Visual aids for sharpening

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GoldCoastMitch

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Dear KKF members,

I’m relatively new here and request some insight into what kinds of visual aids are worth considering to assist my skill development. Honestly, my eyes just aren’t what they used to be. I find it hard to really see what’s going on visually while I attempt to sharpen. I’ve used the magic marker to paint the edge and that’s very helpful. But, I still need a better way to see what’s really going on in finer detail.

I’ve seen USB microscopes, jeweler’s loupes, and other types of magnifiers. How much magnification is needed to effectively see the primary edge? I would like something that possibly would also allow me to see a cross section of the edge and the “V”.

I’ve had particular difficulty in raising a consistent burr. Hoping a visual aid will assist my efforts. Thank you all in advance.

Mitch
 

daveb

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I had similar concerns when starting and tried a few of the $10ish loupes from Amazon. The 10x would show some detail, 20x showed more, beyond 20 they were less useful. Make sure if you select one that it will illuminate the surface being examined. None of them quite met my hopes/expectations and I've not used one for a couple years. I never got around to the USB models - can see how a pic could be useful when posing questions.

Much better for me was developing a sense of feel for the burr. Stroking fingertips from the spine to the edge, always rinsing the blade first, always doing both sides of the blade. The learning curve is not vertical but it doesn't take long to develop proficiency.
 
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SeattleBen

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Boy, smarter and better people than me will chime in, but a loupe and the sharpie ought to do you well enough.
 

M1k3

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Sharpie is a great aid, especially when you're having trouble raising a burr. It'll let you know if you're hitting the edge or not.
 

ModRQC

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So true for everything said : +3. All useful tools and stepping stones of successful learning.
 

ModRQC

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Natural tools now outside of visual: feeling, and listening.
 

LostHighway

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@GoldCoastMitch thanks for this post, I've been meaning to post something similar but never got around to it. I use a Sharpie, a small but bright flashight, and a 24x monocular loupe (several steps above the $10 versions). 24x is probably a bit too much per @daveb. I have been thinking about adding a USB microscope but haven't taken that leap yet, if you find a good one please report.
 

Rangen

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Two things I've found very useful:

A USB microscope. That's for when you're done and feeling OK about your edge; you can look at it way blown up and see what's not so good about it. Sometimes very not so good.

A Donegan OptiVisor headband magnifier. I usually wear it when sharpening, flipping it up and down as needed. You can wear it over glasses, and I do. I like to sharpen with the edge facing me, and with the magnifier I can look at where the edge meets the stone and see things like "oops, that's not the bevel," or "hey, this stone isn't flat" or "whoops, better raise my elbow, the knife curves at this point." Very very handy. I recommend the 2.5x, which has a focal length of 8 inches, which works out about right for me (the 3.5x is only 4 inches, too close). I also got a screw-on flip-down magnifier for it, which adds another 2.5x, for when I want to take a closer look at the edge.
 

Kawa

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For me a loupe isn't a tool that actually made me 'step up my game' when I started.
A loupe is handy for checking where u missed the apex, or where you have several mini-bevels on the edge, cause let's be honest: that's the most common beginners problem.
The thing is, in the beginning you often think you are sharpening at the same angle as you did 5 minutes ago, only to see under a loupe you did not hit the same angle... So back to sharpy and grinding again, thinking 'now I have the right angle', just to find out you missed it again....damnit how can this be possible?

This has to do with practising. Keep on going, get knives from your friends (you will get them sharper then they were anyway. So they are pleased anyway and it's a good practise for you). You have to make hours...
Don't tell yourself you can only stop of move to the next stone when your knife has a completely straight edge. As a beginner, you will not get to this point. How bad you want it and how much you try, you have to practise and make hours for years to be able to do that consistantly.
It's a myth that watching all the suggested videos, getting the adviced stones etc. will get you that perfect edge within a few knives time. Those videos give you the tools to set up some good basics, only to make it easier to be consistent. It's not science written in laws.

At some point you start to see what is still wrong with the edge (even though the knife can be sharp anyway) if you strive for perfection, but that doensn't mean your sharpening skills are at the level you are actually able to make the edge better... You know what's wrong, but you have to settle for 'the best result to date'.
If your last knife has a straighter edge with less inconsistencies then the one you did before, you improved. That's the way to step up your game, inch by inch.
 

