First and foremost, know your tools. At this moment I have a Faulkniven DC4, Nagura, and a worksharp 4-in-1. And I have no idea what the ratings are... and this is an important point.... because I have a Faulkniven CC4, WorkSharp ceramic rod and DMT 300, 600, 120, 8000 sharpening kit on order. On the one hand it's all a waste of money but I'm trying to increase my awareness and understanding.
I think starting at the beginning means starting at the end. How should we define sharpness without a machine which can measure it, or observer the blade angles and the materials with some sort of formula... contrary to a previous post where I criticize blogger and vloggers for killing forests; they just never explained what they were doing.
The paper test can actually be very valuable, however, it's important do a few things. [a] There are multiple angles(front to back and left to right) and they should be consistent for each test. [b] choose a reasonable paper and be consistent; the closer to card stock or tissue paper the less the feedback. While you'll not be able to put a number on the sharpness you'll know if it's getting sharper and if it's sharp enough. (I do not know what shaving sharp feels like and whether or not I would shave with a blade I sharpened).
I define "sharp" as being able to push or pull the blade through my paper at a slow speed through the entire length of the blade; and I should be able to make paper feathers about the thickness of a hair; with a clean cut and no tears.
It finally dawned on me that while the pros I criticized were hacking at paper they were in a full combat swing while I was to make snowflakes. I could sharpen a brick and cut paper with their method.By saying the complete length of the blade that means that the dullest part of the bade meets the minimal sharpness I'm looking for. This is an analog process so uniform perfection is a goal but not likely.
Preface; I initially wrote the next paragraph first and I realized I was missing one extra important point. If the knife is an heirloom, blade of historical importance, or just really expensive that damaging it would create sadness or a hardship then stop reading and go to a pro. I'm not guying a $500-$1000 knife but if I did then I would not be sharpening it. On the otherhand if it's a Mora or similar then continue.
To start; is the blade nicked or damaged? Are you planning to change the angle? All the professionals say that you need to start with a coarse or extra-coarse stone. I have a damaged Schrade Bowie knife that I want to repair but I have experience yet. I think if the blade is in this condition I would want a pro to fix it. I might go too far in the wrong direction and if I paid a lot of money for the knife it's not the sort of thing I'd want to do.
Evaluate; is the blade sharp at all? If the blade is not sharp then you should start with the coarse stone.
Observe and take note; before you start sharpening you need to take note of your blade's angle. That usually means putting the blade on the stone and adjusting the angle until there is no space between the blade edge and the stone. Take note from the back and side the angle so that you can try to be consistent. When sharpening it almost preferred to monitor the edge instead of the angle except when honing or stroping.
I do not know what the best angles are for the different knifes. My worksharp sharpens at 18, hones 25, and stops at 28. Or something like that. One pro said, put the knife at a 90 degree angle, then divide by 2, then by 2 again and that is about 22 degrees.
Lubrication; this is hard. If you're going to use the knife in food prep or consumption then a good cleaning is important, especially if you're going to use non-bio oils or honing paste. I use spit, water, vegetable or olive oil. But mostly nothing at all.
Stroke; There are two parts to the stroke. [a] pressure [b] The number of strokes per side of the blade [c] motion.
The pressure should be light. The harder the stroke the deeper the stone will gauge into the blade. It will never be smooth, translate sharp, and it will require a lot more work to restore.
There are a number of counts and strategies but my latest comes from "101". He recommended one stroke per blade side; listen to and feel the blade. You should be able to feel and hear an uneven burr on the blade. You want the burr to be consistent along the length of the blade. I discovered/realized this just a few minutes ago as I was honing my blade on a ceramic rod.
The motion of the stroke whether it's circles, push, pull or other have their champions. Since I'm not a metallurgist or a pro I do not have a strong opinion, however, I watched a Japanese master sharpener use different techniques for different blade types. I think that by the time you get to an 8000 grit or higher, then honing and stropping the "grain" cause by earlier stones has less meaning.
Stroke Count; The initial stroke count is difficult to gauge. I think it's the number of strokes it takes so that the angle is consistent across the entire length of the blade. I do not think that the initial stroke count has any usefulness, however, subsequent courses should be a grit based multiple of the previous number of strokes. The purpose being to erase the grain from the previous course.
initial stroke count = 6; grit = 300
this grit = 600; therefore this stroke count = 600/300 * 6 or 12 strokes
this grit = 1200; therefore this stroke count = 1200/600 * 12 or 24 strokes
this grit = 8000; therefore this stroke count = 8000/1200 * 24 or 160 strokes
honing 320 strokes
**Mors M. said stroping 320 was sufficient so it's possible that my new 8000 grit stone is actually better than the ceramic honing rod and so the stroping count would go back to 320.
Honing; I don't know what this means. I imagine it's just another grit level. I have ceramic rods and honing steels in the kitchen. The honing steels have only damaged my kitchen knives. They seem to have a very coarse grit where the ceramic is much higher. My 8000 grit stones are in the mail so I'm using my ceramic hot and it really makes the difference before I use my crappy 4" strop. I would prefer not to have a honing rod.
Stroping; Some pros describe that there is a very small and soft leftover burr; and it needs to be removed. I imagine that's true. Personally when I go to the barber he uses a long leather strap with long deliberate strokes. This stroke is meant to heat the blade, with friction, and remove the burr. Barbers have been doing this for centuries and there is no reason to think anything to the contrary. The notion that a short 4in piece of leather is going to have the same effect is insulting. Granted we are talking able shaving sharp.
Many bushcrafters have said that sometimes all that a knife needs is a good stroping.
That's it. I'm done.