Monday, 30 May 2016

How long does it take to sharpen a knife?


     I am often asked how long it takes to sharpen a knife. Most folks have no idea of how the process works which is totally understandable.

     It takes me about 15 minutes from start to finish, this includes a quick inspection of the edge for nick, straightness and to choose the stone combination.  This is the case for most dull knives that are just dull. Repairs add some time naturally.

     The timings only become a factor when I am not sharpening at home. If I am on site at a restaurant for example, I always ask for a spot that is out of the way, a place I won't feel rushed. The Chefs and Cooks I sharpen for on site are all fantastic, they appreciate what I do and once they see how I do it, any pressure about "getting the knives done quickly" is my fault, pressure I place on myself.


     When I first started sharpening as a profession I was taking longer on the knives and that's okay.
Don't think of the 15 minutes as a deadline, if it takes you 45 minutes that's awesome.

     The majority of the time is spent on the first stone, and in almost every case I start with a 400 Naniwa Chosera or 500 Shapton Glass. The Atoma 400 is great but it is expenisive and I wear them out fast so I just use my Atoma for flattening. (It's excepetional for that)

Atoma 400, Chosera 400, Shapton Glass 500, Shapton Pro 320, Naniwa Traditional 220 (Pink) and
Nubatama Bamboo 150

   Patience is really tested at the burr forming stage, this is where the most important piece of the process happens so be patient here. I would say that on average I spend about 3-6 minutes forming a burr. Naturally this can vary, I have spent 15 min at this stage but as I said, it is the key stage and burr formation on both sides is where sharpness begins.

    Once the burr is formed, you just need to remove it with your finer stones and if you are only using one stone, a 1k for example, just manipulate pressure, keep lightening up on the pressure until the burr is gone. Now you could finish off on a leather strop to do that as well, remember, a clean edge is your ultimate goal, clean as in in free of any metal debris.

Again, it takes ME about 15 minutes, if it takes you 5 minutes or 45 minutes that's cool.

Thanks for reading this :)

I sharpened at a restaurant recently, this is the owners awesome knife.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Knife Sharpening Tip #3


Now this tip is mainly for folks who sharpen other peoples knives but that could mean your friends and neighbours, not necessarily for paying customers.

Here is a link to my last tip:

Tip 2

     Something that  I grasped pretty quickly when I started getting knives from strangers and having them pay me for my service was that not all knives are equal.  I had pictured getting a lot of very expensive knives and at the time worrying about how I would do with those.

Basically, in my little dream world I was all set up to receive knives like the Fujiwara pictured here and I had everything I needed at that time to sharpen it. (Except a natural stone but I have that covered now)

     Boy, was I wrong.

         What I noticed however and picked up on picked up on very quickly was that regardless of the condition, price, quality, age and brand of the knife, the owner regarded it, in may cases, as if it was that Fujiwara and I had to treat it as such.  I learnt not to judge people because of their knives, I don't think I ever did in the first place but just because they didn't have a Masakage in their possession it didn't mean a thing.  In fact, my respect for them was immediate because at least they were getting them sharpened.

     I have had knives come in that were 50 - 200 years old and rusted, dull as dull can be and of little value from their appearance. However, in every single case these knives had some special meaning to the owner. One for example was beyond dull and in brutal condition but the elderly lady regarded it as one of her prized possessions. Her late husband made it over 60 years ago and he loved it so every time she saw that knife she thought of him.  This is a common scenario for me, not this exact story but something in the  life of that knife has a hold on someone and it doesn't matter how much the knife is worth from a monetary view.

   The simple and common sense tip is to treat every knife as if it is your own and remember that the person took the time out of his or her life to bring it to you and trust  you with it.

Here is one such knife that came it, extremely dull and rusted and just "ugly". I forgot to take any Before shots, no biggie though.

Chosera 400/1k/Green Brick-2k/Kityama 8k

I look forward to returning it to the owner.

You can't imagine how satisfying this type of work is, picture the knife above as having no edge, all black and rusty from spine to what was an edge and then with some patience and more patience you can give it new life.

Actually, you probably can imagine.

