Saturday, 16 April 2016

New Water Stones - Naniwa Traditional


I had the opportunity to use three new water stones from Naniwa , here is what I think of them:

They are called Traditional stones and they will be available from Pauls Finest.

Now if you are from Canada and you want to purchase superior water stones (and some incredible knives) than I can very very highly recommend Paul. He is a pleasure to deal with and whatever you order magically appears in your mailbox in three or four days.

Paul's Finest

These stones will be for sale in a few months from Paul.  do know that they will be priced by Naniwa very nicely, a little less expensive than the Professional series.

Lets start with the 220 Traditional Stone.

     In my experience with very coarse stones, water management is a little tricky, they tend to act like a filter, so the water does not remain on the surface for too long.  I soaked this stone for an hour or so before using but I don't think you need to do that. Ten to fifteen minutes will likely suffice and it may in fact improve the water retention. I know that it did when I did that with my Nubatama 150.
    Having said that, I said "typically", I didn't a surface water retention issue with this stone. It really doesn't matter anyway, you won't be spending a lot of time on it anyway. Burr removal was very quick, this knife was extremely dull and thick. You can see that the Primary Edge has moved up into the Granton Edge area where it is thick.  The stone handled this quite nicely and it doesn't feel like a very coarse stone, quite nice actually. Not as slick as the Chosera 400 but that is to be expected.

    This stone is handy for chip repairs,  it is for very dull knives, thick knives and damaged knives. I don't think the average sharpener, i.e. someone who only sharpens his/her own knives will need this but it is very nice at forming a burr quickly.  So the Naniwa Professional 400 will likely be of more use to the part-time sharpener.

I really liked this one though, did the job I wanted it to and I was able to get this knife very sharp on this stone.

Next up the Naniwa Traditional 1, 000

Naniwa Traditional 1,000 (MAC knife not included :) )

     This was going to be a good test for me because the Naniwa Chosera has always been my favourite 1K stone and the Naniwa Professional is the same. So this one was going to have to perform  miracles to upset my favourite :)

    (I also had this one soaked but for all these stones, 10-15 minutes is all that is necessary. I did leave mine in water all night because I was using them constantly).

     The first thing I noticed with this stone was the feel, the feedback is very different than the Chosera/Professional. (Let's call those C/P from now on). Where the C/P has a very silky smooth glide path that is hard not to love, this Traditional stone has an aggressive, "grabby" feel to it. This is a good thing, it felt like sharpening was taking place immediately and it was.

    As you can see after a very short time the build up of metal from the knife on the surface as the abrasive power of the stone went to work. ( I clean this off with an Atoma 400 by the way, as I flatten it cleans, you could use a Nagura stone to clean it).  I was quite impressed with the stone, I do have to admit that.

    A sharpener friend of mine ( a skilled one too) told me to expect the stone to feel like a King stone, and I agree, it did feel like that but I prefer this stone for sure.  In terms of sharpness, heck yeah, no problem getting it sharp.

   As you know, pressure is huge for me, I make a big deal of manipulating pressure to squeeze everything I can from a stone so keeping that in mind, I can recommend this stone, without hesitation.  It does feel a little different than the C/P but that's Okay and if this is your first 1k stone, than it doesn't matter.  You will definitely feel like something is happening within seconds of using it.

So when these are for sale from Paul, I say go for it.

(YES the knife was just as sharp off of this stone as the C/P 1k Edge )

Now for the big one, the 2k.

The Naniwa Aotoshi 2,000, the Green Brick of Joy is my favourite 2k stone, without doubt.
I got mine in Phoenix Knife House.  A very brilliant sharpener by the name of Corey sold it to me, he is in fact the only other sharpener that I have met in person, and he is a hell of a nice guy.  So if you are in the Phoenix area, don't hesitate to go there, it is very cool because the sharpening takes place right up front.
Corey and I....I am the old guy.

Corey doing what he loves to do, man he is good.

Back to the 2k.

Naniwa may give the impression that their Traditional 2k is very similar to their Green Brick of Joy but at half the price and half the size. However the "real" GBoJ is huge so that's okay.

Keeping that comparison in mind I went to work.

Traditional 2k on left, Green Brick of Joy on Right and very dull MAC on top.

    As you can see they do look different so the Traditional is not just a cut down version of the Aotoshi, but that's okay, does it sharpen knives, that's what is important?

HELL YEAH.......:)

     The Traditional stone feels harder than the GBrick but it got the job done very nicely. I used this stone following  the 220 and 1k Traditional and this MAC was beautifully sharp upon completion.  Now the level of polish did not seem quite the same but under magnification,  I could barely, and I mean barely make out the difference in the refinement level.

    Now is it as good as the famous Green Brick of Joy?.....that depends on who is using it. Keep in mind that I have sharpened at least three thousand knives or more on my green brick so it is not simple for me to say that the Traditional is as good after only sharpening ten knives on it. However, I will say that I was impressed with it and since this will be about half the price of the Green Brick, I don't see a reason not to pick it up.  The one thing I did notice is that it built up a lot of mud as I flattened it with the Atoma 400, this is good, it gives it a very creamy feeling as you sharpen.

