Saturday, 3 November 2018

Video on how I sharpen a birds beak paring knife.

Hi folks,
I was asked by a friend to demonstrate how I sharpen those little paring knives with the curved blades, hawks bill, birds beak.

I normally use an Edge Pro for this but not everyone has one of those and I realize that there are probably a ton of different approaches for this. This is the way I do it and it works for me.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Having Problems


     What happens when you do everything that you are supposed to do, form a burr, remove the burr and follow the same pattern you always do but the knife just isn's as sharp as you know you're capable of making it?

     Don't worry about it, this happens, in fact it happened to me yesterday and I sharpen a couple of thousand knives a year at the very least, usually more.  I've discovered that in every single case, the problem lies with something that I am doing or have not done. In other words, it's my mistake and I always, and I mean in every single case, go back to the very beginning. If the knife is not shaving arm hair, even though it may be slicing telephone book paper and actually feels pretty sharp, it's not up to standard and can be improved upon.

    Our standards are probably different but the fact still remains, there are times when you sharpen a knife, it doesn't reach YOUR standard for some reason. This is how I deal with it:

     The first and most important step is to get over yourself, I know that I am not best sharpener in the world so I know that I have lots to learn and I know that I will make mistakes. I wan't to be the best sharpener in the world so I have lots of challenges to face. This keeps me going.
If my ego told me that I already am the best sharpener in the world then my sharpening journey would end and it would end with me not reaching my full potential. So again, get over yourself, mistakes are what make us better at what we do.

  Having said this, I go back to the beginning. I take out a Shapton Glass 500 stone for example and resharpen the knife paying close attention to my sharpening angle, consistency and burr formation. I end this stage with the critical light test. It is this test that has solved every single sharpening problem I have encountered.

     I always hold the edge up to a light and inspect it, I am looking for any reflections, the smallest reflections are indications of sharpening failure, I have not removed the burr properly, there is still work to do on the first, burr forming stone. When I do this, when I go back to a knife that failed my sharpness test, this light check always solves the problem. I was going along to fast and didn't check it properly the first time, OR, I did but something else happened as I progressed. Perhaps I reformed a burr and didn't remove it properly. In any event, this very simple action is the answer.


    Once I do this, once I have removed any lingering burr then things start to happen that I wanted to happen in the first place. By the time I am finished with the 500 grit stone, the knife is sharper than it was when I thought that I was already finished. It is simple diligence, knowing what you are capable of and always striving to maintain your own personal standard.

    This was short but to the point. Don't settle for anything less than what you know you are capable of. Don't worry about what you see other people do on YouTube, just meet and try to exceed your own standards and progress at your own level. Hey,  you are sharpening your own knives, so you deserve a big pat on the back for that.

Peter Nowlan

Friday, 26 October 2018


Hi Readers.
Thank you for being here, I am very busy now with knives, that is why my Blog Posts are not as frequent.

  The other day I was given the opportunity to give a sharpening demo and talk to a group of paying customers at the largest Food and Film Festival in the world, Devour.  (I didn't get paid or anything for this,  it's a great opportunity, better than getting paid.)

   I didn't know what to expect in terms of an audience, they had to pay but every seat was filled and there were several folks standing in the back. Great to see this interest in freehand sharpening.

   The Devour organizers bring in celebrity chefs to each event, this was the 8th annual and Chef Kass, the Obama's White House Chef was there. I met him and he is extremely interested in knife sharpening. He asked me for 3 "take aways" tips and I had about 4 seconds to respond. This is what I told him, I gave him 4 points:

Chef Kass and myself.

1.      Burr Formation - It is critical and the time it takes to form a burr will differ with every knife, it depends on the knife itself, the stone being used and the skill of the sharpener;

2.      Burr Removal - It starts on the same stone used to form the burr and is accomplished with ever diminishing levels of pressure, it is the key to truly sharp knives.

3.      Control/Own the space between the spine of the knife and the surface of the stone. Muscle memory is the way to achieve this and this leads of course to consistency. I think this is hardest thing for a novice to accomplish yet once it is done, once you own that space, the door to sharp heaven is open.

4.      Learn to manipulate pressure to gain every single ounce of goodness out of every stone you use.  This alone, this one step helped me create the sharpest knives that I have every been able to see.

Enough of that:

I found a fantastic product that cleans ceramic rods. It is those Mr. Clean magic cleaning pads, really good, very cheap to buy and easy to find. Check them out. It is important to keep a hone clean, the glaze that builds up acts as a barrier between the knife edge and the hone. 

Thank you for sticking around folks. Please just email me if you have something you want me to add.

