Sunday, 26 October 2014

The riddle of Steel

I am going to do my best to discuss the different types of steel used to make knives, I am not an expert but I have done much reading on the subject. I also handle thousands of knives so I can tell first hand what impact different steels have on your knives.

First of all, in almost all of my experience dealing with customers and their knives, I can count on my hands how many of them made a knife purchase decision based on the type of steel used.

Also......we have all heard the term "Surgical Steel" and have seen it stamped on some knives, I have on myself.  This is a marking thing. there is no such thing as surgical steel, it doesn't mean any knife that has that on it isn't good though, it is just stainless or a percentage of chromium has been added to the process to make it stainless. Surgical Steel just sounds cool, it can lure you in, don't let that be a factor in your purchase.

It is also important to realise that even the most precious steel elements that are used to make knives can go to waste so to speak if the forging process is not perfect, if the heating, quenching, annealing elements for the entire process are not meticulously followed then it doesn't matter that the premium alloys went into the furnace so to speak.

There is a few different types of steel categories:
Carbon; and
Powdered Steel.

I'm just going to discuss the first two, the powdered steel is more for tools.

I am sure you all have heard and believe that Carbon steel knives are superior to stainless steel knives, they can take a finer edge at a more acute angle and as the steel tends to be harder the edge retention is carbon knives is superior.

I am not absolutely convinced that this is true, it may be true and from what I have seen the carbon Japanese knives I have sharpened will take an incredibly sharp edge, truly something to see and feel to be appreciated.
However, there are some drawbacks to carbon knives and also, the quality of stainless steel over the years has improved greatly, I have some sharpen some amazing stainless steel knives which can still have a high carbon content, basically there has to be a certain percentage of carbon added to the composition.

In order for a steel to be deemed stainless it has to have a certain percentage of Chromium in its chemical composition, it's 11% but unless you are the one adding the ingredients so to speak, I guess that is not overly important, just know it is Chromium that makes steel  resistant to rust.

Stainless Steel........NOT surgical steel :)

Just like cooking ingredients, knife manufactures,  Blade Smiths use different alloys and other items like sand to increase things like strength, resistance to rust, edge retention,

These elements are......if you are going to make a knife, add these to your shopping list. (By the way, there is only a handful of certified Blade Smiths in the world (relatively speaking).

* Carbon - This increase hardness, tensile strength and edge retention;
*Chromium does the same but it increases resistance to corrosion;
*Cobalt - From what I understand this element improves all the other elements effects but increases hardness and strength;
*Molybdenum - This is common element on some high quality knives, it allows the maker to increase the hardness of the knife and also helps prevent corrosion;
*Vanadium - Sounds like a character in a video game but increases strength and toughness
*Tungsten - Does the same as the others but improves the ability to make the knife harder. 

OH and you need IRON :)

Why is carbon so important, what's the deal with carbon?
Well it is abundant, one of the most common elements on earth, we all have carbon in us but that doesn't mean it is good for knives does it?
Carbon increases hardness, it is bond able to other elements and in the eyes of many blade smiths, in Japan especially, it is the key element to extraordinary knives, extraordinary because of their ability to become razor sharp and hold the edge and also, easy to re-sharpen.
I am sure there are metallurgists out there who could talk for days on carbon, I'm not one of those.

I have sharpened many many carbon knives and this is what I know.

Yes they can take extremely intense edges and I do find them easy to sharpen. However, the owner needs to be aware that they are prone to chipping, not all of them of course but some are, the steel is hard and can be  brittle so if not taken care of properly they can be chip. This is why one shouldn't use a Steel hone of a carbon knife, the fatigued metal is too hard to flex and be pushed back into alignment, it can just break off instead, and that is what can cause chips.

I see this a lot but, it is easy to fix though and should not be a deterrent in purchasing one of these knives.

VG 10 steel, chipped as seen here

Same knife in front, easy to fix.

