Knife Maintenance and Sharpening

By Chad Ward (Chad) Warning: Remember that handling, using and sharpening knives is inherently dangerous. Neither eGullet nor the author can be responsible for your safety. That’s your job. Knife safety, especially during sharpening, is a matter of common sense. Keep your fingers, toes and everything else out of the path of the blade – even if it were to slip. If you go slowly, pay attention and stay focused, you’ll be fine. Table of Contents Introduction Section One: The Sad Truth about Kitchen Knives Section Two: Steel Section Three: Edge Basics Section Four: Sharpening Basics Section Five: Sharpening Step by Step Section Six: Maintenance Section Seven: Overview of Sharpening Systems Section Eight: Conclusions and Resources Introduction “Knife sharpening is hard.” “Sharpening is too difficult and time consuming to do at home.” “Send your knives to a professional sharpener once a year and you will be fine.” “You have to spend hours hunched over a heavy hone slathered with oil.” This well-intentioned advice is parroted in cooking schools, Food Network television programs, professional manuals and cookbooks. And it is just plain wrong. Okay, maybe not so much wrong as misleading. Knife sharpening is not difficult. It is not shrouded in mystery. With a little knowledge, a little geometry, a couple of tricks and some inexpensive tools, knife sharpening can be fairly easy and extremely rewarding. At the very least it’s a great skill for the toolbox. You’ll come away from this clinic with a better understanding of edges, steel and how to maintain your knives yourself. Or, if you decide to send them out, you’ll know how to make sure you’re getting what you want – and what you pay for.

Section One: The Sad Truth About Kitchen Knives To a chef, there is nothing more important than his knife. It is not only an extension of his hands, it is an extension of his very personality. The knife is a chef’s paintbrush. So why are most kitchen knives so bad? The knives found in most commercial and home kitchens are designed for the lowest common denominator. The manufacturers of these knives make a series of compromises calculated to keep the largest number of people happily using their knives for the longest period of time. Like supermarket tomatoes bred for sturdiness and uniformity rather than flavor, these compromises seriously degrade the performance of your knives. The first compromise begins with the steel. Steel is the heart of the knife. Most manufacturers (Henckels, Wusthof, Forschner, et al.) have proprietary steel blends and are very close-mouthed about the actual formulation of their steels. According to industry insiders, these steel blends are closely related to or equivalent to a steel known as 440a. By and large 440a steel is formulated for stain and wear resistance rather than holding a high performance edge. In the kitchen, that’s not a bad tradeoff. But this compromise in edge performance is compounded by a heat treatment that leaves the steel much softer than it could be. In general, the harder the steel, the keener the edge it will take. However, a hard steel makes it more difficult to get that edge in the first place. So manufacturers leave the steel a little soft, theoretically making sharpening at home easier. If you’ve ever spent an hour or two trying to get a super fine edge on a cheap kitchen knife, you’ll know that there is a big gap between theory and practice. Upper-end kitchen knives like Henckels, Sabatier, Wusthof, et al., are a little better, but are still softer than they need to be at 52 to 56 on the Rockwell C scale (the Rockwell scale is a scale used to measure the relative hardness of different solids). By contrast, Japanese knives tend to be around 61-62 on the Rockwell scale. Custom knife maker Phil Wilson hardens his S90V (a stainless supersteel) chef’s and filet knives to 62-63 Rockwell. The next compromise is in the factory edge angles. Most kitchen knives come with an edge that is at least 25 degrees per side, frequently even greater. If you add the two sides together you get a 50 degree included angle. And that’s the best case scenario. Take a look at a protractor if you happen to have one lying around. Fifty degrees is extremely thick. An angle that obtuse is more appropriate for an axe than a chef’s knife. Again, the theory is that the thick angles will allow the edge to resist damage from impaction, rolling and wear better than a thin edge. But, as the song says, it ain’t necessarily so.

Finally, there is just plain cruelty and misuse. While I’m certain none of you would ever use the sharpener on the back of an electric can opener, or use a glass cutting board, or store your knives loose in a drawer or put them in the dishwasher, it does happen. And when you add soft steel and thick angles to the general abuse that knives see in the kitchen, you end up with tools that are more adapted for bludgeoning oxen than fine dicing a soft tomato. Take heart. The news isn’t all bad. We can fix these problems. Geometry is far more important than steel. With some basic knowledge and the willingness to invest a little time, you can realistically expect a dramatic increase in knife performance. First, do no harm: General knife care - Use wooden or composite plastic cutting boards only. Glass, ceramic, marble and steel will cause the edge to roll or chip. Bad. Don’t do it. - Don’t drop your knives in the sink. Not only is it a hazard to the person washing dishes, but you can also blunt the tip or edge. - Don’t put your knives in the dishwasher. The heat may damage wooden handles and the edges may bang against other cutlery or plates. - Keep your knives clean and dry. Sanitize if necessary. - Do not store your knives loose in a drawer. Use a block, magnetic strip, slotted hanger or edge guards. The magnetic strip is not recommended if you have children or inquisitive pets. - Finally, your knife is not a can opener, a screwdriver, a pry bar, box cutter or hammer. There’s a special place in Hell reserved for people who abuse their knives this way.

If your knives won’t fit in a block, simple plastic blade guards are a good solution

Second: Modify for performance This is the easy part. Establishing and maintaining high performance edges is what this tutorial is all about. It can be as simple as steeling with the proper technique or as complex as creating specific edge bevel and edge aggression strategies for each knife in your collection. It’s all up to you. While you can’t change the steel your knife is made from, you can certainly keep your knives at peak performance – and without too much difficulty. We’ll discuss high performance edges and sharpening strategies a little later in the tutorial. Third: Modify for comfort This is something very few chefs (and even relatively few knife makers) take into consideration. Ask any chef to show you his knife-hand calluses. He’ll have a thick one at the base of his first finger from the “pinch grip” used in most kitchens. He or she may also have another on the side

calluses. . Using a gentle shoeshine motion. lightly round the edges of the spine. Lock your knife. In the interest of economy. most knife manufacturers leave the spines of their knives squared off. numbness and injury. This simple modification will make a world of difference in the comfort of your knives. The padding doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. One of the key features is a smoothly rounded spine. reduced circulation. edge down. If you ever handle a chef’s knife made by Canadian knife maker George Tichbourne you’ll know that it doesn’t have to be that way. He will also have aching hands and possible repetitive stress injuries. You don’t have to buff hard or remove a lot of metal. That edge cutting into your finger can lead to blisters. into a padded vise. make your hands numb or create any of the other discomforts associated with standard kitchen knives. sometimes called a crocus cloth. You can do the same in less than half an hour. You’ll need a sheet of fine (600 grit) wet/dry sandpaper available at any auto supply store or an abrasive cloth. Two pieces of flat rubber or leather will keep the jaws from scratching the blade. All you need to do is break the sharp edge at the base of the spine. cut off the circulation. How far you take it is up to you. Tichbourne worked with several professional chefs when designing his kitchen knife series.of the second finger where the finger rubs against the bolster or dropped portion of the blade that extends below the handle. The edges of the spine can sometimes be sharper than the knife itself. It doesn’t abrade your finger.

steel is a combination of iron and less than 2 percent carbon. Nickel .Adds toughness and possibly aids in corrosion resistance. The combination is resistant to wear and bending and will take a keen edge. Other carbide formers. However. Carbon . The carbon combines with the iron to form hard carbide platelets cemented together in a matrix of iron.A carbide former. and wear resistance. so it also increases wear resistance.Section Two: Steel An Overview of Steel By definition. it is the most vital hardening element. Manganese aids grain structure. Sulfur . sharper edge. like vanadium. Tungsten is the strongest carbide former behind vanadium.Present in all steels. A steel with at least 13 percent chromium is considered “stainless. not adding new ones. there are a variety of alloying elements that are added to modern steels to impart various characteristics.Increases hardness and strength. Chromium . Silicon . Iron alone is relatively soft. Smaller carbides and a tighter grain structure allow for a stronger. prevents brittleness.5 percent carbon content qualifies a steel as a “high carbon” steel.Increases heat. Phosphorus . which contributes to toughness and allows the blade to take a very sharp edge. but are harder to sharpen. Knives with a high vanadium content can take a very keen edge. Tungsten .Another carbide former. The problem in the early days of steel making was getting rid of unwanted elements. wears quickly and has little resistance to bending. Contributes to wear resistance and hardenability. Greater than 0. Manganese . Vanadium . Add a little bit of carbon and the story changes dramatically.Another carbide former. For centuries.” Chromium is a carbide former.Essentially a contaminant. can refine the grain of the steel further.Increases machinability but decreases toughness. carbon was the only alloying element. . Molybdenum . Increases hardness. makes the steel easier to machine.Added for wear resistance and corrosion resistance. wear and shock resistance. increases hardenability. Vanadium refines the grain of the steel. Manganese is present in most cutlery steels. It does not hold an edge well.

