Thursday, 14 December 2017

Contacting me

I often get some very nice emails from folks who use my Contact page on my website:

my contact page

However, it is sometimes not possible to for to reply directly to the emails for some reason. I always need to cut and paste the text and your email address and start a new email.

If you do wish to contact me please use my regular email address rather than the Contact page on my site.

If I have not replied to an email, it is because I wasn't able to. (Cooper for example).

My Email


Monday, 11 December 2017

My grey areas cleared up.

    When I got very serious about sharpening and considering opening a business, I started to sharpen as many knives as I could get my hands on. I sharpened steadily, every day for about a year to prepare for receiving customers knives.

    Along my sharpening journey, certain topics came up, aspects about sharpening that I was not sure of  and I am sure that most sharpeners encounter the same issues I had. These are grey areas and I call them that because they were common potential problem areas and the internet was full of answers to all of them. It was a long time before I realized that most of the answers were just folks repeating what others had said and it was often incorrect.

   I'll give some of the areas that I still see being talked about on sharpening forums and are perhaps still giving people problems, not big problems but they can create doubt and chip away at confidence.


     The issue for me, and this is many years ago, was "do we need to form a burr on every stone?" This question came up as I read about people having difficulty detecting a burr on finer grit stones and I still see this pop up. 
      So if we just think about it and how it is formed, it becomes obvious that you only should form the burr once, (or twice depending on the way you look at it, once on each side of the knife). We remove fatigued metal or remove new metal in some cases if you just want to re-profile the blade. This action exposes new, virgin steel so why do you want to keep forming a burr which would be composed of unused steel? We don't  of course. I remember asking someone about it and they told me that it is a good idea to form a burr on each stone to ensure you are reaching the edge of the edge. You don't need to form a burr to do this, this will come with practice, you can paint the edge with a sharpie as well to make sure.

ONE BURR ONLY (both sides). Now it may and probably will happen that you do form burrs more than necessary but that is okay. It is the understanding that you should strive NOT to form additional burrs that is important.


     I also see people talking about needing high grit stones to remove the burr. 

    Burr Removal is of course essential and results in the sharpest edges, the "cleaner" the edge, the better. However, we don't need to rely on high grit stones, like 8,000 for example to make sure the burr is removed. 

   The most significant improvement in my edges came when I started using four levels of pressure on the coarse stone.

SHARP level One came after I formed a burr and then removed it by reducing the level of pressure by 50% but still using the same stone and really concentrating on removing the burr and not forming additional ones. 
Sharp Level Two came on the same stone with another reduction in pressure and this continued for me until I am stropping on the coarse stone with extremely light pressure. By this time the knife is at Sharp Level Three and my goal is Level Five.

This is achieved as I move to a medium grit stone and finally a finishing stone, 5k or 6k.  The burr is pretty much gone by the time I am finished with the coarse stone. Now I know many say you cannot get rid of the burr completely and If you looked at the edge under a Scanning Electron Microscope, yes you would see some metal that just won't detach from the mother ship. However, that is beyond our control. What we can control is our burr removal process and I never rely on finishing stones to get that done.

So Burr Formation and to a lesser extent, burr removal was one of those grey areas that are no longer grey.

Another one was where to finish a knife, especially stainless steel knives, and I mean at what grit level. I kept reading that 1k is the best finish for stainless (Euro) knives but there was never an explanation as to why. As I have mention in previous articles, it took me a few years to find that answer and it all has to do with edge retention, grinding soft metal at the secondary bevel area and it's impact on edge retention. 

However,  I have since discovered that you can finish a softer knife at 3,000 grit and a harder knife at 6,000 to 8,000 grit all with great results. There are so many other variables that impact edge retention that the difference between a 1,000 and 2,000 finish is insignificant. It is all about pressure and understanding that over sharpening is a bad thing.

I hope this helps someone out.


Monday, 27 November 2017

Keep it simple.

Hi folks,
     Sorry I have been away for a bit, just dealing with some matters here at home that took me away from my favourite thing.

     Something I have noticed, a trend that pops up is folks who are interested in sharpening, or who have started the process and are six months into it, are overcomplicating

My Sharpening Station in Wolfville, surrounded by world class cutting boards by Larch Wood.

