Monday, 5 October 2015

I Learn Something Every Day

When I get a knife with significant damage like this, especially to the tip I always wonder and fear some collateral damage that extends into the steel, at the molecular level, stuff you can't see.

When I repaired the tip the first time I did the work from the primary edge, the cutting edge and hoped to preserve as much real estate as possible of what remained of the blade. However, as soon as I started to sharpen the knife another little piece of the tip broke off. Clearly there was internal damage from the impact.
I redid the work from the spine of the knife and re-profiled it just a little in an attempt to add some stability to that area of the knife.

This time I was able to sharpen it normally, with a good amount of pressure.

I learn something every single day.

ON another topic:

This is a seaman knife that I just did for an old shipmate, it really brought back a flood of good memories from my Naval Career. I started my sharpening on these knives many many years ago.

Just sharing, thanks for taking a look.

Peter Nowlan

Friday, 2 October 2015

Sharpening Tips by the Professionals

Knifeplanet asked me to provide ONE tip for beginner sharpeners and you will see mine in the list below (New Edge Sharpening)

However.....there is a ton of fantastic tips here, each one is important and if followed will enhance your sharpening prowess. Even if you know how to sharpen, I think you will learn something from the folks here. I sure did, it brought back a lot of memories as I was learning.

Professional Knife Sharpening Tips

I hope you enjoy them.

Naniwa Chosera
left to right:
Just put this picture here because I know you all love Japanese Water Stones, this is one of my favourite brands for sure. The 1, 000 grit stone is my absolute favourite 1k stone.

Kudos to Knifeplanet for finding these sharpeners and asking the question.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Why is it so important to have a sharp knife?

Hello again,
Even though I sharpen knives every day and I get calls or emails from folks who want their knives sharpened, there are still millions of dull knives out there.

If you buy a chef knife, it comes pretty sharp in most cases and in some cases it comes very sharp. In the case of some hand made Japanese knives like the Fujiwara it comes with a breathtaking edge, seriously. (I have one)

So why not just use them for a few years or more as long as the knife is still cutting food?

I guess a lot of people think this way, otherwise I would have a million knives to sharpen.

Technically speaking, you don't need a sharp knife to cut food, in fact, you could use a metal ruler and force it through food with a hammer if you had to, so a dull knife, I mean a really dull knife will still get through a roast, it will work but will be able to hack off some slices with a super dull knife.

I know that anyone reading this Blog has an interest in knives and/or sharpening and also appreciates sharp knives. So it is foolish to think that a knife that is very dull is acceptable despite it's ability to tear something apart, force will eventually win out over the food being tortured.

This knife which did eventually come to me for sharpening was in this state for quite some time, this doesn't happen over night.

Here are my reasons why it is important to keep your knife/knives sharp:

(Yes I do realise that some people can't afford to keep them sharp, that's understandable, if you have $20.00 knife that you have been using for 5 years and you want it sharpened but just can't manage it, I get that. You should still contact me though and let me know, I can always work something out)

Why Sharp: (my reasons are in no particular priority, they are all valid)

* We all need to eat, whether it is meat and potatoes or just veggies we need to eat every day. Unless we always buy our food pre-cut that food has to be sliced up at some point in time, we don't put a whole tomato on a plate or entire got my point. Preparing food is part of our daily lives, why the heck would we want to spend the 10 minutes prep time struggling to cut that food up?
It is very frustrating, the food prep becomes a chore, something you have to do to eat. Do we really want to face that every single day, two or three times a day when there is a simple solution. Remember when the knife was sharp, how good it felt to prepare food?

* Dull knives will eventually lead to a nasty and painful cut. Yes a sharp knife will cut you, and it will do it quickly, however, when you cut yourself with a very sharp knife it is due to carelessness. (This just happened to me yesterday, I was packing up a persons cleaver that I had just finished sharpening and while doing so I was chatting with the gentleman and I paid the price, that was my fault)
A knife that is dull will slip off of the food you are hacking into to and if your finger is in the way, well that is going to leave a mark. There is no doubt about this, it will happen. Remember, that knife is dull, you're not enjoying what you are doing, you're completing a task, you're going to get bit eventually.

* Dull knives hinder culinary creativity, you just get the job done, cut up the same ol stuff and that's it. You are not thinking of creating a new dish because that knife has to come into play, believe me, I speak to folks about this a lot. I am not making this up so that you will bring me your knife so I can get your money.  This is huge, I see a lot of dull knives in professional kitchens, it just really pisses me off to be honest, I don't get it. 

