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Sharpening with waterstones


rbm
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Hi,

It's been pointed out on the eGCI knife tutorial that there are two schools of thought when it comes to sharpening knives. One school supports the view that the edge of the knife should be razor sharp. The other school that the edge should be rough, much like a serrated blade. I am a staunch supporter of the first school of thought, mainly because I'm involved with woodworking as a hobby. Woodworkers strive to attain a razor sharp edge on their hand tools so that working wood is safe and easy. A razor sharp plane just glides effortlessly through any wood. I've taken that philosophy to the kitchen and keep my knives razor sharp.

Waterstones will quickly produce a razor sharp edge if used properly. You can get a mirror shine on the blade which is the prime indicator of a sharp edge and you can keep that edge sharp with just 30 seconds of attention to the blade periodically, when you feel the edge has dulled. It's not hard to do if you know how.

I took some photos of my sharpening session when I recently purchased a Japanese usuba hocho knife. I went through the complete flattening and sharpening process and took photos so that others could get an understanding of what's involved when using waterstones to attain an cutting edge.

In woodworking, blades are usually single bevelled. That is, one side of the blade is flat, the other angled to it. Japanese knives are manufactured this way. Western knives usually are double bevelled with two sides of the cutting edge angled relative to each other. The goal when sharpening a single bevel edge is to get the flat edge DEAD FLAT and polished to a mirror finish. Only then, can you possibly begin to shape the angled side to get a sharp cutting edge.

There are a number of grits of waterstones available. The higher the number, the finer the stone and therefore closer to the mirror finish you will get. I personally own three waterstones; a 600/1000 combo, a 4000 and a King brand 8000. The combo is for reshaping blades, for removing nicks and for reshaping the points of worn knives. The 4000 is for flattening and removing scratches produced with the 1000. Finally, the 8000 is for finishing. In addition to the waterstones mentioned above, I own a 350/600 DMT diamond plate. A diamond plate is a nickel plated steel plate with industrial grade diamonds imbedded in it. This I use for rough grinding the flat surface because it works very quickly and is itself dead flat so I know I can skip the 1000 grit and move over to the 4000 directly, working with a properly prepared surface.

Waterstones work because the stone wears at the same rate as the steel being sharpened. The downside to their aggressive sharpening quality is that they must be constantly retrued, that is made flat. You can buy a special truing stone or you can use a lower grit stone to flatten a higher grit stone (a 600 to flatten a 4000, for example). You have to check the flatness of the stone often and correct it.

To sharpen a knife to a razor edge, I use the following procedure:

I started off using the DMT diamond plate to reference the flat edge of my knife. About 1 minute of grinding showed me that the blade was flat and I moved over to the 4000. The indication of a flat surface is that the grinding pattern is uniform over the surface; depressions will show up as shiny spots. I spent about 3 minutes or so grinding on the 4000, trying to get a uniform mottled grey tone along the cutting edge of the blade. I concentrated all the pressure on the edge of the blade using both hands and applying lots of pressure. I like the stones to be secured on a bench and at eating table height so that I can use my upper body to bear down on the blade. I use just a little water. The idea is to create a slurry much like a paste from the worn particles of waterstone. It's this slurry that does the cutting and why a waterstone wears so quickly. The edge looked like this when I was finished:

gallery_12949_2355_7374.jpg

When the back of the blade is done, then I move to the front edge. I don't use any jigs to hold the blade at the proper angle when sharpening. You tend to get a feel for the proper angle and your muscle memory will end up being just as reliable or more reliable than some fancy gadget. Besides, the setup time of the jig is so long. I'm targeting for the same uniform grey appearance and feeling for no burr along the cutting edge. You can feel the burr if you drag your finger nail over the backside of the blade. If there is a burr, alternate sides, drawing the knife blade over the waterstone as if it was a stropping leather. Alternate sides and maintain proper angles at all times. After a couple of passes, the burr will disappear. Then I moved over to the 8000. The 8000 produces the mirror finish and a razor edge. My grinding setup looks like this:

