A sharp knife isn't just sharper, it's a safer, more efficient, more precise tool. And, like most people, your knives are probably dull. Here's how to fix that quickly, easily and cheaply.
Why do you need to sharpen knives? A sharp knife stands less chance of slipping on the material being cut and, because it requires less effort and force to use than a dull knife, you're less likely to cut yourself. Working with a sharp knife is faster and easier, too. It also damages the material being cut less — ever tried to slice a tomato with a dull knife? It doesn't exactly produce clean results.
When should you sharpen? Most knives don't come sharp. That's because the final few degrees between being able to slice butter and being able to pop hairs off your arm isn't often achieved with a machine and most knives are produced by those, in a factory. So, sharpening is the first thing you need to do when you buy one.
You can easily tell the difference between a very dull knife and a sharp one, but how do you divine degrees of sharpness once it's sharp enough to cut you? In my experience, testing the blade on your arm hair is the easiest way.
A note on safety: Never run your finger along a knife blade. If you're using your finger to get a feel for the degree of sharpness, run it lightly across the edge, perpendicular to the length of the knife.
With little to no pressure, run the knife down the outside of your forearm, with the knife perpendicular to your arm. A good, heavy-use outdoors blade, pocket knife or kitchen utensil should be sharp enough to easily shave your arm. At this point, the edge is sharp enough for any job and a quality knife will be capable of holding this edge with minimal maintenance for some time. Making the knife sharper involves diminishing returns on your labor and creates an edge which can be a little delicate. But, if you want to try and make your knife as sharp as possible — a good idea on paring knives and other small blades used for detail work — then you'll want it capable of popping the hairs off your arm with little to no pressure. Just touching it to a hair should be enough to sever that hair.
But I'm weird. Other people like to slice a piece of computer paper they hold hanging from one hand to test sharpness. If arm pattern baldness isn't your thing, maybe try that. The sharper your knife is, the cleaner the slices it'll make and the easier it'll make them.
Decide how sharp you'd like a particular knife to be, then endeavor to keep it in that condition. How you do that is covered below.
Whetstones: The oldest and simplest way to sharpen a knife remains as effective now as it was when your granddad was a Boy Scout.
The basic idea in all knife sharpening is to maintain a consistent angle of contact between the knife and the sharpening medium. You wan to sharpen at the same angle your knife came with from the factory. On most quality outdoors blades, that's 20 degrees on each side, I use that angle for kitchen and other knifes too, just to keep my life simple. 20 degrees will give you a good, strong edge that's not prone to rolling.
Where more complex systems help you maintain that 20-degree angle, a wet stone requires you to employ sight and feel. If you're new to this, the best shortcut I can give you is a Sharpie. Use one to color in the knife's bevel — the angled portion of its blade at the bottom, leading up to the edge. Do a couple swipes on the stone and then examine your edge. If all the Sharpie mark is gone, you're at the correct angle. If there's marker remaining on the top of the edge, it means you're holding the back of the knife too high. If there's marker on the bottom of the edge, where you're trying to sharpen, then you're holding the knife too flat. This method works equally well on other types of sharpeners too.
To use a wet stone, always move the knife edge-first across the stone. Hilt to tip or tip to hilt, it doesn't matter. What does matter is light, even pressure, little more than the weight of the knife. Don't let the tip roll off the end of the stone, this can blunt or damage it.
To sharpen the knife evenly, count your strokes and do the same number on each side. I typically do 20 strokes on one side, 20 on the other, then evaluate my results.
Wet stones are called that because you need to apply a little bit of oil, spit or water to them, which carries away the microscopic metal shavings you produce by grinding at the edge. If you're worried about food contamination, use vegetable oil for any knifes that are going to touch stuff you're planning on eating or serving to others.
Sharpening Rods: Let's just assume we're talking about the Spyderco Sharpmaker here, it's the most popular rod sharpening system out there and what I use to maintain my knives. It's also a perfect system for you and what you should go buy right now if you're serious about having sharp knives.
Many people call these "diamond rods" or stones or whatever, but Sharpmaker actually ships with two sets of ceramic rods in varying grits. You can order industrial diamond-coated rods separately, but they're very aggressive and mostly applicable to blade re-profiling and working out major edge damage, not for your typical sharpening needs.
To use the Sharpmaker, you hold the knife vertically and swipe it down the edge of the rods while pulling the knife towards you. The trick is to maintain that perfectly vertical orientation and consistent, light pressure. Do so, and the system makes achieving a perfect 20 degree edge angle or 15 degree back bevel really easy, which is its unique selling point.