Carbon steel knives just need care, you just need to be aware that they will rust so keep them dry after use. The blades will change colour, despite your best efforts, this is not a bad thing, this Patina as it is called is often desirable in fact, it can look pretty cool and is not indication of the knife being dirty, it's one of the riddles of steel.

(FYI, I was in a store in NYC and handled a $3,500 knife and spoke to a chef about the knife he was purchasing and sharpening. I asked him about being afraid to scratch the blade of his new Yanagiba by using coarse stones on the blade path. He didn't care about that at all, the edge was what he made his living from.....this has nothing to do with steel does's in interlude).

What about VG 10 steel, the steel in Shun knives for example.

This is very popular high quality stainless steel (remember it only needs 11% chromium to be called stainless) and it is high in Cobalt. It is said to have high edge retention but in my experience with Shun knives, and I have sharpened hundreds of them, the edge retention is lacking but the ability of the steel to take a nice edge is awesome, they can get extremely sharp and easily sharpened. Many masters of knife making use VG 10. I have had some really  nice VG 10 knives at home and found them all very easy to sharpen and capable of extremely sharp edges.

 Some knives like Global have the alloy content listed, although I don't think every realises what the letters mean, like CROMOVA which very likely indicates Chromium, Molybdenum and Vanadium.  (they must have put the letters there on the knives so the guys won't forget want ingredients to add when they make them.)

Global knives which are extremely popular are also easy to sharpen and take a nice edge, I have one and it's quite good, no problem at all yet with any chipping and edge retention is decent, not amazing but decent.

What about White # 1 --------what do the various colours mean ?

(I can tell you that it has nothing to do with the colours of the elements in the steel, the blades are not white or anything like that)

These days the main steel used in the forging of Japanese knives is YSS, Yasuki Speciality Steel which was invented by Hitachi Metals and has a high carbon content.  This top quality steel comes in different varieties, differing because of the percentages of other metals and other materials. So when the steel manufacturer sends the steel to the makers, the steel is wrapped in different colour paper to differentiate them. Now this could just be a paper sticker on the box or container, but that is where the colour comes from. It is just a method to distinguish the various types of steel.

Now there are steels that are used just for hand tools but lets talk about knife steels.

The information below comes from a book called Japanese Kitchen Knives. Essential Techniques & Recipes by Hiromitsu Nozaki ......a very nice book by the way, I love it.
So this is not informationI know right off the top of my head,  I had to read about it from various sources, I'm not taking credit for anything here folks, just passing info along.

Carbon steel less impurities than the steel used to make tools, so it is used for low quality kitchen knives,  so you don't really want to get this steel although it is still high in carbon and capable to a great edge.......that great edge will vanish quickly though.

Shirogami - WHITE PAPER......Now we're talking!
This is the ultimate YSS product, the best steel with the fewest impurities. Now not everyone can forge with this steel, it is difficult and expensive but the trade off, the lucky folks who own knives made of of this steel speak of astonishing edges. Now they will rust easily so you need to take care of them but it is worth it.  There is White Steel # 2 which is undoubtedly and even better composition, more expensive and more rare but makes awesome kitchen knives. The highest quality of Japanese Traditional Knives are probably made from this steel.


This is another common steel, common but great, it is made by adding some ingredients to Shirogami
such as Tungsten and and Chromium. I am pretty sure that this is the most common steel used in high quality knives. I have sharpened many blue paper knives and I always ask myself the same question after I am done........"why do I not own one of these knives"?

Aogami Super is the same steel but with the addition of Molybdenum and Vanadium.

Swedish Steel

Misono knives which are awesome to are made from this very high quality steel which comes from Sweden.

Obviously there are other types of steel out there but I'm going to stop here for the moment.

OK one more and one of my ultimate favourites.

52100 High grade carbon steel which is made from iron, carbon and a little Chromium.
This is the steel used by Master Blade Smith Bob Kramer and we all know how amazing his knives are. He is one heck of a sharpener  as well.

