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Q&A -- Knife Maintenance and Sharpening


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#31 Nick

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Posted 13 August 2003 - 08:56 PM

That's a great article, Chad! I've been sharpening knives, saws, scythes, axes, etc. for 35 years or so and I don't know how anyone could have done a better job than you have in explaining knife sharpening.

The only thing I could add to what you've said is for people (after they've gotten comfortable with angles) is to begin to feel the edge of the knife on the stone more than looking at the angle they're holding as they move the edge across the stone. After some practice (maybe years), the eyes don't count as much as the feel of the edge against the stone.

Here, I'm refering to traditional bench stones. I haven't used the newer things available. I've got an old sway-backed Norton coarse/medium (sway-backed on the medium side), my grandfather's old India, and a black Arkansas I got back around 30 years ago to sharpen my mortising chisels when I was doing heavy timber framing. It's a nice stone but you want to either get, or keep, your edge in good condition before using it.

I've always used oil and it was interesting to read about sharpening dry. For many years I used Nye oil, but after whaling was outlawed and Nye oil disappeared I switched to mineral oil. Last year I came across some sperm oil from years back and bought some so I've gone back to that. I'd be interested in hearing from others who have used oil for many years and have now decided that dry is the way to go.

Also, I haven't gotten the hang of using a steel with the tip down on the board or table. I tried it a few times after I heard about it, but went back to old way. I think, there again, it's being able to feel the edge against the sharping medium, whether it's a stone or a steel. And it may also have to do with having spent some time using a whetstone on a scythe. It's about the same thing except that in the case of a scythe you're running the sharpening medium across blade. Same kind of rhythm, just a little different.

Well, I've blabbered on enough and so now Chad, or anyone else, here's MY QUESTION.

In all my years of sharpening knives, after years of sharpening a knife, the tip always gets blunter and blunter as time goes on. In other words, I can take a perfectly good boning knife and after ten years or so the tip is close to a ninety degree angle to the heel. It's still sharp, but I've lost the point. What am I doing wrong?

Thanks, Nick

#32 zilla369

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Posted 13 August 2003 - 09:03 PM

Great tutorial, Chad. So much info to digest it's going to take me several tries to assimilate it all!

Tonight i tried your steeling method for the first time, and I really liked it! Your tip about locking your wrist and elbow and using your shoulder as the hinge was a revelation! Thanks for all the work you obviously put into your segment.

I'm sorry, and i know it's childish, Nick - but i couldn't help but excise this phrase and quote it just for its purile beauty...

Last year I came across some sperm oil



please, don't anyone scold me. please.
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#33 davidthomas8779

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Posted 13 August 2003 - 09:15 PM

I have accumulated many stones from people who had intended to sharpen their own knives, then eventually abandoned the idea. Is there a good way to assess what theses stones are? What their relative coarsnesss, etc., is?

Take them to your favorite knife store and compare them to the stock in the store. If you're a knife nut, that will come through and I'm sure that the shop owner won't mind.


(The downside is that you will buy something. If you're like me, it is nearly impossible to spend any quantity of time in a good knife store and not walk out with something)

#34 Chad

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Posted 13 August 2003 - 09:17 PM

Chad, what are your favorite kitchen knives?

My favorites? The ones I don't own yet :biggrin:. I have a Murray Carter Nakiri-bocho on order that I'm eagerly awaiting.

I have the usual complement of Henckels and Wusthofs, but my two favorites are a semi-custom chef's knife from Steve Mullin from his Pack River line and a cheap Japanese utility knife. The Mullin knife is the one shown in the article. It's made of ATS-34 steel, a very hard stainless supersteel. It's not as stainless as one might like -- it takes a patina like a carbon knife under heavy use, but it's like a light saber in the kitchen. It's a steal at $125. You do have to do the spine modification, though. He'll do a 15 degree edge or 15/20 double bevel if you ask nicely.

