I want to share a very simple yet incredibly effective tool that I have been taking for granted a lot. This is not something I have been doing for years and years but a habit that I now depend on.
When you are sharpening a knife on a coarse stone and going for the raising of the burr, if you don't already do this, take a look the edge once in while under a good source of light. In the picture above, you can see glints of light, reflections along the edge in the middle area. The light from above is causing some of the metal along the edge to show up. So what does this mean:
It means that I have not completely closed the gap so to speak, we sharpen a knife by bringing both sides together as precisely as we can at the Apex of the knife, the Primary Edge. When we have done that, you should not see any light. So to take this further, take any knife out of a drawer and check the edge like this under light. If you see anything reflecting, it means that knife is starting to dull or is completely dull, the light you see is the metal that has folded over. When we sharpen, we remove that metal, we grind, adjusting pressure as necessary until the knife is sharp, when it is sharp you will not see any light.
When sharpening, the difference between the edge above and the one a couple of minutes later on the same stone is remarkable in terms of sharpness.
It is difficult to get a good shot of knife edges, for me it is anyway but in the picture here, and this is a 220 Shapton Glass Stone you can see the edge on the left, not yet finished and the one on the right taken just a minute or two later which is clean, no light reflecting. Once you reach this stage on the coarse stone or whatever stone you started with, you will likely see no more light.
My advice is to stick with the stone, continue to sharpen until the light reflections vanish and I guarantee that you knife will be much much sharper. This is just from a 220 stone. I suppose there was a time when I was unedgeucated :) that I would not be as vigilant as I should have been and not seen the light. Once I started doing this however, along with my variances in pressure, my edges have become much much sharper.
It's so easy and you are probably already doing this maybe without realizing it.
On another topic, STEELING, I want to show a picture of what improper steeling does to a knife, it does everything except what it is supposed to do.
A Steel should not, ever, come in contact with the blade of the knife just the edge. Now I know scratches can occur from other means but I know that this particular knife was steeled this way. This is the product of steeling the way it is often shown on TV, where the chef slaps the blade against the Steel. Completely ineffective and harmful to the knife.
To finish on a positive note, here are some beautiful knives to look at, I have these at home and they can be purchased. (Remember, I don't sell knives, I just carry them for someone who does so any money goes directly to them.)
I have these Shapton Pro stones as well, I really like this brand, been using them for years.
An old friend and fellow sharpener, Tom Blodgett has provided me the opportunity to test out some of the products available on his site. Tom lives in Taiwan but don't let that bother you in terms of shipping costs.
Tom sent me a full array of Nanocloth strops and diamond sprays for testing and review and if I liked them, I told him I would talk about them and provide a link to his site.
What you are looking at is a colour coded nanocloth stropping setup and associated CBN sprays that you use to load onto the strops. They come in 3 different levels of refinement from 4 micron to .0.25 micron which is about 5,000 grit down to 60,000 grit. The strops themselves, i.e. the Nanocloth has absolutely no effect unless it is loaded with a compound, it is perfect for that though. The colour blocks you see are the acrylic bases the black nanocloth is adhered too. So basically, all you need to do is load up the strop with a corresponding coloured CBN spray, it is quite easy. CBN is Cubic Boron Nitride, a very very hard substance, not diamond but next to it. I won't pretend to tell you I understand all the science behind these products, they have been around for quite awhile.
Poly Diamond is another one and I have samples of those as well.
You need to understand how to use these, i.e. in what order of course to get the most from them and they definitely need to be loaded up. So for testing I went from a 2k Stone to a 4 micron, 1 micron and finally a .25 micron strop. IT DEFINITELY made a difference, I did this on good quality knives that were sharp from the water stones already, all I was looking for was the slightest improvement and I got it. Repeatedly.
Now he also sent me a couple Kangaroo leather strops that I used bare and to be honest, I think I like those as much as the loaded nanocloth strops, they are pretty nice.
Again, I do not sell products, so if you want to buy some of these and try them out, go for it, I don't get kickback or anything. If you live near me and want to see them up close and try them out, that is no problem for me at all. If you want to buy something from Tom, just check out his website.
To summarize, you don't need these or similar products to make your knives sharp, if you are not getting your knives sharp on water stones, these will not help you but if you are there now and just want to explore another sharpening path, these will be fun for you. I do believe in strops, I didn't always but I do now and I do firmly believe that any good strop will make a difference, even a bare strop will work.
Tom Blodgett is not the first business owner to contact me for the purpose of advertising their product, or selling it. Some companies have come to realize that I have a good reputable business and I see a lot of great people who love sharpening. All they usually ask is for me to tell people about them if they ask. If I like the product, I have no problem doing it, apart from a free sample in some cases, I don't get anything or want anything in return.
So if you sell something like water stones for example and you want me to tell folks about them like other folks have, Paul from Pauls Finest for example, just contact me. I WILL NOT recommend a product that I have not tested myself, so if you want me to tell folks about you and your products, you need to let me play with them :)
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.