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I can't freehand sharpen

Discussion in 'Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment' started by BruceMack, Feb 11, 2018.

  1. BruceMack


    May 20, 2015
    For the last week I have been using different media (Norton India, diamond stones, Shapton water stones, Spyderco fine bench stone) acquired as a woodworker in an effort to put a good edge on my Opinel and Kershaw Leek knives. I have watched a lot of videos. I think I am maintaining a consistent bevel but I cannot get an edge as good as the Sharpmaker.
    While I can feel a burr with the coarser stones, I cannot with the Shapton 5000 or the Spyderco bench stone. Sound and feel do not help, yet. Is it the proverbial 10,000 hours to mastery or just a lack of hand and eye skill? I will keep trying but have no clue to other useful strategies.
    Have some of you gone to guided sharpening because of the same inability?
  2. Cvrobinson

    Cvrobinson Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 19, 2017
    Maybe not 10,000 hours, but maybe a bit more than a week to learn. If I remember correctly I spent a month screwing up blades before it started to click.
    Take one knife, one stone and practice, working on a light pressure (touch) and angle. Like riding a bike, little learning curve, good for life
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2018
  3. Wowbagger

    Wowbagger Basic Member Basic Member

    Sep 20, 2015
    Use a jeweler's visor and look to see that the actual edge is right down on the stone while using the finer stones.
    Once you learn to freehand sharpen then you can give up all this . . . ( fill in your own word ) and get back to practicality.

    Do we supose machine tool cutters such as end mills and such are sharpened by some little elf with great hand to eye skills and that certain elfin magic . . . or do the factory workers or tool resharpeners chuck that sucker into a jig and geeeter done right and quick ?

    Precision edges require precision sharpening tools.
    Not saying it can't be done by hand with great skill if you hold your tongue just right.
    danbot likes this.
  4. ecallahan

    ecallahan Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 14, 2011
    Stick with one knife you can sharpen and keep practicing on that knife. Ask a lot of questions. I have the wicked edge, Sharpmaker and Ken Onion worksharp. I’ve come pretty much full circle to freehand sharpening because I enjoy it and for the most part I get good edges. I use the worksharp to reprofile and the Sharpmaker on a few knives. Read over the seven secrets of sharpening they are very helpful. I do use an angle wedge to keep my angles consistent, just as a consistent reference. Someday I’ll learn to sharpen without it. Use a coarse stone first, sharpie on the edge, work up a burr on each side, then very light pressure until you can get a decent edge on the coarse stone. From there you will just be refining on the higher grit stones. I took Obsessed With Edges advice and got a cheap Victorinox paring knife and learned on that. It isn’t very thick, has fairly soft steel, and just long enough to make a great knife to learn to freehand on.

    You don’t say what steel you have. But the India is a great stone to learn on, paired with steel it can handle.

    Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
  5. Chris "Anagarika"

    Chris "Anagarika"

    Mar 7, 2001
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
  6. willc

    willc Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 13, 2013
    You should be very sharp off your first stone.
    Good lighting and a loupe make a big difference between sharp and dull.

    When you do get sharp off that first stone then it is time to lighten pressure and deal with burr if present.

    Sometimes I will take one or two passes and then check bevel and do this many times.
    It can be slow at first but this is how to develop the muscle memory.

    Keep at it and you will get sharp edges.
  7. Ourorboros


    Jan 23, 2017
    1 Strive for consistency. Learn on one knife and one progression of stones. In the J-knife world, they say "master the 1K".
    2 Your knife should be sharp on your coarsest stone that you are using. After that you are refining the edge, you don't need burrs after that. Of course you can sharpen on finer stones, but it can take more time.
    3 If you don't have a jeweler's loop or USB microscope, you can run the edge along something with loose fibers - cotton ball, fuzzed up felt, etc. If something catches, you have a burr.
    4 Developing feel takes time. Both feel for what you are doing and the ability to feel fine burrs. Be patient and keep at it.
    5 Angle guides can help - a simple wedge with a known angle. This isn't guided sharpening, but a way to make sure you are using a consistent angle from session to session. They can be bought or made - just place at one end of your stone to make sure of your starting angle.
    Mr.SATism and Chris "Anagarika" like this.
  8. fsatsil

    fsatsil Basic Member Basic Member

    Sep 15, 2009
    I think it’s definitely going to take longer then a week or even a few weeks to master freehand sharpening. What is the actual stone progression you are using? Are you mixing and matching diamond, India, ceramic, and water stones....etc or do you have complete sets of each? Each type of stone has its own learning curve so I think when you are first learning it will go much more smoothly if you stick to one type of stone. For what it’s worth Ive been using Shapton a Pros for a few years and I’ve found that by time I am done working my way up through the grits to 5k the burr is almost always completely removed. The 5k is a finishing stone and really isn’t going to give you that big burr like some of the coarser stones unless you really overgrind one side of the bevel. Hope this helps.
    Chris "Anagarika" likes this.
  9. kniferbro


    Jan 22, 2011
    One thing that always helps me is to really envision yourself taking a very thin slice off the top of the stone. Just like you'd shave wood off a stick. emulate that motion. It always helps me to truly apex the edge.