   I finished this MAC on one side with the GB and the other with the Traditional to compare the bevels visually. I have to give the nod to the GB in terms of the polished look but again, very very close and also,  polished doesn't mean so don't think that is too important.

    The bottom line is that the knife was sharp off of the Traditional 2k. (I was doing these knives for an Executive Chef so I was prepared to go back to my beloved Chosera's and Green Brick if I wasn't happy but that wasn't necessary).

Happy to be able to recommend these stones.

Believe me, I have tried a lot of stones and I don't like all of them. If you are thinking of getting into sharpening or if you already are and you're looking for some new stones to add to your obsession, I would try one of these or all of them.  I will buy some for sure. These are not "beginner" stones, I would use these, so don't worry about that.

    The picture above is the 220, 1k and 2k Traditional with the Green Brick on the far right. This one is considerably less thick then when I bought it, you could almost add one of those traditional stones to the green brick  to get an idea of the thickness when new, not quite but close, it really is a brick.

 If you are in the USA you can of course buy these from Chef Knives to Go, another dream location for stones and knives and other nifty stuff everyone wants and Mark Richmond is also very nice to deal with.

Thanks for looking.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Sharpening Video - Fujiwara dream knife

Sharpening a hand made Japanese Knife - Fujiwara

Hi folks,
This is a link to a video and an article I did for Knifeplanet.
It shows the sharpening of a beautiful Fujiwara knife one Naniwa Chosera water stones.

Thanks for looking.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Keeping it Real

Hi everyone,

     It just hit me that some of the things I worried about in my sharpening life and some of those things that I have shared are really not that important in the big scheme of things.

   I'm talking about topics such as edge retention, whether or not a 1k edge is the ultimate edge for certain knives, toothy vs polished edges, things like this.  Knife sharpening has consumed the vast majority of my life, fortunately, so I guess feeling the need to encompass all of those things comes with the package. 

    However, for people who are interested in sharpening, for novices and beyond, I can honestly say now that the importance of those things truly pale in comparison to other aspects of the sharpening process, the basic fundamentals and really simple things. For example, one comment that I just noticed was about lighting and inspecting the edge, so I will talk about that here but it really is those very simple little things that will improve your ability to sharpen. Not worrying about whether to finish a knife at 1k or 5k.  So if I ever gave the impression that to become THE sharpener you need to know about all those things, I apologize, I was just sharing my experiences.

   Why don't I tell you what you need to know, from Day one to Day 35 years from now as in my case. I can honestly tell you though that even today I get excited about sharpening knives, just as excited or more than I was ten years ago. I have a bunch of knives from a new customer, (a Chef) and I'm like a kid at Christmas. This sensation is not because I understand what a 1k edge looks like magnified 5,000 times, (big deal), it is because I love the process, the simplicity of it. All that other stuff was a distraction, good to know but not an impact on my ability to make a knife sharp.

   The reality of the 1k edge retention thing is that it all goes to hell once the knife goes to work anyway. If you sharpen your own knives, what does it matter if the edge stays sharp for 4 weeks or 5 weeks or 4 months or 6 months.  

   Can you imagine If I ever met a master sharpener like Shibata san or Fujiwara San and said "So, what do you think lasts longer, a 1,000 grit edged or 2,000 grit edge", I am sure they would just look at me like a deer staring at headlights.

   Recently I spoke to a man that I have the utmost respect for, Jon Broida and Jon and I spoke about this whole 1k edge thing. He has a slightly different view and he elegantly described it to me in such a manner that it was a relief, something I don't have to worry about anymore.  His view is that it is not necessarily true, that sharpness from a 1k edge may be perceived differently by people, it is a little more aggressive than a 5k edge, it may "feel" sharper because of it's toothiness, it's lack of refinement but does that mean it will last longer than a polished 5k edge. It may and it may not, so many people will have different results that it is hard to make a definitive statement. There are more important things to sharpening, like finishing with a "clean" edge, that is the edge we all strive for. Jon is very humble man but he is an extremely knowledgeable one and if you love watching sharpening videos, I still think his are the best.

OKAY........I may never utter the words "Edge Retention" again :)

HOWEVER......all part of my sharpening journey, and I shared it.

Maybe I just spoke about those things to make myself sound smarter, or maybe I thought I HAD to cover those things.....let's move on.

Here is what it has all boiled down to, after all these years and thousands of knives, here is what I now know is important.

