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Knife Sharpening

This is a skill diary, not a definition diary,so I'm putting it under the Culture of the Kitchen, because it's a kitchen skill.

Don't worry, I'll get back to the definitions next week, starting with kitchen equipment other than knives.

I use a professional knife sharpener, but not for every knife and not even every year, but when a knife gets too dull to sharpen up on a good honing, it goes to the professional.

If you want to hone your knifes, or even sharpen them yourself, let's get to it.

How to Hone Your Straight Edged Knives:

To hone a blade,you need a sharpening steel - a long rod, usually of ceramic or diamond coated steel. Hold the knife flat against the surface of the rod and slide it along, gradually raising the back of the blade until it begins to cut into the rod. With the rod in one hand, hold the back corner of the knife's edge to the end of the steel closest to you. "Sweep" the blade towards the tip of the steel, making sure that all of the length of the blade comes in contact with the steel. Repeat 10 times for each side of the blade. Do this after you've used your knife, cleaned it, dried, it and before you oil it and put it away.

Here's a good video on it.

How to Hone Your Serrated Knives:

I've never honed a serrated edged knife.  I've never heard of anyone honing them, either.  I sharpen mine periodically with a ceramic rod and stropping leather.  So scroll down to the "How to sharpen your serrated knives" section.

What I do between sharpenings is strop the back side of the serrations to remove burrs.  Almost all serrated knives have a chisel grind, which means one side is flat and the other has the sharp bevel.  I place the knife with the flat side on the leather strop, then slide the knife down the strop away from me edge leading, then turn the knife so the spine leads, and repeat about 10 times. That smooths any burrs the build up with use.

How to Sharpen Your Straight Edged Knives:

I use a Lansky system to sharpen my knives.  It's easier for me, especially if I'm going to be sharpening most of my knives all on the same day. The Lansky system has an excellent description of how to use their tool that comes with it, so if you buy and use one, I don't need to repeat that here.

I used to sharpen them with a sharpening stone.  This is how I did that:

Select a stone: Whetstone, water stone, oil stone, or natural stone, they all are designed to sharpen tools, be they knives and scissors or lawn mower blades or swords.  Natural stones are harder to find as few places make them any more.  

You are more likely to find artificial sharpening stones.  There are ceramic stones made of silicon carbide (carborundum) or aluminum oxide (corundum). These come double-sided with a coarse grit on one side and a finer grit on the other.  They come in many sizes, from small pocket stones to large benchstones.  For kitchen knives, I recommend the larger stones.  Unless you have a portable kitchen, you won't be hauling the stone around everywhere, so invest in a larger one. These can be lubricated with either oil or water, just make sure you always use the same lubricant on the stone because mixing them makes for a bad sharpening experience. (Don't ask how I know, I'm sure you can figure it out).

Oilstones mostly come from Arkansas and contain natural novaculite and microcrystalline quartz.  It comes in varying grades and colors, so get several.  Even though it's called oilstone, it can be lubricated with water, just keep to the same lubricant for the life of the stone. It works better with oil, though, so I recommend using honing oil with an oilstone. You'll need at least 2 grit levels, a finishing grit and a coarser grit.

Japanese waterstones come from the Kyoto district and are composed of fine silicates in a clay base, softer than the Arkansas oilstones.  Japanese waterstones are most effective when lubricated with water.  Oil reduces their effectiveness.  There are three grit levels of waterstones.  You'll need at least 2 grit levels - a finishing grit and a coarser grit.

Diamond plates are metal sheets with regular holes in it coated in diamond dust of varying grit, usually backed on a plastic or resin base.  They don't require lubricant.  They do not refine an edge the way a stone does but are good for using in place of a coarser grit stone.  If you use a diamond plat, you'll also need a finishing stone. They are also good for maintaining a stone in good condition.

What it comes down to is finding the stones you like and taking care of them.

Prep the stone: Waterstones need to be soaked in clear cold water for 10 minutes before you use them.  Other stones, if you put them away right, need to be wiped and anchored.

