Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Knifeplanet article

Hello again,

The article I wrote was published yesterday. FYI I was contacted by Knifeplanet and asked to conduct an interview and following that, they asked if I would be their staff writer. They didn't have an actual knife sharpener so once in awhile, as ideas float around I gather them together and send them to Knifeplanet. They edit them and add some photos I usually send. I think they do a great job of putting it all together. This is all voluntary by the way, I don't get paid for this and the nice fella who does all the editing and puts everything out there does it for free, because he loves knives.

Here is the link to the article:

article for Knifeplanet

Regarding Comments. I do see the comments and I always reply to them so if you are not seeing the replies please let me know at or feel free to ask questions to me as well, If  you know anything about me you know I love talking about sharpening.

Thanks very much for visiting my blog, that is very cool and kind of you.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Sharpening knives, keep it simple and some comments


I wrote an article for Knifeplanet on uncomplicated knife sharpening which will be posted tomorrow so I will provide the link when it is. However, I will talk about it a little here as well.

I have spoken to some folks who are interested in learning to sharpen and there is a common scenario that unfolds, one of feeling overwhelmed by the amount of sharpening products and the sharpening videos out there.  ANYONE can post a sharpening video, so you need to understand that not all of them are good, in fact many are terrible.

Sharpening a knife can start and should start with some very basic and important fundamentals and the most important ones are free. An understanding of the process of using a whetstone, the ability to visualise what it is you need to achieve is most helpful. When I started I didn't have any of this, I just went through the motions hoping to succeed, I loved it but there is a better path to choose right out of the gate.

* Read about steel and know what the difference between "soft steel" and "hard steel" and while that may seem pretty freaking obvious, how the difference impacts your sharpening is not so obvious and it is something I wish I had of known decades ago.
I won't go into too much detail, you need to learn these things on your own in my opinion, it is easy to find it and you'll feel better about yourself but I will give a basic reason why knowing steel is important:

     Most of the knives people use are in the 54-58 hardness range, this is the typical knife, the $120.00 Henckels for example, nothing wrong with these knives but when I sharpen one I know that my level of refinement will be less than it would be for a Fujiwara for example with a hardness of 64. (The difference in hardness between a 58 and even a 60 is significant, so 64 is a very big difference. This number represents not just a difference in the hardness of the steel but the calibre of the knife, the skill of the maker and of course, the approach to sharpening it

   Suffice it to say that softer knives will not stand up to aggressive levels of refinement and I choose the word aggressive here for a purpose. Most European  knives do quite well with a 1,000 grit finish. However, if I chose to elevate the level of refinement, I personally will be very very gentle with my pressure as I move up in grit. This is because I do not want to grind metal away with higher grit stones, my sole purpose is to "clean the edge" not keep forming a burr. ONE BURR is all that we need (both sides of the blade of course) so if I use too much pressure and linger too long, more burrs will form, edge retention will be compromised. So if yo have that beautiful 5,000 grit stone you are itching to use, go for it. However......before you use that the knife should already be sharp, you shouldn't be using the 5k stone to sharpen a soft knife, so light pressure :)

(Too much grinding reduces the width of the secondary bevel, the primary edge is already under siege most of the time so it needs nice and strong secondary (supporting area) bevel, a soft knife will yield more easily to heavy grinding)

What about a hard, carbon knife with a hardness rating of 62 for example. Well this just means you can use that 5k stone or even 8K stone but still monitor your pressure and of course you will sharpening at a more acute angle.

* Getting back on track to the right start.......don't let yourself get caught up in the ever increasing availability of sharpening products. Keep it simple, a good stone holder, a means of flattening your whetstones and of course you whetstones, 3 is best, 2 is good and 1 will do.  You don't need all those strops and sprays and other angle cubes and loupes to get started.  Gain that understanding, get a basic stone set and start practicing and achieve a certain level of competence that will then allow you to comprehend the value of a Loupe for example. I am not saying those items are useless, but don't let them cloud your learning process, you don't need them.

Think of what our elders starting sharpening with and believe me they could get their chisels and knives sharp, often with one old oilstone.

On a side note, I have often been asked about selling knives and stones and here is why I don't do that.

I know a couple of people that I once admired as knife sharpeners, I thought they ruled and at that time I had a lot of respect for them. That changed and the reason it did is because they changed hats, they went from sharpeners to salesmen. So over the years I lost the trust in their opinions because I didn't know if what they were saying about a certain stone was true or if it is because they sell that stone. They make money from them. So I NEVER want to be that person, and once you get into that area, once you invest your money in a brand of water stones, the ability to remain unbiased is a very formidable challenge, I have not seen anyone overcome that challenge yet. So I stopped listening to them.  You can be guaranteed that if I mention a product it is because I like it and use it, I don't care if you buy it:)
 To be clear however, I also know folks who excel at sharpening and they also sell sharpening products, they just come across differently. I remember having the opportunity to carry Shapton Glass Stones a couple of years ago, while those are fantastic stones, I also like to explore other products and try those out. 
    The one thing that will set you apart from the average sharper is consistency, your ability to sharpen a knife at an angle (whether it be 15 or 21 degrees) and hold that angle, on both sides and then repeat that over and over. You need to visualise bringing side A and side B of the knife together at the Apex of the blade, the primary edge and do it as precisely as humanly possible. Practice is what will hone your skills, it won't happen on the first or 21st knife but it will improve, guaranteed.

   Simple attributes like persistence and passion and your desire to succeed are more important than that 10,000 grit Naniwa Professional stone that would be cool to own.

    Just remember the basics and always start the learning process on a good knife, if you are worried about scratching the blade you can tape it up, just leave the edge/bevel exposed.  If you scratch the blade however, you are holding it at an angle to low, or you dropped it on the stone of course, but I have not scratched a blade, so it isn't a common thing.