The other is a $16 Japanese utility knife from Lee Valley Tools. It's cheap, cuts like nothing you've ever seen and is a great introduction to Japanese knives. See a review here. Skip the technical parts of the review and scroll down to the usage information. You'll be amazed.

Those are the two that I reach for most often.

I've owned a George Tichbourne K6 chef's knife. It was wonderful but so big that it frightened my children. No, I'm not kidding. I ended up selling it to another knife collector/cook. Definitely worth taking a look at, though.

As for regular kitchen knives, Chef's Illustrated did a shootout not long ago and the Forschner/Victorinox came out on top for NIB sharpness, ease of use and general handling characteristics. Can't say that I'd argue with them.

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#35 Chad

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Posted 13 August 2003 - 09:30 PM

Well done, Chad!

Speaking of Japanese waterstones--mine take a hell of a beating. Besides the kitchen knives I have 20+ woodworking tools that need constant sharpening. Has anyone found a simple and easy way to re-flatten and true them up? Preferably without spending 75 bucks for a flattening plate? I read somewhere you can do it on a cinder-block. Haven't had the nerve to risk my stones trying it though.

Thanks!

If you're a woodworker, you definitely need to check out Lee Valley Tools. Leonard Lee is the guy who wrote "The Complete Guide to Sharpening" and deals with waterstones and sharpening woodworking tools in his book. Get them to send you their catalog -- sheer woodworking porn.

As for lapping your stones, you can use a coarse diamond benchstone but the cheapest way is mylar-backed silicon carbide sandpaper stuck to a sheet of plate glass. With Japanese waterstones, you can true your finer stones with your coarser stones. Just make sure they don't create mating surfaces.

Chad
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#36 Human Bean

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Posted 13 August 2003 - 11:06 PM

I've always used oil and it was interesting to read about sharpening dry. [...] I'd be interested in hearing from others who have used oil for many years and have now decided that dry is the way to go.

I'm not Chad; I was a borderline knife nut for awhile and lurked on the board he mentioned (and others), but anyway...

My dry-sharpening epiphany occurred many years ago with a carpet installer. Cutting carpet is a very demanding task for a knife, and he was sharpening his hooked carpet knife dry. I asked him how come he wasn't using oil, and his reply was something along the lines of, "Why bother, you don't need to." Well, if he didn't need to use a lubricant, maybe he might be right - he's a pro, and all I ever wanted was a knife that would consistently be shaving sharp.

More-or-less since then, I've never used oil or water on a stone. I have some sympathy with the idea mentioned in the lesson that the lubricant merely distributes steel and stone particles over the edge, and doesn't really help things. Is it true? I don't know, but don't feel that I've got worse results using the stones dry.

Chad said earlier that (at least in the case of the Edge Pro waterstones) that they cut faster when wet. Maybe, I don't know, but I still get fantastic results without the water, and it's much less messy.

If you get great results with lubricant, fine. If you get great results without it, equally fine. I don't want to disagree with Chad, who has provided an excellent lesson that all can benefit by, I can only say to go with whatever works best for you.

#37 Nick

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Posted 13 August 2003 - 11:19 PM

HB, Just in case your stones get loaded up, kerosene works pretty well in cleaning them.

#38 Human Bean

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 12:31 AM

HB, Just in case your stones get loaded up, kerosene works pretty well in cleaning them.

Thanks; no matter what method you use, you want to keep your stones clean; don't let steel dust and rubbed-off stone particles linger on the surface of the stone.

Since I've switched from oilstones to waterstones, I've found that a mildly abrasive cleaner (Bon Ami, Comet, Bar Keepers Friend; take your pick) and water will clean the stones after I'm done. Kerosene (possibly with a mild abrasive) would do the same for oilstones, but, according to oilstone theory, you'd want to oil it again after cleaning.

#39 Human Bean

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 01:02 AM

As for regular kitchen knives, Chef's Illustrated did a shootout not long ago and the Forschner/Victorinox came out on top for NIB sharpness, ease of use and general handling characteristics. Can't say that I'd argue with them.