Anchor the stone: A bench stone is large enough you've probably made a permanent place for it that also anchors it.  All other stones need some sort of anchor so they don't slide all over the table as you sharpen your knives.  A towel set on a rubber mat works just fine.

Oil the stone: Or water it, if it's a waterstone.  For oil, you only need a few drops. Spread it across the surface of the stone. Start with the coarsest stone and work your way through to the finest one.

Find the angle of the edge: European knives are generally sharpened to 20º or 25º, Japanese knives to a 15º to 20º angle.  To determine the angle height of your knife, divide the height of the blade at the heel by a specific number to find out how high to raise the spine.  

For 20° divide by 3
For 15° divide by 4
For 12° divide by 5
For 10° divide by 6
For 8° divide by 7

For a 20º angle on a knife that's 1.5" at the heel, you'd need to hold the spine 1/2" off the stone.

Or, you could use quarters.  4 quarters is a little over 1/4".  It takes 15 quarters to equal an inch.  For that same 1.5" knife, you'd need 7 quarters.  That's not quite half an inch, but the width of the spine will make up the difference.

1 quarter is about 0.069"
4 quarters is just over 0.25"
5 quarters is about 0.33"
6 quarters is about 0.4"
7 quarters is just under 0.5"
8 quarters is just over 0.5"

Sharpen the knife: Once you have the knife positioned at the right angle, apply moderate pressure with your fingers and push the knife across the surface of the stone in a steady diagonal sweep.  The tip of the knife should just be touching the stone when you reach the end.

Keep the knife on the stone as you pull back to maintain the angle, but don't put any pressure on it.  Repeat for 10 to 20 strokes, then flip the knife, adjust the angle and repeat.

Now move on to the next finer grit.  Most people just need two grits, but some use three or even four grits.  I use two because I sharpen them often enough not to need really coarse grits.

Once you've finished with the finest grit you have, check the edge for burrs and rough spots.  If there are none, you can wipe the blade with a soft cloth, put it away and move on to the next knife. If there's still a burr or small nick, just spend a little more time on the finest grit stone to smooth it off.  Work slow and steady.

Finishing: Wipe the stones and wrap them in a protective cloth before putting them away in their sturdy box.

Caring for the stones: Examine your stones before putting them away.  Glossy grey streaks indicate a debris build up.  Or you can feel the surface of the stone. A smooth surface indicates grit and debris has filled it in.  Also feel for chips and cracks.

Soak the stone in warm water for 15 minutes.  This opens up the stone and makes it easier to clean.

Place the stone on a towel while cleaning it.  This will catch loose particles and keep the stone from sliding.

If you use honing oil to sharpen your knives, use honing oil to clean the stone.  Apply a small amount of oil and rub it into the stone in a circular motion down the length of the stone.  When you see little metal flecks rise up, wipe them off with a rag or paper towel.  I use a craft magnifying lens on a stand over the stone so I can see better.  When done, rinse the stone under running water, dry it well and put it away.

Scrub the stone with a toothbrush. The bristles of the toothbrush will displace dust and other debris from the small pores of the stone.

If you use water as your lubricant, or a water-based oil, clean the stone with warm soapy water.  Use an old toothbrush to scrub the stone with a small circular motion from one end of the stone to the other.  Rinse it under running water  Dry it well and put it away.

Here are two videos demonstrating sharpening knives, one with a stone and one with the Lansky sharpening system.

Sharpening with a whetstone video.

Using a Lansky Sharpening System:  

How to Sharpen Your Serrated Knives:

Not all serrated patterns can be sharpened at home.  There are some serrated patterns that are very proprietary.  When you buy a knife with a proprietary serration, it will usually have instructions for shipping the knife to the manufacturer to sharpen it. Do that.  It will preserve your knife for a long time to come.

You'll use rods to sharpen a serrated blade, if you choose to sharpen them yourself instead of sending them off for sharpening.  You will need to sharpen each individual serration. The DMT set and SpyderCo SharpMaker are good sets.

