30th April 2020

Craft / Food / Michael May Knives

How to Sharpen a Knife by a Knife Making Professional

4 4 mins 0

CCraftsman Michael May makes beautiful knives from his workshop in Sheffield. When respected knife maker and well-known Sheffield character Trevor Ablett retired, Michael bought all of his tools, continuing his work and following his traditional patterns that Sheffield is famous for. Each knife Michael makes is crafted to the highest standard and can quite literally be made with his blood, sweat, and tears.

Here’s a simple method to keep your knives at home sharp, as explained by Michael.

There are a few methods that can help restore the cutting edge of your knife. The way I sharpen a blade is by using a fine grit abrasive belt, then a super fine grit belt, followed by a felt wheel with a polishing compound that acts like a strop and creates a razor sharp edge. If you don’t have access to three phase motor made in Huddersfield ninety years ago, then a whetstone will do the same job!

At some point, all knives will go blunt. Blunt knives can be dangerous as more force is used and that’s when accidents happen. A sharp blade that does what you want it to do is much safer.

Using a Whetstone

To sharpen a knife using a whetstone requires different levels of abrasions. For a blade that needs serious regrinding then a stone with a grit of 120 – 500 is needed. For a blade with small chips or other irregularities then a stone with a grit of 500 – 2000 would be good. 2000 and upwards should be used to refine the edge to its finest finish.

Gripping the whetstone in a vice will help keep it perfectly still, but a damp towel on a surface will also help stop the stone from slipping when using it. Use an angle from between 20 and 30 degrees, holding the knife handle in one hand and pushing the spine of the blade with the other, stroke the blade forwards a few Rmes, then swap hands and repeat so that the other side of the blade gets the same amount of sharpening. If the blade is particularly dull, then start off with a more coarse stone and finish on a finer compound one. If you have a leather strop then you could use this now as it would help bring the edge to a razor sharp finish. A leather belt would also work well here.

Using a Sharpening Steel

If you don’t have a whetstone, a sharpening steel will help bring the edge back too, although the diamond coated ones do tend to be more abrasive and will remove material quite significantly, so I would advise caution using these on your more expensive knives.

Using the same angle – between 20 and 30 degrees – hold the steel in your less dominant hand with the steel pointing down, drag the blade down a few strokes on one side and then the other. Keep repeating until you are happy that you have a good cutting edge back. A good way to test this is by slicing through a piece of paper. Holding the paper in one hand, slice through it from heel to toe again. If you have a good edge, then it should slice through without any tears or dragging.

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Michael May produces knives of an extremely high level of craftsmanship. From his workshop at the historic Portland Works -where Harry Brearley developed stainless steel for the use of cutlery over 100 years ago- Michael follows the patterns of respected knife maker and well known Sheffield character Trevor Ablett. Michael bought all Trevor Ablett’s tools when Trevor retired and continues his work, following his traditional patterns that Sheffield is famous for. Each knife Michael makes is crafted to the highest standard, and can quite literally be made with his blood, sweat, and tears. Since learning his trade, Michael feels a responsibility to continue with the skills and crafts that made Sheffield famous.

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