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User friendly knife sharpening

User friendly knife sharpening

Introduction

User friendly or as one might put it, easy sharpening of knife blade edge may seem to be an important point for beginners, but in reality this is not exactly the case. The very convenience of sharpening can be understood as the convenience of the work process, and this may actually be true in some aspects.

One should also understand that the concept of convenience and simplicity may be quite different for a beginner and for an advanced user or a professional. Of course, a lot will depend on the knowledge of theory and experience with different tools and equipment. The measure of experience will be determined not only by quantitative, but also by qualitative indicators.

For example, it would be quite clear and best for an amateur chef to run the blade edge of kitchen knives over an ordinary hand-held pull-through sharpener for knives to make the cutting edge of knives sharp. An amateur chef may not even know what the cutting edge is, what matters most is that the knives are sharp and the sharpener is easy to use. On the other hand, a professional sharpening master can sharpen the same knife in several steps, but much better and with significant costs on a more sophisticated equipment. It is as easy for a sharpener as for an amateur chef, but whether it is always convenient is a somewhat different question.

1. Tools and jigs for easy and convenient sharpening

User friendly or simple sharpening can also be described as a familiar and understandable process for a user or a beginner. The only thing is that habits and needs may also be different.

Among the common devices that serve for user friendly and at the same time easy sharpening of knife blade edge we will go on a scale from the most affordable to the most expensive. At the same time we can also consider them in terms of efficiency, from the common, to the quickest solutions. It is also worth saying that, for example, a sharpening steel as a tool is not related to sharpening, as some people might think, it is a tool for honing. Some of the devices have a limited focus, while others are more versatile in their use.

1.1. Classic manual sharpening with a full size bench stone with knife sharpener angle guides 

The most classic, widespread, and most accessible method of sharpening, but also the most difficult, is manual sharpening on full-size natural stones or synthetic bench stones. It is believed that if someone has this skill, he or she will be able to use literally any tool or device for sharpening the knife blade edge. The classic method has a number of challenges and requirements, but curious minds have figured out a solution to keep things simple.

The main thing in this method is to be able to maintain or control the secondary bevel angle that forms the cutting edge of the blade. It is extremely difficult to reprofile a knife with manual sharpening, but it is much easier to maintain an existing angle of the blade edge.

Since most kitchen knife blade edge types have a very thin thickness behind the blade edge, reprofiling them is easy, but reprofiling the knives of hunting or camping knives is much more difficult.

Craftsmen often recommend putting a certain number of coins to control and set the angle, and then guide the blade edge over the abrasive stone. This method has the right to exist, but there is an even easier and better way.

To solve this issue, people created special sharpening angle guides, which remind office clips, and are attached to the blade's spine.

Such guides are sold in kits and can be designed for different spine thicknesses and different sharpening angles. You just have to clamp the spine of the blade at about the middle of the blade length and you are free to start sharpening according to the instructions for use of your natural stones or synthetic abrasive stones.

These guides are suitable for the blades of kitchen knives, chef knives and various other knives. To use them or not, it is up to you to decide.

1.2. Different kinds of sharpening steels

One of the most common kithen tools for honing a blade edge is a sharpening steel rod. First of all, the sharpening steel is used for honing, not sharpening. Honing is used to make the cutting edge blade sharp at some level. The benefit of honing is that if the blade edge is only slightly dull, it is unnecessary to perform a full sharpening.

The main parameter of a sharpening steel is the length - it should match the length of your knife blade edge. The most common sharpening steels are those with a circular cross-section, yet sometimes they can have an oval shape. An oval shaped sharpening rod has an increased contact spot due to the increased radius.

Sharpening steel rods can be used for hunting and hiking knives, or, in other words, whenever a fine honing is enough to get back to work.

All made sharpening rods are mainly divided into three groups according to their material: ceramic, metal and diamond. Sharpening steels are also divided by grit size: rough (up to 800 grit), medium (about 1000-2000 grit) and finishing (2000 grit+). The smaller the thickness behind the edge of the knife blade and the less metal you intend to remove during honing, the finer the grit the sharpening steel should have.

Ceramic sharpening rods have a very smooth and even surface. Such sharpening steels are suitable for honing knives of any hardness. Different manufacturers have different levels of grit, so you should ask about it before buying. It is proven that the 800-grit ceramic sharpening steel is one of the most effective and best knife sharpening tools for making a knife sharp in the kitchen, suitable for most knives, including chef knives.