Just a big cleaver, this isn't whats important :)

  • Finding a technique that works, one that enables you to adopt the sharpening position easily and without thought. In other words, when you decide to sharpen a knife, you are not walking into the sharpening session thinking about what technique you are going to use, how you are going to hold the knife etc. That should come automatically and it may take you some time to find the right one for you. It certainly did for me, I think I went through three different styles of sharpening until I found this one. I believe this one is the most common one anyway and believe me, it is effective.
  • Setting up your sharpening station properly, it has to be one that allows you to sharpen comfortably for an hour or however long you need and it must have GOOD LIGHTENING. I purchased a really cool light from a store here called Lee Valley.  Great Light 
  • Your Japanese Water Stones or oil stones if that is your preference, some good micro fibre towels, some water and a good solid surface to work on. One of the best things that I have is a really good stone holder so pick something up that keeps the stone stable and eliminates any movement, so do distractions. If it is a 2x4 with the stone sitting on a wet cloth, cool, many sharpeners use this, it is stable so that's the key.
  • A sharpie may be helpful and it certainly is to beginners but I have already talked about that in my guide and I will add some links to the bottom of this post.

    So these are just the basic "tools" you need, your setup but of course you need to have a knowledge of sharpening. What I find really effective, something that students enjoy is the ability to "picture what it is you are attempting to (and will) achieve.  When I first started I did none of these things, I just picked up a knife and dragged it over the stone on both sides, I did this for years without really understanding what I was actually doing, why the knife was getting sharper. 

   For a novice, get a good light source and really look at the edge and bevel before you start.  I picked up a Loupe at Lee Valley, it is a very simple magnifier designed for jewellers but it really gives you the ability to see your edge and bevels, you will see the scratch patterns and most importantly, you will see if your sharpening is effective, if you reaching the edge of the edge.
Loupe - Magnifier
Now again, I sharpened for 25 years before I had a loupe, but I definitely see how it would have given me a better understanding of seeing the edge and bevels of the knives I worked on, it's pretty cool actually and very cheap.

  The things I am discussing may be things you that will help you, you still need to find the technique and practice and practice and build up that muscle memory but these are little things, simple things that enhance the sharpening session and should become habit. We shouldn't just pick up the knife and start blindly grinding away, there is no finesse to that.

  • Place your sharpening hat one, turn off any distractions, turn your light on and pick up the knife;
  • Look at the knife and ensure it is not damaged in any way, a tiny bend near the tip will have an impact on the consistency of the bevel on one side of the knife near that tip, believe me. 
  • Feel the edge and allow it help you choose two things: The water stone (Grit) you will start with and just as important, the PRESSURE you will begin with.  If you only have the one stone, then Pressure is even more important.  (ALSO remember that what you are doing is very important to you, you are improving a unique skill, a lost art some call it, and you should be proud of yourself). So you feel the edge and it doesn't feel to sharp, if you were trying to cut yourself, you'd have to use some pressure for example. Now you know that you can start with more pressure than if the knife was still relatively sharp.
  • Now just before you start, and this is for a novice, imagine that you are trying to bring Side A and Side B together at the Apex of the knife by grinding on Side A at a certain angle and by grinding Side B at that same angle and doing it as evenly as possible on both sides. I know that seems obvious but do you think I pictured that when I started, definitely not.  Your ability to do this with consistency will vary go from "not that great to holy crap, I finally got this". The period of time in between your inability and ability will depend on how much you practice and also, some folks are just really good at it.  However, you don't need to have the steady hands of a surgeon to get good results, you will get that knife sharper by following the steps and focusing on creating that primary edge, or just improving it. 

PRESSURE: Manipulate pressure as you progress, whether using one stone or three. Start with enough pressure to raise a burr effectively on both sides of the knife from heel to tip. Sometimes, you will feel a burr along the entire edge except for a part in the middle. This happens to me a lot, so I continue to grind along the entire edge, however, I ease up on the pressure on the are of the edge where the burr is formed and then as I get to that spot where it just isn't quite there yet, I press down a  little harder with my two fingers that are placed by the edge for that purpose. Remember, those fingers are not there for the ride, they serve a purpose, those are your Pressure Pads.  After a while you will find yourself able to move those two fingers along the edge in very smooth rhythm, as you push the knife away from you and apply pressure with your fingers (Pressure Pads) you will be able to shift those two fingers to the next position on the knife as you pull the knife back towards you. (This is assuming you are using trailing strokes). 

     Pressure is so important, by the end of the work on that stone, you have gone through three or four different levels of pressure depending on your goal, MAX pressure = Burr Formation and everything after that is about burr removal, cleaning your edge by your gentle reduction in pressure until at the end your pressure is so light that it is barely there, just enough to keep that knife stable. 

    Repeating an efficient process over and over is what will make you a better sharpener. Don't get caught up in brands of stones and mirror finishes and so on, just get to the point where your muscle memory and sharpening sense has developed to a point where your confidence has kicked in, every single time you pick up a knife.  You know that some knives will be harder to sharpen than others, but you will find a way, and remember, the edges your produce are sharp enough, don't be deceived by parlour tricks you see on YouTube.  Does your knife cut your tomatoes nicely, without bending them? Yes they certainly do so whatever it is you are doing, keep doing it.

