Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Building Basic Skills


Folks, if you have not read the article I wrote with Jon Broida's help which is on Knifeplanet, you should. It covers a lot of very useful information, but I will discuss some points here as well.

    Novices often get frustrated when starting with Angles. There are two elements to this, one is actual SHARPENING ANGLE  and the other is the ability to stabilise that chosen angle, to hold it constant while you sharpen.

    Let's deal with the easy one, the choice of a Sharpening Angle.

    These are the pictures from the Knifeplanet article.

     Your choice of angle should be determined by the knife you are sharpening and to some extent, to what you are cutting but for now, let's make that choice based on the knife, i.e. the steel used to make it. The useful pictures above will tell you that all knives are sharpened between 10 and 20 degrees per side, you can choose any angle you want. The guideline illustrated above are designed to enhance the cutting performance of a knife and edge retention. For example, if I am going to sharpen a dull knife that is relatively soft, i.e. 54 on the hardness scale, my SA (Sharpening Angle) will be 20 degrees per side, or as close to that as I can manage. Remember, we are freehand sharpening so these angles are not precise, but they can be very close and exact precision is unnecessary.

     I choose this angle (20 deg) because it is "safe" angle in terms of the steels ability to keep that primary edge in place, to prevent it from failing for as long as possible. This angle will provide the necessary support to the edge. It will still fail and roll over eventually but we can't stop that, if we are using the knife. I could sharpen that same knife at 12 deg if I wanted to, however, the period of edge retention, the time it takes to go from extremely sharp to useless would be much shorter as the supporting steel behind the edge is thinner, there is not much there to keep that edge in place.

     Now, you can always try sharpening at different angles once you have built up muscle memory in an effort to gain as much cutting performance from your knife as possible. If you typically sharpen at 20 deg per side, try 17, see how the knife holds up, you can always go back to 20 deg. Gain muscle memory first though, you can do  this down the road a little.

    You can find the angle, i.e. what the 20 deg angle looks like, i.e. how high the spine of the knife off of the stone is by various means. You can wing it, you can hold the knife at 90 deg to the stone, i.e. straight up and down and just lower it until you get to what you think is 20 deg or whatever your SA is. You could create a little guide, a stack of quarters for example as a visual clue. There are angle guides available and there is an Angle Meter in your iPhone in the Compass App. Just swipe left.

     Just do a little experimenting to see how it works, if the screen turns red, just tap the screen to get it back to black. It is very accurate. Remember however, this just shows you what your chosen SA looks like, you'll be on your own once you start sharpening and there is much to take in.


     In the video shown on Lesson #2, I describe a four level pressure system, this has proved to be an excellent system for me in terms of burr removal which of course leads to a clean edge and sharpness.

     However, when you are just learning, if this is confusing, i.e. trying to hold and angle and manipulate pressure at the same time, just use a couple of pressure variances. One moderate and one light. You need some pressure to form the burr. Why not call these two levels of pressure:


     Use whatever level of pressure is necessary to form the burr but keep it at a level that enables you to work at that same level, i.e. it is not so hard or soft that it becomes difficult to maintain.


    This is the more difficult part but there is good news: This is the difficult part for all of use when we are learning, this is nothing new, this is your body getting accustomed to a different motion. It will get used to it and in time, with PRACTICE, you will be amazed at how well you will be able to keep your wrist steady and you will see a difference in your edges and bevels, your consistency will grow as your muscles adapt.

    Since we are not using an Edge Pro which removes angle issues, we need to build SM.


        Here is another easy part to learn, building muscle memory is easy. There is no quick fix, holding an angle steady while you sharpen, any angle is a skill that can only develop with practice. However, you an expedite the process, you can speed things up a little but it takes effort. The only way that I know of to increase sharpening muscle memory is to sharpen. You need to sharpen many knives before it starts kicking in, before your body figures out what it is you are forcing it to learn.

     Get a good Chef Knife that is undamaged, its 8' (203 mm) in length and consider this as your new best friend. Paint the edge with a sharpie and remove it by sharpening at very very light pressure, you are not actually sharpening the knife you are working at holding the angle, this is exercise.  Now, repeat the process on the other side, concentrating on holding that angle, there is nothing else going on around you, just you doing some exercise.

     Now when you have done that, and it may take a minute or less, do it again. Do this ten times per side and put the knife down.  You should do this about twenty times and you will see an improvement for sure in your ability to hold that particular angle. At the same time, you are also developing your ability to manipulate pressure and hold it steady, sharpening and pressure holding skills are being developed.

    This is going to be boring perhaps so just do it for five minutes and give it a rest but don't give up on it, it will work. Your muscles adapt quickly and in no time you will notice it getting much easier to hold that angle.

