Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Knifeplanet article

Hello again,

The article I wrote was published yesterday. FYI I was contacted by Knifeplanet and asked to conduct an interview and following that, they asked if I would be their staff writer. They didn't have an actual knife sharpener so once in awhile, as ideas float around I gather them together and send them to Knifeplanet. They edit them and add some photos I usually send. I think they do a great job of putting it all together. This is all voluntary by the way, I don't get paid for this and the nice fella who does all the editing and puts everything out there does it for free, because he loves knives.

Here is the link to the article:

article for Knifeplanet

Regarding Comments. I do see the comments and I always reply to them so if you are not seeing the replies please let me know at or feel free to ask questions to me as well, If  you know anything about me you know I love talking about sharpening.

Thanks very much for visiting my blog, that is very cool and kind of you.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Sharpening knives, keep it simple and some comments


I wrote an article for Knifeplanet on uncomplicated knife sharpening which will be posted tomorrow so I will provide the link when it is. However, I will talk about it a little here as well.

I have spoken to some folks who are interested in learning to sharpen and there is a common scenario that unfolds, one of feeling overwhelmed by the amount of sharpening products and the sharpening videos out there.  ANYONE can post a sharpening video, so you need to understand that not all of them are good, in fact many are terrible.

Sharpening a knife can start and should start with some very basic and important fundamentals and the most important ones are free. An understanding of the process of using a whetstone, the ability to visualise what it is you need to achieve is most helpful. When I started I didn't have any of this, I just went through the motions hoping to succeed, I loved it but there is a better path to choose right out of the gate.

* Read about steel and know what the difference between "soft steel" and "hard steel" and while that may seem pretty freaking obvious, how the difference impacts your sharpening is not so obvious and it is something I wish I had of known decades ago.
I won't go into too much detail, you need to learn these things on your own in my opinion, it is easy to find it and you'll feel better about yourself but I will give a basic reason why knowing steel is important:

     Most of the knives people use are in the 54-58 hardness range, this is the typical knife, the $120.00 Henckels for example, nothing wrong with these knives but when I sharpen one I know that my level of refinement will be less than it would be for a Fujiwara for example with a hardness of 64. (The difference in hardness between a 58 and even a 60 is significant, so 64 is a very big difference. This number represents not just a difference in the hardness of the steel but the calibre of the knife, the skill of the maker and of course, the approach to sharpening it

   Suffice it to say that softer knives will not stand up to aggressive levels of refinement and I choose the word aggressive here for a purpose. Most European  knives do quite well with a 1,000 grit finish. However, if I chose to elevate the level of refinement, I personally will be very very gentle with my pressure as I move up in grit. This is because I do not want to grind metal away with higher grit stones, my sole purpose is to "clean the edge" not keep forming a burr. ONE BURR is all that we need (both sides of the blade of course) so if I use too much pressure and linger too long, more burrs will form, edge retention will be compromised. So if yo have that beautiful 5,000 grit stone you are itching to use, go for it. However......before you use that the knife should already be sharp, you shouldn't be using the 5k stone to sharpen a soft knife, so light pressure :)

(Too much grinding reduces the width of the secondary bevel, the primary edge is already under siege most of the time so it needs nice and strong secondary (supporting area) bevel, a soft knife will yield more easily to heavy grinding)

What about a hard, carbon knife with a hardness rating of 62 for example. Well this just means you can use that 5k stone or even 8K stone but still monitor your pressure and of course you will sharpening at a more acute angle.

* Getting back on track to the right start.......don't let yourself get caught up in the ever increasing availability of sharpening products. Keep it simple, a good stone holder, a means of flattening your whetstones and of course you whetstones, 3 is best, 2 is good and 1 will do.  You don't need all those strops and sprays and other angle cubes and loupes to get started.  Gain that understanding, get a basic stone set and start practicing and achieve a certain level of competence that will then allow you to comprehend the value of a Loupe for example. I am not saying those items are useless, but don't let them cloud your learning process, you don't need them.

Think of what our elders starting sharpening with and believe me they could get their chisels and knives sharp, often with one old oilstone.

On a side note, I have often been asked about selling knives and stones and here is why I don't do that.