gallery_12949_2355_7661.jpg

The small white stone is called a nagura stone. It is used before sharpening to produce the slurry on an 8000 grit stone. The baby bottle contains water. Don't use a lot of water on the 8000 and that's why I have a baby bottle -- to control the amount of water I use on the stone. It just needs a few drops. Rub the nagura over the surface until the waterstone is covered in a brown sludge. Then start sharpening. The 8000 will not cut as fast as the 4000 so I spend about 5-10 minutes getting the mirror edge. It's pretty messy but this picture shows the all important slurry:

gallery_12949_2355_2122.jpg

In the picture above, you can see the impressions where my fingers have been just along the edge of the knife. I use a lot of pressure when grinding, bearing down on the blade with my upper body. Make sure the stone won't move. I use carpet anti-slip padding, a sort of rubber mat with holes to hold the stone stationary. When the edge is polished, it will look something like this:

gallery_12949_2355_12681.jpg

You can just see the reflection of my thumb in the knife as I took this picture. Once this edge is produced, maintaining it is easy. You don't need to go back to the 4000 unless you've damaged the edge. Just 15-20 seconds per side on the 800 will bring back the sharp edge again.

I know that the magnolia wood used in Japanese knife handles is water resistant but I still soak my handles in tung oil overnight. Then I wipe off the excess and let it dry. A coat of wax applied with 0000 steel wool completes the handle maintenance.

gallery_12949_2355_1271.jpg

Although I've gone through what's involved in sharpening a Japanese knife, the same principles can be applied to Western knives. I have sharpened all my knives on waterstones to a mirror finish. Here, for example, is my 250mm Henkel:

gallery_12949_2355_8732.jpg

Although this photo doesn't show it closely, the edge of this blade is mirror sharp. I can take any of my knives and cut through a newsprint page effortlessly. In fact, my heavier knives can do it using only their weight. It's an impressive demo.

I hope this is helpful to those of you who aren't familiar with waterstones.

- Robert.

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I love sharpening my knives. When I was young, I had the opportunity to buy the tri-stone oil sharpening stone, but I went with the commercial size rolling pin instead. So I use a water stone, and it's just fine. I traded odeous tasks with my roommate at the CIA - I kept her knives sharp, and she kept my whites (chef's jackets) white. Now, I sharpen all my friends knives as well as my own, although that may be more in self defense, so that when I cook in their kitchens, I have sharp knives to use! :wink:

“"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.”

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Awesome tutorial and pictures! can you post some pictures on knife angles you use for western style chef knifes, yanagi and usuba? I'm don't have a good idea of what to use and suspect that's the reason why I'm wrecking my stones. What do you use to relevel your stones?

Also I read somewhere on Korin's site that it is not recommended to sharpen henckel / wusthof type stainless steels on waterstones something about not being effective for these styles of steel. Any truth to this?

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Nice to see another woodworker with a sharpening fixation.

It has always amused me the way food people obsess with the angles on hand knifes.

They should try planing rosewood. :biggrin:

PJ

PS: If you do it right you get long translucent ribbons that look like chocolate! :laugh:

Edited by pjs (log)

"Epater les bourgeois."

--Lester Bangs via Bruce Sterling

(Dori Bangs)

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Hi SG,

Don't obsess about the angles! Like Obi-wan says "Relax! Use the force, Luke". Really!!! You will be really surprised at how much leaway you have with sharpening angles and how accurate you can hold an angle without using a guide. Guides like the one Sam recommended are fine for a while but IMO they take time to setup and get in the way. You'd probably laugh if you were a golfer or tennis afficiado and saw someone using some mechanical machine to maintain their swing, right? That's why you hire a trainer when you're a beginner -- to give you the confidence to memorize the way your muscles should be placed for a perfect swing. After a while, you discard the trainer because your muscles have been programmed with the correct positions. The same goes for sharpening. After a few sharpening sessions, your muscles know the correct positions to assume.

First off, maintaining the correct angles for single bevel knives is a no-brainer! Just keep the edges flat to the stone. The manufactured angles will determine the sharpening angle. You only have to worry about angles if you want to put a microbevel on the edge. But this is obsessive, IMO.

