Sunday, 6 May 2018

Dull is on the prowl


     I get a lot of emails from folks learning to sharpen who complain about dullness setting in very quickly after they have sharpened the knife. Or the knife is sharp at 1,000 grit but seems to be dull after a 5,000 grit workout.

   I get so many of these questions that a pattern emerges and I think the answer is not to difficult to find and the solution is not hard to identify and put into action.

   Something I have seen first hand is improper use of a hone, (Steel) after sharpening.  The primary edge of a knife, when sharp, is a microscopically thin strip of steel that forms the Apex of knife and runs from heel to tip. If you pick up a Steel and slam it against the knife, the chances of you hitting the target area, which is the fatigued metal that has shifted out of place from the centre of the knife, the chances of moving that back into place with a steel is remote if not done with some attention to detail. I have seen cooks knock the edge off a a knife in 10 seconds with improper technique.

    Steeling, (honing) should be done carefully, and as in the top picture. So if steeling habits are poor, it is doom for the edge of a knife and a waste of time, especially when too much pressure is used.

Speaking of pressure:

Corey in Phoenix, amazing knife sharpener.

    A student told me that he was able to get the knife nice and sharp on the 1,000 grit stone but it seemed to get dull again after the 5,000 grit stone. I asked him to show me his routine and it rapidly became obvious that pressure was the culprit.

   Sharpening comes down to Burr Formation and Burr Removal. In order to form a burr a certain level of pressure is necessary of course, I call it P4 pressure, the heaviest pressure that I will use during the sharpening of one knife. Once I have formed the burr on both sides I reduce pressure by half and then again by half and then on the last level of pressure, P1 Pressure, it is merely a feather light stropping motion.

   By the time I get to a 5,000 grit stone, my pressure is light to begin with so in the case where the knife was getting dull again, the fella was just using too much pressure, forming burrs again and dulling the knife.  It takes practice to manipulate pressure but it is very important.

   Usually, a sharpening issue can be resolved by something very simple, it comes down to going back to the basics, the fundamentals.


Monday, 9 April 2018

Setting UP

Hi Folks,
I've been away on a cruise, no knife sharpening although I did meet the Executive Chef on board and we talked about sharpening so I got a little fix at least.

     One thing that I never gave much thought about when I started sharpening full time, i.e. every day was the setup, my Sharpening Station.  At first I was working in the basement in a poorly lit area, no water nearby and definitely not ideal but I did sharpened there for two years.

    Finally, after several different attempts I got the setup I needed but even then, I found a way to improve it.  First of all, you don't need anything elaborate at all. I've seen pictures of sharpeners in Japan hunched over a container of water with the stone resting on a 2"X 4" board over the water and they had been in this environment for years.

Lighting is huge for me, I need a very good source of light to help me sharpen but that is pretty easy. I just got one of those jewellers type of lamps that clamp onto the side of the desk and I got that from Lee Valley Tools for 40 bucks. It's perfect, even has a magnifying glass attached to it.

    This is my current set up. The desktop is extremely sturdy and at the perfect height for me, that is important if you sharpen a lot, but not critical if you are a casual sharpener. Often I stand right here for 4-6  hours without moving my feet too much so it is important to be comfy as I sharpen. 

    The change I just made recently was going from the Shapton Pond which is absolutely fantastic to this plastic hotel pan and the Stone Bridge. I bought the Stone Bridge from Jon Broida at Japanese Knife Imports and as you can see I sharpen at a slight angle. This just aids in water management a little but it doesn't make much of a difference, and it is an optional setup with this particular stone bridge which is made by Suehiro and is quite superb. The water and soaking stones make it rock solid, nothing moves that should not be moving as I sharpen.  What I like about it is that I don't go through nearly as many micro fibre towels as I did on the Pond. I was doing a wash every day but now, with the water here I don't need the towels as much.

   The only thing I was worried about with this setup was testingthe edge with wet finger tips, would I be able to detect sharpness and yes, you can certainly do it. It takes a little getting used to but also, if the edge feels sharp with wet finger tip pads, it is definitely sharp.

