Freehand Sharpening versus A Sharpening System



Hello all,

I have searched here and other forums regarding this but haven't found what I'm looking for, the answer to why?

First, I currently sharpen my own knives on Japanese water stones, self taught and it's the only system I know or have ever used. I'm no expert but I hold my own, and am still improving. I can say my knives are sharper than any one else's in class.

Second, and very important to this discussion, even though I am in culinary school, I am an engineer by degree and at heart.

Is there an advantage to free hand sharpening over a system like Apex Edge Pro or Wicked Edge? 

The Wicked Edge system really has caught my attention. As an engineer the ability to be able to sharpen to the exact same angle every time is extremely appealing. I enjoy sharpening but there is nothing esoteric in it for me. I would enjoy the precision of a system just as much. Like I said, I'm an engineer. The best I can tell, all the people I have read regarding free hand sharpening do it because they see something noble in it, a lost art or because that's the way they have always done it, so it is there comfort zone.

Are there any advantages to free hand over a system? I have not been able to find a good compare and contrast breakdown of pros and cons of freehand versus a system. And more importantly, why free hand?

BTW, remove cost from the issue. I could easily be in the equivalent dollars for water stones as I would spend on an Apex or Wicked Edge or Lansky, etc. system if I wanted to.


Joined Jan 21, 2011
Exactly - A fix-mount, limited mechanical variance system will deliver a higher sigma result. Your variable hand pressure, "feel" for the edge and other deltas are in a narrow plane vs. free-hand sharpening on a stone.

What you lose however is the ability to use 30K stones and work-in graduated profiles that suit the ideal curve/radius of an edge at a given point from tip to heel. There is still a need for "feel" that a mechanical system cannot replace.

From a technical standpoint - Any of the fixed-mount systems will deliver a high-quality, true edge. A master on a waterstone can deliver a superior edge, but how many people have master freehand skills?

Is it a question of cost-quality-time? Is it a question of finding a six-sigma level of repeatability each time the edge is serviced?

There is a human element with stones. I'm talking about people that do have and use 6k, 10k, >20k stones....  and buy knives that can really take a 30k edge.

where you stone your edge at 1k and could be just as happy with a 1k mechanical edge.. That is a utility mindset -- A perfectly fine mindset, but a logical one.

I'm getting a set of higher-grade stones for three specific knives I own. The rest of them are profiled to 15-degrees and get the SpyderCo SharpMaker edge.

I am a utility person also - And a SpyderCo is much faster to setup, use and store than any stone, apex, edge pro or anything else short of a honing rod.

But I enjoy the stones - when I have time and there is a need - to really get in touch with the knife, the "touch and feel" of working a stone, the risk of failure and the satisfaction of success. So now we're in the emotional realm of things.

There is a place in the world for both science and faith.   ; )


Thanks Trooper,

My knives at this point are strictly kitchen knives and I doubt for any foreseeable future I would need anything better than 6000 on any knife I own. I am drawn to the Edge Pro for the ability to use water stones.

Time is not a factor for me, I have more than enough and then some to spare. And like I said, I don't mind the wet stones but I am the kind of guy that would derive more pleasure out of knowing exactly what the blade angle was than knowing how it got there. I love precision and accuracy. Probably why I like digital scales more than a baker's balance. Why I use a Thermoworks thermal couple instead of a regular thermometer. It's just me. I seriously doubt I will ever have a magical religious moment of becoming one with the knife while leaning over a water stone. Hence my question as to why? What am I gaining by using water stones; what am I losing if I go to a jig mounted system?

Thanks again for your reply.

Joined Oct 9, 2008
Trooper said it wonderfully and technically, and that is a rare combination indeed.

There are amazing things that hand-sharpeners can do that are quite difficult to do with a jig of any kind. Do those things matter? That's a darn good question, glad I asked it. And I have no intention of answering it, either. To my mind, it depends on how nuts you are about "sharp."

If your knives do scary, crazy things beautifully, terrify and impress you when you demand that they do something just a bit more, they're sharp enough. If you need more, and have run through all the possibilities offered by the system you've got -- whatever that might be -- there are always options for jumping into another universe.

If you're a freehand lunatic, like me, you can always jump to ludicrously expensive natural stones. Do they produce better results? I dunno -- ask the guys who do this for a living and swear by naturals. (Not cook for a living, sharpen for a living.) Or try a jig: what's to lose? I know of very few people who have subjected these comparisons to rigorous testing, and I find the testing used questionable in every case, leading to the conclusion that when people absolutely swear by one approach or another, they're not 100% proven right about anything.

Do they get good edges? They're all probably better than me: all I care about is that I can cut what I want, the way I want, and the knife will actively help me do it. Do you want something more?

And if so, why?

