Knife Sharpening: The Stepping Stones
At some point in a person life, the desire to sharpen a knife takes root, especially for men. That methodical process that our elders and indeed our ancestors somehow thoroughly grasped out of necessity has filtered down through the ages and it still captures our thoughts.
My father sharpened tools out of necessity, there was not much fuss, no diamond sprays, no talk of scratch patterns. I never heard my dad mention a Burr but somehow the job got done and the chisel or favorite carving knife was made sharp again. It was fantastic and the moment I saw what a stone could do to an edge, the memory of that old stone kept in a little beaten up wooden box is still there, those moments with my father in the garage listening to the unmistakable sound of that edge being dragged over that stone, ignited something in me. I had taken my first step, one of many stepping stones and I am certainly not alone, it is a common scenario. For me, watching an elder sharpen something on a whetstone is my centre of gravity, it is why I came to sharpen knives every single day.
Nowadays we don’t always sharpen out of absolute necessity, meaning, we don’t just improve the edge to get us through another day or two of chiseling or slicing beef, we strive for perfection, we push the envelope and hope to create an edge that we can perform surgery with. We accumulate Japanese Water Stones in every conceivable grit and we refine edges and bevels to a point where we can see ourselves and for some, that Looking Glass Edge is like reaching the summit of a mountain. I believe that this is true regardless of our method, whether it is on Japanese Water Stones like myself, or belts or paper wheels or other systems, we have a primal urge to make knives sharp, some of just took different paths towards a common goal.
What about all those steps in between however, how does one take a knife that is completely dull and kept hidden in the Drawer of Shame to a point where we can literally split a human hair or slice the top off of a tomato without holding the tomato and why do we to do this?
The internet is full of videos of folks sharpening knives or showing us how sharp they are by slicing objects. There are forums on sharpening, there is a multitude of instructors out there, some good and some not so good. What this has done however has caused some of us to go off the rails a little, to bypass some of the stepping stones and make an assault on the summit without stopping at some of the base camps. I did that, I think I have made more sharpening mistakes along my journey than most but as I think back, there is nothing I would change. Those of us who can accept their own mistakes learn from them and believe me, I have learned much.
My goal is to encourage those interested in the art of sharping achieve the skill by slowing the learning process down so that we can stop at every stepping stone and take in all that there is to know. You don’t need ten different leather strops laden with exotic sharpening sprays and pastes. Those items can come later, we are building the foundation and just need the essentials.
Before you even pick up a knife and place the water stones in water and start gathering paper to slice up, know that you will benefit greatly by possessing the knowledge of the art of knife sharpening, not just the practical side but the theory component.
It doesn’t take long, in no time at all you will be patting yourself on the back, you’ll be asking your friends and family to bring their knives over to sharpen. Start the process on the right stepping stone, don’t jump ahead, your patience will be rewarded.
I have the utmost respect for knife sharpeners, we share a common bond, we have the same interest. I am not in competition with anyone here. I did not attend knife sharpening university, I just have the ability, like many of you, to make knives sharp. If you are reading this, you probably can as well or you would like to be able to.
Stick with me and those stepping stones will start stacking up behind us.