As for westeren style knives, I read the Korin site info just now and they recommend setting the height of the back of the blade two US pennies above the stone. Personally, I use my thumbs to gauge the height. I assume two positions when sharpening.

basesharp.jpg

The picture above shows the position of my hands when I'm sharpening the lower half of a large knife or a small knife. My right hand grips the handle and holds the angle. My thumbs gauge the height above the stone and the fingers of my left hand maintain pressure on the edge. I lock my wrists once the setup is complete (done in seconds!) and then sharpen from my elbows and shoulders with a smooth back and forth movement. My thumbs now serve the purpose of steadying the blade as I move it back and forth over the stone.

tipsharp.jpg

The picture above shows the position I assume when sharpening the tip of a large knife. My thumbs still gauge the height above the stone and fingers maintain the pressure. Though it is very hard to see from this angle, my right hand baby finger is curled around the handle to hold the angle and allow me to move the knife laterally across the stone. As I approach the rounded part of the edge near the tip, I lower the angle to the stone slightly. This has the effect of maintining the same included angle along the entire length of the blade edge.

Since I've invested a lot in different waterstones, I bought a ceramic flattening stone to keep them in tip-top condition. The stone used to be available from Lee Valley Tools but they don't have it in the 2003-4 catalog. But, I see that Japan Woodworker carries it. The flattening stone looks like this:

01.090.jpg

The channels help with the cutting action and carry away the waste swarf. This is equivalent to a 100 grit waterstone. Since this is a pretty expensive item (USD 75) you can get equivalent results by glueing silicon-carbide sand paper (also known as wet-n-dry) glued to a glass plate. Use 3M spray adhesive to glue the paper. Use 120 grit paper for course stones, 220 grit paper for medium stones and 320 grit paper for fine stones. The paper is reusable two or three times. You can either use the paper wet or dry depending on whether the stone itself is wet or dry. Normally, you should be storing your stones in a bucket of water anyways. You are doing that, aren't you!!!!! :shock:

I've read in some woodworking forums that some people use a Leca-block (light concrete building block) to flatten their waterstones but I've never tried this myself.

I've never had problems with sharpening stainless steel on waterstones. I've never read this either. I tried to find your reference on the Korin site but failed to find it. So, I can't really comment except to say that I have not had any bad experiences sharpening my Henkel stainless steel knives on waterstones and I've been doing it for years.

- Robert.

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PJ,

I am a bit obsessive about my hand tools. I know what you mean when you work wood with a perfectly sharp blade. I own a 1914 Norris A13 smoother. What a plane! I'm talking woodworking porn here!! :biggrin: Check out this picture of the plane blade.

norrismouth.jpg

A massive blade, razor sharp edge and paper thin mouth (0.5mm). You can even see the reflection of the camera in the blade. With that beauty, I get tissuepaper thin shavings from even the most difficult woods.

If you want shavings that look like chocolate, try planing wenge (aka. pango-pango). It's a deep, dark brown African hardwood with lovely tan streaks in the elongated cells of the wood. It looks exactly like rich dark chocolate!

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RBM, thanks for the great information on sharpening with waterstones. Waterstones and single bevel Japanese style knives are two things that I didn't cover in sufficient detail in the sharpening tutorial. You've done a much better job than I could have.

I'll put a link to this thread at the bottom of the sharpening Q&A.

Chad

Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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PJ,

I am a bit obsessive about my hand tools.  I know what you mean when you work wood with a perfectly sharp blade.  I own a 1914 Norris A13 smoother.  What a plane!  I'm talking woodworking porn here!!  :biggrin:    Check out this picture of the plane blade.

Sweet! Do you back-bevel to reduce tear-out? Wenge is still slightly more expensive than Indian rosewood, and rosewood is the standard wood in the stuff I'm building, so I haven't worked it yet.

For the record: Chad's tutorial is excellent and rbm just enhanced it. Learn how to sharpen your blades, people. It's easier than you think. Some experts will even tell you sharpening is fun and meditative. :raz:

PJ

"Epater les bourgeois."