  This setup cost me about $130.00 Cdn but the bridge itself is only $40.00 USD, its the Exchange Rate, shipping a getting hit by customs that make things add up. No regrets at all. 

  I can still use my beloved Shapton holder and I use the Pond when I sharpen anywhere else but here at home.

As long as you have a setup where you can stand, or sit, comfortably with a good source of light and left undisturbed you are going to be just fine. As long as the stone is stable and doesn't move around at all when you sharpen, which is distracting, you're good.

Karasu 9,000

Speaking of stones, I just bought this beauty from Tosho Knife Arts in Toronto, the Karasu 9,000 which is the first 9k stone that I have ever seen or heard of. It is not only quite beautiful but it's just an awesome finishing stone. Harder than the amazing Kityama 8,000 but that's okay. Now they say that this one mimics a natural stone or has a blend of synthetic and natural stones.

The dream knife is a Masakage Kiri and it is for sale if you live near me in Halifax. It's from Knifewear so as you may know I sell some of there knives here in NS for them. 

Take care and thank you for visiting my Blog. 

(This is a hunting knife, fixed blade that I did yesterday by hand and finished it at 6,000 grit. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Game Changer


   I want to pass along something that really did change the way I sharpen and improved my edges quite substantially and I've mentioned it before. I don't claim to have invented this or anything, as far as I know lots of people do it, I just discovered it about 4 years ago.


   When I am at the burr forming stage on a coarse stone, when I have gone through the four levels of pressure I use and have created a burr on both sides of the knife and then removed it, I always check the edge under a good source of light. I do this before moving to the next grit, so if I started at 320 for example, I conduct this quick check before moving to any higher grit.

  I am looking for reflections, a reflection means that the metal, the burr has not been completely removed at this coarse stone level. In previous years, before checking, the burr just got removed as I progressed but I never did really conduct a visual check, I just checked for sharpness when I was done.

NOW,  when I think the burr has been removed I check for any bits of the burr (metal) that are still there and that will reflect off of a light.

In the picture to the LEFT, you can clearly see the reflection, I only did a minute of sharpening so the picture would show up better but this is a clear indiction to me that I have not finished my work

So I got back to the same stone and use medium pressure and go from tip to heel, heel to tip on the right side of the knife then flip it, and go from heel to tip and tip to heel then do another check. In the middle picture you can see just a hint of light near the tip. So in this case I go back again and use medium pressure, (same stone) in this case, the tip area and light pressure on the rest of the knife, repeating the tip to heel and heel to tip and so on.

When I see no reflections, as seen in the photo on the right, I know I am ready to move on. I ONLY conduct this check on the first stone I use. After that it is all about burr removal so you there won't be any light as I am not forming any more burrs.

This simple and very quick check made the world of difference to my edges.


Sunday, 11 March 2018

Back to the Basics

Hi folks,
     I get a lot of emails from people asking questions about sharpening, I love emails by the way, and over the years, a familiar pattern has developed with respect to the context of the emails, the questions asked.

     Much of it has to do with burr formation which in the process can lead to a common problem which is pressure, using too much pressure in an attempt to form a burr and then using too much pressure after a burr has formed, during the refinement stage. So I will attempt to lay down some simple steps to follow for those who are having some issues.  Also keep in mind that there are a lot of things going on when you are learning, you need to manage your expectations and remember that everything gets easier and I mean much easier after muscle memory for sharpening, holding an angle is achieved. You can only build muscle memory by repeating a motion over and over and for knife sharpening by freehand, you need to do it about 30 times to get those stabilizing muscles built up.

What can you do to make sharpening easier, more enjoyable and more effective:

Number One:

     Establish a sharpening location in your house where you can start to form a sharpening pattern, once set up, you can grab everything you need in right there, stones, stone holder, water, cloth, it's all there.   If you find yourself having to hunt things down then chance are you won't, you won't bother so get yourself setup. Don't forget a tray of some type to catch the water and mess. You can keep it simple as well, you don't need fancy, expensive things but you need a SHARPENING STATION. It took me a long time to get mine set up perfectly for me. Oh, and don't forget to get a good light, it's very important.  