Ruso

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Besides looking at the apex with the light shining on it to see any reflection (on a sharp edge there should be no reflection), I also check for unusual water beading at the edge.
 

M1k3

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For me a loupe isn't a tool that actually made me 'step up my game' when I started.
A loupe is handy for checking where u missed the apex, or where you have several mini-bevels on the edge, cause let's be honest: that's the most common beginners problem.
The thing is, in the beginning you often think you are sharpening at the same angle as you did 5 minutes ago, only to see under a loupe you did not hit the same angle... So back to sharpy and grinding again, thinking 'now I have the right angle', just to find out you missed it again....damnit how can this be possible?

This has to do with practising. Keep on going, get knives from your friends (you will get them sharper then they were anyway. So they are pleased anyway and it's a good practise for you). You have to make hours...
Don't tell yourself you can only stop of move to the next stone when your knife has a completely straight edge. As a beginner, you will not get to this point. How bad you want it and how much you try, you have to practise and make hours for years to be able to do that consistantly.
It's a myth that watching all the suggested videos, getting the adviced stones etc. will get you that perfect edge within a few knives time. Those videos give you the tools to set up some good basics, only to make it easier to be consistent. It's not science written in laws.

At some point you start to see what is still wrong with the edge (even though the knife can be sharp anyway) if you strive for perfection, but that doensn't mean your sharpening skills are at the level you are actually able to make the edge better... You know what's wrong, but you have to settle for 'the best result to date'.
If your last knife has a straighter edge with less inconsistencies then the one you did before, you improved. That's the way to step up your game, inch by inch.
So true. I sharpened every knife I could get my hand on when I started.
 

Michi

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I briefly tinkered with a USB microscope. The software for Mac OS X was so shocking that it was basically unusable. For the brief few hours I managed to use the thing, it was moderately useful. But it didn't really tell me anything that I couldn't see with a 10x loupe, which costs all of $15 or so on eBay, so I returned the $160 microscope for a refund.

A loupe really is useful when starting out because it allows one to see what's going in that last 1 mm at the apex. Combined with painting the edge with a Sharpie, a loupe makes for a killer teaching tool.
 
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GeneH

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I use an old surplus binocular microscope at up to 80x to look at edge damage, scratch patterns, and micro bevel. But the bottom line is my fingers tell me more about cutting ability than my eyes. The microscope is educational, but doesn't cut it for determining a useful edge in my case.
 

GoldCoastMitch

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I briefly tinkered with a USB microscope. The software for Mac OS X was so shocking that it was basically unusable. For the brief few hours I managed to use the thing, it was moderately useful. But it didn't really tell me anything that I couldn't see with a 10x loupe, which costs all of $15 or so on eBay, so I returned the $160 microscope for a refund.

A loupe really is useful when starting out because it allows one to see what's going in that last 1 mm at the apex. Combined with painting the edge with a Sharpie, a loupe makes for a killer teaching tool.
I agree with your assessment. I looked on Amazon and also B&H Photo websites. There are many options. Is the 10x power adequate? Power ranges from 10x and up are readily available. Some others here seem to think 20x is a good choice.

Thanks for your input
 

VincentBeek

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20x is a good choice when it comes with a light even better. Mine does not and you constantly need to find a good angle at the window to catch the light on the primary bevel. Microscope, I would not invest. My eyesight is also not what it has been but even though I cannot read fine print I can see if my edge is not ok. Like others said. Look straight down onto the edge and let de sun shine on it, you will see where there are chips and rolls or 'uneven' sharpening.
 

Michi

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I have a 10x and a 20x. I find myself using the 10x almost always. I can tell what's going on with that quite easily. The 20x exposes more detail, but the depth of field gets very small, and you have to hold the loupe very close to your eye, with the knife very close to the loupe (less than an inch), so the knife hovers right in front of your nose.

Either works but, if you want to get only one, the 10x would be my preferred choice. Getting a loupe with a built-in LED light is important, otherwise you'll find it tough to get enough light onto the knife to see properly. And buy a bunch of replacement batteries while you are at it: the button cells last only a few minutes before they are empty.
 

tomsch

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Having the knife edge right in front of your nose sounds a little sketchy LOL. I'm still an amateur at hand sharpening because I tend to become lazy and just use my Wicked Edge. The 10x loupe sounds like a good idea to at least help me move forward.
 

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