Take Care

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Tip # 2 - The Clean Edge


As I stated in my last post I will be writing about some important lessons that I have picked up over the years and this is one of them,  a clean edge.

The last article talked about something I consider less important than this topic but nonetheless, a very common aspect of sharpening, the mirror finish.
Here is the link to that one :    Tip One Mirror Finish

In this article I want to write about something that I consider is one of the most important things to remember when dealing with sharpness and with edge retention.

The Clean Edge

The white marks are reflections from the lights on the camera I was using. 

      When I say clean, I am referring to the finished edge being completely free of any metal debris. I don't know if it is possible to get it absolutely pristine and 100% free of metal fragments but you have to do your best to make it as clean as possible. When I say I don't know if it is possible, I mean if you examined the edge under an electron scanning microscope magnified 5,000 times, that edge may not look pristine, that's all I mean. We can get pretty close and it is important. 

Why is it important: I don't know, I just heard that it is.

     Just kidding......A clean edge will enable you to reach, at some point along your sharpening journey, the pinnacle of sharpness, it will definitely allow you to create the sharpest knives you possibly can. The absence of metal fragments enhances the slicing ability of the knife, it reduces the force required and allows the edge and blade to move effortlessly through the product being cut. This does indeed give the edge it's greatest capacity to retain it's sharpness, yes it will succumb to the pressures applied to it and fail but with a clean edge, you and the knife are off to the best possible start.

    The act off sharpening should involve your  thought process including leaving the edge clean with every stone.   I am highlighting this because there are many sharpeners who believe it is only necessary to de-burr (clean) on the final stone, and while this is okay, I don't think it is the best way and we all want to find the best way to sharpen.  

(That makes it sound like my way is the best way,  I am saying that my way is MY best way) 

    Let's assume we are using three stones and again this is just as important for those who sharpen with the Edge Pro or the other very nifty device, the Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener. 

This is easy, and as I always reinforce, good sharpening comes with your ability to repeat a motion that  you have practiced over and over, i.e. once you have established your technique, concentrate on making that technique yours, a process you can repeat over and over without much though. 

     For example, 1. Get your stones, ready. 2. Get the water and rags ready. 3. Examine your knife and look at the edge for any imperfections, anything that may hinder your sharpening and come up with a course of action on how to work around it. 4. Make sure your Sharpening Hat is on, the one that allows you to focus and ignore distractions and finally, 5. Sharpen. 
(This may all take 1 minute or less but the point is, it is something you do every single time -Patterns Promote sharpening success.) 

Now remember to look for tiny imperfections, some are hardly visible :)

     As I sharpen, as you know I use  three to four different levels of pressure with every single stone I use and the cleaning process is simply the very concentrated effort on removing the burr and I do that by using EXTREMELY light pressure when I am finishing up on the stone, whether it be Stone # 1 or Stone # 8.  I believe it is important to remove the burr on every stone and not leave it to the last one, the finishing stone. 

    Why would I stop before the burr is completely removed and thereby force the next stone to do the work of the previous one, I would starting off on that second stone on the wrong foot, I would be making it work harder and my "cleaning process" would not be as efficient and effective as it should be.  So with every stone, you simply finish off with very very light strokes, picture those last strokes as the ones that are the cleaners, they are taking off the microscopic metal fragments that are clinging to the mother ship, they have to go. 

So finally, as you finish the knife, and you repeat this process on that last stone, you're work is almost done, your knife is sharp and the edge is nice and clean. 

Now you can strop it at this point of course and here is another trick that I learned from Mr. Kevin Kent, the learned one from Knifewear. You can strop the edge after every stone, i.e. in between stones give it a nice and light strop. Believe me, you will be pleased that you did this.

Again, if it is the EP that you are using, make sure you follow this process with every stone  you use and really ease up on the pressure.

A clean edge is a sharp edge believe me and it is so easy to accomplish.


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Tips and Tricks

  Over the decades I have spent sharpening, and it is still a learning/perfecting process, I have picked up a few things that I can share for those interested. It is very likely that others have learnt the same things and what I am going to share is applicable to freehand sharpening and the Edge Pro.