Sometimes I miss comments, but I will get to them and don't hesitate to say something like 
"Peter, thanks but would you mind telling us about ................." . You may be struggling with something that I have overlooked, not explained well enough. YOU may teach me something and I am all over that.

Remember to focus on the basics and consistency and use a good lighting source. Have fun and don't hesitate to walk away from a difficult knife for a while.

The picture above is of my Admiral, a fantastic man and I with a Japanese senior officer about to embark on a visiting Japanese ship. I am on the left, in my Navy Days

Thanks so much for being here and reading my ramblings.

I respect you all.

Things I forgot to add:

This is the article I wrote for Knifeplanet, 100,000 people have read this, I think it covers a lot of things.

How to Sharpen on a Water Stone

ALSO......If you have a high grit stone that  you like to use because it gives a nice polish and it just seems to make that edge sharper, don't hesitate to use it. If you are worried that you are going to polish out any "teeth" on the edge left by coarser stones, you can still use it. Just use very light pressure and don't linger on the high grit stones, just be gentle and enjoy using them. They are great also for cleaning the edge, like a leather strop. 

Friday, 8 April 2016

Japanese sharpening

Hi there,

    For those who sharpen professionally, we see all sorts of knives, every different brand out there and it is our responsibility to sharpen them with an edge that enhances retention, is sharp and excites the owner.

    Once in a while some gems come in, hand made Japanese knives that instil sharpening glory and compel us to make use of  all of our sharpening senses, those skills that we have picked up  over the years and years of sharpening knives.

This photo was sent from my friend who visited Japan recently.

   How do I treat a knife like a Fujiwara or Masakage or Kotetsu differently than I do a Henckels, Wusthof or Grohmann?

Local Restaurant sharpening and typical knives

      As someone who has spent a very long time sharpening freehand, I have developed certain instincts that kick in when I sharpen, these are mostly common sense for sharpeners,  they guide us along and help us choose the most appropriate sharpening method for each knife.

     First of all, the process itself is not any different, I don't use a different technique at all,  I use different angles and different water stones. Speaking of Angles:

     For me, there was a time, a long time ago that specific angles, i.e. feeling the need to sharpen a knife at a specific angle haunted me. In fact, I think it hindered my sharpening progress as I struggled to figure out how to hold the knife at exactly 19 degrees for example. This it took me some time to realize that I cannot hold an angle at EXACTLY 19 degrees, i.e. I cannot say to myself, "Okay, this one should be sharpened at 19 deg per side, so I will hold my wrist accordingly to achieve that precise angle" We are humans and that just isn't possible, here is what is important and I am sharing this so that you don't let something like angles be problematic.

Just a nice picture.

     Here is what I have come to learn and adopt as my Angle Philosophy:

     As we sharpen, and as I have mentioned, we develop a Sharpening Sense, we adapt and build muscle memory, confidence, skill and ability to make sharpening adjustments on the fly. It just happens intuitively, by osmosis, we get better. This enlightenment helps us choose an angle that is appropriate for each knife.  So instead of having the ability to sharpen at a specific numbered angle, we sharpen at what I call an INSTINCTIVE ANGLE, the angle that our brain tells us to sharpen at and that our muscle memory enables us to sharpen at.
    Now in most cases, these angles will be one of very typical sharpening angles such as 12, 15, 19, 20, 23 degrees.  What is far more important than the ability to hold the knife on a stone and raise the spine so that it is exactly 19 deg, is the ability to hold the angle you intend to sharpen at with consistency from heel to tip on both sides. If someone gives me a Shun and asks me if I can sharpen it at 16 degrees because that is the factory angle, I just say "yes" because my sharpening instincts have taught me to sharpen that Shun and an angle appropriate for Shun knives.  Yes, I could use the mathematical formula that will tell me exactly how far I have to raise the spine of the knife from the stone to get an angle of 20 deg for example. (Yes there is a formula for this). However, all that does is give me a visual clue, it will be about half and inch and that is a good thing to know. But......I have to move the knife back and forth so that visual guide is not a moveable thing that keeps the spine of my knife a half an inch off of the stone.
It is muscle memory that does this and that comes from practice.

    Don't sweat the angles but know that you should not sharpen every knife at the same angle and it will only be with practice and a build up of sharpening instinct that will allow you to see this clearly and adjust your angles easily.  You will know that you should sharpen a certain knife at a more acute angle than other knives, it will be common sense to you.

How do I sharpen the beautiful Fujiwara in the picture above differently than a Global for example or a 20 year old Henckels like the ones in the restaurant picture?

     I know that Fujiwara san sharpened this knife at approximately 12 degrees. Now when I say approximately,  it was very likely microns close to that angle, yes, we can do this ourselves with practice, achieve near perfection in terms of holding precise angles.  I know that I should sharpen this knife at MY 12 degrees per side.  