* Here is a really important reason: Dull knives can and will have a negative impact on the food at the molecular level, the cell level. As it tears and saws through the tomato for example, that is after the dull knife has crushed it, the cells are torn apart causing collateral damage that allows juices to spill out all over the place, that food dries out quickly. In some cases, vegetables will change colour.

(Now what if  you have a sharp kitchen knife, you've sliced the beautiful roast and it goes on the plate. The person eating it has a dull table knife to cut it up again into bite sized pieces. That is different, the food is being eaten before it can dry out)

* Dull knives just eliminate any of the joy that is associated with cooking. I get comments all the time from people who have had their knives sharpened who tell me that since they did they are cooking more, they are thinking of things to cook because it is joy to prepare the food. 

Now are dull knives worth having sharpened?

I will put it this way, there are knives out there that I don't care if they get sharpened. This unfortunately is true in the case of some restaurants where the house knives are shamefully dull, it really does boggle my mind but I have since given up on that.

In just about every other case, yes it is worth it. If you have eight knives at home that are dull and you paid $75.00 for the whole block why would you pay that much to have them sharpened or even more?

What choice do you have? 
Just keep using them dull or throw them away and buy new ones, and start that cycle over again.  That is very wasteful and not encouraged. If you have a whole block of knives and want to experience a truly sharp knife, just get the Chef Knife sharpened, the one you use most and go from there.

First of all I don't recommend buying a block of knives, get one good knife and you don't need a dream knife like these hand made beauties. Just get a good eight inch chef knife and keep it sharp.
Believe me, you will truly see a difference.

If I had only one good reason for  you to have a sharp knife, here it is:

Any of the senses you use while cooking will be elevated, you will see the knife as an elegant tool that enhances your food preparation. 

We are on this planet for a pretty short time and yet we spend a heck of a lot of time getting food ready to eat, why would anyone not use this time as something enjoyable?'

Thank you for reading and if you don't believe me, if you think I am just saying this to get money then that is your choice, but thanks for reading this far.

But besides all of this, sharp knives are just freakin cool :)

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Guided System vs Freehand Sharpening

Hi there,

I appreciate the fact that you are here reading my Blog.
I spend a lot of time trying to think of articles that would interest people with a common interest, knife sharpening or just knives.  It isn't as hard as I thought it would be, that's because I do it so much, so I get a lot of life experience from sharpening knives.

I think it is very important for people to understand that knife sharpening is a skill that is not that hard to learn, yet is is a very essential skill. I think of what I do as an art and I hope that doesn't come across as boasting but I am very proud of what I can do.

You don't need to be able to get your knives to a point where they can shave arm hair and it's really important to take that in. You just need to be able to improve the edge so that what you are cutting is being sliced and not torn. Is the tomato bending a lot before the knife breaks through the skin? If so, you want it to be sharp enough not to do that, effortlessness equals sharp.

Here is a key test to see if the knife is sharp enough for you:

Is it enjoyable to use the knife, is it something that is making your work easier. If you pick the knife and cut a vegetable and think how easily the knife went through it, in other words, if  the sharpness of the knife caused a nice sensation then it is sharp enough. Conversely,  if it did the opposite, it is dull.

Lets get to the topic title, what is better,  the Edge Pro or free hand sharpening?

This is topic I feel very comfortable talking about because I have lived it for about four years now, I own the Edge Pro Professional and I sharpen free hand, I sharpen with both.

Four years ago, the edges I produced on the Edge Pro were superior to what I could do on full sized stones.

Once I became comfortable with the system the knives were sharper than anything I had seen before. The first kitchen knives I did for people were done on the EP and the customers were delighted.  It is an absolutely fantastic system, I have sharpened thousands of knives with it and it is as good now as the day I bought it. It enables, it forces you to sharpen at precise, chosen angles so the result is always going to be great if you follow the instructions.
What I like about it most is that for those difficult to sharpen knives, birds beak paring knives, boning knives or just older knives that have had their edges distorted by frequent use of a Steel and not used properly. It allows me to follow the contour of the edge and get into those hard to reach areas.

I cannot say enough good things about it.  I have not used the Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener but I am also confident when I say that it too is a fantastic system. I have the utmost respect for  the inventors of these two systems, Ben Dale and Clay Allison. There is another guided system that looks pretty good called the KME and I am sure that it too is very good.

Now..... please remember that I sharpen every day for four to five hours and these days I sharpen freehand about 90% of the time.  I find it quicker and I am able to produces edges as good or even better than I can on the EP.

This is no way means I have changed my mind about the EP, in fact, if it got lost I would order a new one immediately, it has been there for me for years and always will be.

