Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Old knives Rock

I get to see some fantastic knives, they are shipped to me from various parts of Canada and I never know what to expect.

This is another very old Henckels:

The owner said she had it for 50 years and she said she remembers it being old when she got it.
I sent pictures to Zwilling and they estimate that it is 80-100 years old.  Pretty cool, absolutely no damage to it and besides the handle showing some signs of it's age, it is a knife I would love to own.
 It was easy to sharpen, Naniwa Chosera 400, 1k, 2k and I finished off with an Imanishi 4k which does an amazing job polishing the bevels. Oh.....it's sharp, the carbon steel as you know takes an awesome edge. I can't wait for the owner to see it.


Saturday, 28 February 2015



What is up with all the damaged knives I have been receiving, and all of them Japanese?

Except for the ones below and these are the exception.  Seven of the hand made Japanese knives I get to sharpen are damaged, they have nicks in the edges and some as bad as these ones.

I know it must be very frustrating for people who finally pull the trigger and buy themselves one of those fancy hand made knives that everyone says are the best.

I am often asked if I could sell Japanese knives, like Masakage, Takeda, Misono. Well to be honest, I am glad that I don't, it would be pretty stressful handing one of those over to a customer only to have it returned the next day with a chip out of it. This is after me telling the person how good it is.

It would only take a few of these incidents to start impacting my sharpening business and it would be freaking stressful to deal with.  Yes, I could tell people what to avoid, what to expect but it still happens.

I have 3 damaged knives inbound from Ontario all with damage and in my experience, it is not always neglect, not something stupid the owner did. In the pictures here, it is neglect, you can tell that they used the knife for something it was not designed for, like cracking lobsters open.

Everything can be fixed, that is not the issue, the problem is that we/they are telling people that Japanese hand made knives are the best in the world but I have seen thousands of European knives and Grohmanns come in without any damage at all.  Of course the steel is softer and has more flex, it is more forgiving. I think that is the key, you screw up with a knife with that measures 64 on the Rockwell hardness scale and you're going to pay for it.

On the other hand, that knife can take an astonishing edge and slice like a dream and some folks never have an issue.

Nothing wrong with this one, I just put it here :)
The picture above is a 20 year old Henckels that had never been sharpened beyond the factory edge.

ON another topic and the picture above reminded me of it.

I am sure you have heard that a knife with a edge that is highly polished like the one above will not slice a tomato well, it is so fine that the edge will run over the tomato and not bite in because it has no "teeth"

This is true in many cases but not always, IF the knife is sharpened so well that the two planes meet perfectly at the apex, i.e. with a lot of precision, the knife will bite regardless of the final stone used.
I've proven this many times, and there are times when I am a little off and I do have to apply some pressure but other times, especially with those Japanese knives (before they break that is :) ).

I personally like a polished edge but we can achieve that now with stones in the 2k range, quite easily so we have the best of both worlds.

To sum up:
Am I trying to say not to buy a hand made Japanese knife from a place like Knifewear or Chef Knives to go or Paul's Finest?

HELL NO. They really are quite something to use, the edge is pretty cool and if you just know that it can't take any twisting while stuck in food, think of it as a little fragile but don't be scared of it. It is a knife, the blade smith made it to be used, not to be treated like glass. 

What a freakin life eh.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Repairs with Coarse Stones

I am not exaggerating when I say that for every 10 knives I get, 3 of them have significant damage. However, this is only applicable to hand made Japanese knives and some brands such as Shun.

I very rarely receive any Henckels, Wusthof or Grohman, or similar brands of knives with any damage to the edges. Broken tips caused by a mistake but not chipping.

The first picture doesn't highlight the nicks in the edge very well but believe me they were present. It must be disappointing for folks who purchase expensive knives like this only to have them damaged. I don't know if it is neglect on the owners part or an issue with the steel, the heat treatment and I suppose that in many cases it is both. 

The good news is that with the right water stone, this stuff is easy to fix and I used a 220 for these knives. The average time is 15 minutes to remove the nicks but sometimes it is 45 min as in the case of the really bad Shun below.  
I doubt you will need to worry about this too much but if you do get a nick, get the coarsest stone you can and just "sharpen" it at about 45 deg, you want to remove the metal all along the edge evenly until you have reached the "bottom of the hole" so to speak, as far up into the blade as necessary. This of course will remove the edge but that's okay, it is a simple sharpening after that.