By the way, Bob Kramer's carbon knives have been rated by some cooking magazines as the best carbon knives available....anywhere.

I just happened to be looking at one today actually, they really are exceptional knives.

I really hope that some you have found this enlightening. This is not the be all and end all of Steel, but it covers a lot of the steel we see in the knives we use.

I almost forgot one of the super steels:

ZDP-189, a premium Japanese powdered super-steel made by Hitachi, hardened to RC 62-67, with very high carbide volume. Along with S90V, it boasts some of the best edge-holding of any steel on the market.

( I just cut and pasted that from a Google search)

I know some folks who own Spyderco knives (I want a Spyderco ) and the ones made from this steel are quite expensive and not easy to sharpen but the edge retention is exceptional. You can get kitchen knives made from this steel too.

The hardest knife I have seen is in fact not a Japanese hand made knife, not carbon. It is a Henckels Twin Cermax with a hardness of 66. This is a beautiful knife and one of the sharpest out of the box knives  I have seen.

Now MAC knives which are very nice as well and I highly recommend MAC, are composed of secret ingredients, we don't know the compound. MAC are sharp when new, very sharp and nice and thin.
Easy to sharpen. Did you know that the box that a MAC comes in, which is quite nice is hand made and there is only one family that makes them.
I will get some pictures and add them.

MAC Yanagiba
I've sharpened one of these, it's very nice.

MAC Yanagiba


(I will talk about the Rockwell hardness scale soon)

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Ken Schwartz - Extreme knife sharpener & the ultimate source of all things sharpening

Ken Schwartz is an extremely accomplished knife sharpener, in fact I would call Ken a Pioneer in the art of sharpening knives. I have gathered countless lessons from him and have the utmost respect for Ken.

One of the really cool things about Ken is the fact that not only does he sell beautiful Japanese Natural Stones, Synthetic Japanese Water Stones, Compounds and Diamond Sprays, not to mention ultra cool strops but he is an expert at the use of these products.

You know when you go into buy a new knife or anything that is important to you for that matter, you know how disheartening it can be when the person selling the product doesn't really know anything about it, he/she is telling you things you just want to hear?

This doesn't happen with Ken, it's like buying a golf club from Rory Mcllory or something.

I have called him with the intent of purchasing a Nubatama 1200 Japanese Water Stone for example, instead of just saying, OK that will be $$$$$. He instead asked me what I was sharpening and politely told me it may not fit for me.  An easy sale for him but instead he steered me in the right direction and I ended up not purchasing anything that time.

However, I have made purchases from Ken with absolutely no issues at all, I love the products I bought and use them often.

Ken sells an impressive variety of Natural water stones, and his Nubatama collection is very interesting, I highly recommend this premium selection. I have the Nubatama 150, and 5,000 and absolutely love them.

There are many sources for Natural Water Stones of course, I think with Ken, what makes the difference is his knowledge of the products he sells his overwhelming experience and is ability to produce insanely sharp knives.

I wish I was Ken Schwartz :)

Ken's Facebook page

His email address is

His phone number is ( (209) 612 2790

You can Skype with Ken without any obligation to make a purchase too, he is a gifted sharpener who creates layers of self confidence with every conversation or email shared.

I do not get anything from Ken for mentioning him by the way, I just trust him, I've known him for several years and I am a better knife sharpener because of him.

A video from Ken

Thursday, 23 October 2014


Today is my lucky day, I received my dream knife in the mail to repair and sharpen.

This is what the edge looked like when I received it.


Here it is after some time, surprisingly little, about 10 minutes or so on the Nubatama 150 Japanese Water Stone purchased from Ken Schwartz  ("Father Sharp"..more on Ken soon)


What surprised me about the knife is that even in this condition, i.e. nicked along the length of the blade, not just the three bad spots up front, was that it was still sharper than many new knives I have seen. GEEBUS this knife is cool. Work was done by hands

After the repair work however, the knife was quite dull, the edge was basically gone so I had to start from and I had a plan.