Steel sharpening rods are made of a tool steel with a hardness up to 65 HRC with the addition of chromium for high wear resistance. Some knife brands offer two different grit sizes: medium and fine. A medium-grit sharpening rod is mostly used to make kitchen and household knife types sharp. Fine-grit steel sharpening rods are the best knife honing solution for making butcher and other knives sharp at the desired level. The sharpening rod should be used for honing knives that have previously been sharpened on a sharpener and require only deburring of the cutting edge or making sharp .

Diamond sharpening rods are more aggressive and are used for large metal removal as a quick sharpening tool. Therefore, one should handle such tools with care and understanding. In some cases, the price of a sharpening rod may be an indicator of its quality.

When using a sharpening rod to make a knife sharp, you need to pay attention to the following moments (this way even a beginner will get it right):

  • regardless of how the knife is held, the angle of the stone surface of the sharpening rod should match the angle of the secondary bevel as closely as possible. Then you should make movements from the heel of the blade edge to its tip.
  • sometimes it is recommended to just press the sharpening rod into the table at a certain angle, and then you can move the blade edge vertically from the heel to the tip.
  • you can stop honing as soon as you are satisfied with the way the knife cuts 

Sometimes, large natural stones or artificial sharpening stones with a dense structure have a round bevel on one of their sides, which can also serve as honing stones.

This may seem complicated to some people, but it is really not. How to get the right angle? Just use a black marker to draw a few dots on the secondary bevel of the blade edge and slowly make a few honing motions with the blade edge on the sharpening rod at the needed angle.

Then you should check the condition of the marks and you will understand if you are getting the needed angle or not. If the paint is removed closer to the cutting edge, it means that you are honing at too great an angle. And if the paint is removed closer to the shoulders of the bevels, it means that the angle is too small.

Over time, you will develop motor skills, and you will be able to get the angle without a marker. Afterwards, you can simply wipe off the marker residue with alcohol, rinse with water, and you can use your sharp knife without sharpening it.

There is one of the varieties of sharpening rods when the rods with different grit and different cross-sectional shapes are mounted in a wooden base for easy control of the angle.

Rod systems are not much different from using a sharpening rod. It involves the user holding the knife as straight as possible and running the blade edge across the rod with the desired grit in a downward and upward direction.

Rod systems have several significant advantages:

  • these systems have a base in which the rods are placed and you do not need to hold them in your hands
  • such systems contain several rods with different grit size, stone material; profile shape and size and sharpening angle 
  • the rods can be replaced if they are completely worn out
  • this is one of the most convenient ways for honing the blade edge

These systems are much better than a honing rod, and they are even better than the most advanced pocket sharpener because of the length of the rods and their variability. A small negative point for some may be the significantly larger size and weight than a regular honing rod.

1.3. Pocket sharpener

Pocket knife sharpener devices are somewhat similar in function to the usual pull-through kitchen knife sharpener devices. This type of sharpener can have from one to four different stone surfaces, and it can be very useful in everyday life.

Typically, the first work surface is a high-strength tungsten carbide insert with a grit size of about 400 grits. The second surface can be up to 1000 grit. The next option can be ceramic stones with different grit sizes. Some include diamond folding rods for sharpening and honing a serrated blade edge.

This sharpener type is user friendly and quite easy to use even for novices. They are very compact and can be carried in a pocket or worn as a keychain. Sometimes such a sharpener can have a micro compass and some come with a ferrite fire rod. This makes the sharpener useful to a fairly wide range of users in lots of situations.

Anyone who does not want to go into the details of sharpening and just needs to make an inexpensive knife blade edge sharp will find this solution the best.

Sometimes the lack of consistency and quality of the stone surface is more than compensated for by the relatively low price of the sharpener itself.

1.4. Portable sharpener

One way similar to manual knife sharpening with a full size bench stone or a regular water whetstone is often to use various stands and holders of synthetic stones and natural stones. The base of the stand may be rubber-coated or have rubber feet, which keeps it from slipping on the table surface and can level out possible differences.

Besides, the stone plane is raised above the table surface and it becomes much easier to hold the knife by the handle without touching the surface of the work bench.

Such stands are flexible, but there are more technologically advanced solutions, which are designed solely for the use of branded stones.

Some brands equip their devices with special ledges, which are made at certain angles to the surface of the stone and serve as a kind of guides. It is enough to put the knife to the guide and, holding the blade in this position, make sharpening motions. Then turn the blade edge to the other side and repeat the process until you achieve the desired result.

Some models are equipped with a special mechanism with a floating platform, which allows you to avoid having to monitor the position of the blade edge during sharpening the belly part of the blade edge. When the blade edge passes from the middle to the tip, the platform, under constant pressure, tilts itself to the side at a preset angle. This allows a uniform, precise and convenient sharpening of secondary bevels, both at the straight section and at the tip of the blade edge.

