Mike's hair-whittling knife sharpening guide

This is a discussion on Mike's hair-whittling knife sharpening guide within the Defensive Knives & Other Weapons forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; First off and foremost - I can not free hand on bench stones very well. It's a talent that I currently don't have the time ...

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Thread: Mike's hair-whittling knife sharpening guide

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    Senior Member Array jeep45238's Avatar
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    Mike's hair-whittling knife sharpening guide

    First off and foremost - I can not free hand on bench stones very well. It's a talent that I currently don't have the time to learn. The other reason why normal benchstone freehanding wasn't used is because I don't have a stone that is 1/2" or so, and this knife has a small recurve to it. Normal benchstones, 1" and larger, simply won't sharpen part of the curve. In addition, DO NOT PUSH DOWN. You only need 1-3 pounds of pressure to sharpen. Any more than that and your'e wearing out your hone, especially if it's diamond or a water stone. The finer the grit, the less pressure is needed. Now, onto my impromptue guide.

    For equipment, you'll need, at a minimum, some sort of hones (commonly refered to as sharpening stones). Medium grit if you have to choose only one - it won't cut the fastest, but it'll still let you get a very nice end result. Use water, not oil, for lube on the stones. Why? Because water's dirt cheap, does the same thing, is available everywhere, and if you use oil even once, it's a pain to go back to water. Just trust me. Make sure to clean your stones with some powdered Ajax or similar cleaner with a cleaning pad like an SOS pad when you're done to remove the steel from the stone. I'm currently using a Spyderco Sharpmaker. I do not have the diamond or ultra fine stones for it at the moment. A sharpie. Optional: a stop, and some rubbing compound. Pretty basic strops can be made from the back of a legal pad and some rubbing compound. My equipment for today:


    Can also be used for scissors


    or as a bench stone



    You can use any sharpening method you want, but KEEP THE ANGLE CONSISTENT. You will be able to have hairs pop off your arm (my least favorite sharpness test) at nearly any angle, as long as the angle is CONSISTENT - even with course grits like 220 sandpaper. There are a few tricks for this if you're sharpening without a jig - patience, and a sharpie. With the sharpie, you'll want to literally paint the edge on both sides with the sharpie. What this does is it shows you where the stone, hone, strop, whatever, is contacting the blade. Most people will give up on a knife because they'll be working on the shoulder of the edge, and not the edge itself, and give up to early. This will give you direct feedback on where you are on the edge, as well as if any particular areas need any particular attention. Also, lock your wrist. This will help keep the angle the knife up and down when you're switching sides, or even just moving the knife


    The third trick is to look for the burr. All you're doing when you sharpen a knife is folding over a very small part of the edge to the side opposite of the hone, and polishing the edge. Some people can feel the burr by hand. When you work the burr up over the entire length of the edge, switch sides and repeat. Don't bother counting strokes. Your goal is to make it so you can flip the burr to the other side of the knife's blade with one or two passes of the stone. To look for the burr, I hold the edge under a bright light and move the blade a bit. Any shiny spots on the edge is a dull spot, where a burr exists, and I know I've still got some work to do. I don't think my camera picked it up very well, but here's a try:


    Now that we've got some basics, let's get to the actual sharpening. You want to start with the most aggressive hone that will remove your material. Pushing harder won't do anything but load it up with stone, and on some stones, just wear them out pretty quickly. The sharpener that I'm using comes with ceramic hones, and has a minimum of 4 steps to sharpen a plain edge (yes, it can do serrations as well). To give you an idea, the medium (grey/brown) stone is about 500 grit, and the white stone is about 1000 grit. The optional diamond stone is about 220 grit, and the ultrafine is about 2500 grit. First get everything setup. Setup for me includes getting the 2 brass safety rods in, and selecting an edge angle of either 30* overall or 40* overall. I use 30* straight on my knives, and put 5-10 passes with the fine at 40* to finish off a friend's knife. For the sharpmaker system, you'll notice the hones are 1/2 inch triangles. First, you put the grey stones in the 30* slots with the corners pointing towards the inside.


    Starting at the hilt of the blade is the most comfortable for me, so that's what I do. Others start at the tip. It doesn't matter. Pulling the blade towards me is just easier for me to control. What we're doing is standing, with the sharpener on a table, looking straight down over the blade. We want to keep the blade as close to vertical as possible. Don't freak out if one side hits the edge before the other - many knives, even expensive ones like Benchmade, come from the factory with one edge at a slightly different angle. Just keep going till you get to the edge. For those of you who can't even come close to freehand sharpening, don't freak out - this is pretty easy to do. The reason why bench stones is so difficult to pick up on is because you can't see the angle formed at the edge. By flipping the stones about 90 degrees, you can see the angle, and it's pretty easy to keep mostly straight. If you're STILL having troubles, put a small 1-2 inch long level and rubber band it on the spine of the handle. Play "keep the bubble in the middle" for a few hours What you DO NOT WANT TO DO is drag the tip of the blade off your hone - EVER if you can avoid it. What will happen is your sharp point will become a dull blunt rounded poking stick.
    Start at the hilt:

    End before the tip gets to the edge:

    This isn't so bad now, is it?
    Last edited by jeep45238; August 20th, 2008 at 10:01 PM.
    ~Mike F.
    http://www.ConcealedCampus.com
    http://www.a-human-right.com/
    "Quemadmoeum gladuis neminem occidit, occidentis telum est."

