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Difficulty sharpening.

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
So I've had the opportunity to sit down a few more times with my whet stone and my practice knives (several decade old home kitchen quality knives) and put a good amount of effort into sharpening them, but I am just not feeling a burr forming and am not seeing any real increase in sharpness, though I have been able to repair some of the damages done to a couple of the knives with badly bent blades.

I have a 250/1000, so have been using the 250 for repair work and trying the 1000 for initial sharpening. I intend on getting a far finer stone, but that's for later. I am following the instructions as given by 'An Edge in the Kitchen', and am currently using an edge guide for consistency (its a 15-20 degree guide). What might I be doing wrong?
post #2 of 6
First of all, it's possible that the knives are of such low quality and current sharpness that you have a very long way to go before getting much burr. Do you have any idea what the knives are, from which we might figure out what they're made of?

Second, if you're grinding reasonably accurately on a 250 stone, you really ought to be getting a burr. But the angle you're trying to set -- about 17 degrees (between 15 and 20) -- may be far off from the profile of these knives. In that case, you have to grind off the shoulder before you even get to the edge.

Try this. Get a fat permanent marker and color from the edge up about 1/4". Do this on the front of the blade. (If you're a righty, and you hold the knife normally, this is the face of the blade to your right; the back face of the blade is the one that presses against your fingers when you cut with the knife.) Now set that face on the stone at the angle you're using and grind about four or five strokes, being as careful as possible to maintain your angle. Look at the ink streak. Where is the shiny, ground part? Is it right down at the edge, or up on the shoulder a ways?

If (as I suspect) the ground part is up the shoulder, you are currently in the process of reprofiling your knife. That takes a lot of grinding and time, and until it's complete you will not get any burr. But the nice thing is that this profiling doesn't have to be done super-perfectly for knives like this: just grind the heck out of them.

If you're just trying to learn the process and don't want to reprofile the knife, put that inked front face back on the stone and raise the spine a bit, then grind a stroke or two and check the ink again. When you get down very close to the edge -- probably somewhere around 22-25 degrees -- you are actually sharpening rather than profiling. Now you can practice your technique and feel for the burr.

Bear in mind that a lot of "home" knives, usually stainless of one kind or another, are very resistant to consistent and precise grinding. Don't expect to achieve perfection with such knives no matter what you do: they probably won't sustain it. So if it were me, I'd simply learn to grind, raise a burr, and deburr, and not worry about the angle. When you start sharpening a really good knife -- one that will take and retain a better edge -- you can start worrying about precise angles.

My concern, I suppose, is that if you have to reprofile a really tough blade, you are likely to get into the bad habit of pressing down very hard on the stone. This is a difficult habit to break, and it is a serious problem when you're trying to produce a very good edge. So I'd rather see you learn all the basics except your angles, getting the feel for relatively gentle grinding (letting the stone do the work).

But definitely try the marker trick and see what happens. Keep us posted!
post #3 of 6
First... What ChrisLehrer said.



The two distinct processes of learning to raise a burr (aka pull a wire) and learning to feel the burr take quite a few sharpening sessions for anyone. It's usually in the neighborhood of twenty knives; more if you don't have someone in your physical presence who can show you how and what -- and you don't.

Second, the Magic Marker trick is about as good as it gets when it comes to seeing what's going on. Start by marking the knife's edge bevel on one side, as Chris described. Then start sharpening the knife as you believe you should, and just sharpen away on that side until, in your estimation, you've sharpened long enough that SOMETHING DAMMIT should have happened.

Now, look at the marked edge bevel. Ideally there's a smooth clean band, with no ink, extending from the bevel shoulder all the way to the edge. There should not be any marker on the edge -- if there is, you're not sharpening the edge yet -- which indicates the angle you're holding is too acute. You will never get a burr until you sharpen the actual edge.

If you're still showing ink at the edge after 10 "W" stroke trips up and down the stone, or after 20 or so "stropping" or "swiping" strokes (I forget what Chad calls his strokes), you can be pretty sure that you either need to hold a more obtuse angle, or drop down to a more aggressive stone and profile your desired angle. For the time being, until you're proficient with the whole burr thing, I recommend going with whatever angle is already on the knife.

