So I'm going to sharpen my knife

Joined Jun 30, 2010
I've been reading about freehand sharpening for about two weeks now and everything is kind of jumbled at this point(I know it's not rocket science but still, there's a lot of info).

 So I need some clarification(and just to clarify I am sharpening a Masamoto Gyutou 24cm on Naniwa SS stones, I have 400, 1000 and 5000 grit).

What is the basic procedure and motion?

How do I set up my stones?

How long do I soak them? 


The knife, apparently, is ground 70/30 righty.  Should I try to change this or leave this be for now?

Some basic do's and don't is really all I'm looking for.

Thanks dudes.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Watch the sharpening videos on JCK.  You won't use an edge guide, but that's a good example of one of the proper motions.  You want be using coins as an angle guide, but everything else is very good.

Reread the Steve Bottorf and Chad Ward FAQs several times, paying special attention to how to create and detect a burr.

Soak all your stones for about 15 minutes, and use your flattener to bevel the edges to 45*.  This is important witn nearly all stones, but doubly important with Naniwas because they're soft and tend to break easily.  Relieving the edges, strengthens them tremendously.  Allow the stones to dry out of the sun, at their own speed.  It will take overnight.

Get some graph paper and draw three or four large 15* angles.  Put them around your sharpening station where you can refer to them. 

The first few times you sharpen, you'll only use the 1000# stone along with the Magic Marker Trick.

After you've inked your blade, put your 1000 in your holder (if you're using one), and run the 1000# stone under the faucet, get it good and wet holding it under the stream for at least 30 seconds.  If you're not using a holder, put the stone on a non-slip pad or a towel, by the sink. 

Orient the stone so its long axis is perpindicular to the counter's edge.  (IIRC, Naniwas use the side of the stone with the printed label for sharpening.  If it's not in the printed instructions, call your retailer to check.) 

Hold the knife by the handle with your right hand (assuming your right handed), and start sharpening at the bottom of the stone (the end closest to you) on the knife's left side.  Go up and down the stone in the short up and down stroking motion you saw in the JCK video.  The action on each stroke is about 1" - 1-1/4" edge forward and about 1/2" - 3/4" edge trailing. 

Because you're sharpening up the stone (although in a forward and back motion) you can see under the spine of the knife, and have a good view of the angle.

People compare the feel of edge forward to slicing a decal off the surface of the stone.  If that helps, cool.  If not... what can I say?

Use no more pressure than is required to feel some friction on the stone.  Use the fingers on your left hand near (but not on) the tip to equalize and control the pressure.  Don't let your fingers touch the stone or the edge.    

You'll want to slide the knife to your right as you sharpen -- moving from heel to tip -- about half the length of the knife each time you use the full length of the stone. 

Concentrate on holding the knife at a 15* angle throughout the entire operation.  Refer to your drawings as often as necessary.  At the same time try to keep your grip fairly relaxed or you won't be able to keep this up for very long.  (The first dozen times or so you sharpen, that's going to be a difficult balance.)

Once you've sharpened the entire length of the knife a couple of times, take the knife off the stone and look at the marker from the side you've sharpened.  This will give you some idea of how far you are from getting near the edge and how unevenly you're holding your angle.  You'll probably find that you're working slower and more unevenly than you'd dreamed possible.

Repeat the same thing another couple of trips up and down the stone.

If the stone ever feels dry, wet it thoroughly. 

At some point during this process, a "slurry" will develop on the surface of the stone.  That's a good thing, don't rinse it off.  It will help you sharpen faster and finer.  Later, after you've learned to do without the marker, you'll use the color to help you judge when to get rid of it -- but the marker will make it dark. 

When you've worn the marker off the edge -- or most of it anyway -- start sectioning the knife so the top part of the bevel is even and runs parallel to the edge, and so the marker is completely removed from the edge.

Use your thumbnail to check for a burr.  Make sure the burr goes the entire length of the edge.  Keep sharpening until it does, and continue to make sure that the bevel shoulder stays parallel to the edge, in a clean, crisp line.  Section as necessary to complete both tasks.