a steel purpose-designed for the custom cutlery industry. their edges will degrade rapidly in kitchen use. But in the wet. like Crucible Particle Metals’ S30V. “Acids of fruit and vegetables are fairly aggressive and will dull a carbon blade more quickly than stainless. Stainless steel users claim that carbon steel knives are unsanitary. phosphorus and sulphur. silicon.” . Carbon steels range from simple iron/carbon combinations to high-alloy tool steels that will cut through concrete without losing their edge. stainless rules.5 and 0. extremely stain resistant dive knives to super stainless alloys. stainless steel kitchen knives work better and will hold their edges longer than carbon steel knives. molybdenum. Then it’s a different story. it isn’t unsanitary. is very stain resistant and reasonably wear resistant. however. microscopic particles of rust and corrosion will form. They are easy to sharpen and take a screaming edge. The acid actually eats the edge. Carbon steel kitchen knives generally are a little harder and stronger than stainless steel kitchen knives. For all their faults. acidic environment of the kitchen. Carbon Steel versus Stainless Steel The great debate rages on. Unless carbon steel knives are rinsed and dried frequently. And while the patina that develops on a carbon knife can be unsightly (unless you like that sort of thing). This makes for a steel that is easy to produce. compromises and shortcomings.Most kitchen knives fall into the category of “high carbon stainless. does it? The culprit is corrosion – the effect of acid and micro-rusting. Who’s right? Depends on your definitions and your environment. At least until they actually have to use their knives.8 percent carbon. Stainless steels vary from very soft.” These knives generally contain between 0. According to chef and knife maker Thomas Haslinger. Knives from Global and Mac’s Superior line have some vanadium added for improved wear resistance and a finer grain. hold it longer and are easier to resharpen than stainless steel knives. razor sharp edge. It’s not as simple as carbon versus stainless. Doesn’t make sense. Carbon steel advocates claim that their knives take a keener edge. In the far less demanding realm of the kitchen. leave an off taste in foods and that stainless knives hold an edge longer than their carbon counterparts. attacking the edge and reducing its performance. the carbon steel devotees are right. The stainless edge will easily outlast them. which allows the knife to be sharpened to an incredible edge. 13 to 18 percent chromium and a little manganese. Even on what appears to be a mirror-bright.

chipping or rolling. meaning. chisel ground edge and the convex edge. The most common are the V-edge. so they are difficult for the home sharpener to achieve. The thinner the edge. This can be remedied with the mousepad trick found later in the tutorial. Chisel ground edges can be extremely thin and sharp.Section Three: Edge Basics Most kitchen knives are flat ground. that the edge bevels form a V. an edge that is too thin is susceptible to damage. A double bevel takes this idea a little further by adding a second. especially sushi knives. meaning that the blade tapers directly from the spine to the edge. So you add a smaller. Hence they come in right and left handed versions. I mention them only to confuse you. Hollow ground. oddly enough. Sometimes known as hamaguri-ba. Chisel ground edges are primarily found on Japanese knives. two surfaces intersecting at a line of (ideally) zero width. Thus the final edge is the intersection of two arcs. It’s purpose is to thin the metal behind the edge. However. Edges come in a variety of flavors. This secondary bevel is sometimes called a back bevel or relief angle. The other is side is flat. See the Convex Grind FAQ for sharpening methods and a comparison of the convex edge with other edge types. more obtuse primary bevel to the very edge to give it the strength to avoid damage from impaction. the convex edge arcs in a rounded curve down to the edge. Convex edges are generally formed on a slack belt grinder. more acute. The edge is ground only on one side. . double beveled edge. If the edge bevel is ground at 25 degrees and the other side is 0 degrees. angle behind the edge bevel. convex ground and saber ground blades are rarely found in the kitchen. creating a very sharp edge with more metal behind it than the standard V-edge. you have an included angle of 25 degrees – considerably more acute than the average Western knife. V-edges and double beveled edges are variations on a theme. the greater the cutting ability. The edge found on your kitchen knives is most likely a V-edge.

then reestablish the primary bevel.e. the narrow section is the 15 degree primary edge face. add a back bevel. The answer is to grind the shoulders off the edge at an acute angle. . the fact that the metal behind the edge gets progressively thicker as the knife is sharpened over time. The knife doesn’t cut as well and becomes harder and harder to sharpen. i.A double bevel. The wide area is a 10 degree back bevel. The back bevel also solves one of the great problems with V-edges.

” and many others have come to the opposite conclusion: that micro-serrations. author of the Bladeforums “Sharpening FAQ. can be a very good thing. What is the right context? Later on we’ll examine the difference between push cutting and slicing. Sharpening by its very nature creates a scratch pattern on the edge of the knife. The coarser the stone. the finer the stone. Meat cutters go through knives faster than tissues in flu season.” microscopic teeth on the edge of the knife. yes. the coarser and deeper the scratch pattern will be and the larger the micro-serrations. His experience comes from sharpening knives for the meat processing industry.If you sharpen your knife without grinding a relief angle. Joe Talmadge. John Juranitch in his book “The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening” is emphatic that a polished edge is the answer. However. Micro-serrations: True or False? Knife geeks frequently talk about “micro-serrations. The real question is. physicist and knife nut.” Cliff Stamp. Conversely. president of Lee Valley Tools and author of “The Complete Guide to Sharpening. so Juranitch’s conclusions are hard to dispute. your edge will thicken over time. that micro-serrations are indicative of a dull knife. the finer and more polished the edge will be with less prominent micro-serrations. their applications in the kitchen and the value of various levels of polish on your knife edges. Is this really true? In a word. Leonard Lee. which one is better? This is one of the great debates in the knife world – the razor sharp polished edge versus a toothier edge. in the right context. Which leads us directly to: .

So even if it does degrade it has a lot of ground to lose before it falls to the performance level of the thick edge. Your knife would be sharp but useless. a razor sharp but wedge-thick edge is great on a splitting axe but not much good for carpaccio. We all know what sharp is. Thinner edges cut more easily. If a thin edge takes three slices to get through a big slab of raw meat. The more smoothly. The thicker edge is doing twice as much work. and the majority of the knife buying public wants the edge to last as long as possible. Similarly. Thinner edges are easier to control.” but rather “how do I get maximum performance from my knife under a given set of conditions. The Myth of Thick Edges The theory is that thick edges (larger angles) last longer than thin edges. the less lateral stress you put on the edge. Or do we? Sharpness is not just a function of creating a super-thin edge that will readily sever free-hanging nose hairs. .The Meaning of Sharpness What do we mean when we say that we want our knives to be sharp? Seems like a silly question. So the real question is not “how sharp should my knife be.” A sharp knife can be defined as one that has a keen edge that can hold up in repeated usage while producing the results we’re looking for in the kitchen. Lateral stresses are a significant source of edge degradation. a thicker edge might take six or seven. putting less stress on the edge. Thinner edges actually outlast thicker edges almost all the time. it’s also a function of shape and intended purpose. But it doesn’t work out that way in practice. The thinner edge starts out performing better than the thicker edge. but the edge would crumble the first time you hit a bone or tried to hammer your way through a winter squash. the angle of the edge bevel and especially the material being cut when we consider how we judge the sharpness of our kitchen knives. accurately and easily you are able to cut. Thin is good. degrading twice as quickly. You could grind your chef’s knife to razor thinness. We have to take into consideration the shape of the blade. Or three with a lot more force.

indent and chip. One way to do this is to keep thinning your edge until it reaches an unacceptable level of fragility then back off a couple of degrees. causing the edge to degrade quickly. the more efficiently it will cut. We’ll discuss suitable edge angles in just a moment. To borrow an image from Joe Talmadge. The High Performance Edge We want our kitchen knives to cut as easily as possible while maintaining integrity and staying sharp. you lower the edge angle. If she’s wearing tennis shoes. As the edge becomes thinner. the thinner your knife’s edge. . it will hurt a lot less than if she’s wearing stiletto heels. but not really necessary. To thin a knife’s edge.000 pounds of pressure per square inch at the edge. This is easier than it sounds. While an actual kitchen knife’s edge will be a little thicker than a thousandth of an inch. there is less metal to support it. It can roll. A knife edge a thousandth of an inch thick with one pound of pressure behind it concentrates 1. you want the edge as thin as possible.A very thin. The same amount of force applied to a much smaller area penetrates better. The knife is an 8” custom chef’s knife in ATS-34 steel from Steve Mullin. So the goal is to thin the edge as much as possible. For maximum performance. but not so much that it is regularly damaged during hard use. high performance 10/15 double bevel. imagine a woman stepping on your foot. The problem is that a thin edge is much more susceptible to damage.

