Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sharpening.....what is it actually?

Simply put, sharpening a knife is the process producing the finest apex possible on the knife, the Apex being the actual edge, where the two sides meet. If you put two pieces of plywood together and leaned them up against each other to form a tent the apex of course is the top, the highest point. If you shaved off that wood on both sides and kept going you could create a sharp edge.  The finer the edge the sharper the knife.

Now just because a knife has a very sharp edge doesn't mean it will cut nicely. An axe can have a razor edge but you wouldn't want to try cutting a carrot with it, the axe is too wide behind that sharp edge.  The best performers are knives that of course are not only sharp but thin enough to eliminate resistance during the cutting process.  We don't want any wedging effect, it should be a very effortless motion and in most cases it is not.  We often have to use more force than necessary and that leads to an array of things:

1. You get tired more quickly, it becomes a chore and something you just want to get it over with.
2. The increased friction makes the knife dull more quickly.

It is the abrasive properties of the water stones (whetstones) that allow us to sharpen a knife by the grinding metal away at the right angle on both sides of the knife to achieve sharpness. Naturally there are different degrees of sharpness, it takes time to create that perfect edge, make the apex absolutely precise where the two sides meet and marry them together.

You can make a knife sharp with a coarse stone,  if done properly that knife will be able to slice telephone book paper off of a 150 grit stone. In fact, the majority of the process of sharpening is done on the coarse stones, or the first stone selected.  Subsequent stones are refinement stones.

What is refinement:

In this picture, I have sharpened the knife in my usual fashion,  I commenced with a coarse stone and as you can see the edge has a lot of scratches. Now it is very sharp, it's freaking sharp but too there is just too many scratches on the's ugly but this is a necessary and natural part of the want ugly.

As I move up in grit size and use the wonderful Naniwa Chosera 1000 grit stone for example, the repetitive motion of pushing that scratched up bevel over the 1k stone will start the refinement process, those scratches will disappear as they are removed.  The knife will get sharper and as long as the edge of the edge is being worked on it will become a really awesomely sharp knife.

Naniwa Chosera 1,000 awesome stone. 

(Now I will get pictures like the one above in different progressions, I didn't think this would turn out the way it did, I just held the camera lens up to the Loupe and shot the picture, it is better than I thought  it would be. Now if I were an intelligent man, I would have done the same thing with every stone so I will do that soon). 

Refinement continues with higher grit stones, but don't think, like I did once that the knife sharper with every higher grit. Remember that the lions share of work is done on the coarse stones and if you didn't get that knife razor sharp on that stone higher grit stones will not necessarily improve the edge.   
It is not as sharp as it could be because the edge of the edge was not met along the entire length of the blade on both sides so the optimum apex was not achieved.  This by the way is common, don't sweat it, as long as the knife is sharper than when you shorted you are getting somewhere. 

Let people like me fret and agonize over the perfectly apexed ( is that a word?) edge.

Refinement removes the scratches and if you spend enough time on the bevels and go high enough in grit you can achieve a mirror like finish. This however removes any of the "teeth" on the bevels that are necessary to give the knife "bite".

If I worked on a knife that I know was being used to cut tomatoes for example,  I could make it so refined that it would just slide over skin of the tomato. So I would sharpen it using a coarse stone, 500 girt, a medium stone, 1,000 grit and then I would jump to the final stone, 2,000, 3,000 or 5,000.  A three stone progression would leave the knife very very sharp with some micro serrations (teeth) and those bad boys would bite into the flesh of that tomato.

When starting  to sharpen a knife freehand, it is important to be patient enough to stick with the first coarse stone until the knife is sharp, at least sharp enough to slice photocopy paper without tearing it, it should push cut the paper.  Don't move to a higher grit stone until you can do that. may be spot on target as far as your sharpening goes but there may be a little burr left on the edge, on one side, this is the most common issue and it is easy to remove.  (You can easily see a burr with a 15X Loupe which is highly recommended, visual inspection along  the way is a great habit to get into.) 