Other models are slightly larger in size and even have a special turning unit with three set stones. To change the stone, all you have to do is turn and lock the console and you can continue making the knife sharp on the next finer stone for a finer finishing. This makes it possible to sharpen a wide range of blade edge types.

Thus, so-called stand holders for large stone blocks or natural stones give the user a significant number of advantages:

  • The ease of use with no special training required
  • Worn stones can be easily replaced with new ones or special proprietary ones
  • Average acceptable cost

1.5. Sharpening system with a guide rod and changeable stone kits

It is worth mentioning one group of devices suitable for a simple knife sharpening work - these devices are almost sharpening systems, which combine relative compactness, sufficient functionality and ease of use.

System of this kind consist of a special blade clamp with special holes into which the guide and stone holder rod are mounted. Such clamps have several fixed angle positions. Some models may have three angle positions, and some even have four. The more advanced solutions have a sharpening angle adjustment that is nearly equal to a professional sharpening system.

You place the knife blade in the clamp, and the stone holder with the guide rod is mounted in the desired angle position. You can sharpen with holding the device in your hands or place it on a small, flat surface for greater convenience.

These systems are sold in kits with their own branded stones with a good range of grits for work with different steels. These kits are user friendly and easy to use at home or in the work shop. Their parts are quite small, lightweight, easy to carry and are perfect for a small work in the outdoors as well. Many brands offer different types of these devices, but they are all, one way or another, pretty good and easy to handle.

1.6. Electric benchtop sharpener

The basic idea of any brand electric sharpener is that anyone without sharpening skills can sharpen knives to the level at which they come from the manufacturer's factory or maybe even sharper. A device with slots at certain angles was created to solve this work task. One of the electric sharpener trading companies has become a household name and a kind of benchmark, like Xerox or Google, and of course it became world famous.

The use of an electric sharpener does not involve deep understanding of the knife sharpening. Such devices are very straightforward. To use them, you do not need to take any courses, just read the instructions. You buy it, read the instructions, turn it on and use it.

In order to understand what is an electric sharpener, it is necessary to consider some of their technological features:

  • Almost every electric sharpener has two slots for sharpening at one angle, including the sharpening and finishing stages
  • Sometimes such a sharpener can have a slot for roughing
  • Some models are hybrid, with a slot for manual or mechanical blade edge honing
  • Some few models provide stage sharpening with three stages using: roughing, sharpening, and polishing slots
  • Some can sharpen a knife blade edge at different angles and have no polishing slot
  • Each brand's diamond stones in all devices more than likely have the same quality and the final result of sharpening in terms of speed depends only on the power of the electric drive
  • More expensive devices have a number of additional, but not always exclusively necessary options, such as the ability to replace the unit with a new one or temporarily replace it with a unit with finer stones

This type of sharpener is commonly used for kitchen knives in home kitchens, and the more expensive and advanced models in restaurant chef kitchens. A restaurant may have one electric sharpener or more in their possession, which is quite acceptable in terms of cost. The reason is quite simple - in a restaurant kitchen, the chef gets paid not for making the knives sharp, but for the speed of cooking. This too requires a quick and user friendly sharpening process.

At home in the kitchen, the use of a more expensive electric sharpener is irrational because the stone life of a medium-level sharpener is long enough for a very long period of use.

It is possible to sharpen hunting or hiking knives with such devices if you have them, but you should check their compatibility with the physical specifications of knives. You should especially take into account the spine thickness, the width of the blade, and the shape of the blade heel.

An electric sharpener, whether cheaper or more expensive will stand at the top of any comparison for speed and efficiency in household sharpening, but they are also most often the most expensive.

Conclusions

All written above should be taken as a kind of recommendation or guide, which you can rely on to choose one or another solution for a sharpening work. While an inexpensive pocket or kitchen knife can be made sharp quickly and easily, the situation with an expensive folding or chef best knife may be entirely different.

The simple way is very tempting and may seem the best - simple devices exist and they are really easy to use. However, not everything can be solved by simple methods alone, sometimes you have to resort to more complex devices. Complex devices require knowledge and experience. You can always get more experience and with knowledge and experience complex processes become simple, straightforward and turn into best knife sharpening techniques.

Just imagine: an experienced sharpener has cooked an excellent steak, he picks up a knife - and oh, dear, it is absolutely dull - and there is a pull through sharpener nearby, the cheapest one with a suction cup. He will just use it to make the knife sharp because he wants to eat the steak right now, not deal with knife sharpening. Now that is what they call convenient, quick and easy.

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