Once you've established the burr on the left side of the knife, rinse the stone, and flip the knife over and start sharpening the right side.  You'll find judging the angle a little trickier, because you can't see under the spine of the knife as you work -- but by this time, your wrist should be trained to the right angle. 

This process is called "pulling a wire," or "drawing the burr."  The eventual edge is being developed underneath the burr, and will be exposed when the fatigued metal burr is removed.

It's more important to be even than perfect.  Let the magic marker help you.  Anyone who tells you he can actually freehand a particular angle is full of it.  Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

Repeat the entire sharpening process until the ratio of the bevel widths is as you desire.  70/30 is not a particularly good ratio, it's neither asymmetric enough to really make a difference in practical sharpness, nor symmetric enough to improve durability and allow for maintenance on a rod hone.  For the time being, I suggest 60/40. 

Just as with the angle, you won't be perfect.  Just try to keep the ratio of bevel widths a little short of 2:1, rather than a little over. 

Once you've got the right ratio and have moved the burr from left to right, turn the knife over and sharpen its entire length again -- that should be enough to flip the burr again.  If it isn't, keep working on it.  Then, turn the knife over again, and flip the burr again.   By this time it will go quickly.

Turn the knife over again, and run the edge over the stone from heel to tip in one motion, using the entire length of the stone.  Then again on the other side.  Keep doing this until you can flip the burr on every stroke.  You'll want to do it 6 to 10 times.  If the burr doesn't move, go 7 times on each side before flipping, then 5, then 3, then 7 times flipping on every stroke.  By the way, this is called "chasing the burr," and refines the eventual edge. 

If the "slicing the decal off the stone" simile didn't make sense before, it should now.

Deburr using the endgrain of a piece of wood, or by drawing the edge through a wine cork a couple of times.  Wipe and wash the magic marker off, and voila.

Be patient with yourself.  It's unlikely you'll do a very good job the first several times.  Even after you start to get it, it will still be hit or miss.  Fortunately as you get better, you fix whatever you did wrong before.  So relax.  You're not hurting the knife.

Note 1.  Naniwas are a little on the soft side.  Be careful not to gouge the stone by pushing too hard or cutting into it.

Note 2.  After sharpening, rinse the slurry off the stone -- using a nylon brush if you have to -- so the stone is (fairly) clean.  After you've outgrown the magic marker trick, you'll start preserving the slurry -- but you're not there yet.  Allow the stones to dry completely (out of the sun) before putting them away. 

Note 3.  Naniwa SS don't wear especially quickly, but still need regular flattening.  The more regularly you flatten, the easier it is to keep up.  If you're flattening with a plate (like a DMT XC), you might as well flatten every time you sharpen.  If you're using something like drywall screen (which I use) or wet/dry sandpaper, I suggest flattening every other session.  Always make sure the stone and the flattener are thoroughly wet -- or you'll break your stones.

Hope this helps,

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Joined Jul 26, 2010
Brisket: Hope you dont mind me jumping in to clarify one doubt of mine...


This is the part I dont understand still... flattening the stone? is there a video somewhere to watch? Thanks!
Note 3.  Naniwa SS don't wear especially quickly, but still need regular flattening.  The more regularly you flatten, the easier it is to keep up.  If you're flattening with a plate (like a DMT XC), you might as well flatten every time you sharpen.  If you're using something like drywall screen (which I use) or wet/dry sandpaper, I suggest flattening every other session.  Always make sure the stone and the flattener are thoroughly wet -- or you'll break your stones.

Hope this helps,

Joined Feb 13, 2008

Welcome to the wonderful world of waterstones -- a place where the maintenance needs maintenance.


There are flattening videos all over You Tube.   The nice thing about flattening videos is that while there are a few ways to do it, no matter how you do it flattening is pretty much flattening.  I don't know of any flattening videos offhand which should be avoided. 

Instructions?  You betcha:

If the angle of the stone varies across its length, the angle of the edge will vary too as it passes over.  Consequently, the surface of the stone must be flat and true.