This is one aspect of sharpening where a little courage is needed but trust me, it is very rewarding work. I have seen videos of repairs being done at 90 degrees, but I like to work at 45 or even 55 deg, and raise a burr over and over until the damage is repaired.

I will do a video on it.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Japanese Water Stones - What to Choose.

From left to right, Naniwa Chosera 400/1k/3k/5k and Kityama 8k.

Hi there, I thought I would share my experiences in choosing water stones and some of the mistakes I made.
I hope you appreciate the fact that I made so many mistakes and I am happy to pass them along :)

If you ever meet a sharpener who never asks a questions and gives you the impression that they have nothing left to learn, be wary. There is always more to learn and I really enjoy passing along tips and tricks and you can ignore them of course.

When I first starting getting really serious about sharpening, which I guess is the day I became obsessed with it, five or six years ago I immediately created a water stone bucket list and on the top of my wish list was the the Naniwa Chosera 10k, to me, the stone represented the pinnacle of Japanese Water Stones. Whether it is or not, that is how I felt about it, I started building my collection from the top down, i.e. Ultra High Grit down to the coarse stones.


I had already been sharpening knives for over 20 years prior to this but as I said, when I knew that sharpening knives was going to consume my life, water stones of course became the most important things in my life.

As my business grew and I had more knives to sharpen than I had anticipated, I quickly began to realize that the 15K Shapton Pro that I got was seeing very little use. It was the 220 EP, 400 Chosera, 500 Shapton Glass that became the important stones, the ones that made my knives sharp.

I guess my advice then is to ensure that you have a very nice coarse water stone in your collection and you do not need to go higher than 5k, in my opinion the Shapton Pro 5k or Naniwa Chosera 5k are just fantastic and will satisfy your thirst for those high grit (particle size I should say) water stones.

I am not saying you will never need anything higher, what I am saying is if you  are building your collection, do not neglect the coarse stone.

Naniwa Chosera 400
I came to discover after sharpening many many knives that this stone was without any doubt the most important stone I have ever used. I have gone through at least 10 coarse stones ranging in grit from 220 to 500 and I always ensure I have a new one in my quiver, ready to go.

400, 1,000 and 5, 000 stones will get you into sharp heaven so start from there and when you can afford it, of course, go for those high grit wonders and enjoy them, they will last an eternity and every now and then when that special knife comes to for for sharpening, you can unleash that Kityama 8k or whatever it is you have.
Kityama 8,000
My mistake and rush to go for the high grit stones and ignore the coarse stones left me a couple of times working on extremely dull knives with a 1k stone. Now I know Murray Carter does this, I know that he sticks to a 1k/6k combo but I am not absolutely convinced that in the case of very very dull and nicked edges that he doesn't use something before the 1k. I am probably wrong, of course it can be done, it just takes a little longer.
(I have tried very recently by the way starting with a 1k stone and it works just fine, it just takes longer and I think I am probably spoiled by the speed of coarse stones in their ability to raise a burr and repair damaged edges.)  The fact that Murray Carter does this all the time just adds to my respect for the man.

As for the Naniwa Chosera 10,000 grit dream stone, it took me five years to finally get it and oddly enough the first knife I used it on was one made by Murray Carter and I can tell you, that was one sharp knife and very beautiful.

Naniwa Chosera 10,000

To summarise,  don't neglect the coarse stone and more importantly, learn to take advantage of it and  as I mention in previous posts, experiment with pressure adjustments and see for yourself that you can make a knife sharp enough to bring a smile to your face. When you get to that point, you will also see how quickly the work moves along on the subsequent stones, whatever they may be.

Thanks for reading this.

Sharpened knives ready to be returned.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Serrated Knives

I get an awful lot of folks asking me if I do serrated knives and every now and then I get fellow sharpeners asking how I do them.

I will make a video soon, as soon as I am done with my renovations.
This is my new sharpening bench, it is longer than what you seen in the picture, five feet long actually. I love it because it is extremely sturdy and even has a place for some of my water stones, (and bottles of wine).  It's cool because when I am teaching sharpening, the student can stand right beside me.