But it can still be much thinner than the factory edge. I’ve taken a chef’s knife made from ATS-34 down to less than 8 degrees per side before it required an unacceptable level of maintenance. As an aside. As a matter of fact you can sharpen your Henckels and Wusthofs to angles that would give the good folks in Solingen the heebie-jeebies without worrying too much. That’s one of the primary advantages to the new breed of incredibly hard stainless super steels. . As we’ve discovered.One factor that strongly plays into how thin you can take a knife’s edge is the quality of the steel. You can sharpen them to very acute angles without risk of significant damage. the average kitchen knife is made from pretty mediocre steel.

raised lip of metal that forms when one edge meets the other. If you stop sharpening before the burr is formed. but you can always feel it. PULL AWAY FROM THE EDGE. These are the burr. They apply no matter what sharpening method you choose. Check at various points along the edge. You're checking for a very light lip caused by the edge rolling over to the other side. The burr is your friend. Sometimes you can’t see a burr. YOU MAY LOP OFF A FINGER. The Burr First and most foremost is the burr. check the side opposite the one you've been sharpening. The burr tends to form quickly at the base of the blade but takes a little longer at the tip. . You check for a burr on the side opposite the edge you have been grinding. It is the only way to be absolutely certain that you have fully ground an edge. DO NOT PULL TOWARD THE TIP OR HILT. You must feel a burr running all the way from heel to tip to know that you have fully ground that side of the knife. the sharpening angles. or wire edge.Section Four: Sharpening Basics Before we get into sharpening systems and the actual mechanics of sharpening. consistency and sharpening strategy. it helps to understand some of the basic principles. Essentially you grind one side until it meets the other and pushes up a small curl of metal. almost microscopic. Hold the knife blade horizontally and place your fingers or thumb at a 45-degree angle to the edge and pull gently down and away. your knife will not be as sharp as it could be. Remember. A burr. the abrasive. is a rough.

. For the vast majority of kitchen knives. The best compromise in the kitchen has proven to be a 15/20 double bevel. say 20 to 25 degrees per side. 15 to 20 degrees per side will provide a significant increase in performance without requiring undue maintenance. high quality steel to keep that edge in regular use. while dedicated slicers can be taken down to 10 to 15 degrees per side. Five degrees per side is incredibly thin and would require a very hard. The Angles As we’ve discussed. the 50-degree-plus included angle that comes standard on most kitchen knives is way too obtuse.Hand position for checking a burr. Meat cleavers should be a little thicker. That is a 15 degree back bevel with a 20 degree primary edge face. Leonard Lee suggests anywhere from 5 to 20 degrees per side (10 to 40 degrees total) for general kitchen work.

But there is a huge array of abrasives available. Abrasives You sharpen your knives by scraping away metal. very hard and don’t wear like natural stones. That’s really all there is too it.A 15/20 double bevel illustrated. These can be found under the Arkansas Perfect name. Although natural waterstones are extremely expensive and hard to find. the best parts of the deposit were mined long ago. Synthetic aluminum oxide stones are very. These stones were originally mined from a novaculite deposit in Arkansas. Traditionalists will demand an Arkansas stone. These reconstituted Japanese stones are held together by a resin bond. They have since been replaced by ground novaculite reconstituted into benchstones. from softest to hardest. reconstituted stones are readily available. as used by EdgePro systems. cut very quickly (and wear more quickly as well) and are available in extremely fine grits that will put a high polish on an edge. Hard Arkansas and Black Hard Arkansas. as Washita. This is an excellent performer in the kitchen. Japanese waterstones are considered by many to be the ultimate sharpening tools. Synthetic waterstones. However. They were graded. are formulated from aluminum oxide specifically for knife sharpening. They clean up easily with a scouring pad and are more consistent in their grading systems. Spyderco and Lansky both manufacture synthetic stones in a variety of grits (see discussion of grits below). they need to be wet in order to cut . Like Japanese waterstones. leading to spotty quality in the natural stones. Soft Arkansas.

Japanese waterstones have their own grit rating system. However a conversation with Ben Dale. owner of EdgePro. and produces an more polished edge with less prominent micro-serrations. produces an edge with more prominent microserrations. They cut so quickly that anything below 800x can be considered coarse. The coarse stone is listed as 100. Lansky and DMT make excellent diamond stones. They were formerly available only in very coarse grits. but that is changing rapidly. Diamond “stones” have man-made diamond particles imbedded in or coated on a base metal. extra fine 320. ultra fine is 600. revealed that the extra fine stone is equivalent to a 1200x Japanese waterstone and the ultra fine equivalent to a 2000x Japanese . Japanese waterstones are graded differently than diamond stones and both have different numbering systems than the codes found on powered grindstones. monocrystalline diamonds are preferable to polycrystalline diamonds in a diamond stone. the fine 220. author of “Sharpening Made Easy” has taken a stab at it here if you’re interested. You Want Grits with That? All of these abrasives come in a variety of grits from very coarse to ultra-fine. EZE-Lap. What we do know is that you’ll need a coarse to medium stone for shaping the edge and removing the shoulders of over-thick edges. A stone with a finer grit has smaller particles. 300-400 are medium. the white to a 1200x waterstone in effect. Any of the sharpening systems mentioned later will come with appropriate stones. For example. and tends to abrade metal away more quickly. In very general and imprecise terms. although they’ll leave a much more polished edge than a corresponding Western stone. The combination stones found in most hardware stores just won’t do the trick. There are several different grit rating systems. There are two other issues related to abrasives that must be considered: grits and lubrication. 600+ are fine and 1200 and up are extra fine. Steve Bottorff. 1000x and 1200x can be considered medium and medium-fine and make an excellent general purpose stones. but last much longer. According to Leonard Lee.effectively. The grey has been compared to an approximately 800x waterstone. You’ll also need a fine stone for sharpening the final edge. but that’s really overkill for kitchen purposes. The synthetic waterstones from EdgePro systems also have an idiosyncratic rating system. Waterstones can go up to 8000x. They cut very aggressively and should be used with caution. the medium as 180. stones rated lower than 300 grit are coarse. and unfortunately it is very difficult to correlate these different systems. They are nearly twice as expensive. The coarse side isn’t coarse enough and the fine side isn’t fine enough. The stones that come with Spyderco’s Sharpmaker are listed as fine (the white stones) and medium (the grey stones). Grit refers to the size of the individual particles of abrasive in the sharpening stone. A stone with a coarser grit has larger particles.

They don’t provide any magic. Synthetic stones clean up with a scouring pad and abrasive cleanser. Waterstones wear very quickly. Neither. The basic system comes with a medium and fine stone. It will work much better. Supposedly oil helps float away metal particles that would otherwise clog the pores of the stone. Both Japanese and synthetic waterstones require water in order to cut effectively.stone. “swarf” is one of those cool terms you get to toss around when you discuss sharpening. the meatpackers readily noticed the difference between the knives sharpened on a dry stone and those sharpened on oiled stones. Waterstones are another matter entirely. You can do the same thing by wiping the stone with a damp cloth when you’re done. Although these chips were only visible through a microscope. But if you have a new Arkansas stone. you’ll probably need to keep using oil. Consistency You must be able to maintain a consistent angle while you are sharpening. a diamond stone or a synthetic stone. Oil or Water? Everyone knows you need to lubricate your sharpening stone with water or oil. This can be tough to do. Oil reduces friction and makes the process much slower. right? So the question is which one is better. There is always a new layer of sharp abrasive cutting away at the metal of your edge. which should be sufficient for most needs. Maintaining consistency is a primary reason freehand sharpening with benchstones or waterstones is a little tricky. if you have already used oil on your Arkansas stone. Swarf is the slurry of metal filings and stone grit that builds up as you sharpen. By the way. revealing new layers of cutting abrasive as the swarf builds up and is washed away. According to Joe Talmadge. All they do is help you keep your edge at the same angle throughout the sharpening session. That’s why they are so effective. The purpose of a sharpening stone is to grind the edge and remove metal. go ahead and use it without oil or water. which is why there are so many gimmicks and sharpening systems on the market. John Juranitch reports that in his company’s work with meat processing plants they discovered that the metal filings suspended in the oil on a stone actually chip and abrade the edge. It takes a lot of experience and practice to keep the edge at a constant angle stroke after stroke using only your hands and eyes. Japanese waterstones can be damaged if used dry and must be soaked thoroughly before use. Steve Bottorff reports that you can clean your Arkansas stones with paint thinner. Sharpening Strategy: Coarse versus Polished Edges . though the coarse stone comes in handy for quickly reshaping bevels. Throw that into your next cocktail party conversation and just watch the expressions of awe appear as people realize that you are a sharpening God.