For most serrations, a fine and extra fine grit are sufficient.  If it needs more than that, it should be sent back to the manufacturer to sharpen.

Match the diameter of the sharpening rod to the serration and use a few short, light back and forth strokes to sharpen the beveled edge of each serration.  Keep the rod perpendicular to the beveled edge.  Feel for the burr on the flat side, then move to the next serration.

Once you've sharpened all the serrations, flip the knife over and either lightly grind the burrs off with a smooth flat stroke, or strop it on a leather strop.

Here's a video on sharpening a serrated knife.

If you take good care of your knives they will last you a long time and serve you well.

Originally posted to Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 11:25 AM PST.

Also republished by The Royal Manticoran Rangers and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for this (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noddy, SaraBeth, ms badger, nzanne, koNko

    and adding to the community as a whole.

    For today August 9 I found a signature. I am a badger in heart today. Fight on Wisconsin.

    by the mom in the middle on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 11:37:36 AM PST

  •  Fantastic Noddy! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noddy, ms badger, koNko

    I can really use this!  


    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~ Edward Abby

    by SaraBeth on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 12:31:03 PM PST

  •  A Word About the Linked Videos (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ms badger, nzanne, koNko

    I can't hear what they're saying, so I relied entirely on their actions. I watched so many sharpening videos trying to find the ones that showed most clearly how to do it.  I have no idea if they are talking nonsense, but they at least demonstrate good knife skills.

    All knowledge is worth having.

    by Noddy on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 01:33:05 PM PST

  •  May I make a suggestion for those who can afford (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nzanne, koNko

    the luxury of parting with $130.  Knife sharpening is an acquired skill needing a good deal of practice, and I respect anyone who, like my father (may he rest in peace), can put a razor sharp edge on a blade.  For the rest of us it is a somewhat daunting and tedious task easily put off when one is pressed for time and needs to get the evening's slicing and dicing done ASAP.  The next thing you know, your knives are dull and dinged, and you've got to put some serious effort into getting them properly sharpened or pay someone else to do it for you.

    I confess I used to procrastinate well beyond the point of diminished efficacy and safety before sharpening my pricey cutlery.  I never really got the hang of sharpening using a steel or stone, so once a year I'd gather up all the cutting implements I could spare and pack them off to the messermeister, then repeat with the second batch when the first was ready for pickup.  In between I'd put up with the less than wonderful results from using a steel and a draw through type sharpener.  But no more! I invested $130 in a Chef's Choice EdgeSelect 120 electric knife sharpener recommended by Cook's Illustrated Magazine (I'd provide the link to the article but the site requires a subscription), and my days of schlepping cutlery across town are now over.

    I know $130 is a lot to spend on a kitchen appliance.  I put off buying the EdgeSelect for at least two years hemming and hawing, "Should I; shouldn't I.  It's so darned expensive."  But if you love to cook like I do and can afford the spurge, I highly recommend the investment.  There isn't a knife in my blocks now, from bread knife to tomato slicer and all the blades in between, that doesn't have a perfectly sharp edge.  And I keep them that way after each use with an investment of less than 30 seconds of time.

    "Some folks rob you with a six-gun, some rob you with a fountain pen." - Woody Guthrie

    by Involuntary Exile on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 02:00:05 PM PST

  •  I am one (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nzanne, koNko

    who is intimidated by knife sharpening.  Whimp that I am I ask my butcher to sharpen mine and he does, for free about once a year.  Isn't he nice?

    And she's good at appearing sane, I just want you to know. Winwood/Capaldi

    by tobendaro on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 06:52:58 PM PST

  •  Excellent series (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You are providing a real service here.  Thanks, please keep it up.

  •  About Asian knives and sharpening them (0+ / 0-)

    Traditionally, most Asian knives are chisel edged (there are exceptions) and crafted from high carbon steel or steel with a malleable iron core that takes a very sharp edge but needs great care in sharpening and use than Western carbon or stainless blades.