Starting with clean stones and the grey, medium-grit rods, you pull the knife down one of the points of the triangle until that point is coated in black residue. Once you've used all three points (which can also sharpen serrations), you switch to the flats (straight edge only). Once you've used all three flats, you should have a very sharp, working edge on the knife and this will be good enough for most blades. To go further, you do the same with the white, fine-grit stones.
When you're done, use Comet, Ajax or similar to scrub the black residue off the stones, ready for the knife or to be stored away awaiting the next sharpening.
The grooves on a Sharpmaker can be used to sharpen fish hooks, awls or other pointed implements.
Mouse Pads And Sandpaper: A cheaper, but also very effective method for knife sharpening is to affix sandpaper to an old mouse pad and draw the knife along the paper again at the correct angle, but using a trailing stroke, where you're pulling the edge away from you, the opposite of using a stone or rods; the sponginess of the pad is what makes that possible.
You can use this method for primary knife sharpening or to put the final touch on a blade after you've used a stone or Sharpmaker. If you're starting with a dull knife, use a medium grit sandpaper like an 800 and work up to a fine grit like a 1200. If you're just putting the final touches on a blade, start with 1200.
The trailing stroke is great at removing the small burs stones and Sharpmakers leave on edges.
The give in a mouse pad also allows you to create convex edges if that's your thing. Don't try to re-profile a beveled edge into a convex edge unless you're very experienced with sharpening though. Just throwing this knowledge out there.
Stropping: The key to hair-popping sharpness and a step most people miss. It's also designed to remove any burr or false wire-edge (basically a straight, perfectly aligned burr) and it's what barbers are doing when they run their straight razors up and down leather belts.
You can do it that simply, with an old belt and a trailing stroke, or you can get a little OCD about it and make your own dedicated strop using a larger piece of leather and applying an abrasive compound to it. Honestly, it's worth the time, the results can be phenomenal.
Pull-Through Sharpeners: You'll see these both for kitchen knives and for field sharpening outdoors blades. I don't recommend them, they can pinch the blade, creating burrs, never produce terrible sharp or consistent results and can be very hard to clean the steel residue off of.
Knife Guys: Taking your knives to a guy who sharpens them for a living can be a great idea if you've got a very dull blade, a damaged edge or just too many knives and too little time. I see a guy at my local farmer's market, but any good outdoors store like Cabela's should also be able to sharpen blades at the knife counter.
These guys use grinding wheels or belt sanders to quickly and easily put a solid working edge on a knife. You can use these machines too, but bewarned, they take off a lot of steel very quickly, leaving little room for error. You need to be able to maintain that consistent edge angle while using one and while holding the knife securely, so it isn't flung into yours or someone else's eye.
Typically, you'll still need to strop a knife after having it professionally sharpened. So few people want that level of sharpness that it's just not worth their time to take knives to that point.
Scissors: Scissors need sharpening too. To do that, fold up a piece of aluminum foil and cut it to bits. Job done.
Why Is Sharpening Such A Pain In The Ass? Because you've bought a knife with a very hard, stainless steel blade. The better a knife retains its edge, the harder it is to sharpen. D2, S30V and other "super steels" require hours and hours of work to bring back from dull, essentially an impossibility in the field. I take my stainless blades to the knife guy, strop them, and call it a day. Carbon steels like 1095 are a much better option, combining decent edge retention with ease of sharpening. If you plan on using a knife often and heavily, start there.
Cheap blades tend to be easier to sharpen. If you've bought a Swiss Army or Case knife or similar, you likely fell for the "Surgical Steel" line, which is meaningless BS and indicates the use of a cheap, no-name steel. The upside is that they take very little work to sharpen, just a few passes on the Sharpmaker usually does it. Just don't expect them to hold that edge for long.
You Can Do It: Go grab a cheap kitchen knife and practice. It'll be sharper and much, much more useable in no time. A result so significant that you'll want to sharpen every knife in your house.
The real trick to sharpening a knife is consistency and patience. Maintain that consistent angle, don't be tempted to press hard, open a beer, turn on the TV and settle in for a solid hour or two of Zen-like meditation. And don't be afraid to take it to an expert if you're stuck.
