I was listening to a Public Radio Station program where they were interviewing a professional chef, and knife expert. He explained the difference between sharpening and honing as many have done in this thread. He was then asked how many strokes should be used to Steel a knife. His answer was very simple and took out the guess-work. He said that you should stroke the cutting edge gently accross the steel at about a 20 degree angle 5 times on each side, then four times, then three, then two, then one last stroke on each side of the blade. I tried the technique and can testify that it gives me a razor sharp edge each time.
If I don't have time to shapen my knife and have to quickly put an edge on it to get by with until I do have the time, I back-steel it on both sides, again at a 20 degree angle, with 5 firm strokes per side, then hone it in the usual manner. This will usually get me by until I can break out the wet stone. It's not a great substitute, but can save you in a pinch.
Don't sharpen too often. Sharpening removes metal and shortens the life of the knife. And if you are not experienced with keeping a proper knife angle in respect to the stone surface, you can purchase jigs that will hold the knife at the proper angle. Just remember, the more shallow the angle, the more delicate the edge. For a knife that gets hard use, you can even change the angle to 30 degrees, which will make the edge more robust. But if you are doing work that requires finnesse and a very sharp blade, like for filleting fish, or performing surgery (just kidding about the surgery), an even shallower edge may be required to give you the degree of sharpness you require.
Another great trick when sharpening a blade is to give it a multi-angled edge. Start with a 20 degree bevel. Get it as sharp as possible. Then take a couple of strokes on the stone with a 40 degree bevel. You get nearly the same level of sharpness, but with the more robust edge, making the time between sharpenings longer.
Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North
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