   I am extremely steadfast on one point, we should never stop learning. There are forums out there where I get the impression that certain people regard themselves as having reached a point where they are the fountain of knowledge because there is nothing left about sharpening for them to learn.
Also, I believe all sharpeners, regardless of their skill level can share information, often, the questions asked by a Newbie generate a lot of great answers that we can all benefit from.  This is applicable to all facts of life, not just sharpening of course.  The Captain of a naval ship relies on his crew to keep the ship moving, do defend it, to fire weapons, to rescue folks, to put out fires and deal with floods for example, it is often the lowly Able Seaman doing much of these things, the Captain, a good one, relies on his people. So  we don't always know everything, we still have to be a bit of sponge and  absorb things.

  Now what I absorb these days will be different than someone getting started of course but the point is,  I'm still open to learning and you should be as well. I have this before and I will say it again, even Master Knife Sharpeners can become better Master Sharpeners.

So I got that off my chest, thanks for sticking around :)

Here are some random things and as I think of more tidbits I will keep this updated with a new Blog Post and a link to this one.

These are not in order of importance, they are in the order that they come to me as I sit here and write, I will forget some but as I said, I'll  add them.


One of the rites of passage of a serious knife sharpener is the creation of mirror like bevels

      Well, I'm over myself now and not fixated on this element of knife sharpening but I do appreciate the fact that folks can demonstrate a lot of patience with this. Many of my customers ask for this and I make sure to tell them that it is not an indication of sharpness but heck, there is no denying that it is pretty cool and in most cases, the knives are quite sharp, if a fella/girl can do this, they know how to make the knife sharp.

    First of all, you don't need an Edge Pro or Wicked Edge to make this happen although I will admit that it is easier and in most cases a nicer polish due to the level of precision. In the picture above the knife on the right I did by hand and the one on the left by the EP. ( I think so, it was a year ago so I may that mixed up, the point is that you can do this by hand)

   You do need a nice bunch of stones though and the higher the grit the better but if you only have three stones, you can still do it, it depends on the grit so a 5k at least to finish. I am sure that there are folks who can do this with a 2k stone, I have a nice 4k Imanishi stone that puts an exceptional polish on the bevels/edge.

    The key is patience and for me, a lot of water. If I start with a 400 grit stone or say the 220 EP Stone I spend a lot of time ensuring that the scratch pattern on the bevels is as even as possible so I check that with a loupe. I am constantly applying water to the stones and to the knife. ( I dip my blades in water as I sharpen, not just "mirror sharpening" but all sharpening). You can also place a drop of dish water detergent on the stone as you work. Remember, patience, and a good knowledge of how to manipulate pressure. Pretend that the only stone you have is that first one so you get those bevels as polished as you can with that 400 stone or 220 and you do this by using ever decreasing amounts of pressure.  With the EP you are almost lifting the Stone Arm off the knife, that is how light you should be working at the end of the polishing stage.  Scratches in the bevels must be reduced in depth as much as possible prior to proceeding to that 1k stone that you are dying to use.

Once you are satisfied, or sick of that first stone than switch to the next grit. If you have 5 stones, use them all, your goal is to reduce the scratches in the bevels with the stones so if you went from a 400 to a 5k for example, you will need to spend a serious amount of time on those bevels and I have never done that. So I don't know if you can even do a mirror bevel like that.

Just keep at it and adjust the pressure so that with each stone you are barely touching the bevels and edge with the stone and keep it well lubricated, you don't want to contaminate the area that you are working so hard on with bits of grit.

Once you get to the 3k level you will see your hard work starting to show and if you have a Naniwa Chosera 3k you are going to be quite pleased that you do own one.

Remember though that creating a Mirror Finish is not a priority, it is a luxury and it only comes after you can make that knife exceptionally sharp. So please don't think that you are any less of a sharpener if your mirrors don't look like mirrors. Big Deal, get them sharp and that may take you years to get to the point where sharpness is not the biggest challenge.  Believe me, I have done this hundreds of times and it doesn't always turn out, I'm not showing you the bad ones, don't be disheartened if your first 10 attempts leave you thinking you're the King.

