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Free Hand or Sharpening System

Discussion in 'Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment' started by smilk327, Nov 5, 2017.

  1. smilk327


    Apr 14, 2016
    Hey all. I am hoping to get input from the talented members of this forum for a dilemma I've been having. Which of the above do you use or do and why?

    This post was initially really long but I've decided to make it easier to get more input. Thanks to those who already responded your input is appreciated.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
  2. brasileiro


    Aug 26, 2011
    2 different ways
    2 lessons
    2 skill.
    My experience with sharpening systems help me to understand on practice the keys of sharpening like keep constant angle. It’s more efficient.
    Im improving my free hand now because now I understand (a bit more) about pressure, angle, refinement, grit, stone types, motion, accuracy, time...
    I like to use sharpening system based on Edge Pro design because on each stroke you are able to see the work of stone on the edge.
    But if you need and you aren’t close of a sharpening system, the skills and abilities of free hand make a huge difference.
    I can reach “satisfactory” edge sharpening on a bench stone isn’t the most beautiful edge of the world. It’s ugly but it cuts.
    If I want a beautiful edge I go with systems, if I’m on I.e. farm away from home I just carry some stones.
    My “baby” blades or the best ones or pricey ones I just sharpen on a system.
  3. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Freehand is the most versatile and adaptive approach, and the more you learn the more you can do with less equipment and time. Jigs are great for when you need pinpoint precision, but realistically that's very rarely needed enough to justify the setup time, and all guided systems have certain limitations.
    Kels73, maximus83 and Erik Norseman like this.
  4. BK14


    Sep 13, 2016
    The skill of being able to sharpen freehand is time honored, and well worth developing, in my opinion. That said, if you want crazy sharp, exact, repeatable, and gorgeous edges, go guided. I can’t speak for the KME, but I’ve had my Edge Pro for two months and I am constantly amazed by what it can do. With my Sharpmaker I would spend hours frustrated on a dull or uneven blade, getting next to nowhere. Last night, I took a friends Kershaw Blur in 14C28N from butter knife dull to a hair whittling mirror at the exact angle I chose in 20 minutes or so. I don’t consider myself any more skilled than your average person with these things; it is just that easy once you get over the learning curve. Hope this helps!
    Rhodies, maximus83 and HeavyHanded like this.
  5. smilk327


    Apr 14, 2016
    Thanks for the responses. Your input is very much appreciated.
  6. SKB182


    Jul 7, 2016
    I'll second FortyTwoBlades opinions on the versatility of freehand and the precision of jigs/systems.

    If you give a spatula to 4 different system sharpeners & 1 freehand sharpener, the latter is going to hand you back a sharp ham/veggieburger flipper in a couple of minutes and formers may take a little longer. However, until certain level of freehanding competency is reached the systems will likely yield keener prettier edges.

    Both are great and if you're having fun then you sharpen your blades however you please. If there is one recommendation to make, learn a little freehand if you're going to go in on the systems and vice versa. It doesn't hurt to know a bit about both.

    I do have a general question for the more experienced crowd: Do systems (in general) when used by a competent operator produce keener edges than a competent freehander?
  7. Lapedog


    Dec 7, 2016
    I started with the Sharpmaker using the provided jig which sets the stones up for a 30 or 40 degree inclusive edge. However I started using the provided rods freehand and learned to sharpen freehand that way.

    Freehand is definitely more versatile. There are shapes like recurves that sharpening systems like the wicked edge have trouble with.

    For a beginner I would recommend starting with some kind of system. Through using this system you will learn about sharpening. Once you understand the principles of sharpening better you can just detatch your stone from your system and try freehanding.

    I think going straight to freehand might be a recipie for frustration.
    Sergeua likes this.
  8. adamlau


    Oct 13, 2002
    It could easily be the other way around. Common misconception that a freehand edge generally takes longer to profile and apex than a guided edge.
    Difficult to quantify either way without a reasonable doubt. If we define keen in the commonly held view as it relates to scratch patterns, then I would argue no. If we define keen as SoS does where only the condition of the absolute apex is taken into consideration, I might also argue no. Or yes.
  9. Golden Goal

    Golden Goal

    May 15, 2016
    I sharpen freehand because I like doing it the old fashioned way. Sometimes I regret my decision to buy freehand equipment but usually I find it to be pretty rewarding. It was pretty frustrating to learn and the first knife I "sharpened" has some nice scratches on the bevels because I had very little idea of what I was doing.

    A quick summary of some of the tips I picked up trawling through this forum that helped me:
    - Get yourself a decent loupe and way to illuminate your edge at close range. You won't get very far if you can't see what you're doing.
    - Use a Sharpie to ink up your edge before starting each grit level. Visualizing where you've removed metal from the edge on a pass to pass basis is highly informative about your technique.
    - Don't press too hard, but also don't worry about removing too much metal.
    - There's a really great thread in this forum called "the first sharpening" which I would definitely recommend you read if you're considering going freehand.
    smilk327 likes this.
  10. SKB182


    Jul 7, 2016
    Ahh, I don't think I was clear with my language. I meant to point out that with five different systems/jigs it may take a little longer to sharpen a thing that they weren't designed to handle. A spatula is kind of an odd shape that I wouldn't think plays too well with so of the more popular systems.

    I'd like to consider myself a little past beginner with freehand sharpening and, given the right stones for the job, it doesn't take me too terribly long to go from destressing the edge to a sharp knife with a toothy edge, maybe a few more minutes to make it slick and a bit shiny.