I intend to do a video on sharpening birds beak/hawk bill paring knives when I get one to sharpen. I also intend to explain how I deal with Asymmetrical knives.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Knife feels duller with higher grits

Hi folks,
   A common issue some sharpeners have is that the knife seems to be not as sharp at 5,000 grit as it did at 1,000 grit.  The question is: Is the knife actually duller or does it just feel that way?

    It does happen and I am not absolutely sure why but I have some ideas and solutions if this is something you've experienced.  When I sharpen a knife, I always make sure that the knife is as sharp as I can possibly can on the first stone I use, all the stones of course but especially the coarse and medium grits, in other words, I don't rely on a finishing stone to get the knife sharp, it's already there by the time I get to that stage.


     I've had the opportunity to watch some people sharpen who have experienced this, i.e. knife is sharp until the individual moved up to 5k or 6k, it just seemed to get a little duller after that. In each and every case PRESSURE was the problem, too much of it. Once they backed off on the level of pressure things improved. I've been there and I've done the same thing.

     I'll go over the basics of what I think is proper pressure management, this is just the way that I sharpen, it works for me.

     Ive mentioned before that sharpening a knife is all about Burr Formation and Burr Removal and it starts of course with forming a burr. (After you've checked the knife anything that will hinder your sharpening, bent tip for example)

     The level of pressure that I begin sharpening with will be either heavy or moderate depending on the condition of the knife which will also determine what coarse stone I begin with, 120, 220, 320, 400, 500, 600 or 800 grit.  I need to use whatever pressure is necessary to form a burr. However, I always start with less pressure than I think I need, just to see how the burr forming process is coming along and in most cases it comes along just as I want it to.  LESS IS MORE - Remember that.

     Burr forming pressure only happens once on the one same knife. Once I have formed a burr consistent in size from heel to tip on both sides of the knife, everything I do next is about removing that burr, cleaning the edge. 

     Now that I have formed a burr using what I call P4 pressure I drop down significantly, a 50% drop in pressure as I don't want to form any more burrs and I have also moved to a medium grit stone at this stage, 1k or 1.5k (Shapton Pro 1.5k, I use it every day)

     Now comes the finishing stone and by this time I am using very light pressure and this may be the answer to the problem of the knife getting duller. If I used too much pressure at this stage, all that "cleaning" of the edge I just spent that last 10 minutes doing may be impacted if I use too much pressure and form a burr again. The burr may be extremely subtle, you may not be feel it and you certainly won't be expecting it. (Unless you are actually trying to form a burr which some people do, wrongly in my opinion but it's just my opinion).

     If your knife feels less sharp at 5k then it did at 1k go back to the 1k stone and use very light trailing strokes to remove any hint of a burr, to re-clean the edge and get it sharp again. NOW try the 5k stone, or whatever finishing stone you are using but really lighten up on the pressure. Use trailing strokes as if you are stropping on leather and see how it goes.

     The good news is that you can achieve startling edges with finishing stones, so the stones are not the problem, it's something else and in all likelihood it is a pressure problem.

5k, 6k, 8k, 9k and 10k
(I wonder why there are no 7k stones)

It takes time, patience and practice and more patience to nail down the pressure you use but again, LESS IS MORE, go easy, lighten up and concentrate on holding your angle, harder to do with added pressure. 
    Also remember that a good 1k edge can feel sharper as it has more teeth, more bite to it so if you think the knife is dull, test the edge, will it slice telephone book paper, arm hair?  (Ive done this myself,  it felt like the knife lost some of its edge but when I tested it on my arm it was very sharp)

Hope this helps

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Edge Retention - Powerless

Hi folks,
     The topic of edge retention is one that has been swirling around on various knife sharpening forums for many many years, it is a topic that I don't will ever end because there are no finite solutions, no magic formula exists to increase the life of an edge. Please remember, these are my opinions only, I'm basing what I say on years of experience, a decade of trying to figure it all out and I have finally reached a place where I no longer lie awake at night thinking about it, believe me, I've done that.

   The reality is that as a knife sharpener, I have three duties that I should fulfil, tasks that will have my customers come to me for a sharpening service as few times as possible, to widen the gap between a full sharpening, to increase edge retention.  Now a knife owner has many more responsibilities than I do and there are also some things that we can't control. The steel the knife is made of, I can't change that and yet it is the key factor to consider, the quality, the hardness of the steel that the knife is made of greatly influences edge retention. (I will talk about my responsibilities later in this article)

   Here is the confusing parts, parts that I find confusing that is. We often hear the terms "polished edge" and "toothy edge" but what does this have to do with how long a knife stays sharp, I don't fully understand the science behind it but I will do my best to explain.

