A lot of chefs get their knives professionally sharpened but you won’t find any artists getting their pencils professionally sharpened. Admittedly, most of those workshy, soap-dodgers don’t do enough doodling to blunt their pencils, but you get the point — no pun intended — sharpening a knife requires a little bit of knowledge and skill.
There are lots of different ways to sharpen a knife: I learned two of them at school during woodwork and metalwork classes. Unfortunately, a lot of lads don’t do useful subjects like that they do home-economics (aka cooking and shopping), sowing, and pottery, which ain’t going to be much help when he gets married and his old lady wan’t him to sharpen her kitchen knives. She’s not going to know how to sharpen them because you know she didn’t do metalwork or woodwork at school — she’s a bird — she took cooking and shopping. And it doesn’t just end there: a mate of mine gets a call from his sister because her boyfriend’s got a puncture and he don’t know how to change a tire! Jesus, Marry and Joseph: I could change a tire, hotwire a motor and drive by the time I was twelve.
Anyhow, you sharpen a knife by grinding it against something harder than the blade, which removes metal from the edge, like a grinding wheel, whetstone, Japanese water stone, diamond coated steel, belt sander, sand paper, V sharpener or draw through sharpener. You can even grind it against the bottom of a coffee mug, and if you’re that much of a cheap bastard, you probably wipe your arse with a free newspaper and buy your Mrs lingerie from a second hand shop.
Whatever you sharpen your knife with you need to grind a consistent bevel angle along the entire length of the edge. The bevel angle depends on the grind and type of knife: it’s 10° on a razor, 20° on a kitchen knife and 30° on a meat cleaver. That’s why a V grind sharpener is better than sharpening freehand on a whetstones or waterstones, but personally, I prefer using a bench grinder or the scary sharp method.
Mechanical grinders are the most effective way to put an edge on a blade but they’re also the most dangerous, especially if you’re female. In fact, if you’re female you shouldn’t be touching any power tools. Here’s Willy from Carson’s Saw Shop in Eugene, Oregon, who has been abusing the gimp chained up in the back room, and professionally sharpening tools for 25 or 30 years — he can’t remember — demonstrating how not to use a pedestal grinder. The idiot grinds against the side of the wheel instead of the edge. How he hasn’t lost his fingers or killed himself is a mystery to me.
Willy doesn’t bother using a grinding jig to get an accurate and consistent angle, he just guesses and when screws up, he says it doesn’t matter, and he’s supposed to be a professional sharpener. How that shop stays in business is beyond me. If you’re going to use a bench grinder — you can get one for well under $50 – follow the safety instructions, they’re there for a reason. Also don’t guess the angles use a grinding jig. You can get a decent one for $30 but if you’re too cheap you can make one out of wood with a G-clamp. You can also use an angle grinder but don’t turn it upside down on a working surface or hold the blade with one hand and the angle grinder in the other. Secure the knife in a grinding jig or vice and use the angle grinder with two hands.
After grinding, a blade has a wire edge, which needs to be honed to get rid of all those burs. Otherwise it won’t retain an edge and you’ll be sharpening the knife all the time. The difference between grinding and honing is that you don’t remove any metal when you’re honing. So technically, honing isn’t sharpening. You’re just straightening the edge, which makes it cut better. That’s why you can’t sharpen a blunt blade on a steel. Then you have the final stage of the process: polishing, which finishes and smooths the blade, and reduces oxidation. You can use a polishing stone, leather strop or sand paper to polish a blade, or you can just buff it against a buffing wheel on a bench grinder, which is what I normally do.