    What would happen if I sharpened my $75.00 Henckels at 12 deg per side?  
The edge would be extremely sharp, ridiculously sharp but it would fail quite rapidly because the steel is not hard enough, or it lacks certain alloys that would allow it to hold such an acute angle for any length of time.

     I would sharpen the Fujiwara at a very acute angle because I want to get the most from this knife as I can. I am aware that the steel used in the knife is probably the top steel in the world, or close to it and therefore the primary edge will be stronger and will last longer. My goal is to sharpen this the knife the way it is meant to be sharpened, to push the envelope so to speak but not overstep it's limits. 

     The stones I would use on this I knife, the grit choice that is would be slightly different than the grit choices made on that Henckels. 


     If the Fujiwara was dull,  (hey it could be someone else's knife, not mine),  if it was dull,  I would select the following stones and sharpen the knife in the order shown here:

Naniwa Chosera 400
Naniwa Chosera 1,000
Naniwa Chosera 5,000
Kityama 8,000
Leather Strop.

    Now since I have a Japanese Natural Stone in the 8-12k range I would substitute it with the Kityama. However, the point is that I can take the knife to a much higher level of refinement. Each stone would be used in the exact same way except for one thing, PRESSURE.  The manipulation of pressure is most important and that will come with experience. Basically though: After the burr is formed on the 400 grit stone, pressure is decreased with each subsequent stone. 

(Coarse, Medium and Fine water stones is the way to go here) Don't worry if you don't have Naniwa Stones, just use whatever you have, I have often used Shaptons to do the same thing.

    Now if I am going to sharpen my Henckels I would do the same thing except I would stop at 1,000 or 2,000 tops. The previous blog article explains why. Also, my sharpening angle would be more obtuse, up at "my" 19 degrees. 

   The cool thing about knife sharpening is that you can achieve fantastic results with just one stone, the 1k stone for example. If that is all you to work with than work with that. Even if you have one of these dream knives, don't think because you only have one stone you can't get it sharp. You can, believe me, with practice and patience that one stone will give you everything you need. It may not be as polished but that's okay, it will still be sharp.

Remember that a nice strong edge is one that is clean so burr removal is your goal after burr formation. If you just have the one stone, just manipulate your pressure from heavy (to get the ball rolling on a dull knife) to very light, almost impossibly light pressure and think "burr removal, clean edge"

Also, if the knife is not too bad, but still on the edge of being dull, you could start with a 1,000 grit stone easily or the coarser stone with a little less pressure when you begin.  Some folks don't use any stones that are coarser than 1,000 grit, that is perfectly fine.  If you sharpen your own knives, you shouldn't need to use anything lower anyway.

Thanks for being here, it is really important to me to know that I am not the only one who reads my Blog.

Peter Nowlan

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The 1,000 grit edge - Improved Edge Retention puzzle - Solved.

Hi folks,

      I should state right up front that with reference to the title of this post, it was a puzzle for me, I am not  suggesting that everyone out there was confused by the repeated statements that led me and others to believe that a knife finished at 1,000 grit will stay sharp longer than the same knife sharpened at 8,000 grit.

     It's not that easy, to be clear, this statement which I now believe to be accurate (with caveats) implies the sharpening of knives such as your basic and very common Henckels, Wusthof, Grohmann, Global and not the dream hand made Japanese knives.  It is the steel itself, the hardness of the steel that is important to get a grip on for this statement to make sense.  We know that the hardness of steel used to make knives can be measured and measured very accurately. Sharpeners and  folks who are knowledgeable understand this scale and what the numbers mean. It is the Rockwell Hardness Scale or HRC more accurately and I believe that stands for Hardness Rockwell Conversion.
Rockwell Hardness

Funny enough though, the majority of people who purchase knives are not too concerned about the hardness of the knife that they are purchasing. They are concerned about the cost of the knife, the way it feels, the way it looks but in my experience, (people bring me knives to sharpen daily), the hardness of the steel is not an issue.  It should be.

     The majority of knives I sharpen and the ones that are in millions of homes range in hardness from 54-58 and that is common, the higher the number of course,  the harder the steel.   Now it is good to know that the makers of knives don't simply turn up the Hardness Dial to make the knives harder. There is a very significant difference in a knife that has a hardness of 58 and one with a hardness of 60.  In most cases this also represents a substantial difference in price, the harder the steel,  the better the steel so the more expensive the knife.

    Why is harder steel better? 

     This is where the edge retention factor comes into play, a softer steel such as my Henckels will succumb to the pressures of everyday food preparation faster than my Fujiwara pictured above (on left) which has a hardness of 63.  I know that this is obvious but it is important that I lay the groundwork in order for this article to make sense.

    Before I continue I mentioned caveats and there are some that make definite statements questionable. For example, we should not read " A European knife sharpened at 1,000 grit will always stay sharper longer than one sharpened at 5,000 grit". This is not to say that the author of such a statement is trying to fool us because it is likely true without some obvious caveats.

