Soak your stones. Most of the stones require a 10min soak in water (place them in a bucket) or until they stop bubbling. “ Splash n’ go” stones don’t need soaking!
Flatten your stones – The first thing you have to make sure is that your stones are perfectly flat (new or barely used stones don’t need flattening).
If you have doubts, take your stone and with a pencil you draw crossing lines all over the surface of the stone in a way that all your stone face is marked(see pic below).
Wet the stone beforehand and use your lapping plate ( in case you don’t have one, use the coarsest / lowest grit stone you have by rubbing them together, with a move forming an “8” number. You will observe that as the stones start flatten, the pencil lines start disappearing. Continue until all lines disappear and your stone is ready.
Select the stone grits to be used – The grit selection depends on the condition of your knife . Most of the sharpeners use a 3 stone sequence, others 4 or more. If your knife is in good condition, you don’t need to go below Grit 1000. If your knife is chipped or its profile needs to be reshaped / touched up, you may need to start as low as 400 or even 220. Grit 1000 is considered by most as the basic grit when the knife is in good condition. A common stone sequence is: 220 or 400 (if needed) – 1000 – 3000 – 5000 – 8000 for high polished edge finishing. Some may go further up to 10000 or 16000 but most professional sharpeners agree that for food preparation to go higher than 5000 makes no real difference. Of course there are many opinions and never ending discussion regarding grit selection and grit progression, all will work as long as you keep a logical grit progression step .
Start sharpening – First get in the right position. The sharpening stone should be at the level just above your waist. Depending if you re left or right handed, the equivalent foot should be a little bit to the back so gives you firm position and more freedom for your good arm to move back and forth.
Grab the knife with your good hand by its handle as close as possible to the blade, using almost what we call a “pinch grip”
There are dozens of sharpening techniques and variables to sharpening. How the knife should be held, the angle of the knife to the stone, change of the hand for opposite side of the knife, long or shorter strokes, how pressure to apply, push or pull sharpening and more…
There are thousands of articles and instructional videos you can watch and choose the one that makes the most sense to you and gives you the best results. There is no easy way in sharpening, trial and error is the best way to learn and so you better start practicing using your old, cheap knife (rather your precious Japanese one!)
Keep in mind that there is no wrong technique as long as you can make a straight and razor sharp edge!
And remember, the two most important things in sharpening are:
Keep a steady angle!
The angle of the knife to the stone must always be the same during your strokes and grit progression (the only reason to change your sharpening angle is for burr removal and it is done in the last stones on final strokes, but this is in advanced sharpening). The angle used in most Japanese knives is 8 to 12 degrees per side, while in western knives 15 to 20.
Watch for the burr – A burr is the deformation of metal at the apex of the cutting edge. It looks like a foil stuck on the edge and it is generated always during sharpening!
Burr creation and observation, lets you know when one side is sharpened and ready to switch sides. If a burr is not formed during the sharpening process then you either did not find the right angle for the sharpening or you did not sharpen it enough.
To feel the burr, gently and carefully move your thumb vertically (to the opposite side of the bevel you are sharpening) and check for that metal foil. In lower grits you will be able to feel it easily with your thumbnail or thumb where in higher grits it is not possible. When the burr is formed either change side or move to the next stone.
Important Note: The burr formation is directly related to the steel and its heat treatment. Hardest, high alloy steels are more difficult to create a burr and require more time as well as there are steels that have stubborn burr that doesn’t remove easily and thus don’t feel “sharp”.
Single bevel sharpening shares the same ideas with the double bevel ones, but it has some distinctive differences.
Firstly, let’s clear some things up: Single bevel knives have one part that looks flat and one side that is grinded in an angle to form the bevel. The “flat” side in reality is slightly concave (hollow) for better food release (the concave part is called Uraoshi).
The idea behind single bevel sharpening is to sharpen the grinded side using all the required grit process (from 400 or 1000 depending on the condition of the knife up to finishing stones to our liking – 5000, 8000 or even higher) and then finalize on the “flat” side with only a higher grit stone (5000 and up) just to remove the burr and make a polish.
Let’s see the steps in depth:
Start from the beveled side
The sharpening takes place below the point where the bevel starts (the Shinogi line) and has to be made in two parts: The first almost 2/3 upper part (from Shinogi line to lamination line- if it has one) with a slightly lower angle and by putting your fingers on the opposite side where the shinogi line starts. The reason for that is the following: When we sharpen the edge of the knife, we remove material. That means that after some time the angle of the final edge increases as the knife becomes thicker above the edge.
To retain the initial angle, we need to remove material also from above the edge and to move the shinogi line up at the same rate we move the edge up. That will retain the initial angle of the knife (12 to 16 degrees). In this first stage don’t expect to feel the burr as the part you are sharpening is not the edge. That will happen in the second stage.
The second stage is for the 1/3 lower part of the bevel (below the lamination line- if it has one- towards the edge called Kireha). Here we increase slightly the angle and we put pressure with our fingers at the lowest side of the flat side, close to the edge. Here the burr will be formed. When we feel the burr is formed and is even and consistent all the way through the edge, we move to our next stone grit.
Remember in both stages the angle has to remain steady during our back-and-forth strokes.
When you have reached about 5000 grit stone or higher in your sharpening process it’s time to sharpen the Uraoshi (flat) side. Here you put the knife fully flat on the whetstone and with the edge looking forward (not facing us). In this process is important to apply pressure to the knife by putting our fingers on the Shinogi line but only in the push moving strokes and not in the pull ones. The reason for that is that if we apply pressure in both, the top part close to the spine will be “trimmed” at a higher / faster rate from the edge part and will show uneven and over time the spine will be thinned and weakened.
Then we turn and do our highest grit finishing stone on the beveled side and we are done!
Microbevel formation can be the next step if we like. Microbevel formation advantages will be discussed in another article.
Related video is coming soon!