I think that's (nitpick) Cook's Ill (/nitpick), and I have a major disagreement about their knife tests. I don't know about Forschner, don't have any of them (yet), but they seem to be good knives from what I've heard.

My disagreement is that they seem to place lots of importance in their tests to NIB (New-In-Box) sharpness. If you're competent at sharpening (and ONLY if you're competent), how sharp it arrives doesn't matter. You'll most likely want to touch it up anyway, and possibly even want to change the factory edge angle.

If you're NOT competent at sharpening, don't do it; you're likely to make it worse.

Everyone that cooks on a regular basis should be competent at keeping a knife sharp; it's essential for pros, and still important for home cooks.

#40 oraklet

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 01:47 AM

I think that's (nitpick) Cook's Ill (/nitpick), and I have a major disagreement about their knife tests. I don't know about Forschner, don't have any of them (yet), but they seem to be good knives from what I've heard.

for relatively cheap knives, they're good. the handles are a bit deep, so that your knuckles will hit the cutting board, but you can buy those with a wooden handle, and file it to the desired shape. they sharpen well. they actually make fully forged knives, too, that look good. i think you may find them on the victorinox home page.


edit: http://www.victorino...dukte/index.htm

/professional knives/chef's cases/page 6, scroll down

Edited by oraklet, 14 August 2003 - 04:20 AM.

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

#41 slkinsey

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 06:34 AM

I've owned a George Tichbourne K6 chef's knife. It was wonderful but so big that it frightened my children. No, I'm not kidding. I ended up selling it to another knife collector/cook. Definitely worth taking a look at, though.

The K14 looks very interesting as a knife that woulldn't duplicate what I already have. Do you have any thoughts/experiences/reviews to relate about this one?
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#42 Chad

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 06:58 AM

Hmm, the design of the K14 is pretty close to the K6 which I owned for a while. Looks like the blade is about half an inch shorter, which would make it 9" or so. The blade drop is rounded and the belly is more pronounced.

Dunno. If you're looking for a cleaver-like knife, I'd say go for it. The fit and finish on George's kitchen knives is excellent. The 440C is mirror polished, so it cleans up easier and is theoretically more sanitary. He rounds the spine and blade drop and the handles are very comfortable.

There were two things I didn't like about my K6. The belly was too pronounced and the blade was too wide. I wanted a wide blade because I like to "scoop" with my knife. That's why my Mullin knife has a 2" blade. The K6 was kind of overkill.

The blade width might not have been an issue if not for the pronounced belly. George worked with many chefs when developing the design and came up with a knife particularly well adapted for rocking. I couldn't get used to it. But I know several folks, including the person I sold mine to, who absolutely swear by the design.

And it did scare my kids (which was actually kind of fun :shock:).

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#43 Chad

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 07:19 AM

Great tutorial, Chad.  So much info to digest it's going to take me several tries to assimilate it all!

Tonight i tried your steeling method for the first time, and I really liked it!  Your tip about locking your wrist and elbow and using your shoulder as the hinge was a revelation!  Thanks for all the work you obviously put into your segment.

Thanks! I really appreciate it. After your knife skills class, I felt I had to keep up my end of the tag-team :smile:.

I'm glad the steeling method worked for you. It takes a little getting used to. It took me forever to force myself to slow down and pay attention to my angles. But it's a lot more effective (in my opinion) than the usually-taught method.

Chad
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#44 Joe Talmadge

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 10:21 AM

In all my years of sharpening knives, after years of sharpening a knife, the tip always gets blunter and blunter as time goes on. In other words, I can take a perfectly good boning knife and after ten years or so the tip is close to a ninety degree angle to the heel. It's still sharp, but I've lost the point. What am I doing wrong?