   This SM growth will have the added benefits of improving your confidence, solidifying your technique and making everything you are doing in regards to sharpening easier, more effective and a heck of a lot of fun.

Coarse, Medium, Fine (L-R)


The four pillars to successful sharpening.

Peter Nowlan


Saturday, 15 July 2017

Sharpening Lesson Number 2 is up on Knifeplanet

Sharpening Fundamentals

I don't know if the article that accompanies the video is something that I can improve upon. The article is a must read if you are going to watch the video. Jon Broida helped me quite a bit with it as well.

If you are interested in learning to sharpen a knife, this will help you out, I'm very confident about that.


Friday, 7 July 2017

Looking Glass Bevels/Edge

    Hi all,

      Often, when folks bring me a folder to sharpen I will ask if they want a highly polished finish or not and most of the time the answer is yes. So when I tackle this job I usually take out the Edge Pro Professional which excels at this type of thing. However, this time I did it freehand with full sized stones.

    The way I do this is to first and foremost make the knife sharp on the very first stone and in this case I used a Naniwa Chosera 400. The secret is to reduce the depth of the scratches as much as possible on each stone. You can't do a half assed job on the coarse stone and then hope the 5k stone will do the trick. So I spend a lot of time on the 400 stone and I use at least four levels of pressure on that stone. The idea is to just keep reducing the depth of the scratches in the bevels with ever diminishing levels of pressure and water to keep everything nice and clean, no grit debris.

   Once I am happy with the first stone and the knife is sharp I move to the 1,000 and repeat the process but with less pressure. I'm not forming a burr, I am just refining and polishing. The polished bevels will really start to show at the 3,000 grit level. In this case I used Naniwa Chosera including the 10,000 grit stone to finish it off.

  Of course this polish won't last long out in the field but it does look nice and is exceptionally sharp.

  In terms of stones required, I think you need at least 3,000 to 4,000 grit but the 2,000 Naniwa Aotoshi (green brick) is a fantastic polishing stone.

At the end of the day, this type of finish is not that important, getting a nice strong and sharp edge takes priority, every time so don't think this is something  that you need to be able to do. I've screwed this up lots of times, believe me :)


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Uneven Bevels

Hi folks,

     A question I often get is if I have ever experienced a problem getting both sides of the knife to have perfectly even bevels. Yes I have and it is a common problem, that is not really a problem and I have learnt to correct it.

TO CLARIFY: By uneven bevels I mean one side having a larger surface area than the other. Both bevels can run perfectly parallel to the edge, I am not talking about one spot on the bevel being a little higher than the rest. 

   I found that as I sharpened starting on the right side of the knife that when I was finished, either that side or the left side seemed to have a wider bevel and it was often the left side. Regardless of how careful I paid attention to my angles, it seemed to happen often.

   Now I have seen Japanese knives come and they look like this out of the box so this isn't something that novices do and it just disappears. I have also noticed that it is an aesthetics issue, not something that prevents the knife from being sharp.

   I think that the cause of this is caused by one or all of three things:
     * Different Angles
     * Different levels of Pressure
     * Unequal amount of time spent sharpening on each side.

    I found that as I worked to raise a burr, if it was a lengthy process, i.e. more that three minutes, I noticed the problem more. So I would grind away on the right side of the knife to get the burr to flip over to the left side, as we know, the burr always forms on the opposite side of where we are sharpening. Then, when I flipped the knife, if I didn't have to spend as much time on the left side, there is case of not balancing the timing.  Also, it is possible that my pressure was different on my right side than the left.


    To prevent this from happening, I am very aware now of how much time I spend on each side so if I have not raised the burr when I start the sharpening process within 2-3 minutes, I flip the knife anyway and start grinding on the other side, then I flip and start over again until the burr forms. Once it does form, it is a quick process I find.  This action alone seems to have solved the problem for me.

   However, just being aware of it caused me to be more vigilant as I sharpen, to continuously look at the edge/bevels to ensure that everything looks even, on 50?50 grinds of course.

      If this is something you are experiencing, try managing your time as evenly as possible and of course your pressure. I don't know if it as much of an angle issue though. I have seen this on knives sharpened on an Edge Pro where the angles do match perfectly so this left me with time and pressure.