so you’re not losing any slicing performance.Related to the grit discussion above. you can take it to a very fine. the more polished your edge will be. If you’re really nuts you can create a dual edge on your knives. So is peeling an apple or julienning a carrot. There is one caveat. Then a polished edge will last longer. for example. is push cutting. Slicing. That gives you a toothy section for cutting through tough materials as you begin your stroke and a finer edge for push cutting through the rest. a soft tomato. highly polished edge. A dedicated slicer can be finished on a medium-fine grit stone. This alone will be a vast improvement over what you might be used to. This is where we must compare push cutting to slicing. a santoku for example. You are pressing your thin. And while it can be a lot of fun to create a scary sharp edge that will cut the tops off of arm hair without touching the skin. Crusty bread. As a matter of fact. A coarse edge wears more quickly and requires more maintenance. Do you do more push cutting or more slicing? Do you have knives that you use more often for dicing. roast chicken – anything with an outer layer that is tougher than the squishier inside demands an edge that can bite into the skin without crushing the interior. Now you must decide. The rest of the blade would be finished on a fine or extra fine stone. . this is only for the seriously deranged. Yes. Of course if you have a very thin edge it will probably push cut through materials that a thicker edge might have to slice through. finely polished edge through the fibers of the food. Shaving. Your chef’s knife can be somewhere in between. on the other hand. The thinner the edge. involves severing fibers and requires a toothier edge. Not pretty. pushing them to either side. leaving the edge slightly coarse. the finer the stone you use to sharpen your knife. leaving the edge of your knife just a little coarse can be a very good thing. it’s really not necessary or ideal for kitchen use. A highly polished edge will simply skate over the surface of a ripe plum until you put enough pressure on it to push through the skin. Push cutting involves parting fibers and requires a polished edge. peeling and julienning? Do you have a knife that is dedicated to slicing? A good basic strategy is to start with a standard 20 degree bevel (a 15/20 double bevel if you’re feeling adventurous) with a moderately polished edge on all your knives. Then branch out. If you have a knife that is only used for vegetables. This is usually not an issue unless you like your edges very thin. This would be a slightly coarse section at the back of the blade near the choil or bolster. the finer it will need to be to avoid excessive damage. But the fruit underneath will give way before that happens.

5 inches back from the edge. coarse abrasive. It’s the height/width ratio that gives you the angle. 5. consistency and strategy. angle. Start with the coarsest thing you’ve got. This is your angle and strategy. The average chef’s knife is about 1. you can create a consistent angle. a good medium-fine edge is what you’re aiming for. The EdgePro or Lansky rod-type systems have angle guides built in. In a pinch a large binder clip clamped to the spine will get you pretty close. Determine how you’re going to establish consistency. Let’s assume. If your knife is wider or narrower than 1. Leonard Lee offers this formula for creating freehand angles of less than 20 degrees. Don’t have one yet? Check out the Sharpening Systems section below to see what suits you best. Advanced Section: Quote Warning: Math! If you want to be really anal about it. measure the height from 1. . The 1-in-60 rule is close enough for many purposes.5 inches.000 words into this and we’re actually getting to the “how-to” part.5 inches back from the edge) for every five degrees of angle. it doesn’t need to have a mirror polished edge. but if you use a guide system like the Razor Edge or simply place your thumb on the spine in the same spot every time. Sharpmaker grey stone – doesn’t matter. particularly sharpening at low angles. otherwise the math doesn’t work. Haul out your sharpening rig and let’s grind some metal. you’ll need to begin with a fast cutting. Because this is the first time you’ve really tried to change the horrid factory edge.Section Five: Sharpening Step by Step Hey. You’ll find that a 10-unit rise in 60 units is about 9-1/2 degrees and a 20-unit rise is about 19 degrees. Benchstone. Freehand sharpening requires a little more skill and patience. so for a 15 degree angle you’d raise the spine 3/8 inch – about the height of six quarters stacked up. for the sake of discussion.5 inches wide at the heel.” This works out to raising the spine 1/8 inch (measured 1. Forget the math. With a Sharpmaker you simply stroke straight up and down. “Use the basic rule that a 1 degree angle subtends an arc of 1 unit at a radius of 60 units. Remember the basics: burr. here’s where we put all of this together. that you’ve decided to put a 15/20 double bevel on your chef’s knife. As a matter of fact. abrasive. Because it’s a general purpose knife. Got one now? Good. waterstone. Okay.

As soon as you detect a burr. To keep the aesthetics of the knife. 2) Repeat on the opposite side until you feel a burr along the full edge of the first side. The 20 primary edge face will be very narrow compared to the 15 degree back bevel. switch back to your coarse stone or the next one up. Feel the knife every so often to see if you can feel a burr. see the picture earlier in the tutorial. 3) Optional: If you want to dress up the scratch pattern. If you don’t remember how to check for a burr. the burr forms on the side opposite from the side you are grinding. the other side will require much less grinding.5 inches back from the edge. It doesn’t make any difference. 7) You’re almost home. usually a medium stone. With edge guides unclamp the guide and slide it forward about an 1/8 to 1/4 inch. clamp the guide at the 3/8” height. keep grinding on the current side until the burr runs the entire length of the opposite edge. If you just grind one side until you get a burr. switch to the 20 degree slots. you can save a little time on this step. put the stones in the 15 degree slots. switch to your fine stone and give the edge several passes on each side (at the same angle) to polish them out a little. With a Lansky. If you use the Magic Marker Trick described below. Now that you’ve got your burr you need to grind it off completely so . let’s get started: 1) Establish your 15 degree angle. This will happen very quickly because you’ve already removed most of the metal you need to. raise the spine to 3/8 inch measured 1. Now you’re ready to create a burr. Thus the bevels will be mismatched. 6) Switch sides and repeat until you have a burr running the full length of the first side. slide the rod into the 15 degree setting. Be patient. At this point it doesn’t really matter what kind of stroke you use. To grind off the shoulders of the previous edge we’re going to be removing a lot of metal. grind one side for about five minutes or so then switch to the other side. You can go heel to tip or just grind in circles. To keep them matched. If you’re using a Sharpmaker. this might take a while. simply change the rod to the 20 degree setting. If you’re using a Sharpmaker. 5) Create a burr again at the new sharpening angle. 4) Establish your 20 degree angle. With a Lansky. Freehanding. maintaining your approximately 15 degree angle. That’s why we need the coarse stone. Remember. Gatco or EdgePro system. somewhere around 1/32 to 1/64 of an inch. Keep grinding and switching sides until you detect a burr beginning to form. This time you’re grinding the edges to meet at a 20 degree angle. Gatco or EdgePro system. raise the spine another 1/8 inch. With edge guides.So. Freehanding. going back to side one. If you switched to your fine stone. you’ll want the bevels relatively even on each side.

