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Jigs vs Freehand

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Dave Martell

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OK folks it's time to break the ice and have our first talk about jig vs free hand sharpening. Here's my (very general - not at all specific) take on this subject....

In the past I've been a very vocal proponent for free hand sharpening. I've also been an opponent to certain jig systems as well as being critical to list the restrictions of many jigged systems. For this I've been somewhat mis-understood and incorrectly labeled as a free hand or die type of person - an individual who expects everyone to do as I see (and say) and to judge others based on what they do with this. Some of this is true but not all.

For the record - I am not at all against jigs however I am very pro free hand.

The reason why I've been so boisterous in discussions on this subject is because many people refuse to admit the limitations of their jigged systems. The thing about this is that both jigged and free hand systems have limitations - BOTH.

Free handers, no matter who you are, will always wobble a bit and can not achieve a perfectly flat bevel - it'll never happen.

Jig systems reshape knives to suit their parameters to which they can operate in and can not roll through changes in bevel angles (like seen on yanagibas and distal tapered double bevel knives).

For positives, the free handers can easily address angle changes along the blade length and for jig users they have perfect angle control.

So I see each as having limitations and positives. Going with one or the other should be a decision that you make based on what's more important to you.

Anyone have anything to add?

I wouldn't mind talking about the merits and limitations of each jig system as we do we each stone used free hand. Some systems seem better than others and we can discuss these differences here.


PS - I'm not starting any crap, just stating my position which I hope helps to clear the air.
 

EdipisReks

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a friend of mine bought an edge pro and, while it makes for a pretty sharp knife, i don't care for the edge it puts on a gyuto. we both agree that my freehand sharpening puts a better edge on, but he also doesn't have water stones for the system yet (relying on the fine tapes at the end), so i can't say for sure. on the other hand, he's never scratched the edge of his knives, and i have. :) on the gripping hand, freehand is a lot more fun. i'm not sure that the edge pro works would work for a single bevel knife?
 

Dave Martell

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Also, if you're using a jigged system please know that you're as welcome to post on what you use as any free hander is. I'm sure that there's a whole ton of people out there using jigs that would love to read about them as well as free hand sharpening. You should not feel un-welcome here, this forum is for everyone.
 

maxim

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I think even with a Jig you cant put perfect flat edge because of different pressure along the edge i think Jigs is good for tools chisels or planes where you dont have curved edge and with those Jigs you can put even pressure on hole blade but for knifes i feel that its easier and faster to do it free hand and you will learn to feel how strong you edge have to be for you knife.
 

Dave Martell

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a friend of mine bought an edge pro and, while it makes for a pretty sharp knife, i don't care for the edge it puts on a gyuto. we both agree that my freehand sharpening puts a better edge on, but he also doesn't have water stones for the system yet (relying on the fine tapes at the end), so i can't say for sure. on the other hand, he's never scratched the edge of his knives, and i have. :) on the gripping hand, freehand is a lot more fun. i'm not sure that the edge pro works would work for a single bevel knife?

I used to be an EdgePro user myself (I owned 2 Pro models & 1 Apex) and I used to love the edge off of the tapes. I would increase the angle by about 1deg and finish with a wet tape.

Do you think that you feel the shoulder (transition from edge bevel to blade face) of the bevel as you cut, could this be the difference? I found that the shoulder was so crisp off the EP that I could feel it wedge. I would have to thin the edge a lot to reduce this effect which was a lot more work than I liked it to be.
 

Cadillac J

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Freehand baby - love the process...love the connection...love the edges I achieve...love no 'set-up' required

Not against jigs at all, I just don't need them.

However, at some point I wouldn't mind getting some type of sander/grinder to help with some of the rough work and reprofiling from time to time.
 

EdipisReks

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I used to be an EdgePro user myself (I owned 2 Pro models & 1 Apex) and I used to love the edge off of the tapes. I would increase the angle by about 1deg and finish with a wet tape.