--Lester Bangs via Bruce Sterling

(Dori Bangs)

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Normally, you should be storing your stones in a bucket of water anyways.  You are doing that, aren't you!!!!!  :shock:

thanks again for the updates rbm.. actually I only soak the stones in water when I'm ready to use... should I have them in alll the time, what happens if I don't?

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thanks again for the updates rbm.. actually I only soak the stones in water when I'm ready to use... should I have them in all the time, what happens if I don't?

Nothing actually happens to them if you store them dry. They should soak at least 1/2 hour before use. If they are stored in water, then you save that half hour. If not, no damage occurs to the stone. Don't store 6000/8000/12000 grit finishing stones in water as they should be stored dry and water dripped on them when you use them (like with a baby bottle or spray bottle).

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I am a bit obsessive about my hand tools. I know what you mean when you work wood with a perfectly sharp blade. I own a 1914 Norris A13 smoother. What a plane! I'm talking woodworking porn here!!

Oh, please don't get me going here. I thought I was all done when I got my hands on a Stanley 45, but no..there was the filister plane with all the brass and wooden knobs and the guy only wanted 50 bucks... A Norris with rosewood infill, put me down for one.

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A mirror edge means the metal at the point of meeting is smooth. The advantage to a smooth edge is that it is a sharper edge that will last longer.

Much of the advantages and disadvantages to the two schools of thought are covered very thoroughly in Chad's Knife Sharpening Tutorial. I am a proponent of the smooth edge school because of my woodworking background.

When you rub metal on a sharpening stone, you scratch the surface, creating a ragged edge where the two surfaces meet, much like a microscopic serrated steak knife. As you cut through food (or wood in the case of woodworking blades), you break off the teeth causing the blade to go thick and flat, i.e. dull. The surfaces on a mirror finished edge have no microscopic serrated teeth, therefore there are no teeth to break off, therefore the blade parts the cells of the food/wood cleaner with less effort on the part of the user and the edge lasts longer (i.e. won't go flat and thick).

The life of the edge is dependant on the bevel between the two surfaces (how much metal is backing up the edge), the quality of steel used on the edge (wear resistance is related to brittleness of the metal), the pressure applied to the edge during use, the resistance offered by the material being cut, and the clearance angle between the work and the cutting edge and the way the edge is offered up to the work (a sawing motion vs. a planing motion). As Chad points out, sharpening is optimizing performance under a given set of conditions. You are balancing several performance factors -- the ease of use vs. life of the edge vs. time required to reestablish the edge when it dulls. The design and performance envelope of the knife, the metal used in its execution and the way the knife is used will all effect this performance balance. If you exceed the performance envelope of the knife (for example, cut a bone using a Japanese usuba hocho), it will catastrophically fail -- the edge will chip.

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I would like a little help figuring out the angles on my "western style" Japanese Knives. I Have Misono Knives...The Korin web site recomends sharpening the same angle on both sides(like a german knife), it demos this on a Misono 440... if you look at the knife it is Constructed flat on one side and bev on the other, but when it comes out of the box there is obviously a thin mirrored edge on the back side, ie. it wasnt sharpened flat. I have heard of using the same angle on both sides but using a 10:1 ratio in terms of strokes on the front to the strokes on the back. I have used this technique to some degree of success. I am able to get a mirror shine and it will shave very well, but i havent been happy with the longevity of this blade. I am also interested in sharpening Globals???

Thanks

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I don't own any globals myself so I can't comment on the bevel on the backside of the blade. If there is a bevel, it would end up giving the edge a more acute angle with more metal behind the edge than a traditional Japanese single bevel knife. This would increase the life of the edge at the expense of harder use. The same can possibly be said of your Misono but since I don't own one, I can't be 100% sure. This backside bevel is a design decision to optimize the life of the edge for the majority of users (who generally abuse their knives).

I checked out Google and found the following post a newsgroup:

From: Steve B (newsgroups@ameritech.net)

Subject: Re: sharpening Global knives...