Number Two:

     If you have decided to get yourself into freehand sharpening you need to have a sharpening budget  from about $100.00 to $400.00 but know that for that initial 100 bucks you can get all you need to make your knives sharper than new, in terms of materials that is.

Buy the following:

A good water stone, don't set yourself up for failure by going to the hardware store and buying a $10.00 no name oil stone. Spend at least $30.00 on a King 1,000 grit stone.  Be careful on Amazon as well, there are an overwhelming number of stone brands, so if you are not sure, fire me an email. There are many many good brands available in Canada and the USA that can be shipped anywhere. Chef Knives to Go, Knifewear, Pauls Finest to name a few and of course Fendrihans if you like Shapton Glass. 

YOU NEED a whetstone, if you buy one get a 1,000 grit stone if you buy two get 320-600 grit stone as well and if you go for three, the best setup bet a Coarse, Medium and Fine, (5,000 to 6,000) grit stone set. A very common setup I use is 400, 1,000 and 5,000. I've sharpened thousands of knives using these three stones. So go with what your budget allows and realize that successful sharpening is all about developing, strengthening your technique, not about the stones. Having said that, get a good set, or at least one.

You also need a stone holder of some type, whether it is a piece of wood resting over a container of water or something specifically designed to hold a water stone but you need to keep that stone steady as you work. You don't want to be distracted by a stone moving around. Personally, I use Shapton stone holders but I do this every single day so it makes sense for me. Some world class sharpeners use a piece of wood so bear that in mind :)

You need some cloths to dry off the knives and to wipe off the stones after use.

Now this is important, don't neglect this. You need to have a way to flatten the stones and the most simple is a piece of rough sandpaper, 100-300 grit taped to piece of glass or something very flat. There are tons of videos on this subject, SIC powder, Diamond plates, Lapping Plates, whatever it is, you need something. Stones do not have to be perfectly, geometrically flat but they should not be dished at all. Also, flatting cleans them and refreshes the surface.

Get yourself a quiet, comfortable spot where the things you need just seem to fall into your hands.

     Once you have your Sharpening Station established, and don't forget the SHARPIE, you are good to go. (A nice extra is a LOUPE, a magnifier to see if you are hitting the edge of the edge)

    Number Two:

     Get a grasp of the fundamentals. You have to understand of course what it is you are trying to achieve and you can keep this simple. There are too many videos out there so narrow that video library down to one or two that you enjoy. I like the videos by Jon Broida at Japanese Knife Imports and they are easy to find. All the videos you need are linked on my Website. As you may know I did a series called Sharpening School at with videos and accompanying articles which cover the basics and beyond and Jon participated in those as well. 

     Do not be intimidated by video clips of people slicing tomatoes and grapes, that is important right now, or ever and remember to manage your expectations. Nowhere in the Fundamentals Instruction will it describe how to slice a tomato.

     Essentially,  just understand that utilizing the abrasive properties of the water stone you will be bringing Side A and Side B of a dull knife together at the Apex of the knife to form a new Primary Edge and you will then refine that edge by manipulating pressure and striving to maintain a  consistent angle throughout and trying to mimic your actions on both sides of the knife in terms of Angle, Pressure and Time spent on both sides. (For double bevel, symmetric knives)

     It will come down to BURR FORMATION AND BURR REMOVAL. Your ability to form a burr will depend on  your level of skill, your patience, the knife, the stone and again, your patience.  Many novices find it difficult to detect a burr, so practice often as you work a feeling for a burr by holding the knife in your hand at the right angle to feel it. If  you just run your fingers down the side of knife, or your thumb on a knife that is held straight up and down at 90 deg you may not feel anything so angle blade a little, at 70 deg so that as you run your thumb down from the spine over the edge the burr, that may be there, is more detectable. This is a common problem for burr hunting, holding the knife at an angle that makes it difficult to find. NOTE that the burr can be sharp, be careful.