Some sharpeners will carefully with absolutely no pressure, run the edge of the knife over a piece of wood, a 2X4 for example, that will remove the edge.  Now I don't do that, I just use the water stone with zero pressure and trailing strokes only, like stropping, that will remove the burr. So if you think your knife is sharp but it is not cutting paper the way you think it should, check for a burr and ensure it is removed, the debris is your problem.

Although I have a gazillion water stones, the most common ones I use are the 320, 1,000 and 5,000 grit water stones, this combo will deliver incredibly sharp knives with practise (Lots of practice)

YOU need to manage expectations though, when I go out golfing I think I am going to shoot like Tiger Woods and then get frustrated when I shoot like Peter Nowlan the amateur.  Don't start your first knife thinking you will be able to perform eye surgery with it when done. In fact, as long as it is a little better that means you are doing something right.  The fact that you are even trying puts you in a class of your own. 

To sum up
Sharpening is the act of abrading metal on both sides of the knife (or edged instrument) until the apex is as fine as you can get it whether you are sharpening an axe at 35 degrees or a kitchen  knife at 15 degrees.  (You could sharpen an axe at 15 degrees but that would be a tremendous amount of grinding behind the edge and that 15 edge on an axe would be OK for chopping mushrooms or something, not wood)
Refining is the removal of the scratches on the bevels left by the coarse sharpening stones. 

I appreciate you reading this, I think it is so cool that other people read this Biog. 
Looking for Water Stones ..........:)

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

How I keep my knives sharp.

Another quick video and this one is to show you how you can keep your knives sharp.
First of all, I sharpen knives, I don't create videos so if you are watching this video to look for mistakes, mispronunciations you are in luck, for example I say "knifes" instead of "knives". Believe it or not, you get nervous doing these things and I could do it all over again until it is perfect but I think it gets the point across.

I'm forcing you to watch it too by the way. I have a different view on honing and here is why:

The edge of a knife is a delicate and thin strip of metal when it is freshly sharpened or new. When I sharpen a knife, I agonize over the angle, not the actual degree but the process of maintaining the chosen angle throughout the process...on both sides of the knife. This is not something that comes along the first time you sharpen a knife by hand, not for me anyway, it takes many many knives to develop the ability to hold an angle, whether it is 15 or 20 degrees.   My issue with a "Steel" is that the user is often just slapping the edge of the knife against the Steel, which is often of poor quality and done without regard to the angle the sharpener used.  It is a habit done by many who don't even know why it is being done, it's just something the individual has been told to do.

We know that a knife gets dull because the metal at the edge is fatigued, it rolls over and over time the entire edge is moved out of alignment, the knife is no longer functioning as it is meant to.  So a Steel when used meticulously will "push" that fatigued metal back into position, it realigns the edge.

HOWEVER,  that steel is still weaker than it was so what difference does it make if it is moved back to where it should be? It is very quickly going to move back and forth, the cycle of steeling in my opinion further weakens the steel and does not do a very good job in keeping the knife sharp. Now there are some good ceramic hones that will work but remember, the Steel is not a knife sharpener it is a knife edge maintainer.

How many times have you seen a cooking show where the chef very quickly steels the knife in his/her hand, unlike the picture above, how the hell does that individual hit the exact point on that knife and move that metal back into position?

Now I do believe with the right technique and the right Steel (ceramic) that the edge can be maintained to a point, but nobody can tell me that the metal being realigned is not weaker that it should be and this process is not going to be effective for very long.

( This is just my thinking, I do know that I am not alone though in this thought process)

So as I described in the video, why not use a water stone?

I'm telling you, I have been doing this for a couple of years now and it is simple and very effective process. Naturally one needs to do it properly but it is not difficult to learn. That one good stone is likely cheaper than a good Steel. It will also last an eternity if not dropped or abused.