Newsgroups: rec.food.cooking

Date: 2003-10-21 11:57:07 PST

A mystic has built up around Global knives being sharpened to a more

acute angle than other knives, but it is untrue.  Globals are

sharpened at the factory with a standard bevel of about 22 degrees,

followed by a coarse belt to round off the bevel transition, finally by

a fine belt to strop the cutting edge.  You can definitely tell they

were belts or soft wheels because of the convex edge shape.

Global steel is harder than most kitchen knives, but not as hard as a

good custom knife.  It is not difficult to sharpen with normal methods.

I sharpen Globals with a wet wheel, then hone and strop with paper

wheels.  My wife and customers say they are as sharp as when new.

Steve

--

Sharpening Made Easy: A Primer on Sharpening Knives and Other Edged

Tools by Steve Bottorff  Copyright January 2002 Knife World Publications

www.sharpeningmadeeasy.com

E-mail: steve AT sharpeningmadeeasy DOT com

I read in another post that manufacturers of western style knives use an 18 degree angle. Thus, you see that you have some leaway in how you grind your knife. The steeper you grind, the more metal you'll have backing the edge with longer edge life but at the expense of ease of use and straightness of the cut. Double beveled knives tend to wander through the cut whereas single bevel knives cut straighter and with less effort. I probably wouldn't go over 25 degrees.

This 22 degree angle on the Globals should probably be maintained since that was what was intended by the designer. You can visualize a 22 degree angle by taking a piece of paper and fold it diagonally corner-to-corner three times. Each time you fold it, you halve the angle (90,45,22.5). Use it as a gauge to visualize how far above the stone the knife back should be maintained.

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  • 2 weeks later...

For that finished, razor sharp edge, many knifesmiths use a strop. A strop will maintain the edge on a knife in the same way a steel will. A strop will not remove metal as quickly as a steel (especially diamond steels) so the action is gentler.

strop.jpg

I made a bench strop by glueing a piece of saddle leather to a block of wood. I picked up a scrap of leather from a local saddlemaker. It is heavy gauge, 5mm thick, leather. I chose a block of wood 40x8x2 cm, cut the leather slightly undersized and beveled the edges. I glued the leather, rough side down, to the wood using white glue. I made the length of the strop is as long as a comfortable stroke.

When using the strop, charge it with a grinding compound. I use valve grinding compound from an automobile supply. Polishing rouge is probably better. A strop seasons like a cast iron pan; slowly over time, it just gets better and better as the grinding compound works into the leather.

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I would like a little help figuring out the angles on my "western style" Japanese Knives. I Have Misono Knives...The Korin web site recomends sharpening the same angle on both sides(like a german knife), it demos this on a Misono 440... if you look at the knife it is Constructed flat on one side and bev on the other, but when it comes out of the box there is obviously a thin mirrored edge on the back side, ie. it wasnt sharpened flat. I have heard of using the same angle on both sides but using a 10:1 ratio in terms of strokes on the front to the strokes on the back. I have used this technique to some degree of success. I am able to get a mirror shine and it will shave very well, but i havent been happy with the longevity of this blade. I am also interested in sharpening Globals???

                            Thanks

For your Globals, you might want to check out these Global Edge Guides. They're designed to keep the knife angled at the factory edge when you sharpen on benchstones. Personally, I don't object in the least to changing the factory angle, which on most western knives is an abysmal 20-25 degrees per side. Ick.

As for your Misono, I'm at a loss. Most Japanese knives, in my experience, are either a single bevel with a flat back or double beveled with equal angles on both sides, like western knives. My Hattori, for example, is sharpened like a western knife. I haven't run across one with a primary single bevel and a secondary bevel on the backside.

This is just my opinion, but I'd sharpen it like a yanagi-ba or sushi knife -- keep the primary bevel and flatten out the back. You'd sharpen the edge face as normal but only grind the burr off the back side by laying the knife flat on the stone for a pass or two along the stone. But that's just me.