     Here is an important step:

    Once you have successfully formed a Burr on both sides of the knife, consistent in size and running from heel to tip you must reduce your pressure to commence the removal of the burr. Burr formation is a one time thing with one knife, now you may form additional burrs, I mean it may just happen but your goal is to form the burr (both sides) once. So the burr forms first on the opposite side of the side you are sharpening on and then it forms on the other side as you flip the knife. So the first burr forms then when you flip the knife you are forming a new burr which is composed of metal material from the both sides of the knife, you shifted metal from one side to the other, now by your sharpening motions you are removing some of that metal but it may it may be mixed in with the new burr. If that seems confusing, don't worry about it. BASICALLY, you form one burr on one side, flip the knife and repeat your actions to form a burr on the other side. 

The burr when formed is an indication that you have removed fatigued metal from the edge, you've reached the edge of the edge. This action exposes fresh new steel, this the steel that you will be working on, you are getting rid of the fatigued metal that has folded over at the Apex of the knife on both sides and finding the metal that has yet to be touched underneath that layer of tired out, used metal.  Over time, as your skill develops you will understand that the smaller the burr the better, this is because you don't want to remove steel needlessly, only the stuff that is making the knife dull. This fatigued metal is metal that has moved from it's position at the primary edge over to one side or both of the edge because it can no longer withstand the pressure of everyday use in a kitchen. It just got worn out that's all. So you are going to send it away by sharpening the knife.  It is a basic concept really but pressure plays an important role.

Let's talk about pressure and how I use it:

     When I pick up a knife I use a level of pressure that is appropriate for that particular knife edge. If it is very dull, which is normally is I use what I call Heavy Pressure, (P4) pressure which is the amount of pressure required to form a burr. Your "Heavy" pressure and mine may be different but put simply, it is the amount of pressure I need for a given knife to raise a burr using a coarse stone. If I didn't use the degree of pressure that I do, then burr formation will be very long or not occur at all. 

     Once I have formed the burr on both sides of the knife I decrease the pressure by 50% and I am now at the Burr Removal stage.  I will never use that level of pressure (P4) again that I started off with on the same knife. 

     I use four levels of pressure, P4-P1 in an effort to form the burr and then remove it and I use these 4 different levels on the first stone only. When I go from a 400 grit for example to a 1,000 grit stone, I go from four to three levels of pressure and so on until the knife is done. The first stone, coarse stone is P4-P1 and every stone I use after is P3-P1. If you are using one stone only you can still do this, you'll just use four levels, that is if you follow what I do. If not, as long as you start with a burr forming pressure and then switch to burr removal pressure, it's going to work.

   You will often hear the term deburring. I have found that these diminishing levels of pressure remove all traces of the burr but it is essential that the final result is a clean edge and free from any residual burr. So if you want to run the edge over a cork to ensure that the burr is gone you can and there are other methods of deburring. My method is the four levels of pressure.

This is all explained in my video.

     The problem I see, the issue that repeats itself in videos is when folks are using too much pressure on a finishing stone, so just ease up folks. LESS IS MORE, seriously. 

     If you find that the knife is getting duller the more you sharpen, you are using too much pressure.
The other culprit is that you may not be hitting the edge, and this is where a Loupe can help you, you need to be reaching the edge of the edge to be effective. A Sharpie can also help you get you on target by painting the edge of the knife and then looking to see if you are removing the sharpie.

     Try using the sharpie to not just paint the edge itself but go up further behind the edge, to the area that you should NOT be sharpening. If you are removing metal from this part of the blade as revealed by sharpie being removed, you can adjust accordingly. You can remove the sharpie with Acetone.
Sharpie is good tool to see where you are grinding metal, it will guide you.