Do you think that you feel the shoulder (transition from edge bevel to blade face) of the bevel as you cut, could this be the difference? I found that the shoulder was so crisp off the EP that I could feel it wedge. I would have to thin the edge a lot to reduce this effect which was a lot more work than I liked it to be.
the shoulder may very well be what it is. i always round off and polish the shoulder when i sharpen, and i doubt my friend does that with his edge pro. that is something that is really flippin' easy to do freehand, of course.
 

apicius9

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I am a lazy and a lousy sharpener, just don't have the patience. And I haven't found a good setup that doesn't cause my back to feel like it is breaking apart half way into the first knife. So, I keep thinking about jigs occasionally. The perfect jig would be a box where you push a button, and a little Dave jumps out and sharpens my knives for me :happy3: After that, maybe something that can use full sized stones would come to mind. Mind you, this is only for double beveled knives. I haven't followed the developments very closely, not even sure if anything like that exists. I wasn't all too excited about the first 'gadget' (or something like that :evilgrin: ). i am not on a quest for the sharpest knife ever. For me it's between not sharpening at all because I don't like it or compromising and keeping my knives below their potential but way over what the usually are... So, I would love to hear about experiences with jigs. And, yes, I know that hand sharpening would be better, faster and cheaper...

Stefan
 

kalaeb

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For me sharpening free hand is a catharsis of sort, I will be the first to admit that I suck at it, but I also enjoy being able to see and feel the progression as I get better. Do my blades have errant scratch marks and uneven bevels? Yup, you bet, but I sure enjoy doing it, and I am getting better at it. Plus I'm poor, and jigs cost money that I could be spending on knives and disaster releif efforts.
 

mainaman

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free hand for me.
But I am always curious what a jig can do, not spending a ton of money on one though.
 

riverie

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Free hand without a question for me too. I believe with free hand you can feel your knife much better. The characteristic, hardness, edge, etc... For me it's part of the fun besides cutting stuff with it.
 

JBroida

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i'm also a freehand guy... i would be all for jigs if they did what i wanted them to do, but so far, i cant find one that allows me the flexibility to do what i need... that and sharpening is like zen for me ;)
 

Marko Tsourkan

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i'm also a freehand guy... i would be all for jigs if they did what i wanted them to do, but so far, i cant find one that allows me the flexibility to do what i need... that and sharpening is like zen for me ;)
Free hand for knives, a jig for my saya chisels. Those have tiny bevels, so keeping a constant angle is next to impossible.

M
 

JBroida

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Free hand for knives, a jig for my saya chisels. Those have tiny bevels, so keeping a constant angle is next to impossible.

M
i guess i should have specified that i was talking about knives... i think for tools, etc. there are tools that work very well. My bad. Clearly i'm a knife guy ;)
 

mr drinky

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I was all prepared to go the edge pro route, then I went onto KF and was talked out of it (in a good way). There were both people who liked it and those who liked free hand. In the end it came down to looking at my personality. I love doing things precisely, whether that be in sports, mowing the lawn, exercising, cooking etc. and I don't like using contraptions/jigs hardly ever (in whatever I do). Why would knives be any different? And even though I cook a lot I still don't own a food processor or stand mixer -- but there are times it would be nice to own one and I think about getting one quite often.

An edge pro is the same way. A friend of mine has one and he loves it for reprofiling knives, and I could definitely see times that I would appreciate it and use it. I was wowed by the consistency of his bevels on jobs that would take me hours. There are a couple of 'labor of love' knives in my drawer right now that I would probably have in better shape if I had an edge pro or some other jig.

In the end, I decided to go the stone route and said to myself that I would invest in a jig when the time comes and the utility was there -- but I have also been saying that with a kitchen aid mixer for 10 years now. And even though I am a precise person, I love the imprecision of sharpening by hand. It was my first mistake in reprofiling where I learned more about asymmetric bevels. And if I didn't have those scratches in my blades, I would not have invested in learning about polishing blades. Each misstep is a new learning opportunity about the blade -- and another opportunity to get some kit ;)

I'm free hand for now -- and probably until my back gives out.

k.
 

Dave Martell

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On the jigged side....

Even though I don't care for where they come from :) , something that I think is a good thing for the user is the recent addition of Shapton stones cut to size to fit the EP. I see these stones as being a perfect fit for this because they are very hard and ungiving with a slow wear rate.

Choseras are also offered in this application but I don't think they will make such a great fit here because they wear fast (in comparison to EP stock & Shapton Pro stones) and the power of their cut rate is largely obtained through the use of mud sitting on the stone which is reduced by a stone hanging upside down.