    Some general rules:

    Use only waterstones, well-soaked (it's best to store them submerged in water in a bucket or plastic container) and keep the stone continuously wet when grinding with a trickle or occasional splash of water. Oilstones are too hard and sharp for the steels used and will prematurely wear the blade.

    Use COLD water only to grind or clean these knives which inhibits rusting, and when done immediately dry with a soft towel.

    Grind in one direction only and do NOT use an orbital motion as this will round the edge and polish off the "tooth" (minute burrs or scratches) formed.

    Grind opposite the direction of using the knife - various Asian knives are designed to "pull" toward or "push" away from the user so the direction of grinding should be opposite to properly orient the "tooth".  

    In general you want to sharpen in the order of the chiseled (angled) edge first and flat side second as the material removal should only be from the chiseled edge with the back side essentially honing of the burrs that form.

    Knives intended to have an acute, razor edge such as sashimi knives or broad blade Chinese knives for thin slicing (verses choppers) should also be polished after abrasive grinding. This is done with a chalk-like stone rubbed against a black smooth stone or "ink stone" to make a paste and then the bade is drawn by dragging it over in an angular motion, which hones the edge to razor sharpness with less "bite" than a general purpose knife.

    Slice with a slicing knife or general purpose chopper.

    Chop with a chopper only! Chopping with a fine Asian slicing knife will damage the edge and can even crack the blade.

    Some modern Asian knives use soft a soft stainless alloy cladding laminated on a carbon steel core to make them more resistant to rusting in casual kitchen use. Many people may prefer this because they are easy to maintain but they can not be sharpened as perfectly as a traditional blade, so if you want a perfectly sharp knife for very thin slicing or prefect geometric cutting a traditional knife (and the labor) is necessary.

    Lastly, a note about the traditional Chinese broad knife. Most people have at least 2, a general purpose knife for slicing and mincing (verses chopping) with a thinner, more flexible blade, and a chopping knife which has a thick, heavy, very rigid blade.

    The latter is the secret weapon of the Chinese chef and the tool we use to chop through thick bones (including, occasionally fingers) such as ribs or cutting a bird in half with a single stroke. If you buy such a knife you must also get a proper Chinese chopping block cut ACROSS the grain of the wood because that rapid WHACK of the blade carries a lot of kinetic energy and it has to penetrate the block when it lands without braking the blade or causing it to rebound so you lose your grip and drop it, cutting off your leg or toes. Western style cutting boards or plastic cutting boards used for slicing are totally unsuitable and possibly dangerous for use with such knives.

    The Chinese broad knife, like the wok, is a versatile tool in experienced hands but potentially dangerous if you don't know proper technique so if you are interested in this I suggest you visit Chinese friends to take lessons from Ma or take a beginning Chinese cooking class to learn the basic techniques and precautions, regardless of your cooking expertise you will learn some of the secrets and tricks of Asian cooking, including, for example, how to peel and mince garlic in 30 seconds (verses the slow and maddening technique used by Western chefs and their crazy gadgets).



    A chisel bladed broad blade slicing knife from Japan - a thing of beauty and utility.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Sat Dec 17, 2011 at 07:29:43 AM PST

  •  I never knew there was so much involved! (0+ / 0-)

    When I get home I'll have to make sure our knives are sharpened properly.

  •  Sharpening video (0+ / 0-)

    The video pretty much says it all.

    I have always used a rod and the "butcher's" method.  Some friends have said it looks unsafe, and it definitely goes against my cub scout training (always cut away from you), but it really is the easiest way to sharpen.

    Also, I always "hone" (by the author's terminology) just before actually using it.  After sharpening, I give it a quick rinse to get the metal bits off and it's good to go.

    The cheaper the knife, the longer you have to spend sharpening.  Great knives take only a pass or two to get the edge back.

    Noddy, you are becoming quite the prolific blogger!  You fill 'my page'!  And I don't mind.

    We're all just monkeys burning in hell.

    by smokeymonkey on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 01:42:33 PM PST

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