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Q&A -- Knife Maintenance and Sharpening

266 posts in this topic

Some of my older Chef's swore by their carbon steel monsters, and I, as a young apprentice would have to keep the knives sparkly. I was instructed to do this with a half of a freshly cut potatato and a sprinkle of baking soda. Oh, and elbow grease....

This seemed to do the trick in terms of removing minor oxidization and water/drying marks. One cut into a tomato or lemon, and I would internally wince, as I knew I'd have to clean those things all over again....

Needless to say, I'm not a big fan of carbon steel knves....

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I went to an interesting Japanese knife sharpening demo today, featuring a knife sharpener and engraver from Kikuichi in Sakai. I wrote it up in more detail with photos on our family blog at--

http://familyoffood.blogspot.com/2009/08/o...sharpening.html

--but the takeaway for me was seeing how he sharpened the first side of the knife by pushing it on the stone toward the spine of the blade (contrary to what I've always thought about knife sharpening--always push toward the cutting edge to avoid feathering the edge), and then cleaning it up on the other side by pushing toward the edge, as I've always done it on both sides. I tried it this way at home with a couple of knives that never seem sharp enough to me, and it was very effective.

He also passed around the knife when he was about halfway through the first side so that everyone could feel the burr. It was much more pronounced than the burr I usually get.

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Sharpened the knives the other day and came up with simple solutions to two problems I'd had with the EdgePro stone getting blocked by the blade table guide (for smaller knives) or the heel (for European-styled chef's knives).

Here's a MAC paring knife that is too thin for the guide. I figured out a way to press the knife to the blade table so that it stays steady. Basically, I used the back end of the handle to secure the knife to the side of the unit, and then press down with my thumb to keep it flat:

DSC00221.JPG

The chef's knife heel problem involved something a bit dangerous but not if you're careful. Using the weight of the knife to secure it to the blade table, I held the knife by the tip when I needed to sharpen the heel, pressing down by putting my thumb up a few inches on the tip:

DSC00226.JPG


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I was reading the thread about knives, and what people like to use, however I'm happy with my Chicago Cuttlery knives I got 13 years ago. My problem is sharpening them. I'm not good at doing it by hand. I've purchased some diamond hones that I put in a jig, and it holds the hone at the correct angle, and I get a good edge this way, but it takes a lot of time.

I've seen several electric shapeners, and wonder if anybody has tried them, and liked them. I don't know if I'm allowed to mention specific companies here, but there's some electric sharpeners in a mail order catalog for about $170.

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Most electric sharpeners take of a lot of metal with each sharpening.

Using the jig shouldn't take that much time to touch-up the edge.

Yje only way to get better at sharpening free hand is practice and a marker.

Take a marker and darken the very edge of the knife, the part of the edge that is being sharpened. Try to match the angle on the blade with the angle on the stone. The marker will show when you are matching correctly or what correction is needed. Just take your time and use a knife that is replaceable if mistakes are made.


Dwight

If at first you succeed, try not to act surprised.

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I think you'll find that most everyone will recommend the Edge Pro as the best (except for those who will suggest that you devote part of your life to perfecting freehand sharpening as a hobby).


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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I used an Edge Pro for a few years and got excellent results. Recently I have transitioned to freehand and have acheived equal or better results and I enjoy it more. I have never personally used an electric sharpener but I have heard that the Chef's Choice line is the best and can do a decent job. Chad Ward discusses them in his book "An Edge in the Kitchen", some of which is posted on Egullet.

I would not use them on Japanese knives with high Rc but I would try it on Chicago Cutlery, Henckels, Wusthoff etc.

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You'll probably like the edge pro. It's not the quickest to use, but the Chicago knives are soft and sharpen up fast compared with many others.

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Just looked that Edge Pro up, and it's very simular to what I use now, except a lot easier to use from what I can see, and much more expensive also! I'll have to wait and find a "deal" on one.

That Chefs Choice is the electric model I've had my eye on. Anybody actually used one?

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I have an older Chef's Choice unit. It's not bad but the resulting edge doesn't compare with a good by-hand job. (Edited to add: My collection is a grab-bag of higher-end Henckels and Wusthof knives.) As a lower-priced alternative to the Edge Pro, some folks like this GATCO set, though I haven't used it personally.


Edited by John Rosevear (log)

John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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That Gatco set is exactly what I use now (I no longer have the case, so didn't have the name). It produces a nice edge, but the clamping system is weak, and it's a pain to hold it in place while you try to sharpen. It's a lot cheaper than the Edge Pro, but I'd be willing to say it might do just as good a job. (same concept)

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It's a lot cheaper than the Edge Pro, but I'd be willing to say it might do just as good a job. (same concept)

I had the Gatco once, but have only seen the Edge Pro. It seems the edge pro offers a greater choice of bevel angles, and also includes stones in finer grits.

These are both general compromises with rod guided systems. Besides the more expensive Edge Pros, they limit you to a few angles. All including the edge pro limit you to a few fairly coarse grits. And the stones are small, so big knives take a really long time.

