Here at Cutler Road we think that anyone who owns a knife should know how to look after it. The technique of sharpening a knife using a knife sharpener is very easy to learn and is a skill you will have for the rest of your life.
Cutting implements were some of the first tools that man invented all those years ago. Flint stone that could be chipped to give a razor sharp edge were among the most prized of possessions. Skip forward a few thousand years and the array of knives and knife sharpeners available is mind boggling. These days most kitchens and hunters have at least one quality knife. In some cases this knife has lost its once super sharp edge and is overlooked due to its poor performance.
With regular use the cutting edge of a knife becomes rounded which inhibits the knife from moving through an object. A knife sharpener works by removing steel on both sides of the knife edge. The aim is to have the intersection of both sides meeting at a very fine point. The finer the intersection, the sharper the knife.
What makes a knife sharp?
A knife sharpener with very fine abrasive properties will leave the sharpest edge on a knife. These fine particles not only give a perfect junction between both sides of the knife but also polish the edge. This greatly improves the knife sharpness and strength at the very tip of the edge. A very fine knife sharpener will take a long time to sharpen a dull knife as its fine surface removes steel very slowly.
A very rough knife sharpener will remove steel quickly and leave an edge that feels rough with an irregular saw tooth pattern. This irregular edge is very weak and becomes blunt much more quickly than a knife finished with a fine knife sharpener.
The exact angle of the intersecting sides plays a part in how sharp the knife is. The flat intersecting sides are called the bevel edges and the intersecting angle of these sides is called the bevel angle. An axe has an bevel angle of approximately 30 deg and acts like a wedge driving an object apart. At the opposite end of the scale is a straight or cut throat razor, which has a bevel angle of approximately 15 deg and slices through objects easily. The shallower the angle the faster the knife will become blunt due to the thinner cross section of steel at the very tip.
An angle that gives a balance between sharpness and durability is preferred for the majority of knives. You can vary the angle of the bevel edge depending on the use of the knife. An angle from as low as 7 deg can be used for thinly slicing fish or for soft fruit and vegetable work. A survival hunting knife can benefit from a bevel angle of 25-30 deg to ensure the knife stays sharp with the most abusive use.
What makes a good knife sharpener?
A good knife sharpener gives you the ability to remove steel quickly and also leave the edge with a very fine smooth finish. Having the ability to change the bevel angle on your knives to suit the work required of them is also an asset with any knife sharpener.
Most knife sharpeners with sharpening surfaces held at a fixed angle and advertise a very fast sharpening action are to be avoided. These very rough sharpeners will eat your knife in a matter of months and are prone to chipping the edge of the knife.
The Coticule and Belgian Blue whetstones we sell can be used to remove metal quickly and as a smooth fine finishing stone. With a little practice it is easy to hold your knife at the desired angle during the sharpening process. The Coticule whetstone is by far the fastest natural sharpening stone on the market and also leaves the finest finish. This stone is fantastic for both knives and straight razors. The Coticule and Belgian Blue whetstones are formed from volcanic ash and mud sediment that is compressed for approximately 480 million years. The Belgian Blue whetstone sharpens slightly slower and not as finely as the Coticule. It is still capable of sharpening razors to shaving sharp and leaves kitchen knives with lazer sharp edges.
Check out our blog on using a Belgian Blue Whetstone.
Once your knife is properly sharp, a great tool to use is a sharpening steel. This works to realign the metal on the very tip of the knife and will keep your knife sharp for a very long time.