Muscle Memory:

   To help build sharpening muscles, you can paint the edge of the knife with a sharpie and then with light pressure, remove it. Now, repeat this on the other side of the knife and remember to use light pressure and at least a 1,000 grit stone. This is just an exercise to build up those confidence building sharpening muscles. You can repeat this process over and over and try different levels of pressure.


     Keep this simple, establish andangle for your Chef knife and use that angle for all your knives with the difference being in the type of knife, the steel you are sharpening. If you are working on a Henckels that is 10 years old for example, use an angle from 15-20 deg per side. Put your Pinky under the spine when holding the knife on the stone so that distance from the stone to the spine of the knife that is created by the width of your pinky is your sharpening angle. Create muscle memory using that angle

1. Paint the edge and bevels of the knife with a Sharpie,
2. Find you Pinky Angle as described above, it will be about 16-19 deg.
3. Sharpen the knife using light pressure, just a stroke or two to see if the sharpie is removed.
4. Repeat this over and over, repainting the edge and bevels and relocating the pinky angle. 
Make sure you do this on both sides.

    If you are sharpening knives made in Japan or just very hard, carbon steel knives that will accept a more acute angle such as 11 or 12 deg per side, build up memory for that as well.  So at the end you will have an Average Knife Angle (15-20 deg per side) and, or, a Dream Knife angle (10-15 deg per side).

These are very simple things that you can try once you have got yourself setup..


Friday, 23 February 2018

Damage Report

Here is very badly damaged Japanese knife that I got to work on recently. This type of work involves a few steps:
1. A vision, what I want the knife to look like after I'm done.
2. Repairs
3. Thinning
4. Refinishing the blade if necessary
5. Sharpening

The repair work took quite a long time to move that much metal from the edge. Metal cannot be replaced so I have to remove metal from tip to heel until the hold disappears.

   Once that is done, the knife is significantly thicker at the edge since the "new" edge is now much further up into the blade. The thinning part for me is always the most difficult and time consuming. I don't measure the knife from a cross sectional geometry perspective with a caliper or anything, it is all by sense of touch. I run my thumb and and index finger down the blade from spine to edge to get a feel for how the thinning is doing. Once I am satisfied, I will do some sanding of the blade to refinish it and finally sharpen it.
  Total time is about an hour or so.

  The funny thing about work like this is that I can't go wrong as far as customer satisfaction is concerned, the owner was going to throw the knife away so any improvements I make are vast improvements to the owner. I am always the toughest critic.


Chronicle Herald mention with Chef Flinn and Bombshell Cutlery

MAESTRO W U knife in the paper

Here is a pretty nifty article in the Chronicle Herald from the 23rd Feb. Several years ago I sold five Maestro W U knives and Chef Craig Flinn of Chives and 2 Doors Down bought two of them. I have been sharpening for Craig for years and a reporter picked up on the knife and the next thing you know there was a very nice article on it in the paper.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Looking Glass Edge

Hi folks,
     There was a time when I sharpened knives like this that I had to put a mirror finish on every one of them and I used the Edge Pro Professional for that. Since that time I make sure to ask the customer what the knife is going to be used for and I put an edge that is appropriate for a specific purpose. Most of the time however, the knife has no specific purpose and it is for general use. However, if the customer wants a mirror finish and the knife is more of a collectors item I will do my best to polish it up as nicely as I can.

   I have since learned that I can get them just as sharp and often sharper and just as pretty doing it freehand. If the bevels are very wide though,  a mirror finish is difficult by hand, I mean for the bevels to be consistently polished to the same degree on both sides. So now I often do the majority of the work by hand but sometimes finish it on the EP if a looking glass edge is what I want.

I got this can of coke in Tokyo in 1987 and it's never been opened. I keep it as it reminds me of my trip there in the Navy, it was amazing.

Remember, these finishes won't last long in the bush, with rough work. I always strive for sharpness first and foremost and the cosmetics after. If when I am finished the knife on the EP and the edge doesn't meet my standards I always go freehand and get it up there.