A Guide to Sharpening Stones and Tools
The Two Parts of Sharpening the Blade
There are two things that need to happen to the blade to create an edge that will be effective for scraping cane: 1) creating a “new” edge and 2) refining that edge to be razor sharp.
- 1) As you scrape cane against steel or metal, the cane will slowly wear down the edge of the blade. You’ll need a sharpening stone to create a new edge throughout your reed making process.
- 2) Once you’ve refreshed your edge (essentially putting it back after some scraping), you’ll need to refine it. There are a variety of tools including stones and general sharpening equipment, like honing strops and ceramic sticks, that work well for this.
Stone Grits and Grit Names
This can serve as a general guide to what all the “names and numbers” mean, but this information will vary from one piece of equipment to another.
A note about Grit Numbers
The lower the number, the more course the stone. The higher the number, the more refined the stone will be. For example, a 600 grit stone will be more course then a 1200 grit stone.
A note about Grit Names
If you are just getting started with sharpening equipment you’ll notice there are names like “course”, “fine”, and “extra fine”. It is important to also note the grit number next to these names, if it is given. Both of these variables can indicate what kind of stone it is and how it might best serve you.
The Grit Name & Number Guide
This is a general guide only. Grit numbers and names vary greatly. Although, this should help point you in the right direction of what the different names and numbers are referenced to. The grit number and name may also depend on the kind of stone you are using and how abrasive the material is.
- Extra Course (300-600 grit): If you are dealing with an extreme case of chips or something that resembles a butter knife, you may want to venture into the land of a 300-600 grit, which is considered a course or extra course stone.
- Course (600-1000 grit/100 grit for India Stones): This is ideal for putting a brand new edge on your blade. If you can’t get a nice edge with your “fine” stone, need to straighten the edge and/or buff out chips in the blade, you will need a slightly more course stone to do this. Also, some new knifes will need an edge put on before they are used. If you are a student, you’ll want an instructor to look at your knife and do this for you.
- Fine (1200 grit/320 for India Stone): Most likely listed around a 1200* grit, a “fine” stone is perfect for putting a new edge on your blade during daily use, and will often be used several times during a prolonged reed making session.
- Extra Fine or Extremely Fine (4000 grit): The extra fine step is essential for a razor sharp edge. Oboists, especially, do a tremendous amount of scraping and will go back and forth between their Fine stone and their Extra Fine tools to constantly buff the edge and refine it. Some stones are listed at “extra fine” but are in the 1200 grit area*. For double reed knives, this last “extra fine” step requires a stone or tool that is closer to 4000 grit.
Types of Stones
There are more choices and important information then I’ll be able to cover in this general article, but I’m going to briefly discuss some of the most common stones and equipment you’ll find through your double reed providers.
- India Norton Stones: These Norton India Bench Stones are great for beginners because they are inexpensive and the “fine” grit gives a little bit of “fine and extra fine” for students who aren’t ready to take on a more extensive set up. You can get a pocket size, but I recommend students get the full size when they can because it’s much easier to use. I have my students use these stones dry and then wipe off the accumulated black residue with honing oil when it builds up.
- Diamond Stones: These stones are a staple for many reed makers since they have an extremely long life span and are very effective. They are a little more expensive and they vary in weight. The EZE-LAP diamond stone can be a little heavier while the DMT Diamond Whetstones are quite light. Most can be used dry, although the DMT stones give a smooth sharpening experience when used with water.
- Japanese Water Stones: Like the diamond stone, these water stones rank as some of the most effective sharpening stones you can buy. They are slightly higher in price and they need to be used with water, which can make them messy for beginners. However, the results you’ll get from this stone will make it well worth it for professionals and advanced reed makers.
- This stone needs to be fully saturated and emerged in water before use (but in my experience they can be stored wet or dry). I have one in my office that I store dry and soak in water once a week before lessons, and another that has lived in a bucket full of water under my home desk for five years with no problems (I do change the water as often as I can remember, although probably not as often as I should!).
- Other Stones: I don’t used some of the other stones on a regular basis, so I’ll leave those details to other professionals that are more familiar with them. As you explore your choices you’ll find there are other great stone options such as ceramic stones (a popular choice) and something like the Arkansas bench stone.
Extra Fine (Extremely Fine) Non- Stone Equipment
- Leather Strop: I don’t know how popular this piece of sharpening equipment is, but I’ve been using a leather strop for 10 years on my beveled knives and swear by it. I use this after the 1200 grit Japanese water stone. You can re-apply the abrasive paste that wears off after use, but I find I like the strop better without it and do not re-apply the paste.
- Burnishing Rod and Ceramic Sticks: There is a lot of positive feedback with ceramic sticks. I use the burnishing rod to sharpen my student’s hollow ground knives because I like being able to hold a handle. Ceramic sticks, sometimes labeled as “crock sticks”, often come in a handy “angle” holder. These are lightweight and very effective once you learn to use them.
- Pocket Stones: These are basically flat, small versions of your sharpening stone. I sometimes have students buy a pocket stone to take to school with them, but there are also folding pocket models from some of the diamond stone companies. I find the sticks and burnishing rod a little easier to handle, as the pocket stones are a bit narrow.
If you prefer double hollow ground knives, I highly recommend Waldron Reeds knife wedges. These help remove the guessing game so you get a consistent angle each time. They are more accurate than the “dime” method and will help you achieve a better edge. This is a non-affiliate link, I just like the product!
The goal with knife sharpening is finding a system that gets you a consistent, sharp edge.
0:00 Step 1: Intro to different stones and grit numbers
4:45 Notes about using your stone dry or wet
6:20 Step 2: Refining the edge of your knife