However, with much practice and focus and obsession I am quite comfortable with my freehand edges. They are a little different, slightly convex, very slightly and I can just do more by sharpening freehand.

MOST importantly however is that I ENJOY freehand sharpening more than I do using the EP. That may be the answer because logically, the EP should produce the perfect edge but I constantly surprise myself.

Now....the EP edges are always razor sharp, there are times when I sharpen freehand that I have to go back to stone # 1 and take another shot, I may been off a tiny bit, this doesn't happen often but it has.

In conclusion... perhaps the best way for me to wrap this up is by saying that in my particular case I am happy with the edges from both techniques but I get the most satisfaction from sharpening freehand. I don't mean satisfaction from the resultant edges I mean satisfaction as in joy,  ZEN.

I used the EP today in fact on the knife in the first picture and the edge was fantastic. I really love the EP for smaller knives like paring knives and Folders.  

So what is better, it all depends on the user, I enjoy freehand sharpening a lot, I mean A LOT. I love my Edge Pro. I think the best sharpeners should eventually become familiar with both systems and get to the stage where they can make their edges razor or beyond razor sharp.  They are both tools in my sharpening system, ones that I could not live without, they are crucial to my business.

When I get the Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener I will include that in this list, I have no doubt about that.

Using the Edge Pro has made me a better freehand sharpener, that is absolutely true. I have heard this many times.  It build up my confidence, I had never seen knives so sharp so it was a crucial stepping stone for me and I am so glad I chose to buy the Edge Pro Professional.

Having said this, as I mentioned, the majority of the knives I sharpen are done by freehand, it is my favourite method by far. I am happy with the edges from both methods but freehand sharpening is truly enjoyable for me.

Yusu Shiro and a brand spanking new Naniwa Chosera 400.

Here's looking at you. (35th wedding anniversary shot at Le Caveau)

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Interview with Knifeplanet

Interview with Knifeplanet

Recently I had the awesome opportunity to talk with Knifeplanet about my passion, knife sharpening as you folks all know by now.

Hope you liked it.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Angles and muscle memory.

Howdy folks,

When I teach sharpening, I encourage students to sharpen their knives at one particular angle depending on the knives being used by the owner.

Naturally, different knives should be sharpened at different angles in order to optimize the performance of that knife. However, it is quite common for people to own some medium quality Henckels for example, or Kitchen Aid or something similar.

Why not sharpen these knives at 20 degrees and develop the ever important muscle memory that will come into play every time you pick up the knife and go to sharpen it?

Now...when you are happy that you don't have to fight every time to find that right angle on those Henckels then be be prepared to expand  your muscle memory.

You may get a Shun or Global or something better that should be sharpened at 15 or 16 degrees or even 12 degrees.

It is very important however when learning to choose an angle, develop your skills on that angle and stick with it until your knives are sharp every time. Don't ever raise the angle because it is easier to form the Burr. For example, if your sharpening angle is 20 degrees, don't raise the spine of the knife off of the stone because you are having a hard time raising a burr.

Instead, use a sharpie to ensure you are hitting the target area and remain patient, the burr will come eventually.

In Summary, even if you have variety of knives, become proficient at sharpening one of them and then adjust the angles as necessary. You don't want to sharpen your Shun at 20 degrees so you just have to lower the angle a little to 16 degrees.

How the heck do you know if it is 16 degrees, well unless you have a laser device that can measure the angle you cannot say with complete accuracy that one knife is sharpened at 18 deg while the other is at 16 deg. However you will be able to notice a lack of performance if you sharpen it at too an angle too obtuse.  Now if you are using a guided device like the Edge Pro or Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener, of course you can lock in a given angle. (Awesome devices by the way)

This all comes with practice and time, don't let it bother you. Make your knives sharp at an angle that is comfortable for you to hold over and over but one that makes the knife sharp. You can make a knife sharp if you sharpened it at 30 degrees but it will be very thick and completely useless in the kitchen.

 Here is a paring knife that I sharpened at approx 10 degrees. While the knife was ridiculously sharp the steel is not hard enough to sustain that angle so it would not hold it's edge very long. The angle I chose (on purpose) was inappropriate for this particular knife. A 17-20 deg angle would have been better.  ( The 2 white spots are just a reflection of the lights on the camera that I used)

In time, you will need to be able to adjust your sharpening angle to different knives, a folding knife for example may be better with a 23 degree angle, you need to take what the knife is being used for into account as well.

A meat cleaver is sharpened at 23 degrees while a vegetable cleaver could be sharpened at 15 degrees, depending on the steel.