I know a couple of people that I once admired as knife sharpeners, I thought they ruled and at that time I had a lot of respect for them. That changed and the reason it did is because they changed hats, they went from sharpeners to salesmen. So over the years I lost the trust in their opinions because I didn't know if what they were saying about a certain stone was true or if it is because they sell that stone. They make money from them. So I NEVER want to be that person, and once you get into that area, once you invest your money in a brand of water stones, the ability to remain unbiased is a very formidable challenge, I have not seen anyone overcome that challenge yet. So I stopped listening to them.  You can be guaranteed that if I mention a product it is because I like it and use it, I don't care if you buy it:)
 To be clear however, I also know folks who excel at sharpening and they also sell sharpening products, they just come across differently. I remember having the opportunity to carry Shapton Glass Stones a couple of years ago, while those are fantastic stones, I also like to explore other products and try those out. 
    The one thing that will set you apart from the average sharper is consistency, your ability to sharpen a knife at an angle (whether it be 15 or 21 degrees) and hold that angle, on both sides and then repeat that over and over. You need to visualise bringing side A and side B of the knife together at the Apex of the blade, the primary edge and do it as precisely as humanly possible. Practice is what will hone your skills, it won't happen on the first or 21st knife but it will improve, guaranteed.

   Simple attributes like persistence and passion and your desire to succeed are more important than that 10,000 grit Naniwa Professional stone that would be cool to own.

    Just remember the basics and always start the learning process on a good knife, if you are worried about scratching the blade you can tape it up, just leave the edge/bevel exposed.  If you scratch the blade however, you are holding it at an angle to low, or you dropped it on the stone of course, but I have not scratched a blade, so it isn't a common thing.

On a different topic.

A restaurant in Quebec sent me some knives, I was completely shocked when I opened the box, every single knife was a very nice knife, all 22 of them.


     It took me about six hours to sharpen this large batch. I always do all the coarse stone work together, i.e. every knife then move on to the medium grits. Sometimes I will use two coarse stones if they are dull enough, 150, or 220 grit followed by a 400 or 500 grit stone, works well for me and as always, I manage my pressure carefully after that first burr raising stone. BURR ON/BURR OFF.

  Finally, a couple of days later after I had sent these knives back home I was working on a stunning Fujiwara.

    It made me think of something. I sometimes get asked by a new customer something like this:

"I have a hand made Japanese knife that was quite expensive, can you sharpen those?"

   However, nobody, ever asks me if I can sharpen a 15 year old $50.00 Henckels that has never been sharpened except with the crappy steel that came with the block of knives.

     It doesn't bother me at all if someone asks me if I can sharpen a particular knife, I get it, it's very important to them and they don't understand knife sharpening, only that it was nice and sharp when they got it and they don't want it ruined. If only they knew how easy it is to sharpen these knives compared to those old, thick, steel abused stainless knives.

Take care, thanks for reading and looking.
Peter Nowlan

Friday, 16 September 2016

Chris Reeves Sebenza

I had a very nice and very expensive folder dropped off to me the other day and the owner gave me the green light to finish it at any grit I desired.

So that means I can finish it off at  600 grit, go to 2,000 or up to 15,000. If I want to really polish the knife, I will take it to 15k and use a lot of stones in between and really work at removing the scratches in the bevels from any previous stone.

So for this knife, that is what I did and all the work was done at 21 deg on the EP Pro.

It was pretty easy to sharpen actually, in terms of hardness, these run at 59-60 and are very nicely finished. You can Google Chris Reeves to see the different knives, I am not sure if he is directly involved anymore with the products. I do know that they have always been regarded as high end folders.

Today I had another dropped off, a zero tolerance folder and it's about the 4th time I have sharpened it. So I am testing different edges on it as the owner really uses it for just about anything. For his knife I did the work by hand and only used two stone, the Naniwa Chosera 400 and the Naniwa Professional 600.


Monday, 12 September 2016

The Unserrated Knife


Repair work is something I had to get a grip on early on. I can easily remember the first time I got a damaged knife and realized I had not thought about fixing knives, just sharpening them. In fact 1 out of every 5 knives needs some work before I can sharpen it.

