How to Sharpen a Knife

Learn how to sharpen a knife at home using the best knife sharpening tools including a whetstone and "honemaster".

| July/August 1979

Though hardly a day passes without the need to use knives, most people know very little about the fine art of keeping these invaluable tools sharp. However, with the right materials and a bit of practice, you can — in a short time — literally earn a reputation for your cutlery's keen, precise,long-lasting edges.

Your first — and most important — piece of knife-honin' equipment is a proper whetstone . . . and "proper" means a "sharpener" that is a direct product of the earth, not some factory-fused chunk of abrasive particles. The best of such tools — mined in the Ozarks from deposits of novaculite — are called Arkansas oilstones, and they sell for anywhere from $1 to $40. For most nonprofessional purposes, the soft pearl-gray stones are best . . . and you should choose one that's at least an inch longer than the largest blade you want to sharpen. ( A good, all-purpose oilstone — measuring about 1-by-2-by-8 inches will probably cost between $10 and $18. )

You may be able to find such a tool by visiting the biggest sporting goods, or hardware, or gourmet cooking stores in your area. If you don't have any luck with local outlets, both Buck Knives and Gerber Legendary Blades market fine oilstones.

"Rock" Solid

Once you've acquired your stone, you'll need to anchor it to a work surface to keep the tool from skating around while in use. A C-clamp will serve this purpose, but you'll be better off if you fashion a permanent "nest" of nailed-down wood strips in which the whetstone can sit securely. (Special cast-aluminum troughs, which can be bolted directly to your workbench, are available commercially . . . but they tend to be expensive.)

If your stone comes packaged in a wooden box, you can simply cover the bottom of the container with velcro or a thin sheet of urethane foam to prevent the sharpener from sliding about. ( I also know of one ingenious soul who sank two screws into the top of his workbench, sawed off the heads, and then drilled corresponding shallow holes in the underside of the box. His anchoring method worked like a charm!)

Oil It Up!

An oilstone will, of course, have to be oiled when it's in use. Some folks use mineral oil, a light machine lubricant (like Three-In-One), or even water for this purpose. But if you want to do the job right, I'd suggest the purchase of a can of Norton Bear Oil — if you can find it — or Buck or Gerber Honing Oil. (Personally, I get the best and fastest results with Buck Oil.) The purpose of these fluids is not to lubricate, but to float the tiny chips of blade steel up and away from the stone's surface . . . keeping your honing tool cleaner and more efficient.

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