I am not suggesting that you abandon you Steel, why not try both methods, pick up a 1200 King Stone or 4k Imanishi stone at Lee Valley and give it shot, see what you like best, the 2k Bester would be a good choice as well. I would not go lower that the 1200 though for honing.  You could also alternate what you use, use your steel or ceramic hone during the weekdays and on weekends use the stone to really touch that edge back up. I bet you will find that once you get the hang of it, you will be thrilled at how sharp the knife is after that very simple and fast trailing motion as seen in the epic video :)

Thanks so much for watching the video, I hope it was not too painful.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Japanese hand made knives - Steeling - Don't

Hi folks, been away for a couple of weeks, thank you for visiting my Blog and being patient.

I want to talk about steeling knives again and in particular knives that are very hard, i.e. 60 and above and these are my thoughts on it, you can disagree of course.

The majority of knives out there that we all use, Wusthof, Henckels, Grohmann are not that hard, they are around the 54-56 range which is fine and in some cases better which I will explain.

(There are a lot of varieties of Henckels and some are very hard, the higher end ones that is)

Lets take the average Henckels chef knife; I don't think I have ever seen one chipped, have a nick on the edge.  Now take a much harder knife, like hand made knife, one that has a 62-64 on the hardness scale for example,  it is very common to see the edges with little nicks in them.

The reason is that the metal, while very hard and able take a much finer sharpening angle and hold it's edge longer, is because the metal has a tendency to be brittle.   Softer knives have an edge that is more flexible, the metal that becomes fatigued doesn't break off, it just bends back and forth.

So why not steel the hard knives?

The metal at the edge of a hand made carbon knife for example is very thin, yes it is hard but it still very thin and it still gets dull and we know that a dull knife means the metal has folded over, it's fatigued and just shifted a tiny bit from centre.  Now with a softer knife, a steel can push that fatigued metal back in place, it just bends it back so to speak. However, that very hard steel on a carbon knife will not flex, it won't be pushed if you run a Steel over it, it will likely just break off so now you have a chipped edge.

So I do not recommend using a Steel on one of these knives, now a nice Ceramic "Steel" may do the trick but it is most likely going to just knock off the fatigued metal instead of realigning it.

So how do you keep a "hard" knife sharp, well the same way you should keep any knife sharp, you should hone it on a whetstone, remember you hone a sharp knife and you sharpen a dull one so you should hone the knife that has lost it's edge a little by using a fine water stone and use trailing motions, i.e. drag the knife towards you.

I will make a video of what I mean but it is very easy and it is very quick. As I have said before, think of that water stone as a rectangular Steel.

In my opinion, a ceramic is the way to go if you do Steel your European knives, MAC makes a really nice one as does Global but that one is expensive ($149.00).

You can order them online from Chef Knives to Go for 30-50 dollars too.

Ceramic hone

I still believe that unless a Steel (either steel or ceramic) is used properly it won't serve a purpose and remember it is not designed to sharpen a knife, it's purpose is to keep a sharp knife sharp, not make a dull knife sharp.

The key is to know when the Steel is not improving the edge. Picture that very thin edge and the steel along that edge becoming fatigued, how long can you just push it back into place before it just breaks off and I'm talking about any knife. It may not necessarily break off but by just pushing that tired out metal back into the right position, is it still not that tired out metal?

Hats off to folks who are meticulous with their steeling, just make sure it is done with care and not like you see chefs on TV slamming the edge of the knife against the if that makes a difference. 

This is my "Steel" :)

Not every chipped knife of course is a result of using a Steel, far from it.  This damage could of come from someone putting it in a dishwasher, edge down but in this case, it does look like Steel damage but also, maybe just a bad batch from the factory, a heat treatment issue.

In any event, this type of damage is easy to repair and once repaired, I find the edge a little stronger and less prone to chipping/ The picture below is is of the same knife and it's larger brother which also had similar damage.

