Knowing how to maintain and sharpen your knives is a vital skill for the knife enthusiast. For many people, their knives will never be as sharp as the day they bought them; and, considering how many knives come shipped with rather dull blades, that’s a sad fact. Being able to sharpen your knives vastly improves their lifespan and makes cutting, slicing, and chopping way easier.
You’ll also be able to do the courteous thing and sharpen any older knives you want to donate.
Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to sharpen knives very well, leaving knives that are sharper in places along the edge than others.
That’s why I’ve compiled this list. I prefer learning through books instead of YouTube videos, although you can hit up YouTube anytime you want. I just find that the advice given ranges from unprofessional and inconsistent to excellent with no real way to tell the difference between the two until you try their instructions out on your own knife. Knife sharpening is strangely simple yet complicated, so you need decent instruction.
I like books because they take multiple factors into account, but some are obviously better than others.
Table of Contents
Burr's Blades by Burr Smith (Pseudonym Detected)
The Burr’s Blades collection actually comes with three books:
- The Art of Hand Sharpening
- Burr Smith’s Complete Whetstone Guide
- How to Start Your Own Knife Sharpening Studio
Only the first book counts as a real ‘book’; the others are more like pamphlets. However, The Art of Hand Sharpening is an excellent no-frills instruction manual when it comes to sharpening knives.
I bought this book without high hopes, mostly because I wanted to help a young entrepreneur and knife enthusiast. Burr Smith is actually a twelve-year-old girl, albeit one with an odd hobby of knife sharpening. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by how thorough and complete the manual was.
The Art of Hand Sharpening is a comprehensive ebook, complete with photos and illustrations so you can see exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Burr handles explaining the terminology well and comes across as a true pro despite her young age.
Moreover, this is a book about hand sharpening. This is a very narrow focus, but as someone who enjoys sharpening via whetstone, I thought this book was fantastic. Burr includes a guide to whetstones with the purchase, so anyone brand new to hand sharpening their knives will know exactly what they need.
She also doesn’t go on and on about the history of knives, the various kinds of steel, or other topics that virtually every other book on this list does. Her focus is on sharpening knives by hand – specifically kitchen knives – and she doesn’t stray into other topics.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any drawbacks, however. Burr likes harder metals, and the focus is primarily on kitchen knives. That’s not to say that her knowledge and tips won’t carry over to other knives, but be aware that her focus is rather narrow. While I like the narrow focus, others might want something a little bit broader.
I also didn’t appreciate having to sit through an entire sales video in order to purchase this ebook. Kudos to her for going all-out in the marketing (this is definitely a kid who puts her mind to something and doesn’t stop until she’s a pro), but given the low price of the product, it didn’t need a sales video.
Finally, the two bonus guides are very short. Part of this is due to her ability to resist padding, but I would’ve wished that her book on starting a knife sharpening studio was a little more comprehensive, such as this book, Start a Knife Sharpening Service.
The only other thing I, personally, didn’t like was that it was an ebook. Specifically, a .pdf book. I don’t really like reading digital books, and in this era when publishing your own book on Amazon is so easy, I think these kinds of books are going to go the way of the dinosaurs eventually. That’s just me, though.
All in all, this is a fine book for learning how to sharpen knives, especially kitchen knives.
The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening by John Juranitch
The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening is described as the ‘The Bible of the Cutting Edge’, and I’m inclined to agree with that. It’s a great book to have on your shelf, and its scope spans far more than just knife sharpening. This book is about how to sharpen virtually everything, including fish hooks, ice augers, arrowheads, axes, saws, and (of course) knives.
John Juranitch has his own tool-sharpening business, so he’s a real expert when it comes to sharpening things. That also means that there’s a lot of self-promotion in this book, but everyone has to make a living, so I don’t care. The breadth of knowledge he pours into this book makes it far more than a mere vehicle for more sales.
The book covers sharpening theory and tool selection early on and then moves into how to actually sharpen different kinds of tools. He’s good at explaining what works and why, although he can get long-winded at times if you aren’t absolutely fascinated by the subject.
What really makes this book useful is that you’ll learn the physics behind sharpening. Knowing the why and how of a subject is the key to understanding why and how something you do works. This is why mechanics can simply listen to a vehicle or do a short drive and understand what when wrong. They know how the parts work, so when something isn’t happening as it should, you can narrow down the likely culprits.
The book is littered with photographs, too. They’re in black-and-white and a bit dated (the book is old, but I’ll get to that later), but they still do the trick. You’ll easily understand unfamiliar techniques with this book.
