You've acquired a good chef's knife, you're using it almost daily to make tasty dinners for the family, and it's stored in a nice knife rack or a magnet for safekeeping. So why stop there? Keeping that knife's edge fine will make cooking not only safer but, let's face it, much more fun. Whether you've spent £150 on a high-end knife or under a tenner on a dinky paring knife, keeping it sharp is crucial.
An important but often confusing area of sharpening is knowing when you're done with one stone and ready for the next finer grit. On coarse stones it is very easy. When you sharpen one side you will notice a burr forming on the opposite side of the edge. This burr is hard to see but is easy to feel. Very carefully feel for the burr by gently running your hand from the spine to the edge. (Do not run your finger along the knife edge from heel to tip, that's only asking for trouble!) A burr is formed when your stone removes material directly at the edge. The burr will move from one side of your knife to another as you alternate sharpening sides. Make sure you have felt the burr jump between both sides before you move on to the next finer stone. That will ensure that you have sharpened both sides effectively. The finer grits are done the same way but the burr is much smaller. On the finest grits you may not be able to notice the burr at all. Testing the knife sharpness will tell you when you're done. (Learn how you can test to see if your knife is sharp.)
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To use Al's method, take a black felt pen and shade in the bevel of the knife. Then take two strokes on the stone and examine the edge. If you have maintained the proper angle then all the black will be gone. If you see black on the top of the edge it means you are holding the back of the knife too far from the stone. If there is black on the bottom of the edge but the top is clean then you are laying the knife too flat on the stone and you need to raise it a bit. Repaint the edge and try it again. Once you discover what the right angle looks like then just maintain that.
Our large selection of stones from many well-known manufacturers will allow connoisseurs to find the ideal stone for their needs. Because all manufacturers formulate their stones to emphasize a different mix of qualities, and because these qualities can vary widely between different stones, most woodworkers choose stones from several manufacturers to build up an optimal set of sharpening stones. Then again, once you get to know the characteristics of certain types of stone, you may find one supplier who will provide all the stones you need. Sometimes this can be an advantage. But there is no one size that fits all; each stone must fit your needs and work style.