Steeling helps maintain sharpness. This process realigns the edge, correcting for dulling causes such as a rolled edge. A sharpening steel is a type of hardened cylindrical rod used similarly to honing stones. For example, a butcher steel is a round file with the teeth running the long way, while a packer steel (used in the meat packer's industry) is a smooth, polished steel rod designed for straightening the turned edge of a knife, and is also useful for burnishing a newly finished edge. Because steels have a small diameter they exert high local pressure, and therefore affect the knife metal when used with very little force. They are intended for mild steel knives that are steeled several times a day, but are not well suited for today's tougher and harder blade steels. Diamond steels are now available that have an industrial diamond coating and can remove blade metal as well as straighten, therefore used correctly they can re-profile a knife instead of just honing.
The angle on a Buck Knife is set based upon how we feel the knife will be used. Heavy use needs a strong and blunt "V" while skinning or filleting would need a deeper but more vulnerable "V". We tend to grind to 13-16 degrees per side (see illustrations). If you match the existing edge angle and hold the knife against the stone to cut evenly across the edge grind, you will produce an edge with a similar angle.
You want sharpening stones that will be useful for the majority of your edges now, and that will remain useful as you expand both your tools and your sharpening toolkit in the future. Ending up with duplicate stones or ones that are no longer useful as you gain new knives or tools is a waste of money. The goal is to start with something that will stay with you as your needs develop.
Hobby microscope view of a 220 grit diamond sharpening stone. Tiny diamonds are electroplated to a perforated metal carrier strip and bonded to a plastic backing. The feature identified with the red line across it measures about 0.08 mm across. The dark area at upper right is a void designed to allow for swarf created during sharpening to be cleared from the diamonds. This relatively coarse stone would be used to reshape a damaged blade edge which would be refined by finer grit stones.
"Sharpening is like a hangover cure," says Laurie Timpson, founder of Savernake Knives in Wiltshire. "If there was a cure and you knew about it, I'd stay at your house, crash on your sofa and have whatever it was when I woke up. Everyone would have it and there'd be no discussion. Everybody says they've created a perfect sharpening technique, and they haven't."
In most cases a sharpening stone will be a combination of sharpening grains and a binding agent. However, in case of a Ardennes Coticule it is a completely natural product. The grains have cutting edges which enables them to sharpen your knife. As soon as a sharpening stone is used little pieces of the grains break off, revealing a new cut ing edge. The higher the number, the finer the grain. Stones with coarse grains (up to grain 400) can be used to shape the blade of a blunt knife. You can subsequently take care of the fine finish with a stone with a smaller grain.
Begin with your lower-grit stone. Place the heel of your knife on the far edge of the stone, holding the blade gently but firmly with both hands at a 15- to 20-degree angle. Using even pressure, slowly drag the knife over the stone toward you down the length of the stone while simultaneously moving the knife such that the contact point moves toward the tip of the blade.
We’ve shown you how to keep knives sharp before, and even discussed why water stones are best, but this crash course is quick, fast, and gets to the point. In most cases the most the average person at home can do is either hone their blade with a honing steel, which straightens and lines up the blade’s edge, but it doesn’t sharpen it. Alternatively you could run it through a handheld or electronic sharpener, but depending on the model you use it can do more harm than good.