Ease of use – Most people in search of a mechanical sharpener want one because they don’t want to be bothered with trying to achieve a perfect edge themselves using a stick or sharpening stone. They want predictable, first class results every time. In that case it’s important that the electric powered device is easy to use, achieves results quickly and with little effort and is designed with user safety in mind. Keep in mind too that it’s easy to apply too much pressure when using a mechanical sharpener and when that happens you’re likely to see unsatisfactory results. In addition there are subtle differences between mechanical devices designed for Asian-style knives and those designed for Western-style knives. This has to do with the sharpening angle discussed above. Don’t get an Asian sharpener if you don’t need precise control over your cuts.
You might not need to spend hundreds of pounds to get the best knife sharpener, but you do need to know what you're doing. Warner gave me a crash course in the technique. As a newbie to this method, it took a while to get used to (especially since Warner handed me a knife that had never previously been sharpened) but after half an hour's practice and a little encouragement, I got the hang of it. Here's what I learned...
Before you start sharpening, soak the stone in water for around five to 10 minutes, until it absorbs the water and a liquid film appears on the surface. After soaking, splash some water on top, and re-splash during the process if it ever gets too dry. You'll get a dark, splotch of steel and stone building up on the stone while you're sharpening the blade. This is totally normal so just splash the stone with some water to clean it off and allow it to perform more efficiently.
Removing the burr is fairly simple. You'll need a leather strop or block (this sort of thing), which is designed to catch the metal fibres from the knife. You could do it with a fibrous tea towel or some newspaper if you like, but I'd suggest going with leather to begin with. The motion is fairly similar to sharpening. Draw the knife over the leather, going away from the edge at roughly the same angle as when you sharpened.
Method 2: Send it out to a professional. This is a good option, provided you have a good knife sharpener living nearby, and are willing to pay to have the services performed. If you plan to sharpen your blades a dozen or so times a year, as I do, this can get quite expensive. All but the best professionals also use a grinding stone that, again, will take away much more material than is necessary from your blade, reducing its lifespan. Want to forge a stronger relationship with your blade? Then you'll want to...
The coarse stone will cut the metal off quicker but it is going to give you a rougher edge but that way the job gets done quicker, without the oil. It is not as messy. This is just a real simple set up. If you do wood work you can make a little wooden box and rout it out. In this particular case it is just a 2x4, stone traced out, finishing nails tapped down so they are deeper than the stone so when you drop the stone in, if you are at a workbench you can C-clamp it down in place or you can hold on to it.
Whichever method you choose, be it a waterstone (also known as a whetstone), or a pull-through (either V-shaped or ceramic wheels) it's important to regularly hone your knife with a honing steel, which we'll also cover below. You'll be pleased to hear that you won't have to reach for the stones too regularly – once every two or three months should suffice.
The goal when sharpening is to create a burr, which is a tiny whisper of metal left on one side of the blade. You'll know you have a burr when you can feel one smooth and one scratchy side to the edge. Warner's is formed in no time at all; I struggled. Nevertheless, eventually I got there. Once you've got the burr, it's time to move on to step three.
Once the burr is removed, it's time to test the sharpness with paper. Hold a piece of newspaper at about 45°, with a bit of tension, and slash lightly with each point of the blade. If it cuts through easily, your knife's sharp. Warner speedily lacerated his newspaper, but I of course struggled. There is an element of technique involved, he reassured me.
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A common myth is that sharpening steels actually sharpen knives, and can replace stones or other sharpening devices. Steels actually hone a knife and help keep its edge if used regularly. A steel should be used before and after each knife use for proper maintenance. Easily enough, it's used the same way you use a sharpening stone. To find the proper angle, hold the knife horizontally with the edge touching the steel. Move the spine upward to create a 45-degree angle, and then half that again for your optimal sharpening angle.
But it's a different type of sharp, according to Joe Authbert, product development manager at ProCook. "What it does is add tiny little micro-serrations onto the edge of the blade." But fear not - your smart knife won't end up looking like a bread knife, as you'll be hard-pressed to spot the serrations. "If you looked at it under a microscope, on the cutting edge, there are these little lines that generate the sharpness, rather than a waterstone which is a smooth sharp edge," says Authbert.
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A: People often make the mistake of assuming that just because a mechanical knife sharpener will sharpen the edge of a knife that means it will sharpen any type of cutting edge, including scissors. This is a mistake and can wind up being a costly mistake when you have to replace both your scissors and the knife sharpener. There are sharpening devices specifically designed to handle scissors. Or you can bring your scissors to a sharpening pro who will usually have the right equipment on hand to also sharpen scissors. Another thing to keep in mind about trying to use a sharpener to sharpen scissors is that by using the device in this fashion you are likely voiding the warranty. As such if you damage the device trying to sharpen scissors you’ll need to pay to have it repaired or replaced as the warranty won’t cover it. Also, certain types of high end scissors also come with a warranty. And, just as with the sharpener itself, if you try to sharpen them using a mechanical sharpener you can say goodbye to the warranty protection. The bottom line is to always use the appropriate tool for the job at hand. That way you’re assured of the best possible result and any warranty remains in effect.