Knife Sharpening – Tools for your tools

Butcher and Hunter Equipment & Supplies

Fall is a busy time for processing your garden and now hunting season is upon us! Both passions involve having the correct tools to get the job done quickly and safely.  Normally you would not use a hunting knife in the garden or a chef knife in the field! It is reasonable then to think that sharpening tools would use the same guidelines.  Make sure that you are using the correct knife sharpening tool to sharpen your dull knife. These guidelines are for culinary knives like chef, butcher, boning, santoku or paring knives. All knives should be clean and dry before you start sharpening.  Most manufacturer’s recommend handwashing all of your knives and avoiding the dishwasher’s abrasive chemicals. To keep your investment of knives in tip top shape, some recommendations follow regarding Sharpening Stones and Steels. 

There are different grades of Sharpening Stones out in the market and it is best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for each brand.  Sharpening stones may be sold in a single grit (coarse, medium or fine) or a combination of coarse and fine.  The coarser grit quickly restores worn edges while the fine stone hones or polishes the edge.  Make sure to check first if the stone requires water or oil for lubrication.

Basic Sharpening Tips for Sharpening Stones:

  1. Place the heel of the blade flat on the stone in a perpendicular or slightly angled position
  2. Tilt the back of the blade up to the desired angle (15° to 30° degrees depending on the application:
  3. 15 ° for filet knives, 23° for kitchen or pocket knives and 30° degrees for cleavers)
  4. Holding wrists rigid, draw the blade diagonally against the surface for the length of the stone – like you were trying to take a thin slice of the stone – beginning at the heel of the knife and ending on the top.
  5. Flip the blade over and repeat from the opposite end.  Continue this action until a wire edge appears. 

Start with the coarse stone and then finish with the fine or polishing stone. 

As with stones, there is a multitude of sharpening steels to choose from.  They range from a regular steel that will maintain your edge, a smooth polished steel for constant use for meat processors and diamond or ceramic steels that are a bit more aggressive of a sharpener.  Regardless of the type of steel used, the way to use them is similar.

Basic Sharpening Tips for Sharpening Steels

  1. Ensure the tip of the steel is secure – it is suggested to point the tip of the steel down and rest it on a solid surface.
  2. Place the heel of the blade (cutting edge near knife handle) towards the tip of the sharpening steel.  Angle between the blade and steel should be approximately 20°.
    • To gauge this correctly:
      • place the edge of the knife against the steel with the blade perpendicular to the steel and you have a 90 degree angle.
      • Rotate your wrist so that you reduce the angle by half to form a 45 degree angle and reduce the angle again by half to create a 22.5 degree angle.  Most factory edges are between 20 and 25 degrees.
  3.  Pull knife down and across the sharpening steel, in a slight arc. Lock your wrist and elbow and stroke the knife from heel to tip by unhinging at the shoulder.  Keep a consistent angle all the way through the stroke.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 five to ten times, always alternating the right and left side of the cutting edge.


Note:  Speed is not important.  It is important to maintain the angle and sharpen the full length of the cutting edge. 

Without regular honing, all knives will become dull requiring sharpening. 

If you like ease and convenience, the next and easiest step would be to use an electric knife sharpener. 

Again, there is a multitude of brands available and you can choose serious details like ceramic or diamond abrasives! Who thought buying a knife sharpener could be so fun?

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