This is an essential skill that is now known by few. A common, and in my opinion best, way to sharpen a knife is with a whetstone. Some have two sides, like the one shown, others only have one. The process is still the same though, whichever you have. There are 6 major knife grinds, shown here. We’re going to focus on #3 and #5, these are the most common. Number 3 is known as a “Saber Grind.” This is how I prefer my knives, a single bevel on either side to produce a sharper, cleaner cutting blade. #5 is the “Double Bevel.” This is the most common for western knives. Nearly every knife you buy that isn’t extremely high quality in the US will have this. This grind will not be as sharp, or as easy to sharpen as the saber grind, but it is more durable and takes less care. Now, on to the sharpening.
Step one, prepare your stone. Some stones need to be wet, some need to be dry, some take oil, others take water. Know what kind you have, use it properly. Mine needs to be wet, because of this I normally keep it in a container of water. Simply placing a bit of water on the surface will work as well, but I find I can get a slightly finer edge if it is soaked.
For a saber grind knife you want to hold the bevel completely flat with the stone, making sure the entire bevel gets ground and flattened. For a double bevel blade, you only want the end bevel level with the stone. It’s very important to hold your knife at the angle of the bevel. There are tools that can be found to guide you, but generally with a bit of practice it’s easy to do. After this point, saber and double bevel knives are sharpened the same way.
You want to start with the rougher side of the stone if it’s double sided. Slowly pull the knife across the stone, dragging the entire blade across as you do. Some people do a single pull and flip the knife over to do the other side, I personally repeat the first side until I can tell that the entire bevel is level, then flip the knife over, repeating the grinding to the other side. Neither method is better than the other, it’s just personal preference. If you have a two sided stone, this is a good time to flip the stone and repeat the process on the finer side. The finer the grit on the stone the sharper you will be able to get your blade.
The final step is removing the bur. A bur is a small line of metal that forms on the cutting edge as you sharpen it and must be removed. There are several ways to do this. A very fine stone will be able to take the bur off as you sharpen, otherwise pulling the blade in the same manner you sharpened it across a leather strap, known as “stropping” will remove it. Don’t have a leather strap? Canvas, denim, or another smooth piece of metal will be able to remove it in a similar fashion.