   It is only natural for people who want to learn as much as they can about knife sharpening to scour the internet in their thirst for knowledge. A multitude of videos and sharpening forums are available with a lot of great information. However, I think it is easy to get ahead of ourselves and pick up on buzzwords and common topics and think everything is important and necessary.

    I for one am sick of the videos on IG of people slicing a tomato or newspaper or people getting to far into the weeds with discussions on scratch patterns and what is the best finish for each particular knife, thinning is another hot topic. I am not suggesting that all of these topics can eventually come into play but if we just stick to the basics, build on the foundational skills, the knives will be sharp and I mean very sharp.

    This is what I do when I pick up a knife and I do this for three to eight hours a day, every day of the week:

     First of all, I most commonly use three stones to sharpen, coarse, medium and fine and sometimes,  I use two coarse stones depending on the condition of the edge.

    I follow a pattern and this is key, establish a technique and perfect it and then just repeat it over and over. I always start on the right of the knife at the tip and move from the bottom of the stone to the top of the stone applying pressure as I push the knife away from me. When I flip the knife to the other side, I start at the heel of the knife with the blade perpendicular to the stone and pull the knife towards me applying pressure as I do that. So I am using trailing strokes.  This is just how I sharpen but it is my pattern, it works for me and I am good at it. 

(The sharpening process always follows the initial look at the knife to determine if a thinning plan or damage plan is necessary before I can sharpen it. If so, I do whatever is necessary to make the knife ready to be sharpened.)

I keep it very simple, I use BURR FORMING PRESSURE to form the burr and as soon as I have done that, I reduce to BURR REMOVAL PRESSURE and I never use the starting level of pressure again on that stone.

On the coarse stone I form the burr and then reduce pressure by fifty percent and still with the coarse stone, I commence the cleaning of the edge, the burr removal by moving from Tip to Heel, Heel to Tip on the right side and then flip and move from Heel to Tip and Tip to Heel on the left side. I then flip again, reduce the pressure by half once more and repeat and finally I use a stropping motion with feather light pressure. This is all on the coarse stone. 

(All of this is demonstrated in Lesson number Four on the Knifeplanet series)

     A common question is "when to switch stones?" The process I use makes that simple, the very easy pattern solves some common problems I once encountered. (Im not trying to take credit for inventing something here, I am simply suggesting that we can keep things simple if we develop a strategy, a sharpening pattern and stick with it)

   There has to be some checks along the way though as not all knives are the same so what we do for knife number 1 may not be enough for knife number 2. 

  When I have completed the four levels of pressure on the coarse stone, I always check the edge under a good light to see if there are any reflections. Any hints of light at all will indicate areas along the edge that I have to back to, I have not removed the burr sufficiently. Now what I used to do was not even conduct this check. I used to just move onto the medium grit stone, 1,000 for example and rely on that to remove any of the burr that is clinging onto the knife. I found that this simple light check made a world of difference. If I do see any reflections, I just go back with light to medium pressure over the edge concentrating on the area where the light was. So I use very light pressure except on that area where I increase it a little, I flip the knife back and forth and constantly check the edge under the light to see if I have successfully removed the burr as much I can possibly do so.

   By this time the knife will be very sharp and now I move onto the medium grit stone and start with medium pressure and working down to the feather light, stropping pressure. The process moves along quickly here as the lions share of work was done on the coarse stone.

  I repeat the steps above on the finishing stone. I don't need to check the edge anymore under the light, I know I have cleaned the edge sufficiently.


   All I am suggesting, if you are struggling at all with the sharpening process, to stick to the basics. Don't worry about things like thinning, etching, finger stones, KU finish, Kasumi Finish and so on, these are all things you can explore later on.  Get your knives sharp first and every time. Your confidence will soar, your edges will startle you and you will have a better understanding of the topics being discussed.

    Sharpening knives should be fun and rewarding and it will be if you build upon your basic skills.


Friday, 3 November 2017

Edge Retention - My Thoughts

Hi Folks,

     A sharpening topic that has haunted me for a decade is Edge Retention. How to not just make a customers knife sharp but how do I keep it sharp for the individual. How do I make that person happy knowing that he/she doesn't have to come and get the knives sharpened every two weeks?