Back to serrated knives.
It is something I have adjusted technique on many times, but the one I started with and still use partly is the one I learned from Ben Dale on his Edge Pro Inc site.

This is how I do it and again, I will follow this up with video soon.

For normal sized bread knives, i.e. not the serrations on folders, which I do as well but more on that later.

I have a ceramic rod that is the exact size of the serrations on a bread knife. I place the knife on end of the Shapton stone holder, the one in the picture above so with the serrations up and I simply run the rod over each serration. You can easily see the burr from use on the serrated side and I am pushing this back over to the flat side of the knife.
Now you don't need a ceramic, I used dowels with micro abrasives wrapped around them before to do this.  You just need to get that fatigued metal out of the way, and you CAN use the edge  of a Water Stone. I first heard about this method from Ken Schwartz a couple of years ago and then I saw him doing it on one of his videos.
I use that method all the time now.

This is how I do it, your method can vary and keep in mind, a lot of folks just don't sharpen these knives.

-Use ceramic rod on serrated side to push burr over to the flat side.
-Flip blade and using my 400 stone at almost zero degrees, but not quite, I sharpen the flat side very gently, my goal is to remove the burr, not to form another one on the serrated side again. 
- Now I got to my 1k stone and using either the rod or the edge of the Stone I gently sharpen the serrated side and then flip and repeat. Pressure is very very light, and I am careful not to wear down the points of the serrations. Many times, the knives I get have points almost gone and sometimes, I can't sharpen them. I can remove them however and change the knife into a slicer. 
-Repeat the process on a 2k stone or whatever stone I am finishing the knife on.
*Make sure there is no burr on either side when done.

For small serrations I have some diamond cone shaped sharpeners from DMT, I will put them in the video.

You can use the Edge Pro bench and Edge Pro at almost zero degrees to do this, in fact I did this for a few years, it works great. I just find it quicker to use my water stones, full sized ones that is.

This process is surprisingly quick and effective.
I didn't invent this, I just picked some tips and tricks from various sources and got comfortable with it.

I used to tell people to just buy a cheap 15 dollars serrated knife, use it for 6 months and then buy another one. I don't do that now, that is a little wasteful.

Video to follow to wrap this all up.

Peter Nowlan

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Thinking about starting up your own sharpening business?

The purpose of this post is to attempt to help any folks out who are considering starting a knife sharpening business, whether it is something you plan to do on the side or it's your full time job.

Even though I have been sharpening for many years, I started my business up about five years ago and I'll pass on some of the things I hope will be of assistance. This  post is not about sharpening a knife, I am going to assume that if you plan on charging people you should have a good handle on that aspect of the business.

Now, another thought is to gather as many knives from friends and family and do theirs for free, you need to sharpen a lot of knives to get to the stage where you are confident enough to take a strangers knives out of their hands, their very protective hands and sharpen it.

You need to start somewhere though and you don't have to turn the knives into blades ready for eye surgery, believe me, when you do start, you will look at yourself in 2 years down the road and see an incredible improvement in your skills. You just need to improve the customers knives, they will be pleased if you can make them sharp.  There are many many different levels of sharp and you just need to change them from dull to sharp Level One.  You may already have the skills to go way beyond that but there is a lot more to this than sharpening.

Here we go.

1. Create a Business Card  - When I started I went to the different kitchen stores and asked them who they recommended for knife sharpening, I got very very lucky, they didn't have anyone so I told them about myself. I had the Manager give me some knives of his/her own and I sharpened them and it went from there.  I did that several times and those stores have become Drop Off and Pick Up areas.

In other words, you can drop of the knife at the store, I pick it up, sharpen it at home and return it.  I told the Manager that they should get something from this as well so what they do for me, is that they handle the financial aspect of the arrangements. The customer pays them, and then at the end of the month, the store pays me and they take a cut. This way, I get the customers and the stores get something as well, whether it is 20% or 30% I don't care, without their support I would not have all those customers. The stores are convenient for people to get to, that's the idea behind it.

SO......you need to be able to prove to the Store staff, if you go this route that you know what you are doing, and if you have competition well you will have to work around that.



My email address has changed and the tag line is also something I have changed but I really like my cards, this is about the 10th edition. When I first started they were nothing fancy but they got the job done. A business card establishes credibility. 