It is not a scary as it may sound, let the Sharpie guide you and also let your sharpening instincts help you, you will get the hang of it.  If all you ever sharpen is your own personal 3 henckels knives then the 17-20 deg angle will serve you well. When your friend brings over his Masakage however, that 19 deg angle will not be acute enough, you'll need to drop it down to 12-13 deg.

All part of the learning process.

Knife sharpening is not easy, if it was everyone could do it.

Having said that, it is not as difficult as you may think.


Saturday, 29 August 2015

Lesson - What to expect.


You're sick of your knife being dull and wondering what to do about it.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, you feel the urge to sharpen your own knives. That is the real key, the fact that is dull and you'd have to pay someone to change that is relevant of course but you just want to learn.

I applaud anyone who takes a knife sharpening lesson, it is a demonstration of commitment to the desire to learn.

I promise you that if you learn to sharpen your own knives from a person who uses Japanese Water Stones, and you practice, you will be able to sharpen your kitchen knives and make them as sharp or as in most cases sharper, much sharper.

You don't need a lot to get started actually, here is what you MUST have:

*desire to learn;
*good sense of humour:
*ability to follow direction:
That is about it if you want a lesson from me. Otherwise you may need a water stone(s) and a knife.

Here is what I suggest, after starting with the items above:

1. Japanese Water Stones, three in coarse/medium/fine grits. If three is not an option, then the coarse/medium stones and if only one stone the medium (1k) stone.

1. Stone Holder

That's really all you need, determination, ability to follow the instructor and really focus on technique is crucial.

The sharpie in the picture is good to have and it's use would be explained.

My lesson takes 2-3 hours and that time flies by and this is how it unfolds:

We start by talking about what makes knives dull in the first place, I don't mean what we do to cause the edge to feel dull but what is actually taking place with the edge of the knife, metal fatigue etc.
I talk about primary edge and secondary bevel and what the process of sharpening involves, what we are trying to achieve. I try to visualize that as I sharpen, i.e. bring the two sides of the knives together perfectly at the Apex of the blade (the primary edge).

I have a setup where I can sharpen beside the student so if he/she didn't bring any stones I have two 1,000 grit stones setup and I provide a demo in slow time and I continue to sharpen slowly beside the student so that he/she has a reference.  I only do private lessons at my home so it is great, I can stop and monitor the work, check angles etc. and just talk about the entire process.

It is important to manage expectations and understand that it will take awhile before your knives are really sharp, i.e. sharper than new. Having said that, you won't leave until you are satisfied that you are on the right track and that the knives or knife you brought with you is sharper than when you came.

Technique is so important, you need to establish a technique that you can repeat over and over, one that is comfortable and one that works. I show the technique I use of course, it is up to you to develop your own which can of course be the one I show you, a very common and effective technique.

Now I stand when I sharpen so no sitting and no distractions either, you need to be able to work in an area that you can focus on what you doing, not having the TV on in the background or something similar.

I also go over the importance of coarse water stones and we do some damage control on a knife with nicks in the edge.

Of course we discuss Burr Formation and Burr Removal and angles and how to hold the knife and sharpening the tip. Maintenance is another element of knife sharpening and I show you how to use the stone to do that rather than with a Steel.

It is actually a lot of fun and the 2-3 hours flies by. I really like it when the student gets back to me with questions or pictures of their work or where to purchase sharpening accessories.

I think one of the areas I will improve on is the sharpening setup, how to set your place up to sharpen. I take it for granted that all you really need is a stone, a holder and some water and  you are good to go.
After seeing my setup however people are keen to duplicate something so I will work on that. The Stone Holders I have are quite expensive but you can buy one from Lee Valley for 20 dollars.

I also invite students to come back in a month or so to see how they are doing and in case they have any questions that may have developed, I don't charge for this.

Now if you run into something like this, I don't use my coarse stones to repair something this bad.
Now the coarse stones will do the trick with patience and elbow grease and I have done it many many times. However for the sake of time, I use a belt sander with trizact belts to quickly and very uniformly work the edge so that I can get to the "bottom" of those holes and then I switch to the water stones to reset the bevels and sharpen the knife.

Basically, all you need is the water stone, a 1k stone if you only have one and a holder for it.
Now some folks just have their stone sitting on a piece of 2X4 over a container of water.  They place a cloth under the stone to prevent it from slipping and this works as well. Don't get hung up (yet) on brands of stones and all the nifty accessories you can get like ponds and Shapton holders.

Learn the basics, learn to make your knife sharp and have a setup which allows that. Then as your skill improves, and it will, you can decide how your own sharpening journey will unfold.

You need to love the process though, don't be afraid to walk away from a knife if it is frustrating you.

Thanks for reading this.