Waterstones are very soft and wear relatively quickly as compared do most other types.  Because the middle part of the stone sees most of the abrasion, pressure, and moisture, stones tend to dish. 

People flatten with a variety of tools, including "flattening stones," and drywall screen.  Most use flattening stones.  At the "high-end" of hobbyists, the DMT XC and XXC diamond plates are very popular.  They are fast, easy to use, and expensive.  I prefer drywall screen.  It is inexpensive, yields an excellent reslut, but is messy.

There are a lot of ways to check to see if your stone is flat.  One good one is to hold a straight edge across the stone diagonally -- doing both diagonals, one at a time.  If there are gaps between the edge and the stone, your stone is dished.

Even brand new, perfectly flat stones need some treatment.

Waterstone edges tend to be crumbly.  If the knife meets resistance from the stone as it approaches the edge (and it does, abrasion is part friction and friction is all resistance), the force imparted by the knife will tend to break pieces off the sides and ends.

The first thing to do is to thoroughly wet your flattening equipment and the stone itself and use the flattener to relieve aka "chamfer" the edges to a 45* angle, with the chamfer about 1/4" or 3/8" wide. 

Once you have used and dished your stone, you'll need to flatten it.  Very soft, very coarse stones might need to be flattened several times in the course of profiling a single very tough knife.  Medium and fine stones don't actually need to be flattened that often, but it's good practice to flatten them before they too far out of true. 

If you're using  stone or plate, you might as well flatten every time you sharpen.  Drywall screen is a bit messy and takes some time to setup, so I flatten every other time.

It's a good idea to mark your stone so you can check your progress and make sure you're actually flattening true, rather than creating some non-functional geometry.  Use a pencil to lightly mark a grid pattern, with the lines about 3/4" to 1"  apart on the surface(s) of the stone to be flattened. 

The lines which are on the deepest dish, will be flattened away last.  You can renew the grid pattern if you like, to make sure that at the end of the flattening session, they all wear evenly -- indicating a flat stone.

Screen or paper should be placed in flat pan (to hold the mess).  Either the pan should be slightly wet or the back of the paper spritzed so it won't slide around once it's smoothed onto the pan.

The first step in flattening is to make sure everything is wet.  Nominally "splash and go" stones should be soaked for a couple of minutes at least, while stones which need soaking should be well soaked.  Your sharpening stones, plates, scereen setup, wet/dry sandpaper or whatever should be wet as well. 

If you're using a flattening stone or DMT plate, it will move over the stone, while the stone is held steady.  Try and keep everything -- including your movements as level as possible.  Use just enough pressure to get some action going, but no more than necessary. 

Anything you remove which doesn't need to be removed is time, trouble and money down the drain.  Not to mention poor craftsmanship.

Moving the flattener at a 45* to the perpindicular axes of the stone is very efficient; but at some point you'll want to use the long axis.  Check your progress with a straight edge frequently, and "section" as necessary.

Shapton plates and other types of reference plates require the use of a separate abrasive.

If you're using a Shapton plate, screen or paper, the stone will move over the flattener.  Place the stone on the flattener and rub it back and forth with as little pressure as possible that will still remove material (and the pencil marks).  A flattener large enough for you to turn the stone and keep its entire surface on the flattener's will allow you flatten at a variety of angles.  In turn, this creates perfectly flat stones without much checking with the straight edge. 

Use the pressure hose on your sink to clean your plate, screen or paper frequently.  They become slow as hell when the load up.  The value of using a pan for your screen or paper becomes very, very obvious. 

Your medium-fine and fine stones will need to be lapped after they're flattened.  After you've flattened your 3K or 5K, rub it against your 1K about 10 times or so to smooth the surface.  Make sure to keep the stones moving, or the wet surfaces will stick together more strongly than you can possibly believe -- to the point where you may end up trashing both stones.  Similarly, lap your polishing stone on your medium fine stone.

A "nagura" won't effectively dress a stone in the same way, because a nagura much softer than the sharpening stone.  What a nagura will do is get a slurry going so the knife itself laps the stone.  I use naguras on my medium-fine and polishing stones, but lap them with the stone on stone method first. 

