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Knife Maker’s Friday Five #16: Honing and Stropping

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Master bladesmith Walter Sorrells discusses some pointers on sharpening knives, including honing and stropping. He touches on four important keys to sharpening any knife, whether homemade or store-bought.

The video begins with a clip showing how stropping is done. Walter says he’s been thinking about sharpening a lot, since he’s moving from making high-end custom knives where sharpening is just a small part of the job, to production where every second matters, he’s looking for ways to bring razor-sharp knives to the marketplace.

Now, if you want to get something sharp enough quickly, that can be done in 30 seconds on the grinder. But classically, sharpening has two phases: honing and stropping. The terminologies can be quite tricky. The first stage of sharpening a knife is always going to be done with some sort of reasonably coarse abrasive. But once the blade has reached a certain level of sharpness, and this is where stropping comes in.

Stropping, traditionally, involves taking a piece of leather and swiping the blade back and forth on it. But there are mechanical ways to do that too, called either polishing or buffing. Regardless of what it’s called, there are only two phases. Walter demonstrates. In the first stage, the edge of the knife is rubbed towards an abrasive surface. In the second stage, the edge moves in the opposite direction, away from the surface.

It’s not so complicated, he says. When honing, there are micro-serrations that are still present. Stropping gets rid of those tiny nicks, creating a fine, smooth edge that will cut better and more efficiently.

His philosophy on sharpening is that if you really want to get really sharp knives, here are four tips. First, regular maintenance goes a long way. Not taking care of your knives makes it so much harder to sharpen. Second, have a consistent edge angle, which can be done with tools. Third, shallower angles equal sharper blades. The longer the secondary bevel on the knife, the better it will cut, but it will be more fragile. Fourth, strop or buff for maximum sharpness – it takes more time, but it’s the best way to get the razor-sharp edge that can cut quickly and easily.

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