Since this is a tutorial on how to sharpen a chef knife, let’s start with the grip. When you are getting into free hand sharpening the first thing you need to know if how to hold the knife. Here is a step-by-step of how I hold the knife when sharpening the right-side of the knife:
Step 1: Bring your middle-finger up to the choil (neck of the knife) and bring it to the highest point as far as you can go towards the blade.
Step 2: Bring your fingers around with a light grip and then bring your thumb down to the bottom-edge so that you can pin the heel of the knife on to the stone and apply pressure to sharpen the heel/bottom edge of the knife.
Step 3: Place your index finger on the spine of the knife, in a relaxed position. Avoid over extending or flexing your index finger while on the spine of the knife.
It should look something like this:
I always count my sharpening by "passes". Starting with the tip and working my way towards the heel. Once I complete from the tip to the heal, that's considered one pass. Here's an example of one pass:
In terms of approach angle, I try to keep it relative to a 45 degree angle. You could go a little steeper if you want to, but if you go too close to perpendicular, it creates a lot of friction and you're grinding away a lot of the knife at the same time. For beginners, try sticking around 45 degrees.
As for the knife angle, this is the thing that people talk about a lot. I don't go by the 15 degree or 18 degree rule. A lot of people will throw these numbers out at you. I go by how the knife feels on the stone. So this is what I do:
I start by laying the knife down completely flat with the spine touching the stone and then I lift the spine up a millimeter or two.
I start from the top of the stone and work my way down. I pull the edge along the stone while leaning the spine toward the stone. Once I feel the knife slip, I back off by a degree and that is the angle which the knife is currently sharpened at. That is usually the easiest angle to sharpen at. Changing the factory angle can be very time consuming and not giving you any performance benefits.
Here's what it looks like:
If your knife loses traction, basically you're on the bevel of the knife and you don't want that. You want to be on the primary sharpening bevel not the secondary bevel. The goal is to be as close to the original factory angle as possible. This is the easiest way I have found to find that angle.
Once again, go from top to bottom while leaning the knife spine toward the stone. The moment you find that it slips or you lose traction, you back off:
That's your "proper" sharpening angle or the current factory angle.
European knives tend to be higher around 18-25 degrees. Whereas, Japanese knives will typically be around 12 to 15 degrees. I never really measure the actual degree because I don't have the proper tools to accurately do it. Instead, I always go by feel of the knife on the stone.
I hope my knife sharpening basics has helped you get a general idea on how to get started with free-hand sharpening. I'll be breaking down more sharpening tips in the future here on my blog so stay tuned! Again this is just a very basic overview of approach angle and sharpening angle. Please watch the complete tutorial to get a better understanding - HERE.