On a different topic.

A restaurant in Quebec sent me some knives, I was completely shocked when I opened the box, every single knife was a very nice knife, all 22 of them.


     It took me about six hours to sharpen this large batch. I always do all the coarse stone work together, i.e. every knife then move on to the medium grits. Sometimes I will use two coarse stones if they are dull enough, 150, or 220 grit followed by a 400 or 500 grit stone, works well for me and as always, I manage my pressure carefully after that first burr raising stone. BURR ON/BURR OFF.

  Finally, a couple of days later after I had sent these knives back home I was working on a stunning Fujiwara.

    It made me think of something. I sometimes get asked by a new customer something like this:

"I have a hand made Japanese knife that was quite expensive, can you sharpen those?"

   However, nobody, ever asks me if I can sharpen a 15 year old $50.00 Henckels that has never been sharpened except with the crappy steel that came with the block of knives.

     It doesn't bother me at all if someone asks me if I can sharpen a particular knife, I get it, it's very important to them and they don't understand knife sharpening, only that it was nice and sharp when they got it and they don't want it ruined. If only they knew how easy it is to sharpen these knives compared to those old, thick, steel abused stainless knives.

Take care, thanks for reading and looking.
Peter Nowlan

Friday, 16 September 2016

Chris Reeves Sebenza

I had a very nice and very expensive folder dropped off to me the other day and the owner gave me the green light to finish it at any grit I desired.

So that means I can finish it off at  600 grit, go to 2,000 or up to 15,000. If I want to really polish the knife, I will take it to 15k and use a lot of stones in between and really work at removing the scratches in the bevels from any previous stone.

So for this knife, that is what I did and all the work was done at 21 deg on the EP Pro.

It was pretty easy to sharpen actually, in terms of hardness, these run at 59-60 and are very nicely finished. You can Google Chris Reeves to see the different knives, I am not sure if he is directly involved anymore with the products. I do know that they have always been regarded as high end folders.

Today I had another dropped off, a zero tolerance folder and it's about the 4th time I have sharpened it. So I am testing different edges on it as the owner really uses it for just about anything. For his knife I did the work by hand and only used two stone, the Naniwa Chosera 400 and the Naniwa Professional 600.


Monday, 12 September 2016

The Unserrated Knife


Repair work is something I had to get a grip on early on. I can easily remember the first time I got a damaged knife and realized I had not thought about fixing knives, just sharpening them. In fact 1 out of every 5 knives needs some work before I can sharpen it.

I recently got a knife in that I could not repair, i.e. not make it look like it did when it was new.

Since I cannot recut serrations, in my opinion the damage to this knife left me only one alternative, well a couple actually, I could have turned down the job or do my best. In this case I did call the owner first and tell them that it was not possible to fix it and return it as a serrated knife and have it look like it did when new. Well it's not something I could do and I don't know how anyone could do it.

I just re-profiled the knife, with the owners permission

(FYI the owner didn't damage the knife, it was a cottage knife, the renters of his cottage did the damage)

It was a lot of work, the thinning of edge, the complete removal of the serrations felt like it took an eternity but it all worked out, a lot of work for $15.00 though.


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Visit to Newfoundland

I've been travelling in Newfoundland for the last 10 days and had the opportunity to see and sharpen a lot of hard working knives. The place I stayed was a small fishing community called Ming's Bight, when I say small, I mean a population of 400. This is common for the province of Newfoundland though, a lot of small communities and all filled with very friendly people.

     As you can see, the place is quite beautiful and I went out fishing one day right in the spot of this photo, fishing for cod.

     As you may know, I have always firmly believed that men, most men, have all had the urge and the need to sharpen a knife or a tool and in the case of places like this it is a need. The fella I went out with has been fishing in this exact same spot for 38 years and every day he comes back and cleans the fish, 2 feet from where I was standing. So knives are important of course and I can honestly say that I didn't see one sharp knife, I mean one that was really nice and sharp.

    When I wake up, every day, the first thing I think about, (besides coffee) is knife sharpening, so that urge I felt over 35 years ago has long ago developed into an obsession and obsession leads to discovery and eventually a skill at whatever it is one is obsessed with. In the case of my new friend, the passion is fishing and making a living from it and knowing where the fish are. The last thing he thinks about is sharpening the knives he uses daily.  When I asked him what he sharpened his knife with he showed me a Steel, a well worn steel that, as we know does not make a dull knife sharp.

    When we got back to the dock to clean the fish he took out a dexter boning knife and went to work and kept commenting on how the edge was gone.  I suspect that this is a common them at the multitude of communities like this.


     Now the one thing they do share is beauty, truly majestic scenery and I was in awe at the scenes that unfolded before me. 

    Anyway, we talked knife sharpening and of course I had my water stones with me and they were fascinated by the process. They just didn't know the process, what was involved, what a burr was. It was all pretty cool and I managed to get about 15 knives done, a lot of them hunting knives. (Moose hunting season was just a week away)

    Now some of them wanted to buy water stones and I told them I would guide them but it's a lot to deal with. We are not talking about using a $150.00 knife on 4 fish, they are using knives ranging in price from $2.00 to $40.00 and cleaning 15 to 500 fish, a day.  So the edge is going to fail despite a persons best efforts, keeping on top of it will be a challenge.

     This is a chunk of iceberg ice, I used pieces of it in drinks and the melted ice on the water stones :)

Oil Stone made by the Mennonites, very fine. Age unknown 

This very old coarse grinding wheel was just sitting in a fellas basement, he said his Grandad used it.

Thanks for looking at the pictures of my holiday to Newfoundland.