knife or a strong and sturdy ax. By sharpening your sharp tools yourself, you will get to know them even better. You will discover the specific character of your knife, will feel exactly how its edge evolves along the blade and also the hardness of its steel. Sharpening your knife yourself means you become close friends.

Save money

It is true that equipping yourself with quality sharpening equipment represents an investment. But what about the services of a professional sharpener? A real cut in the wallet! With a full set of whetstones or a good sharpening system, you can sharpen for many years. In addition, this investment allows you to sharpen all your knives, while a professional charges you for each sharp knife. In the long run, sharpening yourself is therefore less expensive than having it done.

Sharpening by professionals

The disadvantages of professional sharpening

The sharpening of your knives by a “professional” is therefore relatively expensive. But that’s not all, it also has a number of other significant drawbacks.

Your knives are there for some times

Carrying your sharpening knives means they’ll take you a few days or even more than a week. This is a big drawback especially if it means that you have to cut your meat with a paring knife for a week or that you can no longer make a fire for lack of wood because your ax went on vacation. And for the true lover of pocket knives it is impossible to part with, even temporarily, his beloved knife. It’s like sending a child to a colony without knowing exactly when they’ll be back.

Where to sharpen your knives?

Where to sharpen your knives depends on the type of object to be sharpened and the method adopted.

At home

If you want to sharpen your pocket knives or kitchen knives on a whetstone, you can do so on the countertop or a kitchen table. In the latter case, place the stone on a cloth that will absorb the water and sharpening residue. There is an electric sharpener on the worktop of many kitchens, for the maintenance of regular knives, ready to use. Or a manual sharpener, a sharpening gun, a sharpening gun, also ready to be used in the kitchen drawer or in a knife block.

In the garage or workshop

In some cases, it is better to work on a workbench. If, for example, you have a guided sharpening system that you don’t want to take apart, it will probably find its place in the garage rather than cluttering up the kitchen table or a cupboard in the living room. And sometimes the object to be sharpened also requires you to go to the garage. To sharpen an ax or a lawn mower blade, for example, you need a vise. Since you need both hands for sharpening, you need to firmly grip the object to be sharpened.

In nature

When you go hiking or camping, you don’t pack all of your sharpening equipment. Indeed, your entire collection of Japanese sharpening stones would be too heavy and cumbersome. That’s why we show you how to sharpen your knives along the way, with little hardware and smart tips.

When’s best for sharpening?

There is no such thing as a simple rule like “sharpen your knives every month”. The frequency with which this is necessary depends on the intensity of the use of the knives and also on the way in which they are used. The only thing that is certain – and this is saying an understatement – is that you must always sharpen them in time. But even though it seems obvious, we all tend to wait too long before sharpening. When the knife is dull, it’s finally too late.

Favor regularity

Regular maintenance is very important. It is better to perfect the edge of a knife that is still sharp enough than to wait until it is so blunt that it cannot cut any more. In this case, it is necessary to restore the fold, that is to say the lower part of the blade where it becomes sharp.

When a knife is really dull, we can no longer speak of sharpness and a new grind must be formed. It is then necessary to remove much more material than when maintaining a sharp blade. If you let your knife become dull each time before sharpening it, this becomes detrimental to its lifespan. Not to mention that sharpening will require a lot more effort and time.

Cutting edge test

It is generally noticed during its use that a knife becomes less and less sharp. We exert more force on the knife, we give it lateral movements and we feel the fatigue coming faster. An objective test for the sharpness of a blade is the paper test. Place your knife at an angle of about 45 degrees to the edge of a sheet of A4 paper and cut it down its entire length in one loose motion. If the blade sticks and cuts with difficulty, it is a sign that your blade is dull. A sharp knife should be able to cut strips of paper effortlessly.

You can easily test the edge of a knife – here an ax – on a sheet of paper.

How to sharpen?

There are several different sharpening methods to choose from. Sharpening on a whetstone is our favorite, it requires some training. We give all the explanations in this article. Other sharpening methods use sharpening guns, manual sharpeners, files, or an electric sharpener.

What is your objective ?

In addition, the goal you are pursuing also plays an important role. Some people absolutely want to give an optimal edge to their knife while others are satisfied with a quick sharpening allowing to use it correctly. One can invest hundreds of dollars for the most advanced sharpening system, while the other does not want to exceed a few tens of dollars for a manual sharpener or sharpener.

Sharpening on whetstones

Sharpening on whetstones (or water stones, it’s the same thing) is the classic method, which always gives the sharpest result. At least when you do it well, because it is also the method that requires the most practice.

If you are looking for specific information such as the types of abrasives for stones, their grain size or even the determination of the sharpening angle, then directly use the menu below:


Alumina, silicon carbide or ceramics are often used as abrasives. Diamond sharpening stones are mainly used for sharpening hard steels. Because these remove a significant amount of material, they are not suitable for polishing. Diamond sharpening stones are the hardest on the market. Their advantage is that they do not wear out, so you can use them for many years.

This is also valid for the other available materials, but to a lesser extent. By moving the knife over the stone, the abrasive particles immediately break off creating a new abrasive layer. This is why it is important to use the entire surface of the stone evenly when sharpening. Without this, if for example we forget to use the edges of the stone, it hollows out in the middle and the result of the sharpening will be less good. It is then necessary to level the water stone with a diamond stone or a dressing stone specially designed for this.

There are also natural sharpening stones, such as Belgian sharpening stones, mined in the Belgian Ardennes or Skerper’s Arkansas range, coming from the mountain range of the same name. Sharpening on whetstones requires a different technique than that used with factory-made whetstones. The article below explains these differences to you.

Electric sharpening

Most professional sharpeners use electric sharpeners or rotary grinders. The reason is obvious: it’s very fast. While that is not the best solution for the longevity of your knives. With a sharpening system, it is difficult to obtain a result as sharp as with Japanese water stones (unless the system is used correctly). Plus, an electric sharpener removes a lot more steel than needed. Your knives get thinner quickly, as a result they will dull faster and will therefore need to be sharpened more often. Not to mention that with a grinding wheel, the steel heats up which may weaken it, it may bend more easily.

Want to know more? Check out What is Stropping?

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