Sharpening kitchen knives at home involves choosing a rabbit hole to inhabit.
Here are a few:
1. Use it and throw it away
2. Hone it, and hire out annual sharpening
3. Sharpening stones
a. Waterstones (free hand)
b. Synthetic stones (free hand)
c. Mechanically guided
4. Electrical sharpeners
1) I wanted sharp knives that lasted, so I bought knives too expensive to throw away. 2) I couldn’t find anyone to sharpen for me that I trusted. I couldn’t hold a consistent angle or develop muscle memory and a consistent stroke for a required honing angle. 3) I wasn’t ready for stones of any kind that required free hand skills. Even though I standardized on a 15 degree target for my knives, I doubted that I could “find” that 15 degree angle reliably by hand—even with a guide to get me started. Mechanical devices could do the trick, but learning to use one is a chore if you use it infrequently—and they aren’t cheap. 4) There are electric sharpeners that can sharpen most knives really well, but have trouble with custom “tuning.” A bit above my budget, anyway.
That leaves the strop—my rabbit hole. I first backed into the use of a strop because it appeared to do no harm. A leather strop seemed harmless, but it didn’t sharpen—or so we were told. I bought an inexpensive two sided leather 8”x2” paddle strop for practice anyway.
At first, I just used the leather “unloaded,” and experimented with ways to hold an angle—going and coming—starting near the handle with the base of the blade—stroking away. Turning the blade to the other side, I pulled the knife back the same way.
I had found a repeatable freehand stroke I could use that approximated a 15 degree angle on both sides of a knife. It became very comfortable and natural. I “loaded” one side of the strop with green compound, and repeated the strokes—feeling the edge getting sharper. Tested on paper, it was good to go.
That’s how I began—and it soon developed into a routine for all of my knives. I became confident in my stroke—confident enough to even use the same muscle memory for my honing rods—except I only needed them for emergencies—when my knives seemed to lose sharpness during a task. My strop sits next to my computer on my desk—allowing me to use it as part of a break from work.
I’ve been doing this for more than three years, and all of my knives have remained very sharp. As I rotate through all of my knives, I follow the same pattern, using the same stroke, testing by slicing through paper. If it’s not sharp enough, I strop some more—and test again. In the few cases it still wasn’t sharp enough, I used my ceramic honing rod as well.
I’m about to buy an upgrade. This time, instead of 2”x 8”, it will be 3” x 10,” with a smooth side (for polishing), and a rough side (for loading the compound). I’ll do a review on it when I get it, and explain how other heavier users could expand stropping capabilities to both include full resharpening and ultra fine tuning of the edge.
Do you strop with a "loaded" strop?
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