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So I was thinking, instead of purchasing a dedicated (and expensive) whetstone with limited coarse(ness?) range, why not use patches of sandpaper in increasing grit numbers (getting finer), stretched on some small flat surface? This way I can have as many grit steps as required, to the fineness level required, for relatively cheap and disposable?

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Yes, I've heard this suggested, using wet/dry sandpaper and a mousepad. It is a very inexpensive way to match a whetstone, and you can use sandpaper with the same grit to produce an excellent edge.

You duct-tape the sand-paper together so it wraps around the mouse pad, and then pull the knife along the sandpaper with the edge trailing. This is to say, you use sandpaper in the opposite direction as a whetstone. Once you work up to the finest-grit papers, you can use jeweler's polish and a leather strop for a truly razor-sharp edge.

Because the mouse pad's rubber/foam has some give, this method produces a convex edge which remains sharp for longer that an V-cut, because it has more metal behind the edge. It also still presents a very sharp point for cutting, moreso than an equivalent V-cut front bevel.

Using sandpaper will also cost a small fraction of what you spend on a good sharpening stone, which will run you $50 or more PER STONE.

Wondering what grit to use? There are comprehensive tables here and here. However, here is a quick-reference mini-table for you:

Name / US Grit Rating / Use

  • Coarse / 100-400 / Remove lots of metal. At the low-end of the range, used for reshaping blades, taking out large chips, or restoring snapped points. At the higher end of grit range, used to establish a bevel angle and restore very dull edges.
  • Medium / 400-700 / Remove moderate amounts of metal. For refining an edge established with coarse grits, and for restoring moderately dull blades. Can be used to establish a bevel angle, but it will take considerably longer. 600 grit is a common point to start at for standard sharpening.
  • Fine / 800-1200 / For finishing a blade or touching-up a slightly dull blade. At about 1000 grit, you will get something equivalent to a factory edge, assuming you use the same bevel angle. Ceramic steels have grits in this range.
  • Extra-Fine / 2000+ / For polishing. Higher grits create a shinier and sharper edge, until at 8000+ grit you get mirror finishes and sharpness equivalent to a straight razor. If you're going to bother using grits this high, a leather strop and polishing paste may serve you better than even a ceramic steel; the steel would actually be reducing the edge sharpness with use.

Source: Sandpaper-mousepad sharpening

Source2: Sharpening techniques and explanation

Edit: Another way to use sandpaper in sharpening -- expanding the grit range for a Spyderco Sharpmaker

I'm currently using sandpaper to make a very coarse stone for sharpening extremely dull edges on my Spyderco Sharpmaker. I wrap both of the normal triangular stones with a strip of emery cloth or 220-grit wet/dry sandpaper, and then hold it in place with medium binder clips. Since the lowest stone the Sharpmaker comes with is 800-grit ceramic, this saves HOURS versus using the normal stones. It is also considerably cheaper than the diamond stones they sell; for a big tub of clips and a package of sandpaper, I paid $7, versus about $37 for the diamond rods.

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Great answer and link (it actually directly answers my question). Upon reading, my first reaction was "isn't a mouse pad going to render a convex edge?" - I just bumped into this term when doing my short research - and in your link they explain exactly that. However, they mention that it is netter than a straight edge in terms of sharpness, which is counter-intuitive for me. Can you explain why? –  ysap Jul 17 '11 at 16:09
    
Convex edges are stronger, and hold their sharpness longer. Think of it this way: with a shallower-angle back bevel, you have a narrower overall edge, which makes it slice more easily, but the less acute primary bevel gives it has a broader angle, so it wears out more slowly, and isn't as susceptible to chipping and folding over. Take a look at this link for a more extensive discussion, and more info on mousepad sharpening: forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/… –  BobMcGee Jul 17 '11 at 16:31
    
The second link is extremely interesting –  BaffledCook Jul 17 '11 at 17:48
    
I've sharpened all my knifes and, boy, is there a difference. Next time, I'll try the pad+sandpaper approach! –  BaffledCook Jul 20 '11 at 21:58
    
Good answer. I'd also recommend trying to find the fabric backed sandpaper (rather than actual paper) because it will be far more robust. I find that regular sand paper has a habit of tearing more easily. –  Alex Holsgrove Mar 6 at 9:42

If you're looking around your house for stuff you already own to sharpen your knife on, the story goes that the underside of a dinner plate is the way to go. I've never done it - I bought stones from Lee Valley many years ago and I have a steel, and between them I'm taken care of.

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Kate, I actually use this method (bottom of a coffee mug) for a long time! It works really great on my chef knife. Just wanted to be more "professional" with the results, as I think it is very coarse and the edge does not get really evenly sharp. –  ysap Jul 17 '11 at 15:56
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Growing up, my mom always did the dinner plate, but you need stoneware plates that are unglazed at the bottom, or at least just at the edge where you'll be grinding. And it can discolor where you're grinding against (but underneath, so most people won't be looking there) Also, different plates will sharpen differently, depending on the clay used in making them. –  Joe Jul 18 '11 at 3:24
    
This works of course, because ceramic is harder than steel, but the actual grit of the unglazed portion of a plate is pretty unpredictable. More importantly, the surface area is so small, and the shape so awkward, that in my experience a plate (or saucer, bowl, coffee cup, etc.) is really only a good-in-a-pinch substitute for a truing/honing steel, not a sharpening stone. –  Josh Caswell Sep 18 at 1:47

I bought my (Chinese) whetstone for 7,5€ and I've used it for the last 20 years.

You could spend some money on a honing steel, but even these are not really expensive. I got mine for free at a fair, and it receives regular action.

Make sure you buy cheap vanadium steel knifes for your kitchen (shameless self-promotion).

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Plus one, the money spent on a stone that will last your lifetime, and possibly that of you kids, will be a good investment. In the long term cheaper than sandpapers. I can go one better than BaffedCook, my whetstone belonged to my grandfather and may be older than that. I don't use if in my kitchen, mine is for sharpening my chisels and other garden/hobby tools. –  Rincewind42 Jul 17 '11 at 14:02
    
@BaffledCook, @Rincewind42, Thanks. I have a honing steel, which, to my best understanding is not intended for sharpening, but rather for maintaining a straight blade. For sharpening, a stone (or other means) is required. From the brief research I did, many of the cheap stones don't stand their promise and users bash them. Than, atypical stone has only one (two max) grit levels. The method proposed in my question will let you have multiple grit numbers to be as fine as you want. Is there a reason to think it is not good enough? Can you recommend a specific, not too expensive stone? –  ysap Jul 17 '11 at 15:51
    
@ysap: If you look at my post and links (for tips), you'll see a perfectly acceptable way to use sandpaper in sharpening. A good set of stones (or sharpening system) is eventually a good investment, but expect to spend $50-150 for that. Plus, for the higher-polish work (2000+ grit) you'll need either polishing compound, or a waterstone, which wears down and has to be lapped to flatten it out again. –  BobMcGee Jul 17 '11 at 17:29

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