Knife sharpening at a professional level involves breaking down barriers, people are reluctant to hand over knives to a stranger and men, well we all know how to sharpen a knife anyway so why give it to a person and pay for it when we can just take it out to the shed and use the grinder. (That is how many people think). Do you know how many wives have brought me the knives that their husbands have screwed up because they refused to have them done professionally.... a lot :) )

2. Establish a price - I agonised over what I would charge people and at first, I was only charging 5 bucks a knife and I was spending a lot of time on just one knife. (This is 5 years back) Now I charge $1.25 per inch of blade for kitchen knives and 15 bucks flat rate for anything else. I have never had anyone complain about the pricing by the way, not once. Also, what about repairs, consider tacking on another 5 dollars for any repairs like nicks and broken tips.

3. Ease their pain-  Regardless of the quality of a knife, in many cases it is their only knife or knives and it/they have been in the family for years and years. In fact, the cost of sharpening is often higher than the original cost of the knife. You NEED to make them feel that that knife is just as important to you as it is to them. Say whatever comforting words you can think of to make their fears vanish and they don't have to worry that you are going to do the same thing the neighbour with the grinder did or the "GRIND SHOP" down the road that does the knives, every knife in under three minutes.

If you are worried that you will scratch the blade of a knife, tape it up, despite how sharp you get it, the last thing you want to deal with is a scratch in their heirloom. I have have carving knives 70 years old given to me to sharpen, wedding gifts, so I treat all the knives I get as if they were very fragile. 
Now if the knife looks like it was dragged behind a car for a few miles before I got my hands on it, I don't worry about that.

Having said that, I've never scratched the blade of knife anyway, not free handing. Now with the Edge Pro,  you do need to be very careful about that, keep that blade rest on the EP clean, I rinse if off all the time. The grit will get underneath the blade and scratch it very easily.

4. Inspect the Knife -  When you get a knife, take a look at it and see if there is any damage and ask the person if they want it repaired.  I don't charge extra for micro chipping, that comes out easily but for major damage, I always point it out. Keep good track of the knives, have a plan to organise them in case you get several customers knives simultaneously.

The cool thing about a damaged knife like this is that you are going to blow people away by returning the knife not only razor sharp but better than new, you can't go wrong, this is very rewarding work. I see this all the time, so will you.

So how do you prepare for a "broken knife"?

You get some and break them and practise fixing them, you don't practise on a customers knife. I purchased some knives and just broke the tips off and did whatever I could to them to make them "ugly" and then I made the beautiful again......then I broke them again.  Remember, sharpening a knife is a skill that improves with confidence, you BUILD LAYERS of confidence by sharpening and fixing.

5. Get your name out there:
This was a difficult one for me, I do not go door to door or to restaurants and try to sell myself. 

At first, whenever I went to restaurant, I would ask the waitress to leave my card with the head chef, I did this about 15 times. You know what, it did not work once, not one call.
Now, 5 years later I do sharpen for most of those chefs at those restaurants but it was all from word of mouth, I think my cards were ignored. 
The trick is to create network of impressed people and this takes time, a friend tells a friend and one of those friends may work at a restaurant so just be patient. 

Social media is good of course but although I am on Twitter and Face book, I am not convinced that it has brought me any more knives, I think it has just helped establish credibility, so it is important.

Be prepared to have one knife given to you by a person who has 10 dull knives, you will need to run the gauntlet and prove yourself, over and over. This is normal and don't be offended.

Also, don't expect people to get back to you and tell you what an amazing job  you did, even though you did an amazing job. I used to be paranoid about that but not anymore, it is just peoples nature but be assured, if you screw it up, you will know.


Now to be honest, I have not had a single complaint, I don't mean to boast and I know it must sound like that but I haven't, but I do have a plan.
Treat a complaint with urgency, offer to resharpen the knife immediately and also to return the money,  you need to get that person back on your side. Word of mouth is a double edge sword so be all over a complaint.
Now, you may find that the issue is that the husband of the said knife took it to a Steel as soon as the knife was back home and the edge that you put on the knife was removed, but that's okay, just fix it up. You may wish to tell the person that they can watch you sharpen it and test it right there in front of them, tell them to bring a tomato or have one there.