Top Photo: Murphtron
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If the knife is really that blunt, I recommend taking it to be professionally sharpened. Many craft stores offer this service either as part of their regular services or on a part-time basis (once or twice a month). Otherwise, you may have a knife sharpener in your city who would be able to do it. The cost is generally based on the length of the blade, so should not be very high for your knife.
Unless you have a good-quality mechanical sharpener at home and know how to use it well - or have learned how to use a whetstone and steel, it will be difficult for you to return the knife to the necessary level of sharpness for crafting.
Honers can only realign the blade slightly and are for daily knife maintenance, they can not actually sharpen a knife.
answered Apr 27 '16 at 17:38
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Sharpening a utility knife blade can be a tricky job. With the right equipment, though, it doesn't take much time.
A Plastic Utility Knife can used to create specialized points that you might need during a drawing.
I would venture a guess and say that in the "good-ol'-days" a pencil was most often sharpened with some type of knife. It might have been a pocketknife, or hunting knife.
Because of the lack of complete control of a utility knife (sometimes called a "box-cutter") you should not expect to produce a perfect point on a pencil, particularly on a soft-lead pencil.
Whatever type of knife you use, it will need to be very sharp.
I prefer plastic utility knives because they are generally lighter in weight, and the least expensive.
The cutting ability is going to be the same for a plastic knife as it is for a heavier metal utility knife since both use the same blades.
Metal-Cased Utility Knife
If you want to spend a little more money, and get something with a little more heft, a metal-cased utility knife is what you will need.
They come in several styles and colors, and can be found very easily just about anywhere tools are sold
Since metal utility knives are intended to be used for heavier jobs than plastic the plastic-cased knives, they can be used for other jobs around the house.
Ergonomic Utility Knife
These utility knives are specially designed to fit the hand in such a way that using it will help to lessen the strain that can occur in your hand and wrist. Perfect for those of us that are starting to feel the effects of age in our hands.
This style of knife is not as easy to find, and will cost a bit more money.
I have even seen one in which you can turn the blade around and use it as a scraper. This would be perfect for sharpening a pencil as you are preforming the act of pushing the blade away from you.
Snap-off Blade Utility Knife
A "snap-off blade" type of utility knife has blades that...well... snap-off!
The blade is made to break off at the tip of the blade when the edge has gotten dull.
The process requires a pair of pliers and some eye protection (even if it's just turning your face away). Just grab the section of the blade that has become dull, and break it off. You now have a "new" blade!
Craft knives are generally used for fine detail work. It's used by stencilers, scrap bookers, and anyone else who needs a precise way to cut something.
The blades come in several shapes, and are usually thin and tapered to a point. The handles can have the same shape as a pencil so that it can be griped in the same manner as a pencil.
For the serious crafter there are sets that contain a variety of blades for different uses.
These knives could be used for sharpening a pencil. However, because of the thin handle, your grip may be less than secure. There are versions that have bigger handles so that they are easier to hold on to when using them.
I understand that there are some artists that use a craft knife to scrape-away highlights when using colored pencils. I'd be afraid of damaging the paper. Maybe you could try it and let me know how it goes.
Find the knife that you feel the most comfortable with. Try them all and tell me how they work for you, I'd love to hear from you.
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Sharpening a utility knife blade can be a tricky job. It requires DIY ability and the appropriate tools. If you don’t get it right, you will eventually end up damaging the knife. However, using some particular tools, with the right technique, and some little effort, sharpening a utility knife blade is a job you can do yourself.
Basically sharpening means changing the blunt edge into a sharp one. Hence, while sharpening, a lot of metal particles are spread all over the area and they can easily come in contact with food products especially if you’re working in a kitchen.
After clearing the area you can start the sharpening process for the utility blade by first using the sharpening stone. These stones are specifically used for sharpening and you can find a different range to choose from including common water stones and diamond-edged sharpening stones. These stones generally have a coarse side and a fine side.
Place the stone on a chopping board to prevent scratching on the surface. When sharpening, a special technique is required to perfectly sharpen the knife’s cutting edge. You have to hold the knife at an angle of about 20 degrees and start sharpening the knife using long, smooth, and unique directions on the stone to sharpen the knife perfectly from top to bottom. This process should be done first on the coarse side and then on the fine side of the stone.
Now that the knife is beginning to sharpen up, pour some water on the stone to increase the friction between the stone’s surface and the knife’s edge and repeat the previous step again. Additionally, add some oil on the stone’s surface and give the knife a last run. The oil will help to give the knife a more smooth cut and will also act as a polish.