It is almost impossible and I will explain why, and again, these are my thoughts on the topic:

     As a professional sharpener,  I see it as my responsibility, at the very least to sharpen every knife at an angle that is appropriate to the steel the knife is made of, i.e. soft knives: 15-20 deg per side and hard knives, 10-15 deg per side. And to finish the knife at a grit that is appropriate to the steel and if known, to what the knife is being used for.
So, soft knives can be sharpened up to 3,000 grit with good results and hard knives can be sharpened to 5,000 or 8,000 with good results.

Angle and Grit are the physical parts of my job but just as important and I really mean this,  is the Education and Expectation Management side of things.

     Most people don't  become overly concerned how I actually sharpen the knife, they don't know anything about angles and grits so they just rely on me to take care of that which is perfectly fine. I don't know anything about cars but I expect my mechanic to do what is right and not to rip me off.
I could sharpen a soft knife for example at 10 deg per side and dazzle the customer, that is until the next day when that knife is dull again.

Here is the big problem and because of it, I don't lose sleep over edge retention any  more:

Larch Wood Cutting Board store in Wolfville where I sharpen weekly.

     People often bring me knives that have never been sharpened, were never sharp to begin with or they have not had them sharpened in five years. Some of these good folks will tell me " I don't know if these knives actually need sharpening", when in fact they are in a deplorable state. I think this is because just so many people have never experienced a sharp knife, they just don't know.

   What happens then is they get the knife back, it's sharper than any knife that they have ever seen but after a few week when the edge starts to fail, or sooner because of poor knife care, they think to themselves "it doesn't stay sharp very long" when in fact they were using a dull knife for years. They get  spoiled by the truly sharp edges and for the first time, see a difference between dull and sharp.

This is where Expectation Management and Education come into play.

     The other piece of the edge retention problem is the handling and ignorance of what the primary edge of knife is and it's fragile state. I have spent what feels like an eternity putting the most retentive edge on a knife for a professional cook only to seem him destroy it with poor steeling habits. It happens a lot and for this reason alone, I gave up on trying to satisfy many young cooks who just don't care about any of this stuff.

   Now if you are sharpening your own knives and this is important to you, remember to prioritise edge retention and do what you can to improve it. My friend Jim has found, after much experimentation, that starting the sharpening process with a coarse stone, rather than a 1,000 grit stone has improved the durability of his edges. 

   There may be a few reasons for this, Jim may just be improving his sharpening skills and this is causing an improvement in this area. Also, the coarse stone work,  with proper pressure management can do a better job of removing fatigued metal and exposing fresh, stronger steel lying underneath.
It is hard to say,  but I have noticed it as well, proper water stone combination for a given knife has benefits, not just in terms of sharpness.

Edge Retention is important but there are some many factors  beyond the control of the sharpener that make it impossible to predict. When  people ask me how long the knife will stay sharp, I just tell them to have it sharpened every three months at least. Nobody can answer that question honestly expect to say that " the knife will tell you when it's dull"

Peter Nowlan



Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Sign of the Times

Hello Folks,

 After many years I finally have a sign made and it is a nice one, it's made of aluminum and I think it stands out nicely. The idea is to bring it with me when I sharpen at various locations.

A website called contacted Knifeplanet asking if I would write some basic tips about knife sharpening for their readers which I did. I don't find it difficult to write about what I love to do most in the world, not to say it is always good material but I do what I can do. People are always interested in learning to sharpen.

GearJunkie article on sharpening I wrote

     Recently I was connected with a company that makes truly world class end grain cutting boards called Larch Wood. These are exceptional products, the best that I have ever seen and used. End grain boards, especially these ones are very knife friendly, you can't beat them and it is because of the way that they are made of course. Picture a 2" x 4" being cut into four inch pieces and putting them all together with the ends facing up. It is a very fibrous and seal healing method and really kind to the edges of a knife.

I will be sharpening at Larch Wood in Wolfville NS on a weekly basis starting in Nov, you can see some knives stacking up for me. ( I went down and got these ones done, 17 in total.

     I get a lot of questions about knife sharpening from good folks all over the world and the questions are often very similar, a problem with the edge after shifting from a coarse to a medium and fine stone. Some are finding the knives getting duller during this phase of sharpening.