(Prepare yourself for scenarios like this by having the ability to sharpen a knife to the extent that it slices a tomato beautifully)

Be nice to people, they like talking about their knives and how their father or grandfather used an oil stone out in the shed. You will get a lot of older folks, men who will tell you that the oil stone they used 50 years ago was the way to go, so just smile and respect the fact that they sharpened their own knives and/or tools. Never tell them that what they did is inferior to what  you can do....I know you wouldn't say that but remember, folks are sensitive about their knives and how they were sharpened in the past.

I did the Farmers Market thing for awhile and I hated it. I like to be in my own House of Zen and sharpen without any distractions and while it was cool to sharpen and have folks watch and tell me their own sharpening stories, I just felt pressured.
If you are sharpening using a belt than this is different, you will be fine in this environment I think.

Another thing I dealt with was chefs who think they know who to sharpen but "I will let you do these anyway, because I am too busy" One chef had 8 Globals and asked me what angle I was going to sharpen them at, I think I said " Approximately 16 degrees" well I could tell that the lady thought I was out to lunch because the Global website says to sharpen globals  between 10-15 deg. I didn't think fast enough but I should have asked her if she could tell the difference between a 15 deg and 16 deg edge. These were on Globals that I could have licked the edge and not cut my tongue by the way.
(Don't test your knife edges this way by the way)

 "How often should I get my knives sharpened" This is the most common question I get.
Be honest and tell them every 2-3 months, you can't keep a knife sharp for longer than that, not to the degree of sharpness that you had on the knife when it was given back to them.
I tell them that the dulling process starts immediately, so be realistic about it. Have a sharpening plan, get them done 3-4 times a year. Perhaps you could establish a discount policy for returning customers which would encourage them to get their knives done regularly.

All knives are not the same as  you know, this is a Twin Cermax with a hardness of 66. So this was harder to sharpen than most other kitchen knives but it just takes a little more time. Nothing scary about it, just need more patience.  (The scratches on the blade were there by the way). This is an extraordinary knife, the edge was awesome when it was all said and done.


A BLOG is free so use it. When I started my Blog I thought that I was the only one visiting it, I felt like I was talking to myself a lot and it didn't matter, I still enjoyed it. Then I started getting emails from folks all over the world (seriously) from people with encouraging words and that really surprised me and encouraged me. I still get them from very nice people (Thanks Les) and I enjoy hearing from people who ask me to post on a particular subject (you're the man Jim).

Pageviews today
Pageviews yesterday

When you create your Blog, remember to make sure your photos are not fuzzy, I did that a few times at first, posted fuzzy shots and it looks amateurish. I am no photographer but I do try my best to make the shots interesting and I continue to do that. 

I hope this helped. Enjoy yourselves and have courage, you are providing a much needed service.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Making Videos and a TIP on TIPs

Hi folks,
I am going to try to improve the production quality of my videos, I don't want them to be amateurish, even though when it comes to making videos I am an amateur. I don't want the quality of the videos to interfere with what I am trying to put across. So please bear with me as I investigate this.

Sharpening Tips:

My first "new video" will be on tip sharpening both freehand and on the Edge Pro.

There are two areas of a knife that can be more difficult than the rest of the blade to sharpen, for me anyway and that is the heel of the knife on knives with bolsters and the tip of knives. Not Santoku knives but chef knives, paring knives.
(Did you know Santoku means Three Virtues.....Slicing, Dicing and Mincing)

If you are on the EP with the blade resting on the blade table of course, when you get to the tip, you need to move the tip slightly towards you by pushing the handle away from you. If you don't do this, you can have "bevel creep" as one of my friends calls it.  I have done this myself, I didn't adjust the front of the knife and the bevel was wider at the tip than the rest of the blade.

You don't have to move the tip out far, but by doing so you will have an even bevel from heel to tip.

When I sharpen free hand, I learned from Jon Broida to raise my elbow when it comes to the tip sharpening, it is pretty easy actually.

I will do my best to illustrate this with video as soon as I can


Even though this is a Tanto Blade, you can see that I have moved the front of the knife away from the Blade Stop, this is what I am talking about.

This is the one that I didn't move the tip away and you can see that the front of the knife has a wider bevel than it should.  I gave this knife away, that mistake bugged me :)


This is what we want to see, a nice even bevel all along the length of the knife.

Don't even ask.

Until next time.