Even worse of a thing would be......gasp.......the cutting of natural stones to use on the EP. Seriously, this should be punishable by law. :yuck:
 

Marko Tsourkan

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I like to use analogy that sharpening is like cooking. If you always following a recipe, you will not be a very confident and a creative cook. To learn something, you have to mess things up a few times and to experiment. I remember re-polishing knives after every scratch I put on them sharpening. Now I just shrug and move one. :) The knife is sharp and this is all I care about. A few good knives I have, I take extra care when sharpening.

I also got to say that I am relatively immune to the sharpening obsession. I don't need to achieve a maximum sharpness (I leave my obsessions for other things. It used to be woodworking, now it's grinding metal). I haven't bought every possible diamond spray, powder, felt, leather strops just to get my knives a little bit sharper. I usually finish a knife on a natural stone and it's plenty sharp for me. I sharpen, use a knife for a while, then sharpen again. I like the cycle. It helps to maintain my sharpening skill.

M
 

monty

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I have an Edge Pro and loved using it until I began sharpening knives for other folks. Unless you tape each knife that Edge Pro will really scuff a blade up. I found that by the time I put painters tape on each blade, then went through switching stones, etc., I was spending a lot of time NOT sharpening. Up to that point my water stones were used exclusively on my 2 Japanese knives, but one night I was looking down the barrel of 20 knives and I decided that I just didn't want to go through the hassle of taping them all. I do appreciate the precision of the Edge Pro, but due to the amount of sharpening I have been doing I only use water stones now. I should say that I am the farthest thing from a purist. I really have no opinion about which method is the best. I only care about which method is best for me.
 

shankster

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http://www.leevalley.com/en/wood/page.aspx?

anyone have any experience or thoughts on this handy dandy sharpening system? probably overkill for most,but for someone with a ton of knives and tools to sharpen it could be a viable option.
I myself am a freehander and thanks to forums like this,I learn something new everyday.
edit: sorry the link just takes you to lee valley.It's the Tormek water cooled system.
 

Dave Martell

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I owned a Tormek for awhile, used it professionally too. I love the quality of the machine - second to none in it's class. What keeps me from loving it for knife sharpening is that it's such a general use system that does some things good and not much great and knife sharpening isn't it's strong suit. Although today there are better wheels available for the system so without trying them I should reserve some judgement.
 

chazmtb

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I was wondering how you would use a jig like an edgepro on a single bevel knife? Would you use it to put a secondary bevel on the knife only or use it on the entire blade road. Seems that single bevel knives require free hand sharpening, since a lot of it is also the feel of the knife, the getting of mud to polish the hagane and to give a contrast on the jigane.

I kinda want to know because I have only used free hand
 

monty

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When I was an undergrad I took a course called Zen and Japanese Culture. One of the interesting insights I picked up about Japanese culture, especially art, is the concept of asymmetry. For example, in Japanese calligraphy you notice that brush strokes begin with bold solid color but by the end of the stroke you can see trail marks from the individual fibers of the brush. The idea, as it was presented to us, is that the lack of perfect symmetry is part of how Japanese craftsmen approach their individual art. In fact, perfect symmetry would be seen as somewhat problematic and uninteresting.

Compare that to a western style of looking at the world in which circles are always full, and repeatable utility is part of the way we recognize value in any endeavor. I don’t wish to suggest that the western view of the world is less “spiritual” or “artistic” as many folks tend to believe. But clearly there is a difference in the ways we approach life, knives and knife sharpening included.

Imagine how surprised I was when I first started getting into Japanese water stones and Japanese knives, to come across the word "asymmetrical." It made perfect sense to me that the Japanese ideas about symmetry would find their way into the way knives are produced and maintained.

How does all this relate to sharpening? Well, a fixed unit like an Edge Pro provides a repeatable utility that is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of knives produced with the same idea in mind. Perhaps one of the issues at stake in choosing jigs or stones is whether, and to what extent, you can deal with asymmetry – literally and philosophically.