Nick,

Usually, tips seem to round when you get a little sloppy with the last part of the sharpening stroke. This can happen really quickly when you're using sharpening doodads of various sorts, and eventually happens freehand as well. My advice: pay a little more attention to the end of each stroke. When you're done, stop the knife on the stone, and consciously lift the tip straight up and off the stone instead of letting it drag in any way. A little bit of this and it will work into muscle memory.


BTW, regarding using stones dry. I've since found that it's not quite so simple. I find diamond hones and synthetic stones work best dry. With natural stones, some work really well dry, and for some reason, others work terrible dry -- they just fill up with metal in no time at all and stop cutting dry.

My advice if you get a natural stone: Try it dry to start. If it works well for you, great. But if it fills up and stops cutting more quickly than you'd like, clean it out and start using oil.

Joe

#45 Chad

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 10:39 AM

Hey, cool!

For those of you who've read the tutorial, you'll note that Joe Talmadge is quoted extensively. His FAQs and generous willingness to answer questions on a variety forums have supplied large part of my sharpening knowledge over the last couple of years.

Thanks for handling the rounded tip question, Joe. I was a little hesitant to do it myself, mainly because I have a couple of knives that look more like first-grade safety scissors than knives :rolleyes:.

Chad
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#46 Joe Talmadge

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 01:19 PM

Thanks for handling the rounded tip question, Joe. I was a little hesitant to do it myself, mainly because I have a couple of knives that look more like first-grade safety scissors than knives  :rolleyes:.

Chad

Just between you and me, I may have one or two that look that way too

Fantastic job on this Sharpening course BTW! I'll be looking forward to the video :) Great little site here, I'm reading through the cutting lesson now. Happy to see that I'm doing most things relatively correctly!

Joe

#47 oraklet

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 01:39 PM

Great tutorial, Chad.  So much info to digest it's going to take me several tries to assimilate it all!

Tonight i tried your steeling method for the first time, and I really liked it!  Your tip about locking your wrist and elbow and using your shoulder as the hinge was a revelation!  Thanks for all the work you obviously put into your segment.

Thanks! I really appreciate it. After your knife skills class, I felt I had to keep up my end of the tag-team :smile:.

I'm glad the steeling method worked for you. It takes a little getting used to. It took me forever to force myself to slow down and pay attention to my angles. But it's a lot more effective (in my opinion) than the usually-taught method.

Chad

i actually saw that way of honing first time on some knife site, but always felt uncomfortable with it. then i found out that it worked much better for me if i had the steel at an angle of, say 20 degrees. made it a lot easier to keep the knife at a steady angle. only trouble is that one will have to be pretty sure one holds the steel still.

the reason that i found it easier is that the angle is of course much more obvious on the steel than on the knife. you can even do your sharpening in front of a mirror to check if you've got the angle right.
christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

#48 Mottmott

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 07:59 PM

Awesome tutorial, Chad. Especially useful for the home cook (me, for ex). After all, you pros get some training and the opportunity to watch other pros in action. An old beau taught me the beginnings of how to use a whetstone, stroking each side 10 times, moving through to 1. But no mention of the burr much less how to rid oneself of it or the other fine points that will make a big difference, Im sure... Your very well written, well organized essay will lead me through these refinements to a really sharp edge.

I'm reminded of how important sharp knives are when I help cook in other people's kitchens. How can they work with them? Even those who have "good" knives have often so neglected them that they might as well have come from the supermarket! Now mine will be really, really sharp.

I would like to say that I'm addicted to my old carbon steels. A couple years ago I thought I'd go stainless, bought a Wusthof chefs', and wound up giving it away to one of my kids. Knives need to acquire the patina of experience. I do admit to loving my flexible utility knife, though.

Your thoroughness is, well, awesome, awesome, awe...
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#49 mrbigjas

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 08:00 PM

Chad, thanks for this. I've had a gatco system for years, but didn't really understand the physics of it all until I read through this. I would just kinda sharpen my knives to the 22 degree slot on the gatco till I felt like they were sharp enough. After reading your article, I can see why the 15-20 thing is better.

