The purpose of a blade is to be sharp, and to that end, countless gizmos exist to help you keep them that way. I use a wide range of edged tools in my work and have tried many of the modern, commercial knife sharpening systems available over the years. These days though, I’ve settled on simple, old-fashioned hand sharpening of all my knives, usually using homemade sharpeners and strops. I’d struggled with this method since childhood until I learned of a neat little trick that quickly taught me how to put a razor’s edge on my knives with ease.

Why should you keep your knives so sharp? A few reasons. First, a sharp knife makes work easier. Your cuts will be cleaner, your work faster, your job more pleasant. But most importantly, a sharp knife is a safer knife. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the logic is simple. When using a dull knife, you’ll apply much more pressure to accomplish the same work; and, since the dull knife has trouble biting into what you’re cutting, it’s more likely to slip. Combine these two factors, and you’ll more often suffer more serious injury. So forego the expensive, fancy sharpening gadgets, learn the sharpie trick, keep your blades happy, and keep yourself safe.

Here’s what you need:

Your knife, your sharpener of choice, and a sharpie or other permanent marker. That’s it.

Now, use the sharpie to mark the entire bevel of the blade along the entire length of the knife.

Next, hold the knife securely and comfortably, lay the bevel on the sharpener, and take one smooth pass across it in a steady, even motion, leading with the back of the knife. Use light pressure. Then inspect the bevel and check to see where marker has been removed.

Look closely at the above photo and you can see there’s still marker remaining right at the very edge of the blade. This is no good, and means the angle used was too shallow. If you see this, color in the bevel again and take another swipe across the sharpener with a slightly steeper angle.

Here we have the opposite problem- the angle was too steep, and marker has been removed only from the very edge. Color the bevel again, take another pass more shallow.

This is what we want. In a single pass, the entire width of the bevel made contact with the sharpener. Once you get here, note exactly what angle you’re holding the knife at; note the positioning of your hand and arm and the motion you used. You’ve got it.

You’ll also notice when you hit the correct angle, that the feel and sound of the knife passing across the sharpener changes. When the entire bevel makes contact, you’ll feel and hear the increased friction. This is important to remember and will help you develop a more intuitive sense for sharpening.

Once you know you’re at the proper sharpening angle, take two or three passes across the sharpener, then flip the blade over and repeat. Always make the same number of passes on each side of the blade to ensure you’re keeping the edge in the center of the knife. Alternate sides like this four or five times, then check the knife for sharpness. I stop once the knife is sharp enough to easily shave hairs from my arm. You can also test using a sheet of paper; if the knife glides through the cut easily and without tearing or catching, that’s great for most uses.

With just a little practice of this technique, you’ll soon find yourself able to easily sharpen all your edged tools by hand, using the same principles for various blade shapes.

Thanks for reading!