…Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Honing. 😀
Ok, this is a little longish, but there is no substantial way to provide a sharpening primer in a sound bite. I’ve tried to write about what will work well overall, without getting too focused on too many particulars in any sharpening media. No matter which way you choose to go ahead with sharpening, this advice should be helpful to you overall. It’s a reasonable primer that will put you on the road with usable sharpening skills. So grab a snack and a drink, and settle in for a bit. If you really want to learn to sharpen, reading this will likely be worth your time. Your Questions and Comments are invited as always!
When it comes to sharpening, abrasives are abrasives the world around. They may have particular idiosyncrasies you need to pay attention to, but they all abrade metal. Once you choose the abrasives you feel will work best for you, you will establish your own routine for working with them. All paths are means that will lead to a similar end. Waterstones, oilstones, ceramics, particulates, sandpaper, various styles of machine sharpening etc. The steel does not care; the abrasives don’t care either, as long as the grit equivilents of abrasiveness are appropriate to the goal. Sharpness.
For the sake of this discussion, I am referring to the abrasive grits, as they correspond to the grits common to waterstones. I do this simply for the reason that waterstones are very popular, but I am in no way advocating that waterstones are the best abrasive. Most all abrasives will sharpen, and it is up to the end user to investigate the pros and cons of the various abrasives to determine the best paths for themselves. For cross-reference please refer to this cross reference chart to derive the equivilent grit for the media you choose.
It is important to keep in mind that the goal of sharpness has stages.
Coarse grits are for grinding, heavy material removal, bevel forming, flattening. Initial flattening and bevel angle forming are the biggest jobs and to aid getting the job over with, the coarsest grits should be used to get the bulk of these tasks done.
Fine grits are for honing and polishing. Once you have established bevels and flatness on the backs, you will want to polish it. Removing coarse scratches in steel with finer ones is what creates finer sharpness. Sharpness actually is where the intersection of the two planes formed by the bevel and the back meet. The finer they are polished, the sharper they will be. the act of creating the wire or feather edge happens when the bevel side of the iron or blade is abraded until the dullness has been honed away. This is required to establish a fresh edge on the tool, and can be done with any number of the different honing or grinding grits.
It is up to the sharpener to determine how dull the tool is, and select the coarseness or fineness of abrasive grit needed to restore the edge to sharpness the fastest way. This means, it comes down to how much steel needs to be removed on the bevel side to form the wire, or feather. You must determine the condition of the edge, and the fastest way to restore it. If only a lttle honing is needed to restore the edge, don’t select coarse abrasives when you begin. If a lot of honing is needed, don’t select fine abrasives when you begin, but realize you will have to polish all the way up through the grits to the fine abrasives to restore the sharpness.
It is important to get a feel for the finish your honing equipment will give you as a finish result at each stage of the work. It will aid you to learn to evaluate what is needed, where to start, how long to hone, and when you have reached what was needed. Knowing this simplifies the task and helps you save time. This is experiential– it is learned by using the sharpening tools you have on your edge tools. It is getting to know one another. Call it sharpening intimacy if you will. Continue Reading »