I recently got a knife in that I could not repair, i.e. not make it look like it did when it was new.

Since I cannot recut serrations, in my opinion the damage to this knife left me only one alternative, well a couple actually, I could have turned down the job or do my best. In this case I did call the owner first and tell them that it was not possible to fix it and return it as a serrated knife and have it look like it did when new. Well it's not something I could do and I don't know how anyone could do it.

I just re-profiled the knife, with the owners permission

(FYI the owner didn't damage the knife, it was a cottage knife, the renters of his cottage did the damage)

It was a lot of work, the thinning of edge, the complete removal of the serrations felt like it took an eternity but it all worked out, a lot of work for $15.00 though.


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Visit to Newfoundland

I've been travelling in Newfoundland for the last 10 days and had the opportunity to see and sharpen a lot of hard working knives. The place I stayed was a small fishing community called Ming's Bight, when I say small, I mean a population of 400. This is common for the province of Newfoundland though, a lot of small communities and all filled with very friendly people.

     As you can see, the place is quite beautiful and I went out fishing one day right in the spot of this photo, fishing for cod.

     As you may know, I have always firmly believed that men, most men, have all had the urge and the need to sharpen a knife or a tool and in the case of places like this it is a need. The fella I went out with has been fishing in this exact same spot for 38 years and every day he comes back and cleans the fish, 2 feet from where I was standing. So knives are important of course and I can honestly say that I didn't see one sharp knife, I mean one that was really nice and sharp.

    When I wake up, every day, the first thing I think about, (besides coffee) is knife sharpening, so that urge I felt over 35 years ago has long ago developed into an obsession and obsession leads to discovery and eventually a skill at whatever it is one is obsessed with. In the case of my new friend, the passion is fishing and making a living from it and knowing where the fish are. The last thing he thinks about is sharpening the knives he uses daily.  When I asked him what he sharpened his knife with he showed me a Steel, a well worn steel that, as we know does not make a dull knife sharp.

    When we got back to the dock to clean the fish he took out a dexter boning knife and went to work and kept commenting on how the edge was gone.  I suspect that this is a common them at the multitude of communities like this.


     Now the one thing they do share is beauty, truly majestic scenery and I was in awe at the scenes that unfolded before me. 

    Anyway, we talked knife sharpening and of course I had my water stones with me and they were fascinated by the process. They just didn't know the process, what was involved, what a burr was. It was all pretty cool and I managed to get about 15 knives done, a lot of them hunting knives. (Moose hunting season was just a week away)

    Now some of them wanted to buy water stones and I told them I would guide them but it's a lot to deal with. We are not talking about using a $150.00 knife on 4 fish, they are using knives ranging in price from $2.00 to $40.00 and cleaning 15 to 500 fish, a day.  So the edge is going to fail despite a persons best efforts, keeping on top of it will be a challenge.

     This is a chunk of iceberg ice, I used pieces of it in drinks and the melted ice on the water stones :)

Oil Stone made by the Mennonites, very fine. Age unknown 

This very old coarse grinding wheel was just sitting in a fellas basement, he said his Grandad used it.

Thanks for looking at the pictures of my holiday to Newfoundland. 


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Polishing things up.


     There was a time when I felt the need to put a highly polished edge on every single knife, I mistakenly felt that it meant sharper, it doesn't but I admit that it looks nice and it takes some practice and the right stones.

     On a side note, you may have heard that a highly polished chef knife for example will not be able to bite into a tomato, it will simply slide over the tough skin as there is no bite to the edge. This is not true, not in all cases.
     If the edge is sharpened well enough, where the two sides of the blade are brought precisely together at the Apex and that meeting of the two sides continue along the entire edge, that edge will slice into a tomato like you wouldn't believe, regardless of the finishing stone used. I have tested many many times. As well, I have seen many brand new knives from Japan with an 8K finish that do this easily.