Now, there are drawbacks. One of the big ones is that it goes into so much detail, some might think the author is longwinded. There are multiple anecdotes and stories and lots of theory. Some might consider this fluff while others will use the knowledge to get a deeper understanding of why something works.
It’s also a little outdated. John writes about carbon vs steel, but the materials used to make knives now have evolved. Just look at our guide to knife steels to see just how different the process has become and you’ll see why this part of the book hasn’t aged well in that regard.
All in all, this is a great way to learn how to sharpen not just knives but most anything.
The Edgemaster's Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing, Using, and Maintaining Fixed-Blade and Folding Knives by Len McDougall
The Edgemaster’s Handbook is like a guide to all things knives. This means that it goes beyond sharpening a knife and delves into all kinds of topics, such as knife collecting, knife fighting, skinning animals, and survival. It’s included on this list because it’s definitely going to be up some readers’ allies, even if only Chapter 8 deals with knife sharpening.
Len is a true knife enthusiast, pouring his knowledge of knife care, applications, and even knife-making into one book. I thought that after reading tons of knife books, I couldn’t find anything new.
Boy was I wrong. I’m pretty sure even seasoned knife lovers will find some new bit of information in here somewhere.
Now for the drawbacks.
Part of the problem with putting so much information into one book is that you don’t get a deep dive into many of the topics. Len sticks his fingers into a wide variety of knife subjects, but only a few of them get really technical.
I also wish he would’ve skipped the knife brand reviews. I have nothing against them (what do you think most knife sites, like this one, do?), but all you have to do to find knife reviews is hang out here, use Google to find other knife blogs or social communities, or head over to YouTube. TikTok probably has some, too.
Basically, with all the free information out there, it’s kind of a waste of space to go into it in a book. Or maybe I’m missing something and I should just write my own knife guide…
I should also warn people that there are lots of pictures of dead, skinned animals in this book. Yes, he covers the way hunting knives are used. If that bothers you, then maybe this book isn’t for you.
All in all, this is a solid book that covers many aspects of knives from their creation to their usage to their maintenance.
The Complete Guide to Sharpening by Leonard Lee
Leonard Lee knows that things with points and edges dull, and that when they dull, they don’t do their job well anymore. That’s what this book is for, and it covers the sharpening of just about everything, not just knife sharpening. I almost didn’t include it here because the section dealing with actual knives is quite short; but, in the end, I realized a lot of people here are probably into woodworking and other hobbies with no knowledge of how to do things like sharpen drill bits. This book has you covered.
It talks about how to sharpen all manner of tools and what you should use to get the sharpest edge possible. With such a comprehensive guide, it’s hard to go wrong.
Oh, and he can teach you how to get things really, really sharp. He has incredible knowledge of abrasives and his teaching style is both easy to understand and bolstered with lots of photographs. He’s also one of those nice teachers that tells you why you want to do things the way he does.
If there’s anything negative about this book it’s that it focuses a lot on woodworking tools. If you’re a woodworker, you’ll love this. If you want to learn how to, say, sharpen your kitchen knives, I recommend one of the other books on this list.
An Edge in the Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives -- How to Buy Them, Keep Them Razor Sharp, and Use Them Like a Pro by Chad Ward
When Chad Ward says his book is the ultimate guide to kitchen knives, he means it! This book, like The Art of Hand Sharpening before it, covers how to keep kitchen knives razor sharp. However, it goes above and beyond that for anyone who feels that their knowledge of cutlery is a bit lacking.
This book takes you through everything from knife selection, how to use kitchen knives, and how to sharpen them. Each section is extremely detailed and features lots of photographs.
He has different recommendations for every budget, but is convinced that most cooks only need about three knives in their repertoire. Quite frankly, if I wasn’t such a knife hoarder, I’d agree with him on those recommendations.
This book, like Burr Smith’s, has a focus on hand sharpening, which I definitely like. Yes, it’s more work, but you get a fantastic edge. You’ll need that edge, too, because Chad suggests an edge of something like fifteen degrees.
Yikes! That’s sharp!
But there are downsides, though not many.
The chief downside is that if I’m buying a book about kitchen knives, I don’t really need any recipes. I’ll buy an actual cookbook for that before I hope to find some tantalizing and delectable meals in a book about using kitchen knives.
Outside of that, this is a great book to learn how to sharpen knives and more.
Blunt knives are virtually worthless, but I hope I’ve given you some ways to learn knife sharpening if you’re the type who likes to dive deeply into a topic. If you have your own book or YouTube video or whatever that you think does a great job, let us all know in the comments below!