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    Senior Member Array jeep45238's Avatar
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    The reason why we start with the corners of the triangles is simple - less area on the stone = higher pressure on the blade we're sharpening, the faster it moves along - that's even while keeping the same pressure you're using with your hands. Least it sounds good. Remember, don't push hard - let the abrasives do the work for you, especially with this kind of setup. The harder you push, the more the base flexes and the further apart the stones move - and your angle changes. Remember what the key is to a sharp knife? A (fairly) consistent angle.

    Well, now that we've reached the edge (notice how there's no more sharpie on the edge, not even at the very very bottom?), we can move on to a finer grit setup. To do this, simply rotate the stone so you're using the flat part of it. This will take it from the "very very fine hacksaw blade" utility setup to "the toothy knife edge" that works great as a utility finish for most people. Again, start at the hilt, end your stroke with the tip still on the hone. Keep checking your progress on the burr with the light from this point out every x number of swipes (sometimes it's 100 swipes, sometimes it's 2, just depends). When you can get the burr flipping back and forth with very few strokes, we'll progress to the fine stones. There is an added trick besides keeping the blade straight up and down this time. You're also going to watch where the edge contacts the hone to make sure that it's contacting the middle portion for the most part. It's honestly not as complicated as it seems, I promise!!!
    Start at the hilt:

    End with the tip on the hone:



    Well, we're almost done! We're basically going to repeat the above steps, but using the white fine stones instead. You really don't need any more pressure than the weight of the blade. Just focus on keeping the blade edge hitting the middle of the stone and straight up and down, let the hones do all the work. Make sure to check for that burr with the light! It'll show even the smallest of dull spots! While an edge with a burr may feel very sharp, the burr breaks off when you start to use it, and the steel folds flat - like a butter knife. Keep working until you don't have a burr any more, and your angle is consistent.





    The last step is optional, and I didn't do it today. It's called stropping. What this does is help polish the edge even more, and also remove any traces of burrs on the edge that may be left behind from sharpening. It REALLY refines the edge. To strop, you use no pressure, and drag the blade towards you, edge facing away - the opposite of sharpening a knife. Don't do it the other way - the edge will dig in, tear up the strop, and destroy the edge. The harder you push, and the more the leather wants to round the edge off. This is why so many people complain about how stropping makes their edges duller - poor technique.

    I mentioned from the get go that I hate the "arm hair shaving test." I hate it because you can shave hair off with even a coarsely finished edge, and I find that the more polished the edge is that I'm working with, the easier the work is and the more control I have over the knife. So, what I do instead is whittle hair Keep in mind that this was done without any stropping, straight off the hones. Imagine what happens when you strop properly after you hone properly




    Hope ya'll enjoyed my little walkthrough - and just remember, don't sharpen because the tool is dull, sharpen because it's not sharp enough!
    ~Mike F.
    http://www.ConcealedCampus.com
    http://www.a-human-right.com/
    "Quemadmoeum gladuis neminem occidit, occidentis telum est."

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    VIP Member Array dukalmighty's Avatar
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    Is that a sasquatch hair? Seriously thanks for an informative lesson in how to sharpen a knife, as I have apparently been doing it wrong.
    "Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,"
    --Mayor Marion Barry, Washington , DC .

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    Senior Member Array jeep45238's Avatar
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    No, that's my friend's sister-in-law's head hair. Mine's buzz cut, and she's got a mess on the comb in her purse. Just worked out that way on that day. Little hard to see since it wouldn't focus any closer, but dead middle there's one fairly large whittle, with 2 smaller ones above it.
    ~Mike F.
    http://www.ConcealedCampus.com
    http://www.a-human-right.com/
    "Quemadmoeum gladuis neminem occidit, occidentis telum est."

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    Great thread. It was nominated for inclusion in the Reference forum. A closed copy has been placed there for easy reference....
    Bumper
    Coimhéad fearg fhear na foighde; Beware the anger of a patient man.

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    Senior Member Array jeep45238's Avatar
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    Thanks Bumper! Funny thing is less than a month ago I saw people that could whittle hair and thought to myself "no way I'll be able to do THAT" Winds up that the hones I was using at the time just plain old weren't fine enough to polish the edge like these spyderco ones are. It ran me about $60 up front locally, which is a bit expensive for a freehand knife sharpener with 2 hones - but the flexibility of things it will sharpen, lack of any lubricants needed, portability, and the grits used made it a bit hard to beat (ok....the video included with the sharpener shows you how to sharpen nail clippers. NAIL CLIPPERS - am I the only one who was unaware you could SHARPEN nail clippers?)

    I first started off with a small 2" level rubberbanded to the back of the knife because I didn't trust myself. What this did for me was cause me to go incredibly slow, and get nowhere fast. I took off the level and things went much faster. Things like the EdgePro sharpener and other jig systems are nice for that reason (always a consistent angle), but honestly, the only thing freehanding or using a system like this will do is create a slightly (very very slightly) convex edge. There's nothing wrong with that - just helps keep the ege a bit stronger.

    After finals next week I'll be doing a "how to" on making a strop that works well for cheap, as well as convex edge sharpening. The benefit of convex edge sharpening isn't in it's initial sharpness (I can't get them as sharp as this blade here) - it's benefit is how long the edge you give it lasts - and the easy maintenance on them. More in the future ;)
    ~Mike F.
    http://www.ConcealedCampus.com
    http://www.a-human-right.com/
    "Quemadmoeum gladuis neminem occidit, occidentis telum est."

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    Member Array homepcmd's Avatar
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    Another trick with your spyderco is to use a big enough mirror in front of you/it and SEE your angle to confirm it stays vertical when you sharpen.
    “We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm” - George Orwell

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