Free hand sharpening, lift handle or don't lift handle to maintain consistant angle???

I've always heard lift the handle as you maintain the edge angle around the belly. Always heard that. But I never really thought about it until recently. In the past few months I've been working on free hand sharpening and Ken Schwartz says "Don't lift the handle, I don't really know where that idea came from". That's a pretty close quote. I watched one of his videos and tried to copy his technique. However, the one I watched was him on a belt sander and the point was to keep the edge perpindicular with the direction of the stroke. This will keep the scratch pattern perpindicular with the edge around the belly. So, I figured lifting the handle was just a wives tale or whatever. Then I read a really good thread on BF a week or two ago. Here it is. This is a really good read. I talked to this guy on the phone also. He has a lot to give on technique.


In this thread he states, and it immediately got my attention, that "you need to lift the handle" when going around the belly to maintain the correct angle. This is on post #130. The thread is about 8 pages long. It was started in 2010. So, two guys who IMO are top shelf sharpeners completely disagree in one part of the technique. Who knew something like that could ever happen? Think about this. Lifting the handle or not lifting the handle is a HUGE difference in stroke technique. So, I played with it and made a couple of videos. I tried to type it but felt I wasn't getting the point across. Come to find out you can lift the handle or not lift the handle. Both work but another part of the stroke is different. Till now I've been using the "don't lift handle" method. But the "lift handle" technique really felt good and I'm going to try using that technique. It seemed that no matter how high you lift your hand the angle is the same on the edge. The only difference is the portion of the blade you are removing steel from. Of course this technique would require practice but it SOUNDS like a solid technique. Well, since knifenut2013 does it this way I'm going to call it a proven technique for now.

Here is the technique of lifting the handle.


This is the technique of NOT lifting the handle.


I hope this made sense. I'm going to be playing with these two techniques to see which I like the best. I really feel good with the "don't lift" method right now but that's what I am used to. But the "lift handle" method felt so good right away I may change to that. That way felt like it was easier to maintain the angle and lifting the handle only changed the location on the edge that is getting sharpened. At first thought the angle (being one of the hardest things to control free hand) being made easier to control is a huge improvement in technique. The thing is both seem to work. I really like knowing the "why" both work and having the option of choosing. I don't know about anyone else, but I think this is a huge factor to grasp in free hand sharpening.

Please, anyone with additional info on this issue please COME ON DOWN! Oh yeah, if you haven't already seen it please read the thread I mentioned above. After I read this thread I emailed him. Then I talked to him on the phone about a lot of sharpening stuff and when I hung up I called Ken Schwartz to discuss this lift hand thing. Ken gets into geometry and I have to make him explain or hang up. He explains willingly and I thank him for that because explaining to me can be umm, difficult. lol  The way he explains it is the stone is a plane and the blade is a plane.  Keeping the two planes at the same angle throughout the stroke is key.


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I pasted this from the Spyderco forum.  The smilies didn't transfer.  Wish there were smilies or emotion icons here.  How cum not?

I forgot to mention, I'm going to be playing with this subject and will post any revelations (positive or negative) I find.  I'm at the new discovery level now and hope to learn more.


Well I am pretty good at geometry ....so where are we?

Ok, where I stand now is I will stick with the "lift handle" stroke method.  The other method works but it seemed harder to get the hang of than lifting the hand. This issue is mainly for people who are just starting out I think.  People who are happy with how they sharpen and the results may not want to change.  But if anyone has a consistant problem with the bevel being wider or narrower at the tip (for example) they should change something.  So, should he try to fix a bad habit or develop a new technique from start to finish?  That is up to each person.  But or a beginner with no habits (good or bad) I would think learning a defined method is easier and far more satisfying.  Good results quickly are very satisfying.

Stropping is the same.  You just need to use trailing strokes.


But for me I'll stick with lifting the handle.  The only real mistake you can make is to lift the handle TOO MUCH. That will round off the tip.

After playing with this issue for a while I'm now liking the lift handle technique for blade edges that are straighter. Those with a slight curve from heel to tip. But for the knives with a dramatic belly at the tip I get more accurate results by not lifting my handle and as I stroke I push the tip ahead of the handle as in the video. Keep checking the edge bevels as you sharpen. They will show us how consistent we are in keeping the angle as close as possible to the same from the heel to the tip and from start to finish of each stroke. Every single stroke doesn't need to include the entire edge. By checking the edge visually and often you can tell where steel needs to be removed. If you plan to only put one bevel on the edge just focus on keeping the bevels the same width on both sides from heel to tip. When the bevels meet each other the edge will be sharp. At that point it's time to really lighten up the pressure and remove any noticable burrs and then remove any micro burrs that may not be detectable using the normal burr finding methods. Methods like rubbing your thumb or thumbnail off the edge to feel for a burr. Some burrs can be so small I can't feel them. To remove them I raise the angle a tiny tiny bit and let the edge glide as lightly as possible on the stone from heel to tip in one stroke. I do this on both sides a couple of times each. One side then the other. NOT two or three times on one side, then on the other.

If anyone has been trying this stuff and has questions please ask. I'm getting better and better results (sharper edges). I'm not a seasoned sharpener with a technique or method that has taken me years to develop. I'm learning as I go and the results are getting better. Meaning the edges are sharper. The main thing is that free hand sharpening does take quite a bit of practice. You can't just sharpen knives when they are dull and quit. Not if you want the edge you just got to be sharper in six months when you are done with it. Doesn't take a huge amount of time to be able to get a knife plenty sharp enough to be useful. But for anyone who wants sharper than just sharp enough to use it'll take a bit more time. Just like learning anything I suppose. I have gone from being able to shave my arm bald using 2, 3 or 4 passes to popping every hair off in one pass. This amount of difference is extremely noticable when using my EDC knifes during the day. A knife that shaves arm hair in 2 or 3 passes is plenty sharp enough for an EDC knife most of the time. But when the knife in your pocket will shave your arm bare as a baby's butt in one pass every time or whittle a single strand of hair there's a big difference in the cutting it will do during the day. For me it's really satisfying to have a tool perfroming this well. I also like it when on the rare occasion I let someone use my knife they cut something, pause to look at the knife and then continue or make a comment. You can tell when someone has never used a really sharp knife before. One thing that does bug me is a beautiful, high quality knife that doesn't cut well. Ithink an organization should be started to sharpen knives for free for anyone who can't sharpen, doesn't have time or doesn't want to pay someone to sharpen their knives. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone's pocket knife were sharp?


Jack, I have found that not lifting the handle works better with my Mora. All other knives I lift the handle.

I've mostly rotated the knife without lifting the handle.  This keep the direction of the sharpening exactly perpendicular to the edge.  If you only lift the handle and the tip really has a lot of curvature to it, eventually you are sharpening almost parallel to the edge.


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