Progression was: Nubatama 150, Shapton Glass 220 and 320, Naniwa Chosera 1k, 3k & 5k and finally the 8K Kityama.

This is one hell of a knife.

Today is my unlucky day.........I have to send this back to the owner.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Contacting Me

Hi there friends.

If you are interested in emailing me that is cool, I love to hear from people.

However, I am not sure if my replies are getting to you, I have sent replies to everyone so if you didn't get that, please let me know via email again.

My email address

Thank you so much for contacting me if you have.


Edge Pro Professional Continued

Before I start,  these would have been very difficult to do without  my EP.
Hi folks,
I thought I would give some tips that I learned from making some mistakes, the mistakes were mostly initiated by impatience.  This makes me a hypocrite because one of the things I stress is patience, I really cannot stress it enough, impatience leads to mistakes in the case of sharpening knives with or without the Edge Pro.

I'm human though, I don't mind making mistakes, each mistake has led to an improvement and I'm going to do my best to pass some information along.

First of all, this is what Bar Keepers Friend looks like, you can find it in kitchen stores, and hardware stores. Cucina Moderna here in Halifax/Bedford/Dartmouth sell it. (Also very nice stores with great folks working there, they sell some very nice knives)

This product excels at removing those little rust stains on knives and I use a cork. So as for my previous cork related posts, get some red wine, remove the cord, drink the wine and keep the cork. Mix up a little paste by mixing the BKF with a little water and simply dab the cork in the paste and gently....I say again, gently rub the moistened paste over the rust areas until it disappears. You don't have to rub hard at all and it will not scratch the blade. You can get this product in liquid form.
Now be careful on knives with a PATINA, this can remove the patina, for example if you let a little drop of the paste sit on the blade for a few minutes, once you clean it off with water that spot will be clean and look different from the rest of the blade. Just be gentle and wipe/dry the blade off immediately after use.

This is great for removing the black marks on ceramic hones too, I use this a lot, it is safe and inexpensive.

The other product I use is the adhesive that does a fantastic job of adhering water stones to the Edge Pro metal plates.  

Be careful with this, it is very effective, you just need a little on the plate only, don't spray it on the stone, just the plate and then put the stone right on the plate and you will have some time to move the stone around to make sure it is aligned correctly.  It will be ready to use in 15 minutes but I let mine sit for longer than that. This is easy to find as well in hardware stores and it lasts a very long time. 


Did I mention patience?

What I mean by that specifically is to exercise patience when sharpening by not jumping higher in grit before you should. This is especially true with the first stone used. Lets say the first stone you use is the EP 220. (I Love this stone). You need to make the knife sharp with this stone before jumping to the EP 400. By sharp, I mean, extremely sharp, don't get impatient and think the 400 is going to make up for anything you didn't do on the 220.

ENSURE you raise a burr on both sides with the 220, when the burr is raised on both sides the knife is going to end up very sharp, you can pat yourself on the back because you have successfully accomplished what was necessary to be done. You have removed the fatigued metal which was making the knife dull and you've exposed the fresh steel underneath and this is what you need to work on with subsequent stones. You are now ready to move into the refinement process. 

When you did raise the burr on both sides, you can continue with the EP 220 but gradually decrease pressure, if you measure sharpening pressure on a scale from 1-5 and you were at a 4 when you first started you should now be at a 1 to finish up with the 220 and prepare for 400.  Basically, you can get the knife very very sharp with that 220 or the 120 for that matter, this is the key to sharpening happiness, this is the Patience part.  If you need to walk away from the knife for a bit do so. Most of your sharpening time will be on the first stone, you are removing metal, there is no rush and patience will be rewarded.

Sometimes, you will need a bucket load of patience.

Tip 2.

Ensure that you use the entire length of the stone, and you can do this by slowing down, if you go fast you have a tendency to use the centre portion only. So you end up with the centre of the stone being dished. So take it easy and focus, use every millimetre of the stone and again you will be rewarded. The knife will get sharper faster this way.....remember, these tips are based on mistakes I have made.