Repaired Edges 

Thanks all.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

I can sharpen as well as you can.

A chef said this to me recently and to be honest, maybe he can, I have never claimed to be the best sharpener around. However, when someone tells me that they can sharpen as well as I can, I am doubtful to be honest, now if they didn't say that I would think more of the individual and regard him/her as a really good sharpener.

Anyway in response to the " I can sharpen my knives as good as you, I just don't have the time" I asked the following questions:

1. "What is your profession, a Cook?"
Ans: "Yes"

2. " What are your hobbies, what do you do in your spare time?"
Ans: "Biking, video games, just relaxing"

3. "What is the most important thing in your life?"
Ans: "My job and my health I suppose"

4. "If  you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?"
Ans: "Australia"

5. "How many hours do you sharpen in one month?"
Ans: "I sharpen my 3 knives every 3 months so about 1 hour per 3 months".

Now I asked him to repeat the questions to me.

"What is your profession"
My answer: Knife Sharpening

2. "What are your hobbies, what do you do in your spare time?"
My answer: Knife sharpening, I sharpen knives in my spare time.

3. "What is the most important thing in your life?"
My answer: Knife sharpening, ensuring people are thrilled with their knives when I sharpen them.

4. "If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?"
My Answer: To the fish market in Japan and watch/meet master knife sharpeners.

5. "How many knives do you sharpen in one month?"
My answer: I sharpen for 3-4 hours a day

Does this make me a better knife sharpener?

Not necessarily but it's all I do, I'm consumed with it so I think when people are consumed, driven by something, they get good at it, like olympic athletes who dream of becomingOlympians when they are children, they start their journey young and nothing else seems to matter.

As I said, I've never claimed to be a better sharpener than anyone else, if you think you are THE knife sharpener, good on ya, I'm proud of you, seriously.

 Here is a picture of a very beautiful Maestro Wu hand made damascus knife that I finished with the ultra cool Kityama 8,000 grit water stone. Of all the knives I have sharpened, this is one of the very sharpest. This one belongs to Chef Bill Pratt, Proprietor of Cheese Curds and Habaneros, he is a hell of a guy and one lucky man to own this beauty.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Purchasing a new knife - Don't make this mistake.

I realize that the folks who are kind enough to read my Blog know what I am to talk about but it comes up so often that I want to mention it again.

I see this often, to me it is the most common error when the trigger is pulled on purchasing a new knife. I also know that for many folks, this is considered quite an expense, not everyone has a hundred bucks or even two or three hundred dollars lying around to get "another knife"

In many cases of course there are plenty of knives in the kitchen already but they are so dull that it's time to replenish the stock and get back that great feeling that comes the first time a new knife is used.

However, it is a cycle that will continue because people just don't have a sharpening plan. I've said it before, when you purchase a new knife, or your friends are talking about it, you/they should have a plan on how to get it sharpened and the plan has to be in place 2-3 months after the purchase.

Now a good knife seller will ask you and suggest a professional sharpening service and they should be right up front and tell you that regardless of the cost of the knife, it's going to get dull so be prepared for that and have a plan to get it back in shape.
Just a typical batch of knives. (nothing to do with the topic :) )
So many guys have talked their wives into making the 300 dollar purchase and she reluctantly agrees yet she is thrilled with the new knife......for a few weeks then the dulling process begins.

So what is a Sharpening Plan?

Before the purchase you could ask the store manager what he/she recommends to keep the knife sharp. This will surprise them because not many people ask that and the person should first and foremost recommend a professional sharpener who uses whetstones to sharpen.  Now if the seller tries to sell an electric sharpener or gadget and tells you "this is all you need" then walk away.

Nothing beats a sharpening using water stones, nothing but that doesn't mean that you can't use them yourself, I am  just saying that anything else is inferior.

At least have a plan, know that that beautiful knife is going to be dull sooner than later but it is easy to keep it like new.

