How to Sharpen Your Chef Knife

There are a few options to sharpen your blade - using a pull through sharpener, taking it to a professional sharpener, and using a sharpening stone. While there are pros and cons to each, for the purpose of this guide we will only be discussing use of a sharpening stone.

Now sharpening a kitchen knife using a stone may seem daunting, but after about 30 minutes of practice you’ll have enough skill to sharpen almost any bladed edge in your home.

If you prefer to watch a video

Bob Kramer a master bladesmith - has a great overview of sharpening using whetstones below. We are working on developing our own video of the sharpening process in the coming months, but this offers an excellent overview of technique. The key difference when using a Bulat sharpening stone is that it needs to be thoroughly soaked prior to use: 

Before getting started there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:

  • When sharpening by hand it’s more about consistency than accuracy
  • When learning to sharpen for your first time we suggest you practice using a older/cheaper knife. You’ll be more confident, and it’ll likely have a softer steel that makes the sharpening progress easier to notice.
  • Be careful around the edge of the blade! Avoid putting pressure on the blade in the opposite direction of sharpening.
  • Be careful not to scratch the face of the blade on the stone. To avoid scratching up the damascus pattern, you will only want the edge of the blade to be in contact with the stone

Preparing your stone + work area

To properly lubricate your stone it needs needs to be soaked with water. Completely submerge and soak your sharpening stone in a water bath for around 10 minutes. The air will escape from the stone in small bubbles, and you will know the stone is ready when there are no more bubbles emerging from the stone.

While your stone is soaking set out the knives you wish to sharpen along with a clean dry towel. Note that sharpening produces a slurry that can get messy, so you’ll want to roll up your sleeves and clear your work area.

The Bulat 3000/8000 combination grit sharpening stone offers a medium and fine grit combination that is more suited to maintaining a fine edge that repairing a badly damaged one. It will take more time, but repairing a damaged blade is still possible with a finer grit stone to start.

You will want to start the sharpening process with the coarser grit stone (3000), and finish the blade’s razor edge with the finer grit (8000). If required you can also begin the sharpening process with a more coarse stone (400-800 grit).

Consistent blade angle

The Bulat Chef Knife is sharpened to an edge angle of 17 degrees. When resting the edge of the blade on the stone, 17 degrees would allow you to fit slightly more than a matchbook between stone and blade (a gap of ~¼ inch).

When sharpening you will put a new edge onto the blade replacing the old edge. Therefore it’s perfectly fine if there is some difference in the original angle and that which you put on the blade. However, it is important that the entire edge is sharpened evenly at the new angle.

Sharpening Motion

There are two main techniques for moving the blade against the stone:

  • Back and forth motion
  • Sweeping motion

See an example of each in the video here (skipped to 3:42):

I recommend learning with a sweeping motion, as it teaches better habits and it's more difficult to ruin an edge.

Perform the sweeping motion with even downward pressure across the edge several times on each side of the blade. If this is the first knife you are sharpening for the day, it will take some time as you need to work up a slurry of material before proper sharpening can occur. After a slurry has developed on the face of the stone, it will only take about 10-15 strokes to develop a burr on one side of the edge; but this largely depends on the pressure you use and the type of steel. Once there is a burr you can perform the same motion on the other side of the edge, eliminating the burr. Go back and forth on each side until the burr is minimized.