Hope this helps,

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Joined Jun 30, 2010
Ok so it normal that I broke a few pieces off the stone.  I was thinking I had a defect or something.

I just sharpened for about an hour on the 1000k grit.  Bevels don't look any different, the knife does feel sharper though.  I tested it for on a piece of loose paper which didn't seem to work, then on a rolled up newspaper which worked great then on gourds that I threw up in the air and sliced midair.  It didn't feel quite as sharp after that but still good.  How come I always felt like the burr was on the left side of the knife?  Which is the side I sharpened the most.  I'm not even sure I created a burr.  I sharpened another knife before this one, a MCUSTA Zanmai petty, so I'm positive of what a burr feels but on the Masamoto what I thought was the burr was very indistinct.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Without feeling the knife itself, I'm only guessing that either the Masamoto hasn't even been sharpened all the way down so as to create an edge where the planes of the bevels actually meet, or that all you've got is burr. 

You may want to know that another way to test for a burr is by thumb dragging (as opposed to pushing your thumbnail up to feel "the hook").  Thumb drag on both sides, and if one side feels substantially more aggressive than the other, you've probably got a burr.  If you can flip the sensation of one side sharper than another to the other side by sharpening the other side, you've confirmed the burr. 

This doesn't work any better at a given point than either of the thumbnail tests, because it takes multiple tests on both sides of the knife.  But it is an excellent gauge of the burr's extension along the length of the edge, and also helps you determine whether you're actually getting the burr to bend the other way.

Either way, the fact that the edge dulls so quickly indicates you don't have a proper edge.  The easiest way to test whether the bevels meet is to thumb drag, but that takes an educated thumb.  The best way to get a visual reading is the magic marker trick.  

Mark the knife, try sharpening it for a couple of minutes on each side, and look at it.  If there's still marker on the edge, you've got issues.  

I belelieve you when you write that you know what a burr feels like, and assure you, a Masamoto VG can develop a palpable burr.  You're just going to have to work on the knife a lot. 

Your 400# stone would make things go a lot faster, but I suggest you just stay away from it and put in the extra time on the 1000#.  Not only will you do less damage, but the extra reps will cement your angle holding. 

Don't rush it by using too much pressure.  On the other hand, don't flirt with the stone either.  About the same pressure you use petting the cat.  Just keep at it.  It might take you 15 minutes before you've got a readily discernible burr.

I wish I'd thought about talking to you about stone prep earlier. Chamfer the edges of your stones so they don't break, before sharpening again. Chunks off the end are not your friend.  It happens, it's not the end of the world, I've even bought barely used stones with a corner or two broken off.  Just be sure (1) they don't catch your knife, and (2) that you don't change the sharpening angle as you pass over them, either.

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Joined Aug 9, 2010
Before I go too far a short disclaimer, I do not have a quality knife, nor have I ever tried sharpening a quality knife in this manner... but here goes-

   I am an amateur woodworker, and for several years pined away for an electric jointer plane- which i could not afford. Then a friend convinced me to look into hand planes. Now this isn't really about planes but rather about sharpening them. I had tried hand planes before and always had poor results, as it turns out the reason was the planes i used were dull. After learning how to properly sharpen them my eyes were opened.

   Now sharpening hand tools like chisels and plane blades requires only one bevel. Well some have step bevels, that's 2 different angles on one side, but in any case only one side is beveled. Finding the price tag of wet stones daunting as I was not convinced yet I would be able to even use them right, I did some research and found... sandpaper. The basics are you use a spray adhesive to secure sandpaper of varying coarseness to plate glass and sharpen your tools that way. As sand-paper is cheap and comes in infinite variety of grit all the way to automotive wet/dry 2000 grit. and when it gets old you can just peel it off and replace it. If you google "scary sharp" a million web sites pop up and you can get a less distilled version of the how to. But this is limited to the world of woodworking as a general rule. That said this deffinately works on chisels.