This red area will dish faster if this is the only portion used. 
The video on the Edge Pro website does a superb job of demonstrating stroke speed. 

Tip 3 not use too much, let the stone do the work and the stone will last for much much longer. I never use "5" pressure for example, perhaps on a really dull knife a "4" but that quickly drops to 3 and then down to "1" By the time I am done, I am almost lifting the stone a little to reduce the pressure as much as possible. 

What about the Burr, is it necessary to raise it with each stone..

I will talk about that in my next post but the answer, my answer is "no" the Key is to ensure that any burr raised by any stone is removed completely when you are all done, I remove the burr after each stone but as long as you are diligent and ensure there is absolutely no burr when you are ready to put the knife away  or go show your friends or wife how sharp it is. 

I'll discuss this in my next post. 

Thank you.

ULU, easy on the EP.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

EDGE PRO Professional

Edge Pro Site

I got a very nice email yesterday from a gentleman in Vermont (Thanks Al, I hope you received my reply)

It made me realize that I hardly ever mention the Edge Pro in my Blog and yet it is critical component of my sharpening setup.

For me it started about four years ago, I had not heard of the Edge Pro but I was deep into knife sharpening and was just starting up my own business. If you are anything like me, before I purchase anything major I do a lot of research, I read reviews, watch YouTube videos, and I do this for months. I love to agonize over the decision and I even emailed Ben Dale, the inventor and owner of Edge Pro Inc. about his system.

Now at that time, the other world class guided system was the Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener, I was considering that as well.

If you are like me four years ago and on the fence about the Edge Pro, I promise you that you will be completely satisfied with it. Having said that, I have absolutely no doubt the same can be said about the Wicked looks wicked, I have talked to the inventor Clay Allison and I know it is also a wonderful device. (More on that later)

However, I have not used it, never seen it so I can only talk about the Edge Pro and I feel qualified to do so, I have sharpened at least three thousand knives on it.

Do not worry about the system not working, if you own one and the knives are not getting sharp, and I mean sharper than any knife you have ever seen than it is something you are doing, and I don't mean any offence by that. I went through is during the learning curve, this is proven system, this is not some fly by night gadget, it was invented over 12 years ago's cool. 

Birds Beak paring knife, this style of knife screams out for the Edge Pro.

The GOOD stuff.

Simply put; it does exactly what Ben Dale says it does, it delivers spectacular edges. Once you have learned the ropes and I HIGHLY recommend watching the videos on the website. Edge Pro, you just need to practice and believe me, you will be the king, people are going to be blown away by the knives. Now of course, there will be those guys who will not say anything, and they will whisper to their sweethearts something like "I could do that without that machine", but in secret, he is blown away to. (Ask me how I know all this :)  )

It is sturdy, I recommend the Professional version, I have seen the Apex. Now I sharpen professionally so the choice I made after talking to Ben about it was a no brainer but both deliver the same final edge. The Pro version is just sturdier and bigger, it can handle the Scissor Attachment and will take lower angles but if you are just sharpening your own knives and your friends, the Apex is awesome too.

I have used it a lot, that's an understatement and it is still holding up just like the day I bought it, nothing gets rusty or worn or anything, the machine is superb.

So how sharp can you get a knife with the Edge Pro?

Over time, when you have a few knives under your belt, ten maybe, you will be able to produce spectacular knife edges that are truly like razor blades. I once did a paring knife at a ridiculously acute angle of 10 degrees per side. That knife was like a razor. 

So yes, you can the knives sharp, the system forces that. This is precision device that will bring the two sides of the knife, the two planes will meet perfectly at the Apex of the blade and it does this over and over and over.

Are the stock stones any good?

My EP Stone Collection.

 While there is a vast amount of Japanese Water Stones now available for the EP, and as you can see I have many, the stones that come with the system are just fine.  I am obsessed with sharpening so naturally I needed to go out and get all these stones.

