The 10 Best Knife Sharpeners
10. SunrisePro Supreme
9. Messermeister Ceramic Rod
8. Lansky Master's Edge
7. Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker
6. Chef's Choice Angle Select
5. Brod and Taylor Professional
4. PreciSharp 3-Stage
3. PriorityChef Diamond
2. V-Sharp Classic II
1. Chef's Choice 130
A Dull Beginning
A simple fact of life is that sharp knives will dull. You cannot avoid this, nor can you ever purchase a non-dulling knife. Now that we have come to terms with this harsh reality, we can correct course to sharpen our blades to achieve optimal performance. If you are someone who uses blades frequently; hunter, chef, serial killer, you need a way of sharpening your tools.
Knives need to be sharpened for a myriad of reasons: corrosion by acid, getting bent, and repetition of cuts all weaken and dull the knife, creating blade damage. Luckily for us, there are methods to refine the edge resulting in fewer new knives purchased.
Knife sharpening is a complex process and it is achieved in several stages. First, the blade is sharpened. The semantics of the word sharpening can be tricky. Here it is defined as grinding the blade against a hard surface, or a soft surface with hard particles, such as sandpaper. The hard surface will grind away the old dull surface of the blade, exposing the new metal underneath. A grindstone or whetstone is usually employed at this stage of the process. The rougher grit will be used first, then a refined sharpening can occur using a finer grit.
The next step is straightening, which is also known as honing the blade. The aim is to realign the newly exposed metal and this is achieved with a honing steel. This does not remove much, if any, metal from the blade. The hone will smooth out the nicks and rough patches caused by the destructive sharpening phase. This is known as burnishing the blade. The hone will look like a rod made of steel, though ceramic models are effective as well.
The final stage is polishing or stropping, which gives the blade a mirror finish. This is accomplished by using a razor strop, which is made of soft materials like leather or canvas. The existing metal is tempered enough to be reformed at this stage, making it easier to create a smooth edge.
Grinding, Steeling, And Stropping
The three stages of sharpening a blade can be named after the tools they use to achieve the desired effect: grinding, steeling, and stropping.
A whetstone is the primarily tool used for sharpening the blade. Most are synthetic and include particles in the stone to determine grit size. A larger grit will make for a rough grind, while a finer grit makes it smoother. Most stones will have two sides to facilitate a rough and a fine grind. An oil stone and a grindstone are similar variations of the whetstone. Diamond, of course, is a girl's best friend and a knife owner's dream. Considering it is the hardest known substance to man, it can sharpen anything and it's used for knives as well.
Another option besides using whetstones is the scary sharp method. And yes, this is the actual name for it. The method employs using sandpaper to the same effect as a whetstone and it's ideal for woodworking tools.
In the next stage you must steel your blade. The honing steel rod is the most popular option, though, as mentioned previously, ceramic and even diamond rods give an excellent performance. The operator must adapt to a tough learning curve; blade precision is important at this stage and it requires you to hold the blade at consistent angles.
Lastly, the stropping stage. Remember seeing old barber shops on television? Remember that leather paddle they used to buff the straight razor? That is stropping. The strop can be leather or canvas and it's the final step in polishing the blade, making an even surface. Depending on the use of the knife, this step may be omitted. A chef will not require the blade precision chopping vegetables that a barber requires shaving with a straight razor on a gentleman's face. The chef may simple steel the blade and keep working.
Knives can last a long time, provided they are properly maintained. Cleaning, polishing, and oiling your knife all contribute to the longevity of the blade. Sharpen your knives frequently. I'm sure you have heard the saying, a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. If you are uncertain as to how to test if you blade is dull, there are a number of tests you can perform.
A History With The Knife
Prehistorically, humans began to sharpen knives as soon as knives were used as tools. Evidence of stone knives sharpened were found to be in use over 75,000 years ago. Once humans began to use metals, the knives improved, along with their sharpness.
Western style knife sharpening can trace it's roots back to the mountains of Trento, Italy. The moletas were a staple in every Italian city. Characterized by their oversized hat and sharpening station, these men sharpened all the knives of the residents in the city. They delivered the knives to the people on horse drawn carriages.
At the turn of the century, these immigrants moved to New York and brought their knife sharpening skills with them. Grinding stones replaced the cumbersome pedal operated foot wheel, and business grew. The moletas were absorbed in American culture, and brick and mortar knife sharpening shops emerged.
Today, you can certainly bring your knives to be sharpened, but there is something special about doing it on your own. It does have a steep learning curve, but I can assure you, this skill will last you a lifetime.