     Back to the polished or mirror edge, it seems like a rite of passage for some sharpeners, something we all need to try. I will do my best to tell you how I do it, not that my edges are perfect mirrors but they are okay and I have learned a few tricks. I have done this freehand and with the Edge Pro but I will admit that using the Edge Pro is easier if you want to create a highly polished edge. The precision it delivers lends itself to truly uniformly polished bevels and edges. I have no experience with the Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener so I am not qualified to talk about. However, I imagine it to have the ability to do a fantastic job on these knives, I'd love to try it someday.

      This is what I do and again, results will vary but there are some key points to remember and I used the EP for the knife in these photos.

     Here is what you need, or at least here is what I used.

*Edge Pro Professional
*Coarse Stone, I used a 320 grit Shapton Pro
*Medium stone, I used 1,000 Chosera
*Fine and Finishing stones.

For this knife I used the following stone progression:

SP 320, Naniwa Chosera 1k, Shapton Glass 2k, Naniwa Chosera 3k, Shapton Pro 5k, Naniwa Chosera 10, Shapton Pro 15k.

By the way, I have done this with the stock stones, the 220, 400, 600, 1,000, 1200 and then the tapes, they did an awesome job. I just don't have any. I cut up my worn down full sized stones to use on the EP.  The Canadian dollar is terrible now so it is less expensive this way but I fully endorse the stones that come with the system. I suppose I could do another article on my impressions with the EP stock stones in comparison to the Chosera stones for example. Suffice it to say that I guarantee that you can get your knives absolutely, incredibly sharp with the stock stones, I never had a problem with them at all. 

     Don't be discouraged if you don't have these, just use what you have, including the EP Stock Stones but you do need something above the 1k grit to get that finish you are reaching for.

   Also, this knife took about an hour, it was in rough shape though but you are in for a bit of a long, patience testing's all good stuff.

      The first step for me was to use the Shapton Pro 320 to set the bevels, get them all uniform and get the knife sharp. This was easily the longest part of the project. Also, I use a lot of water, I am constantly dipping the knife in water and keeping the stones nice and wet. I am trying to remove any grit that may keep scratching the bevels. So my patience was really tested here and I did put it down for a bit. Again, the knife was in rough shape so I had to get everything set up in terms of the bevels so that they would accept this level of refinement. What I mean by that is when you are shooting for a mirror finish, uniformity is important, the removal of the scratches from the stones on the bevels is easier to achieve if everything lines up nicely, if the stone comes in contact with the bevels evenly.

     At 320 grit, you won't get a polished edge but it can look pretty nice and it can be very sharp. Pressure is very very important here, you don't want to be grinding away for this amount of time with heavy pressure, once the burr is formed then ease up, you are refining here, so lots of water and a lot of focus on pressure and keeping it gentle.

    Once you are happy, move up in grit and continue the cycle with very light pressure. Remember, no need to raise a burr here, you are just refining and polishing and you continue with lots of water.

    As I type I realize that I should have taken pictures of the bevels at every grit so the next time, the next folder I get, I will do that. I will say though that every time I do this, the polish really starts to pop out at the 3k grit level. In fact, I have stopped often after that.

    You need patience here on each stone, it's cool to see the bevels become more and more polished but don't jump to the next stone until you have done your best to remove the scratches from the previous stone.

     Again, don't be discouraged if you bevels don't look highly polished. Making the knife sharp is far more important and you may not have all the stones necessary so despite your best efforts you may be limited by your sharpening supplies. Also, don't think that all the pictures you see of mirror finishes are perfect mirrors. Mine are not always, I can see micro scratches in the bevels at times, under certain light.


     Now this knife is also exceptionally sharp so keep that in mind folks, sharp first, get that down before you concern yourself with polished edges. I know that they look nice and they do and they are fun to do.

     Bottom line:  uniformity is key, maintaining the angle throughout the process, monitoring and adjusting pressure, being patience and resisting the urge to jump to the next grit before it is time. When you see the scratches in the bevels start to disappear, keep it up until they are gone or close to it and use ridiculously light pressure.

    Thanks for reading and looking.

The photo below is one I had on m Blog earlier, the knife on the right was done on the EP and the one on the left by hand.  Polished bevels on black blades look pretty cool.

Until next time.



Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Pressure Video Redone.

Folks here is my second version of the video I did on Pressure..

Hope it clears up anything that may have been unclear.