Friday, April 4, 2008

Sharpening (Honing) Knives

When I came across a quick way to sharpen (technically, hone) knives a few months ago, I said to my dad, "Dad, give me all your knives and I'll sharpen them for you."

Question: Why do old dudes have so many knives? 40 (that's FORTY) knives, which is what Dad gave me, seems a little excessive. I'm pretty sure I only gave him like three knives total for all his birthdays and Christmases.

Good thing this sharpening system is speedy. Using a 3/4" hard felt wheel, charged with a honing compound, and secured on a grinder*, will put a razor edge on your knife, provided the knife is not too dull. If your knife has a blunt edge, you'll need to spend a little time with sharpening stones first.

Remember that when using a felt wheel, the direction of rotation must be turning away from you—the opposite direction when using grinding wheels. You will have to turn your grinder around so the switch is on the opposite side. If you do not do it this way, the felt wheel will grab the knife out of your hand and you could easily be hurt. Also remember to wear a face mask whenever you use a grinder and make sure that both wheels on your grinder are the same weight, so it is properly balanced. On the other arbor of this particular grinder is another 3/4" felt wheel.

It doesn't take much to hone the blade this way and if you hold it too long on the wheel, it will get hot, so check your progress frequently. I sharpened each knife in 20-30 seconds.

During sharpening, the felt will turn black. That's steel, and it means you need to charge the wheel with more compound. After a while, the compound may become glazed over. To remove it, I hold a block of wood against the wheel as it's rotating. The wood effectively scrapes off the compound and you can charge it with new.

The last photo shows my entire collection of knives. I have a ways to go to reach a total of forty, but then, I have a few more birthdays and Christmases until I'm an old dudette.

*Note: if you do not have a grinder, you can also hone blades and chisels with a leather strop, charged with honing compound, and glued to a board. That's a future post...


Stephen Starling said...

Although at 42 years I hope I'm not considered 'old' yet, I think I have about 20 knives. I guess I'm on my way though, as I still have half a dozen knives on my wish list! :)

Top of my knife wish list is a Queen Cutlery 'Congress' folding knife with bird's eye maple handles... it's purty! :)

Anonymous said...

Old dude here. I think Stephen has the nub of it about us old dudes - the knives are purtty! When we're young we discover beauty in God's most delightful creation - women - and if we can't collect the gals we can stack their pictures in 'mens magazines', creating harems of the imagination in the backs of bedroom closets! When we slow down, we find beauty in the less immediate - more in the fine creation of human hands - especially in well designed and finished small and pocket knives. With age, there's less of passion and chaos, more a delight in materials and technique mastered, and beauty which need not fade... nature is tamed and order maintained. I will not count my knives, I delight in simply having them around. They make me smile, as do my memories.
Thanks for the course, will look forward to the post about the leather strop and honing by hand.

Kari Hultman said...

Anon—Wow, thank you for the thoughtful response.

Stephen—I can understand the attraction to "purty" tools. : )

Frontier Carpenter said...

Why do women have so many shoes?

Kari Hultman said...

That's a great question. My mom could open a shoe store with her collection.

johnjoiner said...

Ah! The magic green stick of honing compound. I've looked all over the shop and can't find mine. But I'm sure if I buy a new one I'll find the old one within the week.

Anonymous said...

4 April 2008

Village Carpenter:

Can you please provide more information about those two locking-back knives with the black handles in your last photo? Manufacturer, model, etc.; are they purchased in those configurations, re-ground, etc.?


Phil Lang

Kari Hultman said...

Sure, Phil. They are two pocket carvers, one Murphy, the other Chip, from Lee Valley. Item #06D05.31 and 06D05.30

I did not regrind them; both blades are in their original shape.