   Now I don't know enough to know whether or not this it a good idea for a knife, and unfortunately when it comes to sharpening, all you have to do is infer that maybe one type of stone is superior to another and a [email protected])# storm of bloggers will attack you with capital letters, rhetorical questions and exclamation points. So I wouldn't dare ask this question on a woodworking forum but I am curious if anybody has tried this, or if any experts have a reason I shouldn't try this on a knife.

   I am planning on investing in a chef knife and as nothing stays sharp forever, I better learn to sharpen one.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Hi boy nurse,

Always nice to get another voice in here. Great questions.  Fantastic post.  It's nice to read the subject expressed thoughtfully.  When the topic comes up, it's usually in the form of a sort of "drive by" where the poster implies that anyone who does something else is crazy, intolerant, and a spend thrift.

Not to mince words, "Scary Sharp" works fine for woodworking tools, but sucks for kitchen knives.  Their edges are too long.  Many have tried, few stick with it. 

Try sharpening your kitchen knives on sandpaper over a couple of years and let us know what you think then.  Or do a poll in Foodie Forums or the Knife Forums, find out how many have tried, how few kept going, and our reasons for moving on to something else.

Most of us who've done big knives on sandpaper find the papers load up and clog way too fast.  That you often use more than one full sheet at each grit level. That full sheets are awkward, especially around the tip.  That if you use strips, cutting and replacing them over and over and over means a lot of time and trouble.  

Remember also that by and large, that kitchen knife profiles and edge gemotery make it difficult to just "click in" the bevel angle; and that few kitchen knives have backs requiring frequent flattening.  That is, you usually can't just press a kitchen knife against the paper and automatically find the right angle. 

"Scary Sharp" variations like sharpening films work better than paper, especially if they're mounted on purpose built sharpening stands.  Lots of other good, related methods like a well chosen succession of pastes on reference plates, on blank film on a plate, or hard leather strops.  Similarly, slurry can be taken off stones and dried and kept on "post its" and used on the paper.

You can strop with good effect on manila cardboard, newspaper, shirt card-boards and a number of other cheap surfaces, too.

Rubbing a knife against a succession of increasingly fine abrasives is a theme which admits a lot of variations.  At the end of the day no method saves much in the totality of time, trouble or money, nor adds much quality relative to an appropriate selection of stones used well.

Hope this helps,


FWIW, what you're calling a "step bevel" is called a "double bevel" or more generically a "multi-bevel" amongst old timer knife folks and most carpenters too.  It's a little confusing because the new guys got exposed to Japanese chisel edged blades and started calling a normal "V edge" a "double bevel" because it's beveled on both sides, and a flat beveled chisel edge a single bevel because it's only beveled on one. 

Kids today.  What are you gonna do?

Always a good idea to clear up terminology -- which, thank you very much, you did.

PPS.  People usually don't get too heated about stones, one way or the other. 
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Joined Oct 13, 2001
Yes I am a sharpaholic....... That said I agree that sandpaper is much work by hand methods when it comes to sharpening. I save it myself for finishing once the blade is true and only for my knives which will benefit from the scary sharp edge! Stropping is a must also if we go there I think. IMO you are taking the edge down with stones and maintaining and calibrating your final edge with things like this! Polishing is fun and that's why my chicken self does  not own a water stone yet or a hardcore blade but I do love my euro Hi carbons and some polish quite well with the traditional stones.

Soon perhaps we enter the world of flattening stones but just now  Arkansas works
Joined Oct 10, 2005

Like you, I am a hobby wood worker too.  Never did like sandpaper to sharpen because I usually tore it or ripped it, or it slithered around, but the abrasive itself works fine.  I must also confess that I use sharpening jigs ( i.e.'Training wheels") for my plane irons and chisels.  I do have a bench grinder, but use it only to grind off frozen nuts and "sharpen" lawn mower blades.

I used to use a 1000 grit cheap-o KIng stone to do my basic sharpening, but I found it dished very easily, and the stone "Shrank" considerably.  Finally bit the bullet and bought a two-sided mono-crystalline diamond stone---love the thing, cuts fast and never needs trueing.