Once you've honed your ability [sorry, can't help myself] to sharpen all the way down to the edge along the entire length of the knife -- spend a little extra time on the same side of the knife -- and you will have raised a burr. The next step is learning to feel its presence. You can do this by pushing your fingernail up the side which wasn't sharpened in order to feel the burr's curl; or by thumb dragging both sides of the edge -- the sharpened side should feel significantly more aggressive than the unsharpened side.

I'm not sure if Chris was really clear in how he expressed the idea of going with the angle already on the knife -- as opposed to not worrying about holding a constant angle. If you're confused, let me disabuse you: You do need to (learn to) hold a constant angle throughout the sharpening process.

Here's how to find the angle already there: Assuming you're right handed, hold the knife handle with your right hand and lay the middle of the edge on the stone. Close your eyes and roll the knife a little and try and feel where the bevel is. Now open your eyes, and gently put your left index and middle fingers on the blade, right at or just above the edge. Close your eyes and do the rolling thing again. You'll feel the blade "click" when it matches the old bevel. It's an old carpenter's trick, and actually called "clicking."

When you can actually raise and detect a burr, you need to learn to "chase" it. That means, refining it on both sides so it can be flipped from one side to another with very little effort. Once the wire is really flexible, the knife can be deburred as Chris and Chad describe -- and the result will be an even, "new" edge. In other words, you're heart's desire.

This stuff is all very easy once you can do it easily. Until then it's frustrating as all get out. Be comforted that it comes eventually, and all of us wiseacres have gone through it too.

You're not alone,

Hope this helps,
post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the input and suggestions all.

I did make a post trying to find out more about the knife brand, a bit lower on this forum. Theyre AT LEAST 20 years old, supposedly manufactured in japan but are very american like knives, just labeled as stainless steel.

Through probably the 6 or more hours I have spent sharpening so far I have experimented with pulling the spine up higher to ensure the angle of the guides isnt just too harsh for the steel to hold, and isnt too far off of the manucaturers edge. I have also gone progressively lighter in my pulls so as to make sure I'm not somehow taking the buff off without noticing it even being there.

So for now I will try those additional marker tricks to try to figure the angle better. I'm happy to take the time to reprofile an edge as long as the knife can handle it, so I may go ahead and do that. If I reprofile should I be going ahead and using the 250 stone then, I assume? I tend to put very little pressure on the blade beyond the straight pressure of the knife pull.

I do luckily have several knives to practice on, I think at least 7 that badly need it, and once I get a bit better I have a full extra set that is still sharp but could be made sharper and could probably use a bit oif maintenance. I still need to purchase my ceramic steel as well, the old steel that came with my practice knives is far warn and the handle is broken off as well.
post #5 of 6
Well, wait a second. What "guides" are these? What sort of sharpening system are you using here? I thought you were talking about freehand sharpening.

Next, you can sharpen pretty much anything to any angle... briefly. I mean, you can sharpen a total piece of junk to a 5-degree angle if you want to, but as soon as you touch the edge to anything it will collapse and/or crush. So unless your angles are frighteningly small, the steel can pretty much certainly hold it. Don't worry about that.

But I'm a little worried about the underlined sentence. The burr will form on the side away from the one you're grinding, the one not touching the stone. You can't take it off by continuing to grind: you have to flip the knife over and grind, or else run the blade through something like a cork or a piece of soft wood, to catch the burr and peel it off. Are you feeling the correct side of the blade in your search for a burr?
For now, find the angle on the knife, whatever it is, and grind there. Use marker: it will improve your life immensely. Until you can raise and find a burr consistently, don't start thinking about reprofiling and whatnot -- we've first got to identify the problem.
Start with just one knife. Let's eliminate every extraneous factor until we get this one basic thing clear.
post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 
I am using a free hand King whetstone, the guides are the clips you put on the spine of the blade, that are set to a certain angle. As I have been trying to find the proper angle of the blade itself, I tend to place the knife onto the stone, then lift up slightly over what the guide would have me grind at, it just makes my hand sharpening more precise.

I see my misunderstanding with the burr, but aye I have been feeling the opposite side of the blade for the burr. I think I may be expecting it to be more pronounced than it is, but we'll see how I do with my next session when I find time, I think life just got a load and a half more busy for me, at least stress wise.

Aye, I have really just been working with a 10" chef, and ignoring the rest, though I spent a bit of time repairing some of the damage done do a butchers knife (these things are so old I believe that damage was actually done by my as a child or young teen).

I'll try to do a bit with my sharpie soon and I'll let you all know how it goes. I greatly appreciate the input and help.
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