Try the fine stone and light pressure again. Continue lightening up on the pressure as you proceed. place the knife on the stone as though you were going to take one last stroke. This will remove any deep scratches and give the edge a more refined look. If you press too hard you’ll simply form another one. If your checking reveals that the burr is simply flopping from side to side. Or if you are sharpening on a benchstone. You can do this for one more stroke per side if you can still feel any vestige of a burr. Keep the sharpening stone perpendicular to the blade as usual. This will give you an edge that will send shivers down your spine but it will break off in the first use. but is relatively strong. to make sure that the burr is completely gone. If it is only a little dull you can begin with the fine stones. you might not have fully ground off the burr. You are trying to grind the burr off. very slightly in toward the center to increase the angle. if you’re more comfortable that way. It could also be that rather than grinding off the burr it was simply turned straight down. . If you have a smooth steel or very fine grit ceramic rod you can substitute a couple of strokes per side at a slightly greater than 20 degree angle for this last step (see discussion on steels and steeling below). Stroke gently from heel to tip. No more grinding in circles. If your knife is very dull go back to step four on the coarse stones. 8) Change from the coarse or medium stone to the fine stone and continue. Your edge should be frighteningly sharp at this point. beginning the stroke at the heel and ending at the tip. This edge is not only very sharp. Tips and Tricks There are a couple of tricks that can make the sharpening process even easier.that the true edge remains. On a Sharpmaker. progress through the coarse. even under hard use. Lighten up on the pressure as you go. but five to 10 strokes per side should do it. Switch sides and repeat for one stroke. lighten up the pressure even more. 9) Finish with a few very light strokes on the fine stone. If it’s not. With regular steeling it will last for many months. I’ve saved them until the end just to be cruel. but this time increase the angle just a hair. If you want your knife too look as good as it performs. When steeling ceases to have the desired effect it’s time to sharpen again. A light touch at the end of the sharpening process is the key. The burr will be very easy to raise in subsequent sharpening sessions. There is no hard and fast rule. Now technique matters. stroke tip to heel. Now guide the knife down the stone using no more pressure than the weight of the knife itself. Now. However. now that you’ve ground the back bevel you really only need to sharpen the 20 degree primary edge. alternating sides with each stroke. medium and fine stones at each angle setting while you’re raising your burr. The edge could simply be turned to one side. Keep stroking side to side until all the scratches from the coarse stone are gone. tilt the knife very.

knowing that the last little bit of edge will become the primary edge face. get a couple of sheets of those. That’s about how wide the primary edge face will be. and you have a 22.25 degree guide for steeling those super thin slicing knives that you’ve sharpened to 10 degrees per side. Rather than grinding all the way to the edge until you get a burr. above the edge. The magic marker trick also comes in handy when you are establishing a back bevel. Once you have coated both bevels with marker. If your angle is too high. the magic marker trick will save you a lot of time and frustration. Get the self-stick kind. The Paper Airplane Trick Take a piece of paper with square edges. too. It’s cheap.The Magic Marker Trick One of the easiest ways to ensure that you are matching an existing bevel is to coat the edge with magic marker. As close as you can generally hold a specific angle by hand. It helps build the right angle into muscle memory so you can do it without the guide when you have a little more experience. Smooth it down. This is the stuff used to sand automotive paint between coats. leaving 1/32 to 1/64 inch. You still have to raise a burr at 20 degrees. Go nuts. As the magic marker is abraded away by the sharpening stone. The paper edge guide is especially handy when you are learning to steel your knives properly. . Fold the paper again and you have an 11. If they have higher grits. If you coat the edge before working at the 15 degree setting you can grind the back bevel until the marker is ground almost to the edge. Go to your nearest auto supply store and get some 600 grit sandpaper. but the marker trick can save you a little time. You’ve just folded it in half again.5 degree angle. setting an angle on a benchstone or just checking that you’re keeping your angle steady as you sharpen. You’ve just turned a 90 degree angle into a 45 degree angle. Sound familiar? Twenty-two and a half degrees is pretty dang close to 20 degrees. If your angle is too low only the marker near the shoulder. If the marker is wiped off over the width of the bevel you have matched the angle properly. No matter what type of sharpening system you use. take a swipe or two down your stone. you can now switch to the 20 degree setting. will be removed. This folded piece of paper can serve as a guide for steeling your knife. Recoating the edge as you sharpen is a good way to ensure that you’re holding the correct angle throughout the process. only the marker near the very edge will be removed. Fold the creased edge over to the far right edge like you’re making a paper airplane. The Mousepad Trick Do you have an old mouse pad? Is there an auto supply store nearby? You can make a superb sharpening system for about $5. especially in matching an unknown angle on one of the guide or rod-style systems. Fold the bottom left corner over until it meets the right edge. Mylar-backed wet/dry sandpaper works best. you will be able to see where the metal is being removed and whether you have matched the angle properly. 1200 grit is generally the next step up.

Do not lift the edge higher or roll the knife over while it is still on the strop. You can wreck your edge that way. As long as you’re pretty close you’ll be fine. If you have both 600 and 1200 grit. apply one to each side of the mousepad. so it actually does remove very fine particles of metal. you don’t want to work on your kitchen counter or dining room table. pulling the edge along behind. When you reach the end STOP and lift the knife straight up off the sandpaper. Don’t roll it off or lift the spine further or you’ll mess up the edge you’re creating. like green chromium oxide paste. This is one way to create or maintain a convex edge without serious power tools. When the edge just begins to bite into the leather you have found your angle. pulling the spine toward you at the same angle as the previous stroke. spine toward you. use the higher grit sandpaper on the other side of the mouse pad. Lay your knife flat on the strop with the spine facing away from you. Slowly pull the knife toward you while lifting the spine. it deforms lightly around the edge of the knife and gives you a slightly convex bevel. That means that unlike other sharpening methods you don’t lead with the edge. spine first. This is the same technique as stropping (below) but with a different abrasive. When you get to the end of the stroke STOP. you lead with the spine. a convex edge has many advantages but can be difficult to achieve without a belt sander. Your spouse will kill you.Stick the sandpaper to the mouse pad and trim the edges. moving from heel to tip. Now lay the knife flat again. The really cool thing is that the mouse pad is soft enough that it conforms to the angle of the knife edge. To establish your angle. If you have a double-sided mousepad sharpener. Lift the spine slightly while pulling lightly toward you. While you can strop on anything from the back of a legal pad to an old belt. Because the mousepad is soft. using an edge-trailing stroke. Image an old barbershop with the barber stropping his razor. If you want to polish it up. Lift the blade straight up off the strop. places like Lee Valley Tools and HandAmerican sell hard backed strops. edge toward you. That’s the idea. As we’ve discussed. This is your new sharpening system. and gently push the edge toward the end of the strop while lifting the spine. Stropping Stropping is a handy way to finish off a burr or put a final mirror polish on your edge. lay the knife flat on the pad. That’s your stropping angle. When the edge begins to bite you’ve found your angle for the . Like the mousepad trick above. stropping is an edge trailing stroke. stroking away from the edge. This system requires a stropping motion when sharpening. Continue lifting until the edge bites into the sandpaper. The strop is usually charged with an abrasive. Press down lightly and stroke the knife away from you. This will give you an amazing edge in a fairly short amount of time. Keep that angle as you stroke the spine away from you. Make sure you have a work surface you don’t mind scratching up. Turn the knife over and stroke back the other way with the edge away from you.

3) Sharpen the serrations individually with a tapered diamond or ceramic file. especially with the Spyderco Sharpmaker. offered up to steakhouse swordsman and children everywhere who feel that if they’re not grinding into the ceramic of the plate. stropping can make up for less than perfect sharpening technique. but it never hurts to make sure you are holding the right angle. they’re not cutting. the Sharpmaker system is the way to go. To some extent. sharpening system or electric sharpener as you would a plain edged knife. Stropping will create an extremely sharp. This will sharpen the knife. If you want to keep your serrated knives as sharp as they can be. non-serrated back of the blade. especially since it’s a little more forgiving. The teeth not only have a cutting function. but also will eventually remove the serrations. simply in reverse. going very slowly so the ceramic rod glides in and out of the serrations. The back side of a sashimi knife is sometimes lightly hollow ground to make this step easier. The edge is facing away from you and you pull the spine toward you.return stroke. This second step isn’t really necessary if you’ve kept your angles consistent during sharpening. It only takes a couple of passes. mainly because the insides of the serrations generally don’t contact hard surfaces. edge first across the stone. This will eventually remove the serrations. You can actually lay the knife flat and sharpen with your usual stroke. It’s triangular rods fit into serrations much easier than the standard round crock sticks. grind it off by laying the flat side of the knife perfectly flat against your stone and swipe the burr off. though not as quickly as the first method. All you want to do is grind off the burr. 4) Sharpen on a crock stick setup. You simply match the bevel angle and sharpen as usual – but only on the beveled side. Serrated knives will stay sharp longer than plain edged knives. 2) Sharpen the flat. Handling Serrated Knives Serrated knives and bread knives are a special case. This last method actually works fairly well. but are also sacrificial lambs. There are four ways to sharpen serrated knives: 1) Pretend the serrations don’t exist and sharpen on a stone. When you raise a burr. You can do the same thing with a strop. Chisel Ground Edges Sharpening chisel-ground or single-bevel knives is not tricky. though the Lansky rod-guided system also has an accessory hone for sharpening serrated edges. How to Tell if Your Knife is Sharp . That’s what the teeth are for. highly polished edge optimized for push cutting. The return stroke is the same motion as the first stroke. The back side of the knife must be perfectly flat or you’ll round your edge.