    "Under most circumstances" is applicable to the statement because people treat their knives differently, they cut different things and the edges impact different cutting boards with different amounts of force. Those same European knives for example, one finished at 1,000 grit and one finished at 8,000 grit live different lives so this means the ability of those equal knives to hold their edges and equal amount of time is questionable.  However........this is all common sense, the important thing is that this is important to me, a sharpener, i.e. how to sharpen a particular knife. I can't control the knife after it leaves my hands so I cannot tell an owner how long that knife will stay sharp. I can tell him however that I sharpened his Wusthof at 1,000 or 1, 500 or even 2,000 grit to enhance it's edge retention.

    People will buy a knife without regard to these things, that doesn't let me off the hook, as a knife sharpener it is my duty to apply the appropriate edge to any given knife. Making a knife sharp is easy, making it SMART SHARP is something one needs to learn. I can easily sharpen a knife at a very acute angle and dazzle someone with the edge. That edge may fail on day one so I need to not only make it sharp of course but to try my best to keep it sharp and with this goes a little education to the owner.   I have always said that edge retention is a team effort, if the owner is going to throw that knife into a sink with 8 other knives, all my work will be for nothing.

     NOW with the help of some reading and a fantastic explanation from my friend and mentor Tom Blodgett of Jende Industries, I can explain why I did that. Before today, I lacked the scientific background and therefore the best answer to the question.  Tom's knowledge in these matters dwarfs my own, he knew the answer t to my puzzle before I knew that is was a puzzle :)

Why is a 1,000 - 2,000 grit edge better for certain knives?

     Again, the answer to this question has come to me recently and it follows a lot of digging, I mean a lot of it and also the fact that I have absolutely no problem asking questions and sooner or later and answer will come.

     This is my explanation, others that are more knowledgeable about this topic could word it better, folks like Tom and Cliff Stamp who I have never met but have a lot of respect for.  I can make your knives exceptionally sharp folks but there is more to sharpening than that, it involves a deep understanding, if you want it to involve that of course. I find the topic fascinating so it only makes sense to turn over every stone I can find.

     (First of all, we start with knives in the "softer steel range" this is not imply that they are inferior knives, these are common knives that fall into the budgets of many people. It took me thirty years to have a knife that is "hard".  Remember that hard knives, I mean really hard knives have issues to, yes they are absolutely incredible to cut with but they can be brittle and that astonishing edge can chip if you are not careful.)

Typical knives and a 1,000 grit Naniwa Chosera.

     As you know, the sharpening process involves grinding the two sides of the knife until they meet at the Apex and form the Primary Edge, we make that cutting edge as microscopically thin as possible and we make it as uniform as humanly possible. If I sharpen a Global knife at 15 degrees on one side, I sharpen it at 15 degrees on the other side, the closer I can get to 15 deg on each side the sharper that knife will be, since I do that by hand, it is obviously possible that I will be off a tiny bit, sometimes I will nail it, sometimes perhaps not. This is human sharpening not precision sharpening but I can tell you this, I will take the "human edge" any day of the week. :)

   Knowing that the average Global knife, a very popular knife falls into the 56-68 hardness category, I will sharpen it up to 1,000 or 1,500 grit. (Now don't think that because it isn't sharpened up to 8,000 grit it won't be that sharp, believe me, the knife will be sharp at 400 grit.)

   I have seen pictures of edges of knives taken with special instruments. (SEM, Scanning Electron Microscope) that provide incredible images of edges magnified 5,000 times. Now the edge of knife shot at that level doesn't look like the edge of knife but it does reveal important things, very important and it is these images and the explanation from that gifted one,  Tom Blodgett that enlightened me.

   The primary edge is thin, a somewhat fragile strip of metal and by thin I mean at the microscopic level.
The area directly behind that edge supports the edge, it helps hold it in place so to speak. Think of it as the Edges Armour.  Now the picture revealed that the same knife sharpened at 1,000 grit has a very slightly thicker Apex than the one sharpened at 4,000 grit. Now we are taking decimal three or decimal 4 microns (.3, .4) but this is enough to have an impact on the edge. The life of the edge is found in this molecular space and even a very tiny micro level of difference is a difference.

    It has an impact on this particular steel so if I sharpened that same knife up to 5, 000 grit, the area directly behind the cutting edge is a little thinner, I have created a weakness in the armour, and while this is a micro level difference, when you consider the life of the edge of a knife, that little difference is enough to make that particular knife's edge fail a little faster. So the 1,000 grit finish with it's minimal collateral impact to the secondary bevel is better for this particular hardness of a knife.

   So what if you want to sharpen it to 5,000 or 8,000 grit because you love the way it looks and cuts?
No big deal, remember all the caveats that influence the life of the edge of knife. It may or may not make a difference.  This article is simply an attempt to add some weight to the statement that a 1,000 grit edge is going to last longer on certain knives than a more refined edge. Now I know why and I hope I have conveyed that to you.

