Well, not exactly. I use a $2000 variable speed belt grinder, but you can do this for a whole lot less money - under $100 for the best and easiest edges you've ever experienced.
This assumes you have a 1x30 or 1x42 belt sander. They can be from discount equipment suppliers such as Harbor Freight or Enco for as little as $40. Get one.
Now go to Lee Valley Tools for sharpening belts. http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page....
I'd suggest the following to get started. (Started as in these will probably last you forever.) Understand that you don't use all of these on all knives or steels. It usually depends on how bad the edge is and if it's tool steel or high alloy stuff.
Aluminum Oxide Belts: 180, 320, 500, 1200.
15 Micron SiC belts (get two, you'll probably use these exclusively after you get your knives sharp to start with.)
Leather Honing Belt. This is what makes owning a belt sander worth it. It's basically a power strop and can put a fine polished edge on a blade in no time. You might want to get two. Use one with compound for polishing and keep the second one clean for just stropping.
Then go to
Buy the 525 white compound. It should last you for the rest of your life. You might also want to get some of the HF1 compound which is finer, and for very fine edges on small knives could be a good choice. While there, brouse around. There are many other ways to spend money, including getting your own Bader BIII Variable Speed Grinder.
Start with the finest belt first and move to more aggressive belts as you get a handle on how they cut. If you have some cheap kitchen knives, they're great for learning on. Once you get a feel for this you'll be starting with a belt that's close to what you need for each kind of knife and how dull it is. 500 grit, 1200 grit then 15 micron is probably good for most knives. If the edge is in pretty good shape, jump right to 15 microns and be done with it.
What you are going to be trying to do is to raise a fine wire edge along the blade, holding the blade at about 20 degrees to the belt (edge down). You'll know what a wire edge is when you first see it. It will look like the edge is falling off, and in a way it is. Use a light touch until you see how each belt cuts, and gently press the edge into the belt with the edge held on the belt in a slack portion just below the top idler wheel or above the platen at the bottom. (Oh yeah, throw away all the safety shields; they just get in the way.) You want a slack belt, but not too slack so stay near where the belt is supported or has backing.
In all cases, except with the leather polishing belt, take one pass of the edge across the belt, then dip it in some water (a bucket is nice) and wipe dry. Repeat. This will be a drag when you get started, and when you get a feel for how the heat builds up on the edge you can probably take 2-3-4 passes before dipping. But DON'T let the edge get hot. DON'T let the edge get HOT!! This isn't all that difficult or threatening to the blade; you just need to be aware of heat build up.
Once you have a wire edge with the 15 micron belt, put on the leather belt and apply some white compound, not too much. Strop the edge against the leather belt - at the same angle. This will polish the edge and strip away most or all of the wire. If some wire is still there, you can remove it with a wad of paper towel run along the length of the edge.
Play with angles as you see fit. depending on the type of knives and whether you want hair popping sharp and seriously tough. In either case you will get a convex edge which is inherently tougher than flat bevels.
BTW, I've posted this here so everyone can see it's really not a complicated, expensive or life threatening process.
EDITED 1/28/2008 to add this:
I've been getting emails from a few people about over sharpening the points.
Two things. Most importantly, you absolutely MUST keep the edge perpendicular to the belt (i.e. level with the floor). If you hold the blade (not edge) level as the belt approaches the point, the effect is to increase the angle, grinding away more steel and not sharpening. This same thing happens with all sharpening systems, you just see it happen faster with a belt sander. You MUST lift the handle of the knife as the edge sweeps up to the point so the edge remains level with the floor.
Secondly, there is a natural tendency to increase the angle as you get to the point, i.e. to pull the handle away from the belt thus pushing the steel more firmly into the belt. Don't do that.
After a couple years of feedback on this, this seems to be the primary issue some folks encounter. In all cases, the problem is easily resolved if you heed the above advice. Otherwise, it would seem there are a lot more sharp knives in the world today than there were a couple years ago.
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