the sloppier you can get and still have decent cutting ability. This is more coarse than . Or. This test is more effective for polished edges. not the least of which is that the hair might not grow back or could come in coarser and darker than the surrounding hair. Any nicks or burrs will pull the cotton fibers loose from the head. you don’t always want a highly polished edge. overall durability and edge retention. A dull edge will simply slide off. A well-sharpened edge will feel smooth. A highly polished edge will readily push cut. stand it at a 30-45 degree angle on a countertop and lay the knife edge straight up and down on the plastic. as we’ve discovered. you have some more work to do. keen edge will readily grab the hair. you could hurt yourself doing this. We want a keen edge that can hold up in repeated usage while producing the results we’re looking for in the kitchen. And if you have a lot of knives to test you’ll end up looking like you have mange.How do you know when you have achieved the ultimate high performance edge? Depends on what you want to do with it. Any slick. the smaller you can make the angle before it slips. This edge will then have a much higher level of push cutting ability. You can tell when you’ve set your knife’s edge bevels correctly by placing the knife at a 30-45 degree angle on your thumbnail and pulling across the edge. Joe Talmadge was one of the first guys to comment on this. a plastic pen. A slightly coarse edge that tugs the hair but doesn’t shave will actually slice better than the polished edge. The Q-tip will also reveal any rough spots in the edge. too. “Coarse edges can easily shave. An aggressive. Another check is the “Samurai Hair Test. Just pull gently down to see if the edge catches and tugs. The real problem with shaving. for example. Remember that we defined sharp not only as two edge faces intersecting at a line of minimum width. The sharper the blade. The classic test of sharpening is shaving the hair of your arms. wreck your nail polish. There are other opinions on shaving as a test. Another test is to take a Q-tip and push the fuzzy head over the edge. Cliff Stamp said. A properly set edge will bite in and not slip off your nail. Razor Edge Systems makes an Edge Tester for this very purpose. Thus.” Lay the knife nearly flat against the hair on the back of your head and pull gently down. you’ve set your edge correctly. Pull the edge from heel to tip. is that shaving is push cutting. Don’t shave the back of your head. shaving isn’t the best test for many knives. If it bites in. Of course. but. A lot of people think they can't and thus sharpen them pretty sloppily. Very gently. The more coarse an edge you form. as well as a slightly higher level of slicing aggression. This has several problems. If it slides off. though. I don’t want any irate calls from your barber or hairstylist. at the very least. However you can get better cutting ability but keeping the edge crisp and aligned. I have seen edges formed from a 100 grit AO belt that would still shave. slightly rounded surface will do. angle and the material to be cut. It is widely used in the meat cutting industry to check edges to see if they need sharpening (or if the meat cutter is just goofing off). Take. but also as a function of blade shape.

slightly coarse slicing knife will cut a soft tomato with a light pull and nearly no pressure on the blade.” Slicing newsprint is a pretty good test. A keen.a x-coarse DMT hone. Both highly polished edges and toothier edges (as long as they’re not overly coarse) will readily slice a piece of newspaper held lightly between your fingers. though. A thin. The reduced effort will be immediately noticeable. toothy edge can bite into the tomato with little or no pressure. And greatly appreciated if you have 50 pounds of beets to get through before service. If you have a slicing knife. just a light draw across the skin. is actually using the knife for its intended purpose. If you have polished your santoku to a mirror-like edge. . The best test. try a soft tomato or plum. try dicing a few carrots or potatoes.

Duh. Toughness is required to resist chipping when you are cutting through materials where you might encounter bone or other hard bits and pieces. although kitchen knives are fairly tough. Strength is resistance to low-impulse deformation. Significant wear could take years. type and distribution of carbides in the steel. the less likely it will be to indent or roll. slightly softer steel. The most extreme examples of both would be the extremely hard. the edge’s job is to concentrate tremendous amounts of pressure). The edge can chip or crack under impact. Toughness is resistance to high-impulse deformation – impacts. Many are properties of the steel. Strength is required to resist rolling and impaction if. The harder the steel. The most common culprits that put wear resistance. someone in your kitchen (despite repeated warnings) uses a glass cutting board. Chipping. chipping and cracking. especially when encountering hard materials like bone. though the most wear in the kitchen will come from sharpening your knives. As a general rule. toughness and the tasks the knife is used for. So the way your knife holds an edge depends on the steel and what you use the knife for. Strength is directly related to the hardness of the steel. the edge can indent. Indenting and rolling. for example. It will not withstand chopping through bone as well as a tough. yet shatter-prone ceramic knives from Kyocera compared to very tough. bending. strength and toughness are inversely related. Wear resistance – the ability to resist abrasion – comes primarily from the amount. A hard. Wear resistance becomes important for edge holding when you’re cutting through abrasive materials. which is why you need to steel frequently (more on this below). As pressure is put on the edge of the blade (and remember. This is actually fairly common in the kitchen. the edge wears away. Unless you cut only soft foods. A tough steel might roll its edge if it encounters significant lateral stress or is forced through very hard materials – stresses that a strong steel would easily resist. others are job-specific. Micro-chipping can be an important factor in edge degradation. your edge will always wear somewhat. soft stainless Chinese cleavers. . strength and toughness to the test are: Wear. impact or roll over to one side or the other.Section Six: Maintenance Why Edges Wear The ability of a knife to hold an edge is affected by several factors. Edge holding is a function of wear resistance. As a knife blade encounters abrasive materials. In other words. unbendable steel can be brittle. strength.

The wet. making it useable again. knocking microscopic chips out of your edge.Corrosion. have at it. You shouldn’t be able to see it. The standard image we all have of steeling a knife involves a chef with his knife in one hand and steel in the other. A more effective method is to stand the steel straight up and down with the handle up and the . A grooved steel acts as a file when used with a heavy hand. We will get into the various types of steels in just a moment. forcing the rolled spots back into line. however. “Having sharpened my own knives and other chefs’ knives. Microrusting and the attack of acidic foods can lead to edge loss at the very apex of the edge in short order. you see glints of light. those are spots where the edge has rolled. Steeling heavily with a grooved steel is taking several steps backward. It impresses the tourists. it’s just not pointing straight down anymore. especially soft kitchen knives. A grooved steel should be used with caution and a very light touch. The edge itself should be invisible. blade flashing and ringing. As chef Thomas Haslinger points out. The edge is still reasonably sharp. I can say that an often overlooked factor in cutting edge performance is how each individual holds and uses his knives. A person that ‘feels’ the cut will always have a knife that outperforms an individual who just cuts and slams the edge into the cutting board” Steeling your Knife Steeling regularly is the most critical maintenance you can perform on your knife. If you’re particularly adept at this type of swordsmanship. Whenever you use your knife. Technique. Turn the knife with the edge pointing to the ceiling under strong light. acidic environment of the kitchen can give knives a real beating. The steel realigns the edge of the knife. the edge can turn out a bit. but be aware that the grooved steels that come with knife sets do in fact remove metal. it is much coarser than the fine abrasive you used to achieve your edge. If. At the very least.

5 degrees. The most effective way to steel your knife. you will keep your angle stable from top to bottom. You can also use the Paper Airplane Trick to make a guide to prop against your steel so you know you are hitting the proper angle. Why? Geometry. Reduce that by half – 22. and you are exactly where you need to be to steel your knife (if you have a 20 degree edge).tip resting on a folded towel to keep it from slipping. Place the knife edge against the steel with the blade perpendicular to the steel – 90 degrees. You generally want to steel at a very slightly steeper angle than the edge bevel itself. The key is to maintain a consistent angle all the way through the stroke. You don’t have to press very hard to realign the edge. lock your wrist and stroke the knife from heel to tip by unhinging at the shoulder – it’s your pivot point – and slowly dropping your forearm. right? Rotate your wrist so that you reduce the angle by half – 45 degrees. Note that I should be standing squarely in front of the steel. I had to lean a little to get the knife to show up well in the shot. Steeling requires barely more pressure than . When you’re steeling. By locking your wrist and elbow. Go slowly and follow all the way through the tip.

