Generally speaking, there are two types of sharpening systems for V-bevel edges: freehand and guided. We'll take a look at each here, with some examples.
Freehand sharpening is the time-honored way to sharpen a V-bevel knife, drawing the edge across a hard, flat stone, treated with water or honing oil, specially designed for the purpose. The sharpening motion is easy -- hold the knife at the angle of the bevel and lightly stroke it across the stone in a slicing motion, edge-first.
In simple terms, achieving a sharp edge is a matter of honing one side of the bevel until a "burr" is raised along its length, then flipping the blade over and repeating the process with progressively finer stones.
As we said earlier, the stones you choose will depend on your knife's steel and how much sharpening is required. Sharpening stones used with the freehand method can be either natural or synthetic material.
Here at KnivesShipFree, we carry the Japanese Water Stones advocated by renowned knifemaker Murray Carter, along with Murray's excellent instructional videos (on DVD) providing step-by-step guidance. We also offer highly respected products from DMT, which use diamond-based stones to produce a keen edge.
In our opinion, sharpening a knife freehand is a most satisfying experience -- it's relaxing, almost meditative, and it can produce a beautifully sharp edge.
On the down-side, it takes time -- not only to do the sharpening itself, but to learn to do it well. Probably the biggest source of frustration comes from an inability to consistently hold the knife at the same angle, stroke after stroke, for both sides of the blade.
We're only human, after all. It can be done, but it takes practice.
Guided sharpening rescues us from our humanity by introducing a measure of precision to the process. These slick systems employ some combination of clamps, magnets, gauges and guides to maintain a consistent relationship between knife and hone. The most common complaint about freehand sharpening -- failure to consistently keep the edge at a constant angle to the stone -- thus is answered.
The rest of the process is the same as with freehand sharpening -- hone one side, raise a burr, flip and repeat, move toward finer stones.
The DMT Aligner, available from KnivesShipFree, uses a knife clamp with built-in guides for various angles, alonwith a hone-holder to accommodate DMT's selection of diamond stones. We also carry DMT's Magna-Guide system, which holds the stone in a nifty magnetic device.
For folks with many knives and a serious interest in sharpening, we recommend eitherEdge Pro or Wicked Edge. Edge Pro offers two kits -- Apex and Professional -- and a complete line of water stones and accessories. The Wicked Edge guided system uses an array of diamond stones, ceramic stones and leather strops, along with diamond paste in various grits. If you want the very best in guided sharpening, these are the systems to consider.
There's one other product, the Spyderco Sharpmaker, that we want to mention in this section. It can be thought of as a guided sharpening system, since it holds the abrasive surfaces (triangular sharpening sticks) at a constant angle. On the other hand, it's a freehand system because it relies on the user to hold the knife vertical while drawing the edge across the hone. A lot of folks find the Sharpmaker a good compromise and use it quite successfully. And if your knife has a serrated edge, it works great for that.
All guided sharpening systems come with the obvious benefits of precision and, compared to freehand sharpening, speed. Plus, they make it possible for almost anyone to achieve a sharp edge -- first time, every time.
They only negative we can think of, really, is that guided sharpening is so easy that novices may over-sharpen their blades, especially with more aggressive grits. Even so, the pros of guided systems far outweigh the cons.
To learn more, visit our Knife Sharpening page.