I have given several lectures/lessons on knife sharpening in the showrooms in the last few years. Over the past year, I have spent a lot of time really re-worked my skill set, changing some methods, resulting in even sharper edges. I take a lot of pride in this, not so much my ability to do the work, but to make it simple, understandable, teachable to others. I often times say that 80% of doing the job is just removing the fear. The rest is easy.
I find there is a lot of incorrect information on the internet regarding the subject of sharpening things. I have watched hundreds of videos on various methods, using all sorts of devices. By far the best method is still by hand, and in all the videos where the person has truly mastered the craft, it is always done this way.
I came across a very sad looking knife at ………ahem…..ahem…….some persons home who may be related to me, who is known to be a little rough on tools……who gave me crap about the last post on said person…….It looked like “someone” used the knife to open a can. The blade was bent, the tip sheared off, and there were several dinks in the blades edge.
This knife is a 3 1/2″ paring knife. It has an odd, very specific shape and use. I would never use a knife shaped like this, and as the tip was in such bad shape, I wanted to rework the profile to something that would actually work for me.
I am a huge fan of Shun knives. I think they are some of the best in the world, and they are a good value for their quality. This particular knife is laminated Damascus steel, with 34 layers of cladding on each side. These knives are made in the same manner that Samurai Swords were crafted in several hundred years ago.
That said, they are not cheap. This knife retails for about $50. Larger chef knives run up to $250, some fancier ones even far more, upwards of $500. I like the Shun Classic set the most. It is a basic model, having the quality a good reliable knife should have, without all the bells and whistles of some higher end models (with elaborate hollow-grind engraving, and additional laminations).
The first thing I did to modify this knife was to mark out the profile I wanted on the blade itself. I was looking for a Mini Chef knife, used for cutting lemons and herbs. I particularly wanted to grind off the “heel” of the blade, and get a straighter line from front to back. This is how I like to use a knife, with more of a rocking motion. I have several Santoku knives and I have gotten used to that style of chopping.
I don’t actually own a grinding wheel. Go figure, a guy like me, and in my business, doesn’t own a grinder! I have never felt the need for one, and if I do need one, I simply go to the shop. I have an angle grinder, or die grinder as it is also known as, and what I call it. This is a hand held grinder/cutting tool. I used it a lot in the past, back on the farm when I needed to cut and grind and weld all sorts of things (everything broke – all the time). It is still very handy, even in my more domesticated life. Clamping it in my woodworking vice, preferring to free-hand the blade onto the wheel instead of the other way around, I made the initial grind with the blade at 90 degrees to the cutting surface. If I had four hands, I would have shot a video.
After the initial grind, the cutting edge was very flat, almost 1/16″ across the metal. All this steel needed to be ground to a 16 degree bevel. I repositioned the grinder so I could work the blade on its side, as if I were honing the blade against a stone. This is simply more comfortable for me, which is one of the first things I teach people – get comfortable, physically and mentally, to do an otherwise uncomfortable thing.
Here is the final look at the blade with the profile and the bevel set for honing.
While the shape of the profile and bevel has been put in place, the cutting edge has a very course and jagged nature. I begin the honing part by using a piece of glass for the surface, and 180 grit sandpaper as the abrasive. I have a stone that is 220 grit, but I like the glass as a starting point because I can push harder, getting that initial honed edge just the way I like it.
There are entire sharpening methods/systems that use only glass and sandpaper. These sandpaper grits can go up to 12,000, actually measured in microns because the particles per inch are so small. Several men I have worked with in the past who went to woodworking school had as one of their tests to sharpen chisels with glass and sandpaper only. It is a true test of skill.
Once I get through the glass grind, I move to water stones. I prefer Norton brand water stones. I start off with 220 grit, move up to 1000 grit, then 4000 grit, and finish with 8000 grit. If each step was done thoroughly, you should have a mirror finish on the edge when done. It is really amazing how polished the edge becomes in such a small amount of time.
Still, there are a few other things to do. Running the blade across a strop is very important. The strop gently removes the final “wire” that is created along the cutting edge from all the honing. This wire needs to be removed in such a way so it is not broken harshly away from the steel, which would result in a new flat spot in the blade, thereby dulling the blade. The strop makes the difference between cutting the hairs on your arm or not.
The final thing is to actually test the knife. Sometimes, I miss something, and it is not quite right. Fixing the problem is usually a two minute repair usually, going back a few steps and making some corrections. My way of testing the sharpness of a blade is to see if it cuts the hair on my arm without excessive dragging. I literally am looking for “razor sharp”, and I usually get it. With this knife, I was very happy with the new life I was able to bring it.
The final picture is the knife against a 7″ (blade) Santoku knife. The Santoku is 12 3/8″ long. The new Mini Chef knife (as I now call it) is 8 1/2″ long, with a 3 1/2″ long blade. I need to tell you that the entire process, from start to finish, took me about an hour. I spent more time thinking about what the blade should look like than I did actually making it happen!
Good luck to you, and let me know if you need some guidance in the sharpening world.
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