I don't mind sharing my pictures as long as folks don't think this is a benchmark that has to be met and in all honesty there are very likely sharpeners out there that can put me to shame, I know there are, I love those guys :)

So....Lot's of water, lot's of patience and an ability to manipulate pressure. Also and understanding that you need to reduce the depth of the scratches in the bevels, the more you do that the more shiny it looks until it becomes like mercury.

     If you are using the EP use every stone in your arsenal, and if the 1k is the highest grit ( Ben does have a 1200 stone) then you are going to have to be patient. Of course you will probably have the Polishing Tapes as well to assist you.

I hope this helps, and again, as I think of things I will add them. I tend to ramble on so this was longer than I thought it would be but I know people enjoy pictures.


Thursday, 5 May 2016

Back from vacation

    Hi folks, I've just returned from Mexico and I can't believe how much I missed sharpening knives. Fortunately I have a bunch of dull knives waiting for me to fix up.

    One of things I wanted to blog about was a question I got recently from a chef, he asked me

    "What the most important thing about learning to sharpen knives is, what is the one thing that is critical to success"?

     The question was easier for me to answer than I thought it would be, so here it is"

Basically, I told him that there are two answers, one deals with the mental side of the process and the other deals with the physical act.  

       Without any doubt in my mind,  PASSION is the number one thing on the emotional side of things. This may sound a little corny but I honestly  believe this as I think about my own sharpening journey. Passion is an attribute that drives people to be successful in whatever it is that interests them, from knife sharpening to collecting stamps.  It is the engine that drives us. Being passionate about something is like having the combination to a number of locks, as the interest grow, you unlock more doors and you discover more. You get better at it and this keeps you going.
If I wasn't passionate about knife sharpening, you would never have heard of me, I would not be a successful sharpener.  You just need a little passion too, that's all. You already have that, if not, you wouldn't be reading this.
   Also, we are drawn in by passionate people, we respect them for what they do regardless of what is is. I am always amazed by folks who can create beautiful things out of wood for example because I just don't have much skill in that at all.
   I also believe that you can get started on something without being too passionate about it,  I have always wanted to play guitar, went and got a nice one, took lessons too but I just don't seem to be improving at all. It is because I a
m not as interested in it as I thought I would be but if I was truly passionate about learning, I know I would be able to play the guitar.

    So in my experience, I know that I am a better sharpener because it isn't just a job, it isn't just taking money from people. I would be miserable if that was the case and I wouldn't have too many customers either.

Now for the physical piece, the skill part I have given this much much thought:


     When I am teaching folks to sharpen, ( I only do one on one classes), the people who are able to hold the knife steady achieve success more quickly. So being consistent with your angles (whatever the angle is that you are holding the knife at) creates very sharp edges, and it is something you can see in the bevels and something you can feel when you touch the edge.  Consistency is a skill you can develop, you must develop it, you must work at it and as your muscle memory improves your consistency will as well.

     In this picture you see Corey from the Phoenix Knife House sharpening with impossibly consistent angles and achieving edges that are truly wonderful.  We don't out sharpening with the ability to create consistent bevels and hold inhumanely precise angles. We develop this skill by repeating the process over and over and for some, this will take a long time because for some, sharpening knives doesn't consume their lives like it does me and no doubt Corey as well.   There are other important skills to have when it comes to sharpening knives of course but in my opinion, consistency outweighs the others.  Now someone may say, having an understanding of what it is you are trying to achieve when sharpening is the most crucial component. I tend to agree with this, however, once you have that understanding, that is a box you can check off. Consistency doesn't come from someone telling you to be consistent.  It comes from practising and being persistent and of course being passionate about sharpening will lead to more practice and more persistence.

Remember my four pillars, my sharpening philosophy:

Patience; and 

     The cool part of this is that you don't need a whole lot of these things to get started, you can still get a knife sharp with just an ounce of these personal skills. Once you get started on the right track, things like consistency and passion just build and build. In other words, you don't need to go out and buy five of the best water stones in the world and you don't need to devote your entire life to practicing to be any good at it, just take small steps and don't overwhelm yourself.

I'll be back soon, just wanted to touch base after being away for two weeks. Thank you for waiting.

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.