(My technique was bad too. Simply knowing the info about creating, feeling for, and then removing the burr--it was like a light went on.)

So I just took a cheap old oxo good grips chef's knife I had here, and went through the process. It took about a half hour, but even that cheap stamped blade was noticeably sharper than it had been.

Also, after reading your article, I realized that the regular old henkels steel that I got several years ago is probably the reason my favorite knife is starting to get concave near the bolster, probably moreso than the sharpening, which I haven't needed to do that often.

Before I do the rest of my knives, I'm definitely going to order an extra-coarse stone for the initial grinding, though. That took a long-ass time.

OK off to order stones and steels from knifecenter.com.....

#50 mrbigjas

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 08:11 PM

Aw, crap. In all my babbling I forgot to ask my question: with this gatco thing, I'd always used the oil. Tonight I started to use the stones dry for no real reason except that I didn't feel like getting the oil all over. But they really didn't cut as well--it was instantly noticeable. So is this what you were saying about how once you use oil, you have to keep using it? Or does that only apply to the nicer honing stones you were talking about? It sure is freakin messy, and I wouldn't mind stopping using it...

#51 pjs

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 08:35 PM

As for lapping your stones, you can use a coarse diamond benchstone but the cheapest way is mylar-backed silicon carbide sandpaper stuck to a sheet of plate glass.

I've heard horror stories from very reputable people who tried to lap a diamond bench stone. Using one to lap another stone whould be equally scary to me. It might be a brand thing. The stones reportedly ruined were DMT by the way.

I'll stick to the sandpaper. :wink:

PJ
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#52 Chad

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 06:25 AM

Before I do the rest of my knives, I'm definitely going to order an extra-coarse stone for the initial grinding, though. That took a long-ass time.


Yup, a coarse stone is a handy thing to have. I had a Trace Rinaldi TTKK (Talmadge Tactical Kitchen Knife) in D2, a super hard tool steel, that I wanted to rebevel. It took two days with the medium stone I had on hand at the time. I immediately got a coarse stone and a diamond stone. There was no way I was putting up with that again. :rolleyes:

Aw, crap.  In all my babbling I forgot to ask my question: with this gatco thing, I'd always used the oil.  Tonight I started to use the stones dry for no real reason except that I didn't feel like getting the oil all over.  But they really didn't cut as well--it was instantly noticeable.  So is this what you were saying about how once you use oil, you have to keep using it?  Or does that only apply to the nicer honing stones you were talking about?  It sure is freakin messy, and I wouldn't mind stopping using it...


The Gatco is a fine system. As for the oil question -- yes, that's it exactly. As Joe pointed out, some natural stones can be used dry. Others load up too quickly and need oil. If you've used oil on your stones in the past, you'll probably need to keep using oil to float the metal filings out.

Rather than hosing down your stones with oil, though, you could try putting a couple of drops on the stone and wiping it down with a paper towel or cloth. Every 10 passes or so oil and wipe again. This is just a guess, but it might be worth a try.

Glad you liked the tutorial! Thanks for the compliments. I really appreciate it.

Chad

Edited by Chad, 15 August 2003 - 06:27 AM.

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#53 Chad

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 06:32 AM

As for lapping your stones, you can use a coarse diamond benchstone but the cheapest way is mylar-backed silicon carbide sandpaper stuck to a sheet of plate glass.

I've heard horror stories from very reputable people who tried to lap a diamond bench stone. Using one to lap another stone whould be equally scary to me. It might be a brand thing. The stones reportedly ruined were DMT by the way.

I'll stick to the sandpaper. :wink:

PJ

Argh! I wouldn't try to lap a diamond stone, but you can lap your other stones with a diamond stone. I'm with you though, the mylar backed, self stick sandpaper on plate glass is the way to go. I also use sand to even out my stones.