    It is not a big deal and as I have said, I have seen world class knives with uneven bevels but still beyond razor sharp, not very often but it can happen, we are human after all and not perfect . All we can do as a freehand sharpener is our best to duplicate our efforts on both sides of the knife and to acknowledge that mistakes happen for a reason, they make us better at what we do.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Asymmetric Edges - how I deal with them now

Asymmetric Bevels/Edge 
My Approach

Like most people who learn to sharpen knives, we start by learning the fundamentals and building upon these basic, all important skills in an effort to not just make knives sharp but to continuously improve our edges over time. This drive often leads us into areas, Forums, YouTube, Twitter, where we stumble upon sharpening related topics. One of these is the Asymmetric Edge and in particular how to sharpen it. 

This was another grey area for me and not that important for many years since I never saw a knife with any other grind than a 50/50 bevel/edge. This after all is the most common type of grind that most of us sharpen. My introduction to anything different came with the Traditional Japanese knives, single beveled knives which are sharpened on one side only. 

Over time, I started to see and hear about other type of edges, 70/30 or 80/20 and to be honest, it just added to my confusion. As a driven individual I found myself scouring the internet on the technique to sharpen these knives and discovered two schools of thought: Sharpen one side at a more acute angle than the other or spend more time on one side than the other to keep that ratio constant, it is still I believe a topic of contention and misunderstanding.

So, with that in mind i came to the conclusion that all I have to do the sharpen such a knife properly is to make seven strokes on one side and three on the other,  to maintain the bevel and edge geometry of a knife that has a 70/30 bevel/edge, like the Misono UX10 for example.

My thought process has since changed and once again, I have come to understand that there is, or can be more to sharpening a knife than just the physical, repetitive motion, a motion that has worked in the past. However, what if there was more forward thinking involved, what if we allowed this process to be more than just a simple seven/three strokes or an angle adjustment thing?

    As has happened several times in  the past, my enlightenment on the subject came after a conversation with Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports. I have, for several years considered Jon as my Mentor since he has taught me many things.

It is very important to realize that everyone can learn by asking questions, we just need to ask them. This sounds pretty easy but often times, people’s ego will prevent this and thus, they get stuck in their ways and this has the potential to limit awareness and personal growth. I have long since abandoned my ego and as a  result, I am a far more educated sharpener than I was five years ago. I got over myself basically and found the right people and asked the right questions.

How do I approach asymmetric edge sharpening now?

First of all, and again, this is after talking to Jon about it and then following up with more questions, there are two things to consider, the technique and the way the knife performs.  I fussed over these angles without really understanding what they mean, what does 70/30 mean anyway. Is it a ratio of time to be copied or is all about angles? What Jon told me completely changed my perspective and instilled a more logical way to look at this, a more intelligent approach. 

One may ask, what makes Jon’s perspective correct? I rely on Jon and trust his words because I know that he has asked the same questions to the actual blacksmiths and sharpeners in Japan. He has left no stone unturned so to speak, his pursuit for knowledge is relentless and therefore, in my opinion, it is correct, I trust Jon.
In Japan, the blacksmiths who make these knives, these asymmetric edged knives do not measure angles, nor do they care about ratios, they create the knives in this manner following a procedure that has been passed down to them, all by eye and skill and artistry, there are no scientific measure devices in place.  I am not absolutely sure what lies behind the motivation to create an asymmetric edge, an edge/bevel that is uneven only that it creates a certain level of thinness behind the edge which is done to improve cutting performance. 

Since the blacksmith is not measuring the angles, why are we so concerned about it? What if instead we looked  at this through a different perspective, through the eyes of the knife so to speak and the Chef using it?  I believe that when the blacksmith makes the knife and knows that someone will have to sharpen it one day, he assumes that that person is going to sharpen it in a manner that maintains it’s cutting performance. When  a chef (or anyone) buys a Misono UX10 for example and enjoys the way it performs, it then becomes my responsibility as a knife sharpener to ensure that the chef enjoys the way it performs every time I sharpen it and I give it back to him/her.
Until now, I would take such a knife and sharpen it using a ratio of time without a lot of regard to the knife’s cutting performance. Since I know I can get the knife sharp, sharper than new, I would continue to pat myself on the back thinking another job well done.  This thought process has since changed. I asked the right person the right question and now think differently, getting the edge sharp is not the end of the job, it is in fact not the right way, mentally,  to start the job. 

If we think of sharpening as a means of keeping the knife operating at peak performance, than it only makes sense to first of all, ask the person using it, if it isn't you, how the knife does perform. Does it steer to the left or right, does it wedge when cutting a potato?  With this in mind and the question asked, we need to know how to correct a problem if one does exist. The blacksmith in Japan doesn’t just expect the sharpener to start grinding on one side longer or at a more acute angle on one side than the other, he expects us to learn how knife performs and how to maintain that level of performance without even thinking about ratios.

As it turns out the actual technique is not that complicated,  for me, the problem was not understanding what the ratios mean and not having the foresight to find out how the knife is working and to rectify any issues that may exist.