    On one hand, we have folks, smart people who are convinced that a toothy edge on a knife will last longer than a polished edge.  I don't know the answer but I don't think it has anything to do with the actual toothy edge (1,000 grit edge for example) as opposed to a 6,000 grit edge. Why would an edge that is not fully refined, a toothy edge, stay sharp longer and is it actually sharper or does it just "feel" sharper.?

This is not a toothy edge, it's just a picture of a knife I worked on. We can't see a toothy edge with our naked eye.

Some people say a toothy edge lasts longer, some don't agree and will polish the edge with no fear of it impacting edge retention, in fact they do it to enhance edge retention.

     Also,  are we talking about all knives or just the average, "soft" knives, knives with a hardness of 54-56, which encompasses a whole whack of knives. And hard knives, 60-67, especially all those dream knives that fall in the range of 63-64, what difference does it make if they have an 8,000 grit edge, which many do, they still have great edge retention.?

     Here are my thoughts on the matter, this is the way I solved the problem for myself. I have come to realize that a sharpener is almost powerless in his or her efforts to completely solve the edge retention issue, to make it go away because as I said there are only three things that I can do to promote good ER (Edge Retention) and yes I will mention them later on.

     I do not understand why a toothy edge retains its edge longer and I am not saying it does. What I do believe is that a soft knife, if over refined, in other words, if I sharpened it up to 6,000 grit for example can experience a poor ER. This is because the area behind the edge, the secondary bevel, the area that supports the primary edge is reduced in width over time, with repeated sharpening which in effect is weakening the primary edge.  There was a study by a group of engineers that determined this.

Here is the problem that I have with all of this:

    Let's say we had 20 identical knives and sharpened 10 of them to 5,000 grit and 10 to 1,000 grit. Then, we cut the identical food products, or something until the edge failed. We did this with both sets of knives and then, maybe, we could see results that would lead us to believe that the 1k edge did indeed last longer.

     This is all fine in a laboratory type of environment but once a knife leaves my hand, who knows how it will be treated. where it will be stored, how it will be washed and what type of cutting board will it be hitting on day to day basis. How will the knife be maintained, what type of Steel does the owner use, if any and is the owner have skill with a Steel or he is just slapping the knife against it and removing the established edge? (I remember bringing a freshly sharpened knife into a chef, it was extremely sharp and the first thing he did was use it open a heavy plastic wrapped cut of meat, that 30 seconds took the edge off.)

(Don't worry, I will provide what I think is the best edge in terms of sharpness and edge retention.)

  Now from a physics point of view, a polished edge will not only slice better but will have improved edge retention. According to the author Chad Ward in his awesome book An Edge in the Kitchen:
He writes about Force equalling pressure over area and an edge 1,000 of an inch thick and one pound of pressure concentrates 1,000 pounds of pressure per square inch at the edge. On the other hand, a toothy edge is like a fine row of needles with each point coming under pressure, so these individual points are on their own and wear down and roll over. You cannot argue the science here. I am just telling you what he wrote, I didn't write it but I have to agree with it.

We are talking about kitchen knives here cutting food, not an edge designed to cut rope and cardboard.

Here are the three things that I can do as a sharpener to help with edge retention.

Number 3:

Sharpen the knife at an angle that is appropriate for the given knife. I sharpen hard knives between 10 and 15 deg per side and I sharpen soft knives between 15-20 degrees.

Number 2: 

Finish the knife at the right grit, although the overall impact on edge retention is minimal in my opinion, when you consider the guy cutting a plastic bag open, whether I finished the knife at 1,000 or 2,000 grit is insignificant in terms of edge retention when you consider that the knife could be used on the wrong cutting board or chucked in a drawer. I finish soft knives anywhere from 1,000 to 3, 000 grit and hard knives can go up to 8,000.

The most important thing that I can do is EDUCATE people, tell them what not to do with their knives and manage their expectations when it comes to how long the knife will stay sharp.

     In my opinion, the best way to keep a knife sharp is to ensure that it is thin behind the edge and the edge is clean when finished. This thinning reduces friction, a knife edge is under constant siege, it is subjected to a lot of pressure every day as it slices through a huge variety of products and then comes in contact with the cutting board.

 All that I can do is sharpen the knife to the absolute best of my ability keeping the rule number 2 and 3 in mind and then help folks understand that the edge is a microscopically thin strip of metal and it will fail eventually, so treat it with respect.


Saturday, 1 September 2018

Controlling Space

Hi Folks,
     I know that my articles are not as frequent as they were but I am running out of things to talk about, I don't want to write something just for the sake of writing it. I want to wait until I find a subject that I think, and hope will be useful and interesting.