    The human body is capable of amazing things, but I think our own minds can get in the way (read: overthinking). So many different parameters you're trying to keep just right can in the end work against you. Distill all these parameters down into something more simple, like trying for that thin slice off the top of the stone and you might see some better results. I'm not saying increase your sharpening angle so the edge bites in or anything like that. Keep the angle you are trying for but instead of trying to sharpen the blade, try to *slice* the top of the stone.
    jux t, Chris "Anagarika" and willc like this.
  10. BruceMack


    May 20, 2015
    Thanks for the additional replies. Presently I am using the medium Norton India stone and following this with a very fine diamond bench stone and the Spyderco double stuff slip stone and then stropping. I like the Norton more than my medium diamond plate and have just gotten (but not yet used) a fine India to slip into the rotation and possibly replace the fine diamond. Today using magnification I tried a super fine EZE-LAP paddle with longitudinal back and forth movement to lessen the scratch pattern and allow sharpening to the very edge, as suggested above. The narrow paddle allows selective attention to problem areas and especially curves. This worked better than the "double stuff" on this one trial, giving my best edge (after stropping). My Shapton Professional 220-1000-5000-15000 stones did not work for me, though they have been fine with A2 woodworking blades. I attribute this to my ineptitude, but will not return to them as the above sequence is working for me. I have a long way to go.

    Chris "Anagarika" likes this.
  11. HeavyHanded

    HeavyHanded KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 4, 2010
  12. RLDubbya

    RLDubbya HMFIC Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 21, 2016
    When I learned to sharpen, sharpening pretty much equaled freehand. (This was 1976 in the backwoods of PA) The only exception for me was a bench grinder that I could use to reprofile. IIRC, it took me daily practice for an entire summer and fall to get even halfway decent.

    More recently, I picked up a Wicked Edge, and that took me 40-50 knives before I felt competent at all. Figure that, at a minimum knives took me 2 hours each; maximum - those first attempts at true mirror edges - time per knife was in the 10-20+ hour category. Split it down the middle (25 mirror edge, 25 "plain edge") and you have something on the order of 500 hours invested in practice/training.

    Now that I have more variables identified and controlled, and have developed muscle memory, my time per knife is much less. And remember: this is with a guided system.

    Here's a thought: keep notes on each knife you sharpen. Write down each major step and the time it takes so that you know where your time is going, and how you might speed things up.
    Chris "Anagarika" likes this.
  13. BruceMack


    May 20, 2015
    Thanks for that. Even how I stand or sit and whether the stone is horizontal or vertical is up for grabs. I’m frustrated that my right hand has less control due to tremor. There are workarounds I know but temporarily I have dug out my Lansky which I had not given a chance years ago and I’m happy to see it put a really nice edge on my Opinel (I know it’s one of the easier knives to sharpen).
  14. RLDubbya

    RLDubbya HMFIC Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 21, 2016
    You are correct - your posture has a major influence on how you sharpen. Thinking otherwise is crazy - an example from another profession: long-haul trucking. One of the most common complaints are shoulder related injuries and pain. Only in the left shoulder, however.

    Why? Because the interstate highways all are tilted towards center, and truckers prop their arm on the window ledge, and fight the tendency of the rig to drift left from an unnatural posture.

    It's good that you are identifying these core systemic variables. Try different positions. Find what works for you at this early stage.

    If you hang out on the Wicked Edge forum, you'll read the most common novice problem: "It takes a lot longer to get results than I thought it would." Everybody agrees that you just have to suck it up and practice. A lot.

    I'm glad I was able to help in some small way. Best of luck in your journey - have fun and keep learning!

  15. Danketch


    Apr 27, 2007
    Wow! I definitely think that the Wicked Edge has a learning curve, and I screwed up small portions of 1-2 knives, but on a guided system with such precision (using a digital angle gauge) I felt pretty competent after about 5 knives. I'm not a perfectionist, and never try for mirror edges, but 40-50 knives seems like a lot.

    What kind of challenges did you face that took that long to feel competent? (Genuinely asking, not trying to be negative). I had issues with the very tip at first, but spending additional time on problem areas and using a sharpie cured most of that for me.

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