    The concept of what is sharp has too many qualifiers and variables to boil it down to a simple statement. Science of Sharp is a fun read, too. As to the question, I'd argue that the freehander and the jig/system-er could bring a knife to the same level of sharpness (however you define it) when done by competent operators. They both have advantages and disadvantages. The system's edges are precise, while the freehander can give a slight twist to smooth the shoulder out to make the same angle feel like it's gliding through whatever more smoothly.

    Regardless, it's all good fun.
  11. l1ranger

    l1ranger Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 27, 2017
    i tried freehand for many years with mediocre and mixed results.
    tried some cheap fixed angle systems with the same results.
    was introduced to a lansky and was able to get good edges almost immediately.
    have since learned more about sharpening through reading and trial and error with the lansky - and as such have become a better freehand sharpener.
    Lapedog and smilk327 like this.
  12. HeavyHanded


    Jun 4, 2010
    I have and use both. Guided, for me, takes longer than freehand overall. It is slower to start, but once the initial grinding is done, subsequent progressions tend to go faster than freehand.

    It tends to be more precise in that I can set a specific angle and it stays that way. The guided system I use is better for awkward cutters that make it tough to securely grip and move on a stone, and I won't use any powered sharpener without a guide unless I'm sharpening a garden tool, axe, or lawnmower blade. Most often I only use it when resetting bevels for commercial work, and then only on high dollar knives - even then I sometimes will opt to do the entire thing by hand. I finish everything off by hand.

    That said, for myself I sharpen freehand 99.5% of the time. I do not see any real difference in quality of the edges produced excepting the guided ones can make a more attractive edge cosmetically. They also tend to look worse if the edge has a lot of warps or high/low spots in the primary grind, so the enforced precision can be a boon or a curse.

    For personal sharpening, freehand is ultimately the way to go unless you have some disability or severe lack of manual dexterity. It is faster, easier to translate across a variety of cutting tools, easier to improvise when needed, relaxing, rewarding, huge variety of potential stones/surfaces etc etc. It is not a simple skill to learn at the higher levels of competency, but relatively easy to learn at the medium levels - more than enough for most uses.

    That said, it is a skill, there is a learning curve, there will be set-backs along with improvements. If you want to learn a skill, go freehand. If you just want to avoid the hassle of learning and are OK with being restricted to a piece of equipment to produce a sharp knife, get a guided system.
    Kels73, willc, smilk327 and 2 others like this.
  13. smilk327


    Apr 14, 2016
    Thank you everyone for your input. My previous long post mentioned I do have a sharp maker. I am looking to move beyond that. I have tried free handing on the rods and it's very rewarding. If I could figure out how to post a picture Id show my last knife. Pretty nice mirror like bevel. Not near as good as what I have seen on here but great for me.

    Everyone's posts have been great to read and Id love to see this post go on with just people's views on one vs the other. For me I'm leaning toward buying a couple of two sided 6" dmt stones that don't have the holes and undertaking that skill.
    However just saw the grtiomatic v7 system and that looks awesome. So I'm not completely decided.

    That being said is the lansky mentioned above a decent system to fill the void of an edge pro or kme or the v7? Or is it so far below them that it'd be a waste of funds to invest in. Still definitely leaning toward freehand but think at some point I'd like to try guided just to feel it out.

    See back and forth I go again. Ugh my spinning thoughts in my head. This debate has consumed my mind lately.
  14. smilk327


    Apr 14, 2016
    Thanks for the pointers they are very much appreciated.
  15. adamlau


    Oct 13, 2002
    I was going to go with a v7 but am now waiting on the R1 before making a decision. The ability to accomodate 8x3 and 210mm stones sets Gritomatic systems apart in that it can be used less the costly investment into device-specific abrasive media.
  16. OhLeever


    Oct 23, 2017
    maybe i missed it adamlau, but what is the R1?
  17. brasileiro


    Aug 26, 2011
    R1 is the upcoming version of Hapstone Sharpening System.
  18. jalapeno


    Jan 16, 2017
    Keep in mind (no disrespect to gritomatic intended) it's only a plan at this stage. Like anything new, it may take some time to get to a deliverable product, and it may change in design along the way as they juggle the balance between costs, complexity, and capabilities. Assuming the R1 is similar in form to the V7, meaning the stone is oriented more horizontally, I wonder if the weight of 8x3 stones will be a factor in effectiveness. The weight would be less of a factor if the stones were more vertically oriented (due to gravity). But who knows, maybe they have some clever way of offsetting the weight so the blade edge only sees light pressure. Or maybe this is not at all the issue I am imagining it to be.
  19. HeavyHanded


    Jun 4, 2010
    You'd want a counterweight at the other end of the mounting rod. In fact, to improve beam strength you might want to switch to a rectangular cross section on the guide rod instead of a round stock. The counterweight should weigh as much or more than the stone (?) which would slow down grinding but really improve pressure control. If it were quick swap-able you could leave it off for the resetting phase and add some counterweight to the finish touches.
    Gritomatic likes this.
  20. jalapeno


    Jan 16, 2017
    At risk of reviving the dreaded discussion of whether the angle changes as you move the sharpening rod either left or right of centerline (relative to a straight, perpendicular edge), isn't the round rod (which allows the stone face to rotate slightly due to the round rod rotating in its holder mechanism, and remain flat against the knife edge as you move left or right) an important factor to preserve?

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