Chad

Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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I would like a little help figuring out the angles on my "western style" Japanese Knives. I Have Misono Knives...The Korin web site recomends sharpening the same angle on both sides(like a german knife), it demos this on a Misono 440... if you look at the knife it is Constructed flat on one side and bev on the other, but when it comes out of the box there is obviously a thin mirrored edge on the back side, ie. it wasnt sharpened flat. I have heard of using the same angle on both sides but using a 10:1 ratio in terms of strokes on the front to the strokes on the back. I have used this technique to some degree of success. I am able to get a mirror shine and it will shave very well, but i havent been happy with the longevity of this blade. I am also interested in sharpening Globals???

                            Thanks

<snip>

As for your Misono, I'm at a loss. Most Japanese knives, in my experience, are either a single bevel with a flat back or double beveled with equal angles on both sides, like western knives. My Hattori, for example, is sharpened like a western knife. I haven't run across one with a primary single bevel and a secondary bevel on the backside.

This is just my opinion, but I'd sharpen it like a yanagi-ba or sushi knife -- keep the primary bevel and flatten out the back. You'd sharpen the edge face as normal but only grind the burr off the back side by laying the knife flat on the stone for a pass or two along the stone. But that's just me.

Chad

I have used Masahiro, Nenox, and Glestain western-style knives for many years now (never used a Misono), and all have similar geometry to what Quinn8it describes. If you take a cross-section of a western blade and turn it so that one side of the "V" is vertical, then put a tiny, tiny front and back bevel on, you can get an idea of this. The back-bevel is ~0.007" wide as the knives come from the maker. (I'm at the office, and I haven't got the knives before me to measure.) I have experienced no problems with edge retention or difficulty in sharpening. I would posit that Quinn8it is sharpening at too small an angle if edge durability is an issue.

On blades as thin as are common on this style of knife (for example, my 300mm Nenox cook's is about as thick as a 6" or 8" Wusthof), I would advise against "flattening out" the back. One, because the return on the effort involved would not be sufficient (these aren't hollow on the back like a good Japanese-style knife, and even if you're only taking off ten thousandths or so, it's still a lot of work, especially if you're going for a nice polish); two, if the back-bevel is removed without making a corresponding change in the bevel angle on the *front* of the knife, the durability of the edge will be greatly reduced; three, Nenox and Glestain know what they're doing - if I had seen this geometry first in a lesser knife, I would have been a skeptic as well - it is actually a very intelligent design, as borne out in use.

Charlie

Walled Lake, Michigan

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On blades as thin as are common on this style of knife (for example, my 300mm Nenox cook's is about as thick as a 6" or 8" Wusthof), I would advise against "flattening out" the back. One, because the return on the effort involved would not be sufficient (these aren't hollow on the back like a good Japanese-style knife, and even if you're only taking off ten thousandths or so, it's still a lot of work, especially if you're going for a nice polish); two, if the back-bevel is removed without making a corresponding change in the bevel angle on the *front* of the knife, the durability of the edge will be greatly reduced; three, Nenox and Glestain know what they're doing - if I had seen this geometry first in a lesser knife, I would have been a skeptic as well - it is actually a very intelligent design, as borne out in use.

Ah, I didn't realize that they weren't hollow ground on the back. That's what threw me off. I haven't seen this type of edge geometry before. Interesting. And good advice on sharpening. Thanks.

Take care,

Chad

Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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For that finished, razor sharp edge, many knifesmiths use a strop.  A strop will maintain the edge on a knife in the same way a steel will.  A strop will not remove metal as quickly as a steel (especially diamond steels) so the action is gentler.

strop.jpg

I made a bench strop by glueing a piece of saddle leather to a block of wood.  I picked up a scrap of leather from a local saddlemaker.  It is heavy gauge, 5mm thick, leather.  I chose a block of wood 40x8x2 cm, cut the leather slightly undersized and beveled the edges.  I glued the leather, rough side down, to the wood using white glue.  I made the length of the strop is as long as a comfortable stroke.

When using the strop, charge it with a grinding compound.  I use valve grinding compound from an automobile supply.  Polishing rouge is probably better.  A strop seasons like a cast iron pan;  slowly over time, it just gets better and better as the grinding compound works into the leather.

May I ask what kind of wood you use? Does it make a difference? Does the wood have to be perfectly flat?

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