    I believe that there is an easy fix for this and I had a student come back with the same issue once, a degradation in edge sharpness once he hit the Shapton Pro 5,000.  I believe the culprit is pressure, applying too much out of it and here is why it happens. This is just my theory by the way but it makes sense to me.

    Many years ago now, I learnt that if I could make a knife as sharp as I possibly could on a coarse stone, that everything after that seemed to move along very smoothly and the results were always better. Get the most you can from that 400 or 500 grit stone before switching to a higher grit stone.

   Folks who are are doing that are therefore, perhaps, using to much pressure on the 1,000 and finishing stones because the work was not done on the first stone. As you all know, I use four levels of pressure when I form the burr and three levels after that, during the burr removal stage. So my first level of pressure on the coarse stone is moderate to heavy depending on the condition of the edge and the steel. Once I have formed a burr, I still use that same stone but I drop the pressure level by 50% at least and continue to decrease the level of pressure until I have completed the 4 levels.

THEN, and this is still with the coarse stone, I check the edge under a good light to look for any reflections, if there is any hint of light at all, it means I have not done my job yet, have not done all the "cleaning" of the edge on that stone so I got back and go over the edge, concentrating on the spots or spot with the reflections. I use light pressure here but I ensure, I really make sure that before I move to a 1,000 grit stone for example, there is no light. Believe me, the knife will be very sharp at this stage.

NOW I can move to the 1K and 5k stones and I never need to use heavy pressure again, it is very moderate to feather light and this simple process ensures that edges are getting sharper, not duller.

Peter Nowlan

Saturday, 30 September 2017


I have been away and busy and I've been neglecting my Blog. I have chosen to leave the Forum that I was on for the last few years, there comes a time, for me, when that is necessary and this is the time.

I hope to share more information here as I usually do.

     Flattening water stones is something that I really don't enjoy, nobody does but to make it less painful I need to find what works best and for now, I think I have it. I have tried sandpaper, various diamond plates and the Naniwa flatting stone. The Diamond plates have it as far as I am concerned, they are the best.

DMT Lapping Plate

    In the picture above is my favourite plate but I have also added a little bit of SIC Powder to the surface. This greatly improves the performance of the plate. Some people don't use a plate at all, instead they use a granite or glass surface and just use the SIC powder alone. I know that works and I will try it, what I like about that is it may be possible to keep re-using the powder as the water evaporates the powder will remain behind. Right now, I am losing the powder so I plan to get the glass plate to see if I can keep from washing it away. In any event, it is effective.

    Now Kevin Kent of Knifewear, a man that I have the utmost respect for told me that he uses the Naniwa flattening stone, the ones with the grooves in them. He said the diamond plates can "kill" the stones, meaning, they will have a negative impact on the cutting power of the stone so I will be testing that. Kevin has never steered me wrong so I take what he says very seriously.

My son brought this knife home after a deployment, he is in the army, it was a departing gift.

I used to polish knives like this using the Edge Pro Professional only, that is to say, if I was going for a mirror finish. These days however I find myself getting away from that and doing it all by hand. It is faster and more enjoyable, I do find it more difficult to achieve the same standard on both sides of the knife, that is a "precision" issue but it is okay with me. I could always do it by hand and then go to the EP to finish it off but it's not like a competition or anything. Just makes pretty pictures and folks do like it. This is a collector item, won't be used in the field.

Average knives in the shot above, 80% of the knives that I sharpen are average and some are quite difficult to do but they all provide learning opportunities. Many pro sharpeners do knives like this on a belt. I don't, I use water stones for all my knives but I do use the belt sander for repairs and if the knife is very thick, of low quality, I may start it on the belt sander to save wear and tear on the water stones.

The knife on the right is the new Miyabi Black line, it is quite beautiful. I keep reminding myself that not all great knives have to come from Japan. Look at these, and Kramer knives and Carter's as well.

All the best.

Thank you for sticking around. If there is something that you want me to talk about in my Blog please let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Online Sharpening School PRESSURE

Online Sharpening School Lesson Four

In the article and video I describe and show how I use four levels of pressure to sharpen a knife, I have done this before for my Blog but I wanted to improve it.