    To that end, this article is about finding a sharpening angle and learning to maintain that angle and once you can do that, everything gets easier, and sharper.

   Years ago I fretted about choosing the right angle to sharpen a knife at. I was afraid chefs would know that I sharpened their knife at a different angle than they were used to. That worrying was all for nothing, thousands of knives later and a decade passing by, not one chef has commented on angles, they never will.

    There is a simple method to find a good sharpening angle that you can use to start your sharpening journey, the PINKY ANGLE. (You can continue your sharpening journey with this angle as well)

(I saw this on a video by Shun, I didn't come up with it but I have used it to teach many novices)

    All you need to do is place the tip of your pinky between the spine and stone and you will create an angle of about 16 deg, it's approximate but it's good enough. Remember, it's not the actual angle, it's the ability to maintain that angle, whether it is 15 deg or 17. 5 deg, your goal is to be able to keep that angle stable, to control the space between the spine of the knife and the stone. You control that space and sharpness follows.

    Once your muscles have adapted to this angle, once muscle memory has been achieved,  than you can easily manipulate that space to arrive at and maintain different angles. I only use two angle so sharpen at, a Dream Knife angle of about 12 deg per side and an Average Knife Angle of about 19 deg but again, sharpening your knives, all of them at the pinky angle is fine, use to to build muscle memory.


    Learning to sharpen a knife by hand isn't difficult but it is not easy, if it was, everyone would do it.
The process itself is easy to learn. The hard part is actually committing yourself to practising, to creating muscle memory.  You need to learn to control that space, sharp knives are inevitable after that.

Manage your expectations though, we all learn at different rates. 

Always remember the four Pillars

Patience, and


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Back to the Basics

Long time no see.

This article is all about helping novice sharpeners start their journey the right way, I didn't myself but I've learnt much since those days. First of all, it's important to know what is NOT important at the moment and in some cases, never that important.

     It's all so vital to know that to be a successful sharpener and that just means making a dull knife a knife that can be used again, a knife that slices whatever it is you're cutting rather than tear at it. You need to make a knife a pleasure to use again, and that is not too difficult.

    I am very frequently asked what the best stones to use are, a fair question of course but know that if you just starting out, and perhaps experiencing a little difficulty, having the best stones in the world, if there is such a thing, is not going to help.

   For now, forget about things you may hear like :
- What is the best grit to finish a European knife,
- What is the best angle to sharpen a knife at for cutting vegetables;
- What is best, a toothy or polished edge;

These are things that having nothing to do with learning to sharpen and these topics can be discarded.

I will answer them quickly here so we can forget about them.
- Whatever grit  you want but between 1,000 and 3,000 will work nicely
- You don't need specific angles for specific items, learn one angle at first.
- Not important, there is no right answer, the best edge is a CLEAN edge,  free of any remaining burr.

  Don't get hung up on the brands of water stones, you can start with a 1,000 King stone for $30.00. You will learn to develop muscle memory and consistency on this stone as well as any other stone. In fact, until you build muscle memory, you won't appreciate the feedback and results you obtain from various stones, they may all feel the same.

    The most important thing to know about knife sharpening are the fundamentals, an understanding of what it is that you need to do. With this knowledge, it's pretty much just practicing and as boring as that MAY sound, it is the key. There are no quick tricks to learn, you just need to practice until your body gets used to the new motions of sharpening and those muscles necessary for sharpening start to develop.

   Angles: Just use one angle at first, remember that all kitchen knives are sharpened between 10 and 20 degrees basically so why not split it, why not sharpen your "learning stages knives" at 17 deg per side for example.  I suggest using your pinky to find the right angle, your pinky isn't changing shape so if you put  your pinky between the stone and the spine of the knife you will get an angle of 16-18 deg, depending on the width of your pinky. Experiment with it and did you know that there is an angle guide on your iPhone.(Swipe left while on the compass App and experiment with that)

   I think we can place the art of knife sharpening under two broad categories, BURR FORMATION and BURR REMOVAL and I have said this many times in previous articles I know.
If  you have watched the Sharpening School Videos on, everything you need to know will be demonstrated and talked about.  They are easy to find and are linked on my website.

Sharpening School

To summarize:

Don't get hung up on everything you read on knife Forums and on YouTube. Find a video that you like and stick with it and then get down to building muscle memory and in turn, confidence.

You will have problems of course, we all do so when it happens, just slow down and focus and be patient. If you are not having fun, put the knife down for a while.

Don't hesitate to email me if you have questions.


Thanks for sticking around.