Once your blunt utility knife is sharp, you won’t need the stone again. As long as you have a good sharpening steel, use it frequently to keep your blade sharp. The best way to hold the steel is vertical, away from you body with the handle on top and the steel facing downwards. As with the stone, your sharpening angle should be around 20 degrees with the knife moving against the steel in long, smooth strokes to sharpen the whole blade from heel to point.
Once the sharpening process is finished, wash your utility knife with water in order to remove any metal particles left on the knife’s surface and then test your utility knife’s sharpness on a piece of paper which should cut without effort.
That’s it. Now you should have a properly sharpened utility knife and when cutting remember to always keep your fingertips away from the blade to avoid any unfortunate accidents.
2 quick, simple, and proven methods on how to sharpen an x acto knife. Don't throw out your old blades until you read this post. It could save.
On a few episodes, Josh Bixler has mentioned the reason he uses utility knife blades is because they are the most economical (cheap, cheap, cheap). I too, have used snap-off blades, utility blades, one-sided razor blades and #11 exacto blades, etc. My preference is to use the #11 exacto blades, but like all blades they get dull because of use. My solution - sharpen them… I bet with a little practice you could even sharpen utility knife blades too. But with a forever-sharp exacto blade in a handle, there is no reason to be using a handle-less blade.
With a little searching on the internet, I found in the rocketry forum with detailed descriptions of how to sharpen hobby knife blades. After trying it, I’m a believer and have been using the same two #11 exacto blades for 6 months. That’s incredible…. Here is how...
Old Leather Belt (I got one at a used clothing store for $3). It is good to get one with a rough side, but if not, you can scratch up any leather with 60 grit sand paper.
White jewelers rouge (available on ebay for $3). Note: some people wrote about using chrome polishing compound. I have not tried this, but the principle is the same and should work.
Sharpening the blade:
Work a layer of jewelers rouge into the rough side of the leather.
Lay the strop on a flat surface, like the edge of your hobby bench or mount it to a piece of wood.
Lay the blade flat on the strop and then tilt about 20 degrees.
Drag the hobby blade across the length of the strop in a direction away from the cutting edge (left to right below) keeping the blade at the same angle. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Repeat on the other side of the blade (right to left, not shown).
Your hobby knife is sharp again.
When the strop becomes shiny and black, it is time to give it a facelift. Just warm it up a bit with a hair dryer (oven, sun on a sunny day, don’t use open flame unless your name is David Windestål). After it is warm, scrape off the excess jewelers rouge with a one-sided razor or similar scraping tool (don’t use your hobby knife). Then I apply a new layer of rouge while the leather is still warm.
I think the hardest technique to learn is how to maintain a constant angle between the blade and the strop throughout the entire stroke. If the angle is not maintained, the sharpened edge will be slightly rounded (i.e. dull). My advice is to go slow and develop a technique. You don’t have to push very hard across the strop, just enough pressure to ensure good contact.
Hey, the hobby knife handle above looks like wood, well - it is wood. After having so much success sharpening the blade in my aluminum exacto knife handle and not having to replace the blade every day, I built an exacto blade handle out of a dowel, just to see if I could, and it works great! I cut a notch in the end of the dowel with a scroll saw, fastened the blade in the dowel with a small screw (filed off the protruding point of the screw) and wrapped the notched end with fiberglass. It is very light. Follow link 2 above for directions on how to build your own hobby knife handle out of a bolt. Both forums are good reads if you want to sharpen your blades… I highly recommend it.
Sharpening your hobby knife.
Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without
Update October 2014 - For reference see Chris’ comment below - ChrisJ June 6, 2014
Thanks Chris. After reading your comment, I got to thinking that I may have a Arkansas stone. I grew up in Montana and used to go hunting. One of the items I packed was a knife, of course, and a sharpening stone. It was small but it got the job done. I rummaged through my old gear and loan behold, guess what I found… my sharpening stone and it was Smith’s Hard Arkansas.
I tried it out with mineral oil and I have to say that I am even more impressed with the edge the stone created. It is amazing, but after setting in on an angle, you can actually “feel” the grinding sensation turn into a gliding when the blade is flat with the stone. It takes about 5 to 10 strokes on each side and the blade is really sharp.
I would definitely recommend getting a good stone. Thanks again Chris!
Learning how to sharpen a knife is definitely worth the effort. A good, sharp knife — whether it's a chef's knife for the kitchen or a pocket knife for.
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