  Now, with a harder knife, 60 and up to 64 for example, that steel behind the edge of the edge, that armour is much much harder so I can refine it up to 8,000 grit, it will still support the Primary Edge.

Cool eh..

    Buy a knife you can afford and you can ask how hard the steel is and you could be surprised if you got an answer. Don't worry too much about that, there is a significant difference in price and in the forging process as well. Not everyone has the skill to make a knife with an edge hardness of 64, in fact the number of people who CAN do this is quite small in the big scheme of things.

   60 is a good number to shoot for but just get a knife that you can afford and find a good sharpener and let him worry about these things.  ( I mean a good sharpener by the way and that could be the challenge) At least you now now....hopefully....why certain edges perform better than others.

I received this comment from a fellow sharpener that I have much respect for, it is important to share here as it is pertinent to what I was trying to say, some excellent points.

Well written Peter. 
A few more points to consider... 
Hardness is not a sole determinant of wear resistance. It is also the constituent elements added to steel like chromium, vanadium, tungsten and etc. that contribute as well. 
In addition it is not just the grit at which one finishes but how well the burr is removed at every step aiding in the strength of the edge and behind it: yet another "weakness in the armor". That is why jointing the edge works in keeping an edge long lasting.

Again......this is not information I was born with, I gained this information from people smarter than I am, I like sharing it that's all.

Thank you very much for reading this.

Peter Nowlan

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Thinning - What's the deal.

Hi there folks, thank you for being here at my Blog.

     Sharpening knives as a profession leads me down many different but related paths, a lot of things pop up over the years, sharpening terms that I either ignore or feel  compelled to understand. Generally, I don't like general statements such as " A 1,000 grit edge will last longer than a polished edge"

     Seriously?  How can one make that statement and it is one I read often,  and I admit the my issue with this particular well known "law" is that I cannot get a grasp on the physics behind that, I don't see the reason.  Also, folks tend to repeat what they have heard or read somewhere, I do this, I have repeated things when in fact, I didn't know what I was talking about. Maybe I just wanted to sound intelligent but I think this is a common thing for folks to do.  Now I am just talking about sharpening knives, this must be true in everything in life, "you need to learn to play guitar on an electric guitar because it is easier to learn, then you can go to an acoustic guitar". Things like this,  peoples opinions become laws that we spread and people think they must be true.

     Gees, you must be wondering what the heck this has to do with thinning, "where is he going with this"?       ...............It's my Blog, I can ramble:)


 What is it, Why is it and How is it?

    Most of you know that over time, as the edge of knife is sharpened and tiny amounts of metal is removed, and I mean tiny, the knife becomes thick. It can be as sharp as a new razor blade but still not perform as it should because the area directly behind the edge is too wide.  Now we can see this with some brand new knives as well. I remember buying a set of kitchen knives as a gift in Dubai, which I didn't take a good look at until I got home. I ended up throwing them away because of the very poor design, way to thick.

     The thickening process starts early and progresses over time, (or it comes with the knife as I said) so when you are considering purchasing a new knife, look carefully at the geometry of the blade, a nice thin blade is going to cut very nicely. As you can imagine, thin blades mean you are not forcing as much metal through the product you are cutting. Of course thin is good for kitchen knives, hunting knives and such need that support behind the edge and you generally don't cut up carrots with your hunting knife.

     Thinning is a process that is meant to retain positive slicing geometry, it is something that will change the appearance of your knife and there are some very important things to consider when thinning, you need to be aware of the negative aspects of thinning before proceeding. You'll be able to weigh the Pros and Cons and decide for yourself if it is good for you and for your knife.

     Generally thinning is good, it can have a major impact on how you feel about your knife. Remember, it can be extremely sharp but useless for certain tasks. Unless you have purchased an already thin knife than it is something you can consider.


     In the photo above you can clearly see that the process of thinning involves the removal of the metal directly behind the edge, the metal that is making it thick in the first place. You can also see that the primary edge can be sharp but ineffective. Also, you can thin the entire knife a little or just the area behind the edge.  (This is more of Relief Angle and I will explain.)

How is it done?

20 deg Sharpening Angle

     Let's assume that I am sharpening the Grohmann Chef knife in the picture at 20 deg per side. (I am freehand sharpening so this angle may not be 20 exactly, it doesn't matter, it is the appropriate angle for this knife and I can hold this angle from heel to tip on both sides).

     Now if I continue to sharpen this knife at this angle over and over the Primary Edge will move up into the thicker part of the blade, the area behind the edge that is there to support the edge. This is not a good thing to do, just sharpen it over and over exactly at the same angle without taking this thickening process into account.

    I can do one of a couple of things: I can and should thin a little as I sharpen the knife, I should work at maintaining good cutting geometry by adjusting the angle a little to keep that knife from becoming thick but this has to happen early on in the knifes life. In most cases, I get knives that are already thick and I need to either just sharpen it as is or thin it.