I often see knives for sale and right beside the knife display are the 10 dollar gadgets, to me that is insulting your intelligence. It is also possible the the salesperson has no idea about sharpening and is just doing their job by selling what they may actually think works. There may be no deception involved  at all, just ignorance and that's OK, just be aware that those gadgets won't do the trick, they will not alleviate the frustration that comes with the dull knife, especially one that you talked your wife into getting and is now sitting in the pile with the rest of them.

Now your plan could also be picking up some of your own Japanese Water Stones and getting a lesson from a knowledgeable to me this is optimum plan.

How cool would it be to take that brand new knife and at the first hint of dulling to take out one of your new water stones and in 5 minutes get that crisp edge back. 

Trust me when I say that there are very few things in this world that will leave you feeling so rewarded and proud of yourself by sharpening your own knife. The two stones above are among the best in the world and yet both of them are cheaper that a Chef's Choice electric sharpener. 

Here is something to consider, for 75 dollars you could get a private 2-3 hour lesson from me with your new knife and your water stones and in that time you would learn not just how to keep it sharp but to get all those dull ones back to like new. I guarantee that you would be doing your friends and neighbours knives as well, you will be the most popular guy/girl on the street.

Don't forget one of these when learning.

Thanks for reading. sorry I have been absent for a bit, I thought when I retired I would have more time to do these things that I love to do but that has not been the case.

More to follow:)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Looking Glass Edge - SPYDERCO

I have always wanted a Spyderco folder, I still don't have one but I did get one to sharpen, a really  nice one, a Spyderco Tenacious.

I decided to place, or do my best to place a Mirror finish on the bevels and I think it turned out pretty good, the knife was pretty easy to sharpen actually, I did this one at 21 degrees per side.

I used the Edge Pro Professional for the work and took it up to 15k.  The knife was exceptionally sharp after the first stone, the 220 grit EP stone. This is not due to any skill on my part, it's just the steel, the EP Pro and the perfect angle to sharpen at the led to the awesome edge on the knife.

I need to get one of these, they are pretty cool and I really enjoyed the work. It took me about an hour to get it to where I was happy with it and fortunately I was the first one to sharpen it,  after the factory edge that is.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sharpening a Moritaka

Every now and then I get a hand made Japanese knife to sharpen, this one was sent to me from Ontario.

Personally, I don't find the majority of these knives very pretty to look at, they don't have the finished look that mass produced knives have. However, in terms of the quality and hardness of the steel they are far superior. These knives are capable of taking an extremely sharp edge and can hold that edge longer. The reason is the material, it is a carbon knife, it is 64 on the hardness scale which is very very hard, my Henckels is about 54-56 to put it in perspective.

There are drawbacks though, you need to keep these knives dry after use or they will rust, also, a steel this hard and a blade so thin has a tendency to be brittle so chipping is not an uncommon issue. This one was chipped very slightly upon arrival.

The first thing I did when I got this knife was to order my new Kityama 8,000 grit stone, I have heard so many good things about it and this was the perfect opportunity to use it.

First things first though, I had to fix the edge before I could sharpen it.

For the repair work, I chose the Shapton Glass 220 and worked the edge at a 45 degree angle, this amazing stone quickly ate away the damaged edge and in about 4 minutes the chips were gone. In the picture is the 400 Atoma Plate which I did not use.

You can see the minor chipping issues, again, common with some of these very hard knives.

As you can see the repair work is done, not that hard to do with the right stones, now I can sharpen it.

I used my favourite stones to do the work, it took me 20 minutes to get a nice edge from the 5K stone.  Then I put the knife away and waited anxiously for the Kityama to show up.

1k Naniwa Chosera

3K Naniwa Chosera

5k Naniwa Chosera

The Kityama is indeed a wonderful stone, I really enjoyed it and it took the edge of the knife to a different level, it had that great "grabby" edge that I love, all in all, a lot of fun to sharpen and quite easy actually. 

Finished product is above.
Thanks for reading