It will be in much better shape than it was the day before. A steel actually “smears” the edge. serrated. but it won’t last very long. Types of Steels Knife steels come in a variety of sizes. If you really degrade the edge of your knife in a heavy cutting session. steeling before you use the knife is much more effective than steeling afterward. Your edge will feel sharp because it is now. but it will be weaker than the freshly sharpened edge. but a grooved steel can really put that to the test. Kitchen knives are reasonably tough and resist chipping fairly well. diamond steels and ceramic “steels. Coarse diamond steels fall into the same category. let it sit overnight before sharpening. The grooves in the steel create tiny points of contact with the edge. however.the weight of the knife itself. teasing out a little more thinness. but it is not as durable as a freshly honed edge. You should also steel before sharpening so any rolled or impacted edges are pushed back into alignment. It really only takes four or five strokes per side to get your knife ready for more work. Used with too heavy a hand. Used lightly. Oddly enough. grooved steel. though they’ll generally leave a finer edge than grooved steels. Alternate from side to side. They should still be used with caution and a very light hand. . You’ll have a keener edge. If you don’t use a steeled edge right away it can actually relax back into its blunted state.” If you purchased a set of knives. though it does it fairly aggressively. oval steels. The same is true of a blunted edge. a grooved steel can realign the edge of your knife. in effect. A smaller contact area makes for greater pressure on the edge. When should you steel? Every time you use your knife. keeping the same alignment and angle on both sides. it probably came with a round. A steeled edge can be very sharp. You also can steel after sharpening to add a final bit of polish (especially on a medium to medium fine edge) and tooth alignment. grooved steels. smooth steels. That way you don’t cut off the rolled edge and lose more metal than you really need to. shapes and flavors. Be very careful with this beast. a grooved steel will act as a file and take microscopic chips out of your edge. There are round steels.

which will actually relax back into being deformed in its own time without any use. but you are looking at between 100 to 1000 sharpenings to remove one millimeter of metal from the edge of the knife depending on the edge angle and the grit of the ceramic or diamond hone – this is years of constant use. There is more metal removed with the ceramic and diamond rods. In general. but you don’t run the risk of damaging your edge.L to R: Grooved steel. It will take longer than with a grooved or diamond steel. A smooth steel will gently push the metal of the edge back into alignment. Smooth steels are several steps above either grooved or diamond steels. According to Cliff Stamp. smooth steel and 700 grit ceramic rod. The ceramic will remove some of the weakened steel while also aligning the edge. “A smooth steel just pushes the edge back into alignment. The edge will be more stable and stay sharp for much longer.” . A step above even smooth steels are fine grit ceramic and very fine diamond steels. the lifetime of most knives tends to be dominated by the occasional accidental damage that forces heavy honing. leaving the weakened metal there. A smooth steel is very easy to use and fairly forgiving of sloppy angles.

If you have learned to freehand. repeatable bevels. The advantage to the guide systems is that you not only keep your angle steady. Most of the time. you’ll have to use the Magic Marker Trick and perhaps the calculations provided by Leonard Lee. There is real satisfaction in attaining the skill to sharpen a knife to hair-flinging sharpness using nothing more than a stone and your own knowledge. The stone is attached to a rod. get the biggest stones you can. Another disadvantage to guides is that you’re never sure exactly what angle you are grinding into your edge. but you also build the proper stroke into muscle memory. Lee Valley Tools has a good selection of inexpensive stones. the best guide available is the now-discontinued Buck Honemaster. The guide is used with a benchstone or waterstone and uses the same motion you’d use for freehand sharpening. If you’d like to try Japanese waterstones. Some even come in kits to get you started quickly. knowing the exact angle isn’t a big deal. These systems clamp on to the back of the knife and keep your angle steady throughout the sharpening stroke. By putting the rod through one of the pre-set holes in the clamp. Razor Edge also produces an instructional video on the use of its guides and sharpening stones. The knife is held in a clamp. go for it. sharpening is just a matter of understanding a little science and practicing a lot. you’ll need at least one coarse to medium stone and one fine stone. you can control the sharpening angle. you lose a couple of useable inches of space on your stone. Freehand sharpening is a technique best learned face-to-face.Section Seven: Overview of Sharpening Systems Like everything else in the kitchen. DMT and Gatco. Rod and Clamp Systems These are very popular systems and there are several available. This is not really a problem if you have a sharpening stone 8” or longer. Because the guide takes up space. you have mastered one of the most difficult. The most popular guides come from Razor Edge Systems. A good rule of thumb is to use a stone that is at least as long as the longest knife you intend to sharpen. And sometimes it means buying more stuff. yet most rewarding. If you can find one at a garage sale or on eBay. As we discussed in the Grit section. Double . sharpening methods available. Using a guide for a while will improve your freehand sharpening. The minimum size to avoid major frustration is 6” x 2”. The best are made by Lansky. According to Steve Bottorff. Guide Systems There are a variety of guide systems available. These are fairly easy to use but require a lot of dexterity to clamp properly. but if you are trying to achieve exact. isn’t it? Benchstones and Waterstones If you’d like to try freehand sharpening. but that’s half the fun.

” The downside to the Lansky and Gatco systems is the need to reclamp the knife every couple of inches so you don’t change the bevel angle as you progress from heel to tip. the Aligner would be the pick of the litter for this size of system. Lansky sharpening set. which are not marked. With DMT hones. I prefer the GATCO to the Lansky because of the GATCO's larger stones and selection of angles. each step is about 6 degrees greater than indicated. “The Lansky has an aluminum guide that goes from 13 to 25 degrees in 4 steps. It is also fairly easy to round the tips of your knives on these systems. which I do not have. each angle is 3 to 5 degrees lower than indicated. The DMT Aligner guide is all plastic. The GATCO guide is aluminum and reinforced plastic and goes from 17 to 34 degrees in 6 steps. Steve Bottorff has tried just about every sharpening system available.beveling is very easy with these systems. . Gatco and DMT systems. and goes from 12 to 35 degrees in 7 steps. Here’s his take on the Lansky.

The Lansky in action. has created an excellent. The king of the rod and clamp systems is the EdgePro Apex. Ben Dale. He is also a great person to deal with and is more than willing to spend time on the phone with you answering any question you might have. the owner of EdgePro. . easy to use system that can handle any kind of knife you care to throw at it.

. I don’t bother. The blade table can harbor runoff grit and metal shavings. My knives are tools. This is a fully professional sharpening system. and you’ll have to pry it out of my cold dead hands to take it away. I have one. but at $125 before stone upgrades it is a little outside the realm of what the average home sharpener is willing to spend. The Apex is rugged and uses relatively large 1 x 6 inch aluminum oxide waterstones. I don’t mind if they’re a little ugly. 21 and 25 degrees.EdgePro Apex sharpening setup. 18. scratching the blade unless you tape it with painters tape. The angle guide is continuously adjustable for any angle. with marks at 10. 15. The only downside to the EdgePro Apex is its cost.

Spend the $40 and get the Spyderco Sharpmaker 204. . let me save you some time. Because you are holding the knife in a natural position. EdgePro offers a video that demonstrates the proper use of the system. The knife is held perpendicular to the ground and stroked down the side of the sharpening stone. Note that the blade is not clamped. make sure you’re getting the 204 rather than the older 203.EdgePro in action. V-Systems and Crock Sticks V-type sharpeners have two ceramic sticks set into a plastic base at a preset angle. making it easier to maintain a consistent angle from heel to tip. The quality is little better than a home movie. If you get one on eBay. Rather than review all of the crock stick setups out there. these systems are fairly easy to use. The 203 doesn’t have the 15 degree back bevel slots. but the information really helps.

I’d buy it from Michael Dye at New Graham. This is about the easiest system to use. unlike just about anything else out there. He’s a great guy and has excellent prices and customer service.Spyderco Sharpmaker Chester. You don’t have to guess. knife stores and on the Internet at Knifecenter. And. These can be found in many sporting goods stores. you can sharpen serrated knives. The Spyderco is a nifty system because the angles are preset for performance edges. It’s pretty much foolproof. 30 and 40. There are two angles. corresponding to 15 degrees per side and 20 degrees per side. It comes with an excellent manual and a video to help get you started. And my cat. Knifeoutlet. . just hold the knife straight up and down and stroke it down the and many others.