I'll tell you one thing,  I have a paid a lot of money for stones that ended up cracking ( I can still use them) but in my 4 years not one EP Stock stone has cracked.  Also, they are not expensive, you can replace them all for $8.00 per stone without the plate and you don't need to buy a new backing plate every time, just use the same one. (This is assuming you will wear your stones out, you may never do that). I have replaced all the stones because they wore out but it is very easy. You just put them in boiling water for a minute and the stone will come off the plate easily. You clean off  the stone a little, make sure there is not glue left behind ( I use Glue be gone) and then you glue the new stone back on. I use that 3M 77 adhesive, it is a spray and it is awesome, I think Ben uses it as well.

( I will add some pictures soon of what I use)

I have sharpened some very difficult to sharpen by hand edges and they all came out great on the EP.

I sharpen by kitchen chef knives now by hand because I enjoy it but the EP will handle it all. ESPECIALLY hunting knives and tactical knives, I just the EP exclusively for those.



I found myself going into my friends houses and feeling the edges of their knives and judging my friends because they were dull. I cut myself one day with a knife I just finished and I watched in admiration how clean the cut was, it was not a cut actually, it was an incision.

Yeah these are the bad things about the Edge Pro......seriously,  there is nothing else to add. If mine was stolen I would buy another one immediately.  ( In fact, I am thinking about hiding it, and telling my wife it was stolen so I could relive the thrill of receiving it in the mail again and owning two)...........this is another bad thing about the EP I guess.

Thanks for being here, it really means a lot to me that people visit my Blog, it makes what I do worthwhile.

If you ever want me to talk about specific things regarding the EP just email me, don't worry, I am not going to pester you or anything.

Now what I will do next is to give some tips and lessons learned, things I have discovered about the Edge Pro.

By the way, have you ever wondered how to clean a ceramic hone?

I used Bar Keepers Friend with a cork, mix up a paste and use the cork and it does a fantastic job on rust


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Counting Strokes - Recommended?

Hello folks,

When I teach knife sharpening, a common question is if it is a good idea to count the strokes to ensure and even grind on both sides of the knife.

Over the years I have changed my view on this but now I have  rock solid opinion, this is my opinion. not count your strokes and here is why:

random shot to add coolness to my Blog Post.

Knife sharpening by hand is a process that can induce a zen like environment, if you are focused, free of distractions and in the zone, you will truly enjoy what is a very rewarding sensation. There is a synergy that develops between the stones and  your edges and you. Get in the moment, concentrate on the edge and let the scenario unfold and you will not only walk away with a sharp knife but you'll experience an extremely rewarding sensation. This is a scene that plays over and over in my world and you'll hunger for it. 

If you count your strokes, you have a tendency to automate a traditional process that should NOT be automatic.  You need to learn to use your senses to know when to flip the knife, when to switch stones and when to stop. If you rely on a counting system, you will miss something, you will rob yourself of the sensation I described above....besides that, it's freaking boring to count. 

Now this does not mean that you can't develop a rhythm, you need to find something that stimulates consistency and if a counting to 4 and then moving to another section and counting to 4 works, that is fine but the key is not to use that count/rhythm as a measurement to begin or end  a step in the process.  Instead, use your touch to feel the edge, to feel the burr and to feel the edge to make sure the burr is removed. Use you sight to look at the grind, is it even on both sides? 
Is the burr formed from the tip to the heel? 

I hope I am making sense and remember this is my opinion, if you are getting your knives sharp and you have a counting system, than use it, it works for you and that's what is important.

This is just the way that I feel about the topic, it doesn't mean I am right and everyone who counts is wrong. 

Try it both ways and see how it goes, that's what I did and this is something I have come to realize recently,  I only ever counted strokes for a month or so...I did not like it for the reasons I mentioned above. 

Did I tell you about the time I sharpened knives in the pool?

Grohmann belonging to Executive Chef Craig Flinn

Thanks for being here friends.