While the stones do cost, I can substantiate the prices a bit by using them for my and my family's knives, as well as my hobbies--which usually include projects for my business, I.E: prep tables, display cases, cafe tables, custom work, and now I find myself building 12 wood shelves to fit into my reach-in fridge and freezer.  The metal ones are very wimpy and sag--popping out of their standards and then all he77 comes crashing down.
Joined Oct 9, 2008
Jeeezzz, BDL, what are you trying to do, drive people away from sharpening? I mean, I'm famous the Web over for my logorrhea, but this is nuts.

Okay, guys. Here's the basics.

Soak the stone a while, like maybe 10-15 minutes, in room-temp water (not hot, cold is fine). When you pull it out, let it sit a second. Does it dry rapidly? If not, if it leaves a puddle of water on the top, it's ready, so dump off the surface water --- don't wipe it --- and you're good to go. Put a folded damp towel under it if you don't have anything else; you just want it not to jump around while you sharpen.

Set the stone so it's pointed in a line between your belly-button and the wall ahead of you.

I'll assume you're a righty. If not, reverse everything I say, left for right and vice-versa.

Put the knife down so the FRONT face is on the stone and the SPINE is away from you. If you're a righty, this means that the edge is toward you, the point is toward your left, and the handle is toward your right. The front face is the one that, if you hold the knife normally in your good hand, is toward the OUTSIDE of your body. It is now flat on the stone.

Rotate the knife, gently, so that the point is now about 65-70 degrees away from you, where 90 would be straight up-and-down away. The edge is now mostly to your left, the handle is mostly toward your right hip. The heel of the knife --- the backmost point of the blade, really --- is still on the stone, but only a bit so.

Now with your right hand, hold the handle well choked-up, forefinger on the spine. Lift the spine up from the stone. Watch the edge. When you get to about 15 degrees or so, the edge will bite down just a bit, and you'll probably see a little patch of dryness happen on the stone. Let up a teeeeeeensy hair. You've got the angle now.

Set the main three fingers of your left hand on the blade, right down on the edge, spread out along the parts of the metal that are on the stone.

The LEFT hand basically pushes down, fairly gently. The RIGHT hand basically moves the knife up and down the stone.

Now pass the knife up and down, up and down, smooth and gentle, not much pressure, about 10 full swipes.

Now shift the knife toward your right hip a little less than the width of the stone, so you expose a new chunk of the metal to the stone at the same angle. Repeat the process. Keep doing it until you get to the end. Very curvy tips may require a little sliding up and down.

If you do this with a very coarse stone, and then feel (by rubbing the thumb of your left hand gingerly along the flat of the BACK of the knife and across the edge in the same plane), you will feel a coarse, sharp edgy thing in your way. This is a burr. It's what you want.

When you're there, do the same process upside-down for the same number of swipes. You can do it by angles, or you can do it by numbers, but if you want the edge to be symmetrical you do the same number at the same angle on both sides, and if you want it asymmetrical you calculate/compensate from there.

When you've got a nice strong burr on one side and have flipped it to the other, maybe twice if you want to be sure, jump up to the next grit level. Eventually there won't be a burr you can detect, the edge will look pretty polished, and you'll have a good sharp knife.

Now do it 1000 times, and you'll get all worked up about fine imperfections. In the meantime, just put a sharp edge on it and stop mucking around. It's not a difficult thing to do, and you should not over-think it.

This from a professor who teaches things like philosophy, religion, structural theory, and occultism, OK? When I say don't over-think it, you can take my word for it.
Joined Dec 23, 2004
Where've you been, Chris?  Or, if you've been here all along, where have I been?  I'm pretty impressed by the degree to which you're a polymath- that's such a rare commodity today.  Someday I'd love to hear your thoughts on other matters. For my own part I'm an a/anti-theist, into meta-ethics and the corrupting influences of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Camus....and I drink, too!  Do you think I'm beyond help?/img/vbsmilies/smilies/confused.gif/img/vbsmilies/smilies/lol.gif
Joined Oct 9, 2008
Thanks, Phaedrus. I've been hiding in VT for the summer -- and our internet access is basically broken there. Now it's back to the salt mines for the academic year, so I procrastinate by fooling around on sites like this one.

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