Repeated use of one of these “sharpeners” will chip the edge of your kitchen knives. The Chef’s Choice Model 450 uses diamond stones at the same angles (22. one for 90 percent of the edge and a second stage concentrating on the tip only. Even though I have the EdgePro I still use my Sharpmaker regularly. Most of these things are garbage. Ha.5 and 25 degrees) as . This is easily remedied by taking your time and sharpening in two stages. Just stroke straight up and down. the Henckels Twinsharp with its ceramic wheels doesn’t do too much damage and can be used for quick touchups though judging which set of wheels within the slot you are using can be a little tricky. No relief is ground into the blade. not even fit to sharpen your lawnmower blades. Pull-Through Systems There are a number of gadgets with hones (usually tungsten carbide bits or wheels) that meet to form a V. To show that there are exceptions to every rule. It is faster to set up for quick touchups. The downside to the Sharpmaker is that if you swipe the knife off the stones while using the corners you can round the tip. so it will gradually become harder and harder to sharpen.Sharpmaker in action. You draw the knife through the slot and Presto! instant edge.

for $85 I might pick one up . and the Meyerco Sharpen-It is it for slot gadgets. the Sharpen-It performs well at both sharpening and honing. It does have a tendency to scratch the blade.the final two stages of their electric sharpeners. “There is one class act in every category. The first stage is very aggressive and puts an approximately 15 degree back bevel on the knife. It is so compact when closed that it can be carried in the watch pocket of your jeans. Just as with the pull-through sharpeners. The unit well built and sturdy. the Sharpen-It can be used equally well left-handed. Also unlike others. It puts a very nice edge on knives. Designed by Blackie Collins to be so simple that it could be used on horseback. Each sharpens at a different angle. there is even one gem among all of the gadget dross. there is a gem among the electrics. and shapes them so that they sharpen one side of the blade at a time. The ceramic is so hard and fine-grained that it is more like using a steel. A less expensive model is available without the tapered hone. The $85 Chef’s Choice Model 110 uses 3 sets of diamond hones.” Electric Sharpeners Please promise me that you will never use the knife sharpener on the back of your electric can opener. The better machines are multi-stage and use a slower grinding method. the Sharpen-It adds a third wheel to each set. Heck. If you must have an electric sharpener. the Sharpen-It features tungsten carbide wheels for the first stage and fine ceramic wheels for the second. but this information is less important because you won't have to use it with another sharpener to get complete results. With this combination. Poor electric sharpeners have given the entire genre a bad name. Both Steve Bottorff and Cooks Illustrated rated the Chef’s Choice model 110 as the best electric sharpener available. This setup allows you to vary the bevel angle somewhat. Please? Electric sharpeners grind very aggressively and can remove a lot of metal in a hurry. Using a bad electric knife sharpener is just about the worst thing you can do to your knives. sets a back bevel for performance and doesn’t remove metal at an alarming rate. It is only used once to pre-shape the bevel. From then on you use the second and third stages (sharpening and honing) only. this pull-through gadget is handy for touchups between sharpenings. If you own a Chef’s Choice 110 electric sharpener. however. Since it is assembled with tamper-proof screws. giving two slots. I could not measure the bevel angles. and features a tapered hone for serrated blades. this is the one to get. Drawing the knife through at an angle decreases the bevel angle and gives a more razor-like edge. According to Steve Bottorff. You can turn your chef’s knife into a filet knife with just a little inattention. which will give very long edge life. Unlike other slot devices. The final honing is at a very sturdy 25 degrees.

Professional Knife Sharpening If you’ve read this far. It’s somewhat hit or miss. the EdgeSelect 120 model. . but I’ll take his word for it. Can he sharpen to specific angles? Does he charge extra for a back bevel? Is he willing to grind a 15/20 double bevel that you can touch up yourself? What grit does he finish the edge with? You are now an educated consumer. you can at least make an informed judgment about what you want from your professional sharpener. producing a razor sharp edge. I don’t have any experience with them. Now that you have a little more knowledge at your disposal. you are a sharpening professional If you want to send your knives out to be sharpened. but remember. finding a good sharpener is like finding someone to cut your hair. an upgraded version of the 110. Just because they have a sign on the door and a grinder in the back doesn’t mean that you’ll get exactly what you were expecting.myself. that’s fine. The Chef’s Choice 110 has a big brother. Fat Guy has a place he recommends. The EdgeSelect 120 features a polymer strop as its final stage.

He is a dedicated knife nut and knife tester. Cliff Stamp. you become better and better by doing. Your first attempt might not be perfect. Much of what I know or have learned about sharpening is influenced by or just plain stolen from Joe’s work. Upon completing his apprenticeship under the tutelage of a 16th generation Yoshimoto bladesmith. Hopefully we can cover any glaring absences in the Q&A session. The veil has been parted and you’ve seen that the man behind the curtain really doesn’t have anything special going for him. abrasive. Because of me? No. So if there are any truly egregious errors. even as verbose as this tutorial is. angle. Canadian chef and knife maker. better than anything you’ve been able to achieve before. author of the Bladeforums Sharpening FAQ and Steel FAQ. ABS Mastersmith. it’s his fault. Murray Carter. This is stuff that anyone can do with a little knowledge and a little practice. They require knowledge and technique. Thomas Haslinger. They’re complicated. And it just gets better after that. I’ve missed a few things. graduate student in physics in the field of collision induced absorption at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. Sharpening your own knives can be extremely rewarding. Sal Glesser. provided assistance and generally kept me from making a fool of myself: Joe Talmadge. but Cliff knows his stuff. president of Spyderco. Just remember the basics – burr. Most recipes could be seen exactly the same way. consistency and strategy. They’re a little scary.” And just like cooking. Murray was asked to take the position of number . You should feel the same way the next time someone suggests that you send your knives to a “professional. Do not ever let anyone tell you that sharpening is too hard or too complicated to do yourself. print it out and have it on hand the next time you decide to sharpen your knives. You can establish a Zen-like communion with your knives. So what? You’d be insulted if someone told you that a particular dish was beyond your abilities. Some of those people who answered questions. I have no doubt that you can create an excellent edge. He makes gorgeous chef’s knives. Joe was very generous with his time answering some of the questions I had in writing this tutorial. Ben Dale.Section Eight: Conclusions and Resources There you have it. But it will be your achievement. Resources and Links Obviously. At the very least you’d be righteously indignant. Because of all of the people I’ve stolen from :P. No one else’s. But if you read this tutorial. Some of his findings are controversial in the knife world. owner of EdgePro Systems.

honing compounds. stones. EdgePro. Leonard Lee. Just about any question you might ever have about knives or sharpening can be answered by searching Bladeforums.seventeen in the Sakemoto family tradition of Yoshimoto Bladesmithing. but more information on waterstones than many other sources. Additional Reading The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening. High end Japanese knives. Also has very good information on using power grinders and sanders to sharpen. Ian Kirby. they’ll argue about it. Lee Valley Tools. Weak on sharpening. Culinary Institute of America. but a great resource for kitchen knife information and basic knife cuts. The Complete Guide to Sharpening. Spyderco Sharpmaker 204. The Professional Chef’s Knife Kit. Edge Tester and Mousetrap Steel (an amazing tool for restaurant-volume knife maintenance). Smooth steels. EdgePro Apex and Professional sharpening systems. Razor Edge Book of Sharpening. Guides. Abrasives. The members of Bladeforums. . strops. waterstones. Give it as a gift (along with this tutorial) to the sharpening-challenged. but has a great discussion on the principles and mechanics of sharpening. If it’s pointy. This slim book is a good starting point if you’re just getting into sharpening. Deals mainly with sharpening woodworking tools. Also has waterstones. New Graham Knives. If you want to spend a couple of grand on a gyotou or yanagi-ba. Sharpening Made Easy. replacement stones and fine grit ceramic rods. Steve Bottorff. A little outdated and somewhat of a commercial for Razor Edge products. He is the only Caucasian to ever have had the honor and privilege of this position. sharpening video. if you’re the handy type. Hand American. He makes some of the best Japanese kitchen knives available. this is nonetheless a good primer on sharpening. Seventeen thousand of the most knowledgeable and contentious knife nuts on the planet. Razor Edge Systems. Sharpening with Waterstones. Japanese Knife. Mostly for woodworkers. etc. Where to Buy It Here’s where you can pick up all the cool stuff mentioned in the tutorial. John Juranitch. this is your place. honing compounds and some of the coolest woodworking and gardening tools in the known universe.

One Stop Knife Shop. Kitchen knives and sharpening equipment. Lansky and Gatco sharpening systems. Kellam Knives and BladeArt. He is also a knife collector and dedicated home cook. Instructor: Chad Ward Chad Ward is a freelance writer and marketing strategist based in Wichita. DMT diamond stones.Knifecenter. Two of the very few places you can get Murray Carter’s knives in the Western hemisphere. Discounted kitchen cutlery. Copyright 2003 Chad Ward. . All rights reserved. Helps support Bladeforums. KS. His articles have been featured in magazines ranging from Flatpicking Guitar to Manufacturing Engineering.

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