The exception to all this is Ken Schwartz's Gizmo, which is huge, expensive, and kind of brilliant. It lets you sharpen at any angle and with any water stone (stones not included). It also takes more skill to use than the others.

With the exception of the Gizmo, I think the rod systems will do better than freehand stones in the hands of an inexperienced sharpener, and worse in the hands of an experienced one.

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That Gizmo is indeed brilliant, and I like the larger stone, but not the larger price! However it raises one question, that wider stone I don't think will bend around the sharper curves at the tip of many knives very smooth. At least not keeping much of the stone in contact with the knife. I'm looking at this from the standpoint of an engineer who's not actually used it.

Any input on this?

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I haven't used the gizmo, but the size of the stone isn't an issue the way you're imagining. Those are the same stones used for freehand sharpening. The stone doesn't have to bend around anything ... the heel-to-tip angle of the knife just changes relative to the stone while the bevel angle stays the same.

There aren't any drawbacks to bigger stones, besides price. The size of the Gizmo ... that's another story. You gotta put it somewhere.

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I have a Forschner slicing knife that still has the factory edge, and an edge pro I'm learning to use. I've been using 20 degrees on my chef's knife (wusthof). Should I do the magic marker trick and just try and figure out what angle it has, or is there a recommended angle for slicing meat? I also gather that a meat slicer can take a bit more polish than a tomato slicer.

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I just bought the Gatco Pro but after re-reading the article it seems the most severe angle available on this system is 17 degrees because the 11 degree slot is understated by 6 degrees. That seems a ridiculous mistatement of angle by the company and leaves me unable to even match the 15/20 double that is already on the knife.

Am I reading the article correctly?

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Imagine my sharpening system + knife is a triangle with the sides formed by the part with the holes where the rod goes (a), the clamp plus blade (b) and the rod + stone ©. Angles are where the stone meets the edge A, where the rod goes through the hole B, and a 90 degree angle where the bit with the holes in it joins the clamp C.

Assume I carefully measured angle A and it's 17 degrees with the blade placed in the clamp as deeply as possible - that number is actually going to vary depending on how far the edge is from the back of the blade. I want to make A 11 degrees instead. Unfortunately, my rod is already at the lowest hole. What can I do?

Well, I can make (a) longer. I could do the maths if I could remember high school maths but I don't. So I'm just going to take my transporter -which I already used to measure the angle the first time around- and move the blade out of the clamp so that (a) is longer and A is lower, until A is 11 degrees.

That's what I'd do if I actually cared about the numbers, but I don't. I mean I'm just sharpening a knife here. So what I'd actually do is make (a) as long as humanly possible while still securely attaching the clamp to the blade - then, if the angle turns out to be too extreme (the edge nicks or rolls easily) I put a microbevel on it, a few degrees higher.

That said, if I were trying to put a really extreme edge on a really hard Japanese knife and the clamp + blade just weren't long enough, I might be SOL.

As an aside, I don't think getting the angles just right and perfectly consistent is nearly as important as some people (such as the manufacturers of these jigs) make it out to be. People sharpened freehand for millenia before these devices were invented and continue to do so, with extremely good results. The main thing is to get the sides of the edge to meet at an angle reasonable for the steel and the use you're going to put it through - they don't have to be perfectly straight, they don't have to be identical on both sides and they don't have to be exactly the same all along the edge.


This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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Wow, I have finally gotten through reading the full knife sharpening and maintenance course, and the entire Q&A... there are just so many variables in cooking and equipment that we just don't think about or realise.

I thought I had some really great knives, X50ChroMa15 or whatever V Sabatier knives. They are good, but I have been using the grooved honing steel that is in their series and always feel that my edge is never as sharp as I would like.

Needless to say, I am currently figuring out the logistics to purchase and EdgePro and have it sent to me in the UK. The only UK reseller is significantly more expensive than the US price...

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I've found that the people at EdgePro themselves are great to deal with. I'd contact them and see if you can arrange something. Website here.

You are absolutely right. Over the past couple of days I have been sending emails backwards and forwards with Ben from EdgePro and he has been very friendly and helpful. However he was unable to accomodate my requests.

I think the cheapest thing to do would be to order from one of their resellers who offer free national shipping, have it sent to my brother's office in New York where he works, and then have him send it to me marked as a gift at a lower value.

Ideally it would be cheaper to have someone buy it and bring it over to the UK, in which case I wouldn't have to pay any postage, but the only relative I know who plans to go to NY any time soon wont be for another 6 weeks, and I don't want to wait that long! :(

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I thought I had some really great knives, X50ChroMa15 or whatever V Sabatier knives. They are good, but I have been using the grooved honing steel that is in their series and always feel that my edge is never as sharp as I would like.

Having just checked my knives, they are X50CrMoV15, if that means anything to anyone :)

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According to my DIN standards book it means the composition by weight is 0.5% carbon, 1% max silicon, 1% max manganese, 14.5% chrome, 0.65% molybdenum and 0.15% vanadium.

In other words it's a Euro name for what the rest of the world knows as 440A, a very common stainless cutlery material. IMHO heat treatments are a lot more critical than the material used (unless of course they use something really awful).


This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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