Yup, a little sand on the garage floor -- apply even pressure on the stone and grind in circles. The sand will pulverize and leave a powdery coat on the bottom of the stone. The distribution of the powder shows you where you still have low spots. The low spots will be darker than the flat areas. I just grind until the surface is uniformly coated.

Chad
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#54 Nick

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 06:23 PM

Nick,

Usually, tips seem to round when you get a little sloppy with the last part of the sharpening stroke.  This can happen really quickly when you're using sharpening doodads of various sorts, and eventually happens freehand as well.  My advice: pay a little more attention to the end of each stroke.  When you're done, stop the knife on the stone, and consciously lift the tip straight up and off the stone instead of letting it drag in any way.  A little bit of this and it will work into muscle memory.

Joe,

Thanks for your suggestions. I think the main thing is, as you say, to pay a little more attention. Blunting the tip is one of those things that happens little by little over years of many sharpenings and it's so easy not to notice what's happening until one day you go - what have I done to the tip of this knife? :shock:

I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in this. :smile:

Thanks again. Nick

#55 pjs

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Posted 15 August 2003 - 06:51 PM

Argh! I wouldn't try to lap a diamond stone, but you can lap your other stones with a diamond stone.


Correction: He was using the course diamond to lap a waterstone when he ruined it.

Guy's name is Brian Burns and he's a double psycho with serious sharpening AND woodworking fixations. His book taught me the wonders of double bevels in plane irons. A different concept and purpose from your double bevel for knife blades but interesting in that he also found references to his technique in colonial-era literature.

He claims he can hand-plane aluminium. Now that's freakin' scary.

PJ
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#56 Nick

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Posted 16 August 2003 - 03:48 PM

PJ, This is a little off the subject, but sometimes when I'm sharpening twist drills, I sharpen the immediate edge with less relief (back-off) , but then give more relief a little ways away from the edge so the chips have more room and you can drill a little faster. It has the advantage of having a little meat behind the edge and holes come out rounder.

#57 pjs

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Posted 16 August 2003 - 10:09 PM

Nick, unless it's a big, expensive drill bit I won't even try to sharpen them. I just chuck them.

I've thought it through and here's the problem with expensive diamond stones. They're like sandpaper--when they don't work anymore you throw them away. No way to restore them.

You're shortening the life of your diamond stone every time you use it to lap a finer one. Think about it. The finer stone you're trying to dress is always doing some grinding itself, albeit at a much slower rate.

I researched all this shit a couple of years ago until it made my head hurt.

Once again, Chad's article is an excellent overview.

PJ
"Epater les bourgeois."
--Lester Bangs via Bruce Sterling
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#58 elyse

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Posted 23 August 2003 - 09:04 AM

I have a question about wooden handles. Am I too late? They seem to dry out. Even after I oil them, they dry out pretty quickly. What's the best way to keep them healthy?

#59 Chad

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Posted 23 August 2003 - 10:33 AM

I have a question about wooden handles.   Am I too late?  They seem to dry out.  Even after I oil them, they dry out pretty quickly.  What's the best way to keep them healthy?

Never too late m'dear. Even when the thread gets locked and archived I'll answer questions in the general forums. I suspect the other instructers would be willing to do the same.

As for wooden-handled knives, I've had much better luck with food grade mineral oil than with citrus oils, furniture oils or polishes. You can pick up the right kind of mineral oil just about anyplace that sells good cutting boards (Linens & Things; Bed, Bath & Beyond; etc.). Just give them a good wipedown with the oil, let them dry for a while to soak in the oil then remove the excess oil with a paper towel.

Oilier, less porous woods like coccobolo and rosewood won't need as much as the more porous woods used for, say, Chicago knives. Water, dishsoap and heat will dry those out pretty quickly. But the food grade mineral oil should make a big difference.

Hope this helps,
Chad

Edited by Chad, 23 August 2003 - 10:35 AM.

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#60 elyse

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Posted 23 August 2003 - 11:11 AM

Thanks Chad. How often do you think I should do this?