Knife Sharpening 101

Still haven’t worked on my novel much, so I thought I’d blog a bit about cooking.

I cook a lot, and I have quite a few nice knives.  However, beyond using a honing steel, I haven’t ever been brave enough to do any maintenance on my knives.  Sharpening seemed too complex and too easy to mess up.  However, all my knives have reached a state of dullness, so something had to be done.  Since I now have more time on my hands, I decided to try my hand at doing it myself.

I admit I was inspired by this video…

I had been intimidated by all the different types of sharpening stones out there.  I finally settled on a set of synthetic diamond stones in three grits.  I started with the crappiest knife- it was a good knife about 20 years ago, but a couple of decades of running it through the dishwasher and opening boxes with it took a toll.  I thought that it would need to be professionally reground, but I decided to try myself.  It took a lot of time, but I restored it such that it cuts paper.  To make it really razor sharp, I either need a fourth stone or a strop or both.  It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.  I do find that none of the knives hold an edge for as long as I expect; in theory, one should only have to use the coarse stone (basically for regrinding the edge) once a year, but I find that I cannot restore the sharpness with just the extra fine stone.  So, still, something to work on.  There are more advanced sharpening techniques such as adding a micro-bevel, which should make the edge stronger.  Does that mean it will last longer?  No sure, and haven’t played around with this yet.

Knife sharpening is one of those hobbies that gets expensive really quickly.  My stones cost ~$100 and as I said, I am not capable of getting the sharpest edge with what I have.  Natural stones are even pricier.  But, you can probably get a better edge that what you have out of the box (and certainly after use) by buying a single fine stone.  A sharpening steel, which comes with many knife sets, isn’t really intended to sharpen.  It actually hones the blade or unfolds any ripples or bent spots at the very edge.  To sharpen you really must remove the metal to make the blade increasingly thin as you move to the edge.  The coarse stone removes the metal quickly but leaves grooves and gouges.  The finer stones are slower but leave a more flat surface.  Knives in bad condition require a set of stones or infinite patience with a fine stone.   A fine stone is likely sufficient to touch up newer knives with a fairly intact edge.

It does take practice to get good. (And I wouldn’t say I’m good yet.)   It takes being willing to trash a knife to learn.  If this doesn’t sound appealing, then it is probably worth paying to have your knives professionally sharpened or reground.

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