Stropping or sharpening involves polishing the blade of a sharp knife. This is usually done with a leather belt possibly attached to a hard support. By polishing the edge of the blade, the burr and other imperfections are removed. The result is an even sharper edge. Stropping can also have an aesthetic purpose: after polishing the blade will shine like a mirror. We then evoke a sharp mirror. It is a technique that evokes the traditional polishing of razor blades but it is also recommended for pocket knives, outdoor knives and kitchen knives.
What can also be sharpened on a whetstone?
Whetstones aren’t just for sharpening knives. They are also used to sharpen chisels, wood chisels, ax and ice skates. The principle is generally the same as for sharpening knives: use of several grain sizes and sharpening of both sides of the cutting edge with the formation of a burr.
There are some differences, however. For example, a pair of scissors should be thought of as two separate blades, each with a one-sided edge. The scissors should be removed – if possible – to be able to sharpen the angled part, that is to say the cutting edge, of each blade. However, sometimes the flat side of the scissors is also sharpened to remove rust.
The sharpening of ice skates is also special. In principle, this is not very complicated, except that you need a special grinding table for skates. It allows the two runners to be fixed upside down, at the same height, to be able to sharpen the two blades at the same time using a sharpening stone. And while we use a sharpening angle on the knives, we place the whetstone square to the pads, so an angle of 90 degrees. We move the sharpening stone with both hands on the irons. In this too, the sharpening of ice skates differs from that of knives: it is the whetstone that is mobile and not the object to be sharpened.
The same goes for sharpening axes. To sharpen an ax with a whetstone, the stone is brought to the edge of the ax, not the other way around. Some people do this to wedge the ax under an arm or place it on the shoulder, but for optimal stability and your own safety, we really recommend that you secure the ax in a vise. Also wear work gloves: so as not to risk cutting yourself on a sharp ax.
These instructions are fairly brief, but we provide detailed explanations for each type of sharpening tool.
Other sharpening methods
- Sharpening guns
- Knife sharpeners
- Sharpening systems
- Electric sharpeners
Sharpening with a sharpening gun
Another way to sharpen your knives is to use a sharpening gun. This method is mainly used for the regular maintenance of kitchen knives. There are ceramic or diamond guns.
Here’s more on sharpening methods: How to use a sharpening gun?
Use of sharpening guides
Sharpening guides are used to maintain a constant angle while sharpening on wet stones. If you think sharpening stones are difficult to use, these guides are sure to come in handy.
To verify that the angle you have chosen is the correct one, you can mark the blade with a marker. If the marking disappears with sharpening, it means that the angle is correct. Whereas if a part is still marked after sharpening, it indicates that this part has not been in contact with the whetstone. You can adjust the angle according to these indications.
Correct Way to Use a Sharpening Stone
Once the correct angle has been determined, you can begin to sharpen. For this it is important to use the entire length and width of the stone with each movement. By sharpening from the heel of the blade from an angle of the stone to finish with the point at the opposite angle. So you pull the knife towards you while moving it along the whetstone.
Attention: do not exert pressure! It is the material of the whetstone that works, not your muscles. Applying too much pressure may damage the blade instead of sharpening it. In addition, there is a risk of nicking the stone, which would damage the sharpening surface. This is why the movement is done by moving backwards and not towards the cutting edge.
Sharpen until burr formation
The sharpening motion is repeated until a burr forms on the other side of the blade. It is a small curvature, which one cannot always see with the naked eye. When you feel these burrs, you can begin to sharpen the other side of the blade. Then sharpen until you feel a bit on the other side, the one you sharpened first. This is a sign that you can switch to a thinner whetstone.
The operation is repeated on the next sharpening stone. As the grain size of the sharpening stone used increases, less and less burr is formed. It may be useful to check the progress of the sharpening by testing the blade on paper, as mentioned previously.
The finishing touch: stropping
When you have finished sharpening with the finest whetstone, you can move on to sharpening, the “finishing touch”. It’s hard to imagine, but running a blade several times over razor-sharp leather really increases its sharpness. And in addition it will shine beautifully, it’s called a ‘mirror edge’ blade. For an even more thorough result, you can use polishing paste or stropping compound on the leather. Some sharpening leathers are sold ‘pre-loaded’: they are already provided with such a layer.