(note: this is a subject of continual bickering, fighting, and horror. A plea for sanity --- the question is unbiased, so can we take any partisan responses either to another thread or down to a sane level?)
Joined Dec 23, 2004
Hmmm...I get plenty of feedback and feel using my Edge Pro Professional.  And I have 30k stones for it.  And J-nats.  And the whole line of Choceras.  And basically all the Shaptons.  I don't see much reason to beat this to death, but I will say I've used knives sharpened by some of the most highly regarded freehand sharpeners (some of them professionals)...And let me just say they won't be getting any work from me.  I like to sharpen freehand, and it's a good skill to have.  But if you just have the unromantic and pragmatic need to have beyond-razor-sharp edges there aren't a lot freehanders I've run across that can compare to a guy that's adept with an Edge Pro or Gizmo.  The Wicked Edge System may be a good one, too.  I haven't used it and so can't speak to it.

I am often told that edges created by guided systems don't hold up well in a pro kitchen.  Well, please don't tell that to my knives- in their ignorance they keep a keen edge for a ridiculous amount of time!  And I also sometimes hear that you can't vary the angle along different parts of the blade nor create a convex edge.  But those old saws were thoroughly debunked ages ago.
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Joined Jan 16, 2011
I kind of LIKE sharpening freehand.  It's oddly relaxing to me.  It's also a challenge, another little thing I can always be better at.

I am not a pro and for more than two decades, my knives cut everything I needed to with a cheap synthetic stone.  I am moving up to better knives, more sophisticated stones, and better technique mostly as a matter of aesthetics.  In fact it's kind of fun for me to just explore what can be done with steel.

So, no, there is no real additional utility for me in buying all these expensive stones and sharpening by hand.  But I enjoy the practice itself and find it rewarding in its own way.  If I stopped at utility I would not have even bothered to go to the 1000 grit stone.
Joined Jan 19, 2011
Hello AJ,

I’ve been through the same decision recently, culminating in the purchase of an Edge Pro Apex last month.  Your mileage will vary, but it may be useful to outline what I found on the way.

In 38 years of never getting around to learning to freehand properly, I developed a reliable angle on the stones.  I now know that that was 21°±1°.   This angle was adequate for Henckels and Global Knives, and was reliable enough that---when I turned the oilstone over and used the fine side---I was improving the edge rather than damaging it.  It was nowhere near good enough to re-profile a Global Knife back to 15°, or to put a 15°/20° double bevel on a Henckels knife.

People who have learnt to freehand properly seem to have programmed three angles into their hands—10°, 15° and 20°.  It doesn’t matter whether an angle is precise, as long as it is always the same; they can then re-profile their knives in the way they wish.  They also seem able to “click in” to the existing angle of a knife, and maintain it while sharpening.

Why shouldn’t I learn to do the same?  Pure apathy, as evidenced by several decades of not bothering.  I chose to use a jig instead.

But which jig?  I started reading.  In books and on the Web, there is a lot of information about, there are many reviews of, and there is an enormity of opinion on the various jigs.  Consistent opinion is that there are only four jigs that are robust enough and flexible enough for you to choose whether to maintain an existing profile or to change it.  These are the rather expensive Edge Pro Apex and Wicked Edge ... and the very expensive Edge Pro Professional and Gizmo.

There are other, less expensive tools, which some people swear by, and which certainly have their place.

I need to sharpen half a dozen knives every three months or so, so I did not consider the Edge Pro Professional or the Gizmo in detail.  Phaedrus, who has psychiatrically many jigs and whetstones, can fill you in on these if you are interested.

Either the Edge Pro Apex or the Wicked Edge is all that I need.  There were two reasons for my choice of the former.

First, concern for the safety of my knuckles.  In the videos on the Wicked Edge website, the fingers holding the paddles seem to go awfully close to the knife edge.  I realize that I could sharpen entirely with a stropping action (up and away), but I’m sure that sometimes I would grind downwards into the knife edge.

Secondly, the availability of’s Edge Pro Chocera kit.  (See: I’m as much a sucker for good marketing as anyone else!)  Chocera waterstones used to be very fashionable: they are certainly very good ... opinion is divided as to whether they are expensive or too expensive.  This reason no longer holds: Jende Industries has announced the availability of Chocera stones for the Wicked Edge later this month:


Joined Dec 23, 2004
Secondly, the availability of’s Edge Pro Chocera kit.  (See: I’m as much a sucker for good marketing as anyone else!)  Chocera waterstones used to be very fashionable: they are certainly very good ... opinion is divided as to whether they are expensive or too expensive.  This reason no longer holds: Jende Industries has announced the availability of Chocera stones for the Wicked Edge later this month:


That one goes way beyond marketing- those are the best stones available bar none.  They will make an epic difference in the quality of your edges.  And when comparing the EP and WEPS, one thing does still hold.  The stones are almost exactly the same size, but with the Wicked Edge you need two of everything.  Combine that with the fact that it's around $100 (give or take) more than the Apex and it seems clear that if both systems were equal, the Apex is a better value.  And it's far from established that they are equal.  I respect what Clay has done but the WEPS has very little track record vs decades from Edge Pro Inc.

But I'm interested to see how it plays out.
Joined Aug 21, 2004
For me the answer came easily by changing the question a little bit:

Are there any advantages to making demi glace over buying a commercial product?... And more importantly, why make demi glace?

The reasons have changed over the 37 years of my career, but not the answer.
Joined Dec 23, 2004
Well said, Cheflayne.  The answer to both questions is to have the best.  Or at least that's the answer to me.
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