I realize I am making some really broad generalizations – but these are the ideas I came up with in my commute to work today so I thought I’d throw them out there for you to consider and attack! :poke1: :biggrin:
 

iceman01

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In the beginning, I regarded myself a freehand dyslexic, so I built a gizmo like Ken's. But I never used it on single bevel traditional blades, they come with the wide bevel, that acts as an angle guiding system. What else can you expect?
Though, for (very) asymmetric western style knives, the gizmo or other jig systems work great. Use the finest stone and magic marker if you don't know which angle the bevel has and then sharpen on the front and deburr the back off the gizmo. Esp great if I want to set a new bevel, it is much more consistent than my freehanding in this regard.
 

Pensacola Tiger

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I was wondering how you would use a jig like an edgepro on a single bevel knife? Would you use it to put a secondary bevel on the knife only or use it on the entire blade road. Seems that single bevel knives require free hand sharpening, since a lot of it is also the feel of the knife, the getting of mud to polish the hagane and to give a contrast on the jigane.

I kinda want to know because I have only used free hand
There's nothing to be gained in using an Edge Pro on a single bevel knife. The concavity of the back side of the knife presents some major challenges to angle control because the knife will not be consistently supported on the table. Besides, the blade road pretty much provides all the angle control you need.

My experience with an Edge Pro Apex on other knives is that it is very useful for thinning, or for accurately changing a bevel angle. It also lets someone new to sharpening work on their knives with the confidence that they won't ruin it.

I agree with Monty that taping the blade is necessary to prevent scratching it, and this can be a real PITA if you sharpen a lot of knives.

The Shapton Pro stones for the Edge Pro that Tom Blodgett of Jende Industries offers are worth every penny. For most sharpening, a 1K and a 5K is sufficient. The 6"x2" DMT plates he offers will make thinning a pleasure.
 

Eamon Burke

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First off, the stones cut for jigs can save some dough! That really opens up the chances for that 30k people(like myself) want, but can't afford.

At work, we have a Mannhart chopper that can really put loads of food through in short order. It is accurate, but not considerate. The pieces of food will be the same size thickness-wise, but it creates a lot of tiny hacked up pieces and some are just too wide. The blade is fast, but oxidizes veggies quickly. And it's messy and a pain to set up. I can grab my knife and do most jobs in less time than I can fiddle with that thing.

I feel the same way about jigs. The videos of people using jigs are like 70% fiddling with the jig itself. I also cannot figure out, for the life of me, why anyone would want a perfectly flat edge bevel. Who cares? This will seriously create no benefit, and if you want to get hyper-analytical, a perfectly flat, polished bevel would causing sticking on some microscopic level.

I can just grab my stones and go to town. Machines, like sanders, are great if you have a huge volume because that kind of repetitive motion is not good for you. Since knives aren't made on fixed jig-systems, the profile design and edge characteristics are not conducive to jig-based alteration and maintenance.

It just seems to me that jigs just remove the natural human wobble. I cannot figure out why this matters.
 

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When I was new to knives I was enticed by the perceived ease of jig sharpening. I convinced myself to skip the jig and freehand sharpen—I haven't looked back.
 

SpikeC

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I think that the natural human wobble creats a slight convexity that results in a more durable edge. It becomes a fine microbevel that supports the cutting edge.
 

mikemac

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....analogy that sharpening is like cooking. If you always following a recipe, you will not be a very confident and a creative cook.....M
Freehand? Jig?
For me the answer is YES!
I've used both methods for probably over 15 years, and they each have a place. I just added the EP, and that has to be one of the most versitile and "bang for the $$" jigs around. I find it very useful for re-setting bevels and angles - correcting mistakes of the past and setting a path for the future. I've also used it side by side with freehand. And I find it really convenient for throwing a great edge on either beaters or daily users when I don't really have the time to concentrate on freehand (which in my house is most of the time) Lately, I've had to tame my OCD for all things sharpening, tame my OCD for knife lust, and instead try to put a meal on the table to enjoy with the wife and kids before one has to go sports practice, another to a friends house and the third wants to sit and watch tv with me.

IMHO, the EP is a great solution for someone new to sharpening, new to J-knives or someone who thinks that steel rod thingy or a chefs choice are sharpening options.

While I truely prefer to freehand, my freehand experience makes me appreciate and do a better job using the EP...and the EP improves and makes me do a better job freehanding.

I like Marko's analogy. When I first started to cook, I followed a recipe for french toast. No I don't. But if I'm cooking something new, say a tagine or Indian, I follow a recipe first.
 
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