So if a Chef or individual tells me the knife is sharp but steering a little to the left as he slices that tells me that now I have to create a little more surface area on the left side of the knife, and I can do this by sharpening that side at a slightly more acute angle or by spending more time on that side of the knife or both.  Using the sharpie here is key, the corrective action necessary may be very minor.  If the knife is wedging, sharp but wedging,  that means it is a little too thick, as the knife descends into a potato for example, the top of the potato closes in on the sides of the knife so if that knife is thinner from a cross sectional geometry perspective, that issue should be resolved. 

(In japan, many chefs will sharpen more asymmetrically regardless of how much the knife steers, because they are used to dealing with steering from their single bevel knives and so it becomes a force of habit for them and keeps knife movement more similar between single and double bevel knives (as a force of habit)

What has changed for me?

The understanding that as I sharpen a knife, any knife, I should have a clear vision in my head of what it is I want to achieve and this may involve speaking to the person who uses the knife every single day. I don't blindly starting grinding away without taking this step.  I did learn long ago to very frequently stop and check my work, to use my eyes to see how my progress is going. The most significant change in this particular case is knowing that it isn’t as simple as maintaining a 70/30 edge by sharpening at a ratio of 70/30, it is now a matter of understanding what steps I have to take to maintain the cutting performance of that knife because over time that ratio has adjusted, there are no angle measuring devices in play here,  this is freehand sharpening and having the knowledge and tools to keep that knife slicing food the way it did on day one and remembering that day One,  may have been twenty years ago.

I am in no way suggesting to eliminate any asymmetric knife sharpening issues by just grinding evenly on both sides and making both sides even. There is a reason the blacksmith made the knife this way, it is now our responsibility to learn how to keep it this way without oversimplifying the whole angle and ratio thing and applying that to the sharpening technique.  

What my goal is now is to simplify the process by gaining a better understanding of how the knife performs and how to get it back into peak cutting performance if necessary, if I have to adjust my time or angles so be it, I can do that, it's simply a matter or doing a little, work, checking the work and asking the chef to see how the knife feels now. (Since I sharpen for other people this is the case for me).

I can apply this approach to all the knives I sharpen regardless of the grind. Is the knife bent for example, is there anything going on with it that will prevent me from sharpening it properly and if so, how will I  deal with it?

The bottom line is that through Jon I have gained an understating of asymmetry and how to handle it in the future, it is now just a matter of putting what I have learned into action and thereby reaching another personal goal, by moving forward.

     Please note that Jon Broida helped me with this article and is still helping me, there are a couple of things I will be adding but I need to give credit where credit is due.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Dull Knives, they're out there.

   A few years ago I noticed that there are professionals that are using dull knives, every day and it really surprised me. Having used a lot of very sharp knives in my own kitchen, I can't imagine using them dull but that's different. I have the ability to keep my own knives sharp, I have the time, the skill and it doesn't cost me anything.

   So cost does come into play for folks out there in the culinary industry but that's not all. Many just don't know how to sharpen a knife, we tend to think that professional cooks and chefs just automatically know how but the truth is, they often don't get taught. I have taught at the local culinary institutes a few times but that has stopped so who is teaching them?

    Recently, I was in discussions with a cook about doing a sharpening demo at the restaurant and I gave my price, $100.00, and was led to believe it would all unfold as we had discussed. Deep down however, I knew that it wouldn't.  There are some older chefs out there who just don't think people like me are worthing having come in. After all, they have been sharpening their own knives for years with a Steel so why pay someone to come and show them something they already know. Not only that, they discourage the young folks who are interested in learning to sharpening on water stones.


     I have all the time in the world for cooks who sharpen their own knives, I respect that but I do have a hard time accepting the fact that a cook refuses to get his/her knives sharpened or learn to do it.  That stuff really pisses me off to be honest.  

    Just a little venting from me but it is just something that pops up  a lot and not something that I can understand. If I was a cook, I really hope that I wouldn't be so busy that I just stopped caring about my knives.

   All the best

Sharpening School Update

     First of all, thanks to those who visit my website and Blog and make comments. I've also seen the comments  made on Knifeplanet but for some reason I can't reply there. 

     The second set of videos and articles are in the works. I'm collaborating with Jon Broida to make sure what we present is our best. This all takes time, we don't get paid for this, we do it because we feel it's necessary and we both love talking about knife sharpening. Jon has extensive knowledge with Japanese knives and water stones. He's also a fantastic sharpener so I'm very happy he's onboard. 

     Any links to the videos will be on my Blog and site but it will be easy to find on Knifeplanet. 

Thank You