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Q&A -- Knife Maintenance and Sharpening

266 posts in this topic

ah, yes. though i think there was another that showed how to sharpen along the stone?


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

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Wow Chad, that was amazing - you need your own knife sharpening show!

Here's a link to a water stone sharpening video:

Japanese-knife.dot com

(make sure you stop to drool over the Masamotos)

The easiest knives to sharpen on a water stone are the sushi style knives that are sharpened to a beveled edge. Lay the knife on the stone, press down to align the beveled edge to the stone, and voila, the angle is set for you. Piece of cake.

One tip I learned from a master Japanese sharpener was to listen to the sound that the knife makes as it goes back and forth over the stone. It should be a swoosh swoosh swoosh swoosh sound, with each stroke as you go back and forth across the stone. If you hear a swoosh swash swoosh swash sound, that means you are changing the angle of the knife as you go across the stone.

I store my water stones submerged in a tupperware full of water, that way they are always ready to go at a moments notice.

I've had lots of experience with ceramic knives. Alot of people love them, I think mostly because they are instantly sharper than their other knives, and they hold an edge for a very long time. They are mostly for slicing though, no chopping recommended, definitely no bones. I hardly ever use them, except for testing. Plus, they obviously don't stick to my magnetic knife bar.

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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.

Bruce, I love that tip! I'm going to listen really hard during my next session.

PJ


"Epater les bourgeois."

--Lester Bangs via Bruce Sterling

(Dori Bangs)

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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.

Edge Pro provides a bag of fine sand and instructions for this - I'm sure it's not as good as a flattening plate, but should suffice for most non-critical uses.

The sand is approximately the size of 150 grit sandpaper (VERY rough estimation; I don't have any sandpaper at hand to verify), and he suggests taking a small amount of the sand, spreading it on a flat concrete surface (garage floor, for example) and rubbing the stone on it - it should be fairly easy to tell when it's flat.

I've never had to do this with my Edge Pro stones yet, but in my younger days, I used to flatten my Arkansas stones using sandpaper in a similar fashion.

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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?

Hmmm, I don't know of any way to determine what kind of stones you have just by looking at them. Run your fingernail across the stone. Does the stone feel smooth? Very smooth? Coarse? Does it grind off a little of your nail?

Coarse stones feel pretty rough. You'll know it's designed to take off a lot of metal in a hurry just by feeling it.

Medium stones and medium fine stones are a little tougher. They're not coarse, but you can feel some texture on them. They'll grind off a little of your fingernail, but not a lot -- kind of like using a fine nail file.

Fine stones feel pretty smooth. This is where it gets hard, because gradations of smoothness are a lot harder to feel than gradations in coarseness. At least in my opinion. A fine stone will feel smooth, but not slick. An extra-fine stone will feel slick and almost polished. Fine and extra fine stones will also feel very hard. Medium stones will feel, well, softer. I don't know quite how to explain it.

The best test is to take a knife to them. See what happens. Does the stone remove a lot of metal quickly? It's probably coarse to medium. Is the scratch pattern deep and rough looking -- also coarse to medium. Does the stone polish the edge, removing existing scratches? You've got a fine stone.

I know this sounds pretty hit or miss, but oddly enough, this is how high-dollar Japanese waterstones are graded. There's some science, some geology and a lot of touchy-feely subjective judgement.

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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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

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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.


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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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)

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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.

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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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


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.victorinox.com/newsite/en/produ...dukte/index.htm

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


Edited by oraklet (log)

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

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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?


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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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:).

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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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


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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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

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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


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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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

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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.

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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...


"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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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.....

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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...

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