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Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 10, 2013 1:26 pm

Hi Mark,

First off, I'm sorry for the long letter. CKTG is a great website and I've learned a lot just clicking around, reading and watching your excellent videos. Thanks for putting together such a well made and informative site. I've got a few questions and I'd appreciate your input.

I've been carrying a pocket knife since I was a kid and today I'd feel naked without a one in my pocket. I use my knives almost every day for some semi-harsh things like cutting cardboard, strapping, zip ties, network cables, and the occasional egg roll. I've always owned some "nicer" knives like higher end models from Benchmade, Zero Tolerance, Kershaw, and Spyderco that get very light duty if any at all. My typical daily knife is a low to mid range model from one of those manufacturers such as my current rotation of a Spyderco Manix 2 lightweight (combo blade), Kershaw Cryo, Kershaw Vapor III (combo blade), and an Opinel No. 8 carbon - all knives ranging from $20 to $60. (The steels range from the typical like AUS8, 8CR13MoV to the newer ones like S30V and powdered steel like Elmax, and tool steels like A2 and D2. ) My theory is, or was, that I can beat the crap out of them and if one gets too damaged, I'll toss it and get a new one. Brilliant, right?

Subscribing to that philosophy, I've never delved to deeply into maintenance since my typical edc knife is more or less disposable. That's not to say I don't sharpen them; I do, but I don't do it particularly well. With the purchase of a few more particularly nice knives, I decided that it was pretty pathetic of me, a guy who has stripped a vintage motorcycle down to the frame and has a garage full of tools that I (mostly) know how to use, to NOT know how to keep a tool I use every day in proper working order. I want to improve my skills.

I've been sharpening with a selection of devices. I have a Lansky Professional system, a Lansky med/fine benchstone, and a ceramic rod/diamond rod system. I haven't been very impressed with any of them and I find the Professional System with the clamp and guides to be particularly irritating to use.

A few weeks ago I put all of those aside and ordered a Work Sharp Ken Onion edition. I figured it's fast and easy and it'll do a decent job. And it does. It's a nice unit and I'm already getting pretty good with it; my kitchen knives (primarily mid range Wustofs) haven't been this sharp since I bought them. The Work Sharp puts on a decent edge and does it fairly quickly but I feel as if I'm missing something. I want more than a decent edge on my knives, I want a great edge. I want to know why it's a great edge and how it got there. Plus, I feel like I'd be a better sharpener on any system if I learned how to hand sharpen well first.

So, I need some tools to improve my skills and I've decided that bench-sized stones are the way to go. I don't need an edge that requires an electron microscope to see the tooth on but I'd like to be able to get my pocket knives sharp enough to beat up on cardboard easily and I'd like my kitchen prep knives to be able to thinly slice a tomato cleanly and my meat prep and carving knives to glide through their work. And I definitely want to be able to maintain those edges through post-use maintenance. From what I've gathered on your site, that means I wouldn't need anything finer than 6,000 to 8,000 at most. Maybe 4,000 would be enough to do the job.

I'm generally not one to start off slowly and I think that may be the case in this endeavor as well. I've taken a liking to the Shapton stones but I don't know whether I'm better off with the Glass or Pro line. Would you recommend one over the other for me? If it's neither, I'm open to any suggestions you have. Could I achieve similar results with different stones for less money? Am I asking too many questions? :)

Again, my apologies for writing such a long note but I didn't just want to write you a "Hi, Mark; what's your best sharpener?" letter. I hope I gave you an understanding of what I have and what I want to achieve so you'll be able to give me targeted advice. By the way, please don't feel obligated to write an equally long reply - I won't be offended at all! I'm certain you get tons of emails like mine and there's only so much time in the day.

All the best,


Re: Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 10, 2013 1:30 pm

Hi Tim,

I slightly prefer the Shapton glass stones and all you need is a couple of them to get a really good edge on your pocket knives that should be able to shave with it. We use them in the office becuase they're easy, splash and go and they wear slowly and don't take up a lot of room in our limited sharpening area.

I use a folder all the time and I like the edge to have some teeth so it will slice open boxes, tape and straps mostly. If you use the 500 and 2K as a pair that should be all you require. If you go higher you will make the edge more slice and it won't bite quite as much. Some people like more of a razor type edge but for me I prefer a toothy edge on my folders.

Sharpening folders is a little more challenging than many kitchen knives. They tend to have a lot of curve on the blade edge and the are small which you would think would make it easier but the smaller size exaggerates wobbling so just be aware of these two things and concentrate. If you have more questions please post them here and we'll be happy to help.

Re: Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 10, 2013 1:39 pm

Shapton Glass versus Pro is an oft asked question.

At the end of the day, it's more a personal choice thing.....which you prefer only comes after using both. Both are very nice....but, for instance, I don't like either over other stone's. Still, the Shapton's are definitely nice stones.

Mark's grit suggestion would get you well set up and with a 2,000 grit stone you can get knives shaving sharp....and well past almost every factory edge.

Re: Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 10, 2013 2:19 pm

Thanks for the feedback, fellas.

I was originally looking at the Glass Stone 500/1k/4k/8k but thought that 8K might be well beyond my needs and it appears I was right. With Mark's suggestion for 500/2k, what would you suggest for one more step if I wanted to have a finer/more finished edge? 4k? 6k?

- Tim

Re: Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 10, 2013 2:37 pm

Probably the 4k would be the next logical step. The 6k would work too, but the 4k would work faster after the 1k and 4k is certainly very sharp.

Re: Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 10, 2013 2:52 pm

Thanks again, Adam.

Last question - for now ;) What about a recommendation for maintaining an edge in between sharpenings. A strop or some light work on my finest stone? Or something else altogether?

- Tim

Re: Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 10, 2013 3:38 pm

Technically speaking, all you really need is a 1k stone to get very sharp knives. You could strop on it to bring an edge back.

A 500 makes getting an edge faster.

A 4,000 makes the edge more refined and sharper. You can strop on it to bring an edge back.

A loaded strop of some kind (I'm liking my new balsa strop with diamond spray) is finer and will work to bring an edge back too.

How many things you buy past the 500 and 1k really depends on how much fun you want to have IMHO. :)

Re: Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 10, 2013 3:47 pm

Thanks once again for the good information. I've got a lot to think about.

- Tim

Re: Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 10, 2013 5:18 pm

Hi Tim,

Come back after you work whatever you use and tell us how it goes.

Re: Sharpening my pocket knives.

Thu Oct 17, 2013 1:01 am

I'll try to keep this short. I have used Arkansas stone for years and was always happy with them. Now, I'm OCD about certain things and sharpening knives is something that I have become very OCD with.
About a month ago I purchased Shapton Glass stones in 2k, 4k and 8k. I do all of my prep work with Ark. stones. After the 8k stone, I finish with light stropping.
In the past month I have learned a few things and formed a few opinions. One thing I have learned, the more fine your grit, the more exact your strokes need to be. Second, get a lapping plate and stone holder when you get your stones. An opinion I have formed, going to 8k is not needed for most applications. Although, it is very nice.
To sum things up, If I were going to get a set of Shaptons to do all my work with, I would go with 500, 1k, 2k and a strop. If you decide you like spending the time and getting the satisfaction out of sharpening your own knives, you can always add to you collection.
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