    To thin a thick knife I have to adjust the sharpening angle in order to be able to grind the unwanted metal away and this isn't easy, the idea behind it is easy but the process itself is not that easy, it is a lot of elbow grease and takes patience and courage.  ( I will explain the courage piece)

Adjusted thinning angle

    The POSITIVE effects of thinning are immediate to the user, the knife will perform better (assuming it is sharp) because the blade is thinner. So to thin a thick knife I would need to decrease the sharpening angle significantly and I would sharpen/grind at this angle until I reached the edge of the edge. The knife would be thinner and very likely exceptionally sharp.

That's the good news, here is the bad news:

     When you reach the stage that the thinning process is not a continual gentle process, when it comes to the stage where it is all done in one step the knife undergoes changes. It will look different, it is quite possible to scratch up the blade, and you will will scratch it, it can't be sharpened at a greatly reduced angle and not be scratched. However, that can be fixed by polishing out the scratches.

    The biggest problem and it is a big one, is that the thinning process and significantly reduced the strength of the edge, it will be sharp yes but the edge retention is going to take a big hit. So you will find yourself having to hone your knife a lot to keep it sharp. Some people thin their new knives, especially the older European knives that are often thick to begin with. Just be aware that you are adjusting the ability of the edge to hold, that already thin strip of metal, the Primary Edge, has just lost a lot of support behind it.  So sharpening this knife is going to be a chore.

(When I say it takes courage, I mean the knife that you are used to seeing is going to look different)

Is there a better way?

        Well you could start with a thin knife and keep it thin by maintaining the geometry of the knife throughout it's sharpening life. Shun knives for example are thin but even they can get a little thick if not sharpened properly.

    Of course dream knives like these come nice and thin to begin with, their cutting power is astonishing to be honest.  However, I have seen a Fujiwara that was left to get dull over a period of a few years that had lost all of it's grace, a shame really.

     A Relief Angle is perhaps the way to go and this is what a Relief Angle is, sometimes just called a Relief.

     If I sharpen my knife an 20 deg per side, I could create a Relief by first sharpening at 15 deg per side. Now the key is that I would not grind the metal away until I hit the edge, so I am not sharpening at 15 degrees, I am creating a Relief which is also thinning the blade. Now I can go to town on this Relief and polish it to my hearts content.  The knife is still dull, that's fine, I am not sharpening I and building a Relief by grinding at a 15 deg angle, one that is at least five degrees less than the Primary Edge Sharpening Angle. I need to stop grinding before I hit the edge, basically, I need to leave some room to sharpen the knife. Once this is achieved I can SHARPEN my knife.

    Now I raise my angle to 20 deg and start my sharpening process on a 1,000 grit stone, I don't want to go to coarse here, I need to be careful not to cut into that beautiful relief angle I  spent so much time creating and it is like a mirror.  The primary edge is now going to be simple to sharpen and I can sharpen this to 5,000 or 2,000 grit. The knife now has two angles on it and if I wanted to create a Micro Bevel it would have three but we won't worry about that at the moment.

     The beauty of a Relief Angle is that from this point on, I don't need to work at that 15 deg angle, I just have to sharpen the Primary Edge now at my 20 deg angle. ( If my Sharpening Angle was 15 deg my Relief Angle would be 10 deg).  ALSO, that Relief Angle is still going to provide support to the edge itself.

     This all sounds real easy eh?  It isn't, doing this by freehand takes some skill, I need to hold the knife at a consistent 15 deg angle on both sides then repeat that process at 20 deg and be careful not to lower that angle so that I am disrupting the Relief.  This is where the Edge Pro comes in nice and handy. I can lock in that 15 deg angle and from from that point I can put away the EP and finish the knife by hand (at the sharpening angle) or just finish it on the EP. Not everyone has an EP of course and not everyone cares about this entire process. I am simply describing an alternative method to improve the performance of your knife without compromising the strength of the edge.

    Now Ben Dale, the brilliant sharpener and creator of the Edge Pro starts his Relief at the Primary sharpening angle, the 20 deg angle first and then goes down to the 15 deg. If he does it this way, it is pretty safe to say it is the way it should be done.

Again, not all knives should be thinned.

I really hope that I cleared up some things, I did for myself, that happens a lot when I write things down, everything comes together.

Respectfully and with gratitude,
Peter Nowlan

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

New Article for Knifeplanet - Is Sharpening harmful and steps to stay sharp


I had a similar post up earlier but Knifeplanet wanted to run with it so I had to take it down but now I can share the link.

What prompted me to write the article was something I read where the author used terms that make it sound like sharpening a knife as opposed to continuously honing a knife is harmful to the knife.

I was all over that incorrect statement so here it is.

The only harm I have seen to a knife is from sharpening on a grinder or similar machine and also, over steeling.  Some folks have a nasty habit of steeling a knife for a period of time and when the positive effect of steeling is gone, as happens, the person just applied more pressure.

Thanks for reading