Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Still Worth it - Japanese Knife?

Hello folks,

     Over the last six years I have seen and sharpened thousands of different knives and I quite frequently get the question: "What about hand made Japanese knives, are they really that good?" Or something along that line, it just came up yesterday as a matter of fact.

   Here is the deal, and again, this is just my opinion but remember, I don't sell anything so I am not biased, just providing the best answer I can and it is backed by my experience with knives and all the dull ones.

    First of all, before we get into that, I have often discussed Steeling (Honing) and it's benefits and sometimes it's problems. I do believe that proper technique and a good hone, a ceramic one especially can prolong the time between sharpening, that is inevitable. Again however, only if done properly or I should say effectively. That very very thin strip of metal that is the Primary Edge is the one that needs realignment so that target area has to be reached, otherwise, it's just a waste of time and energy, energy that could be better spent learning how to do it properly and to do it properly.

    Here is knife that was not done properly, now this does not happen over night, it is years of consistently poor practice.

    Back to the dream knives:)

     I will freely admit that my experience with a sharpened Fujiwara in the kitchen was unlike anything I had experienced with other sharp knives. They do definitely have the potential to deliver stunning performance in the kitchen and it must be very cool for a professional chef to have this sensation for the first time.

   What I have noticed however is that when they get dull, they go dull quickly and they get very dull so a good maintenance regime is needed to keep that knife performing the way it is capable of.  The beauty is that they are easily brought back to pristine condition.

    Should you buy one?

    If you can afford $150.00-$250.00 to get into the basic Japanese knife such as a Tojiro DP then yes you should. A Fujiwara or Masakage, Takamura, Takeda will cost more but the upgrade is huge.  So yes, I do highly recommend it, on one condition:

    A sharpening plan, if you don't have a pro sharpener handy or don't sharpen yourself it is a problem. However, that is not the real problem that I have run into where I am:

   It is mental approach to the sharpening plan that is often missing, many people who use these knives just don't seem to care. Maybe they think that since they spent all that money the knife should stay sharp longer. 

   I see this way to often and not just with these knives, but regular kitchen knives like Victorinox, a common knife that culinary students depart from their studies with and carry on to their first professional job.  I do my best to make people in the industry aware that a professional hand sharpener is in town and I have all the testimonials to prove that I can take care of their knives. It really bothers me to see people just ignoring the fact that every day their knives are getting duller.

   What is the Executive Chef, the owner thinking?

I have been informed by some of these folks that "we sharpen our own knives" which is fine, that's cool but they don't actually do it, they may have the knowledge to do so but in fact the knives are quite dull. Many of the owners get so wrapped up in creating new dishes and promoting their business that they just forget about their knives. All that is important of course but for me, if I was a professional chef, I would think and hope that I would keep my knives sharp by whatever means I can find. NOT a hone either, I have heard this all to often, " we use a Steel to sharpen our knives"

    Now of course on the other hand, I sharpen for several restaurants and Chefs that are absolutely meticulous about their knives, they get it so Kudos to them.

    It does bother me that some Chefs in a leadership role do not strongly encourage their staff to maintain their knives. I do know one Chef, an Icon in the Canadian culinary industry that does this, he demands sharp knives. He realises that why should he go through all the trouble of creating spectacular dishes and taking the path is passion leads him if the folks actually preparing his dishes use dull knives and compromise the flavour of the food by doing so.

   Yes, a Japanese knife is truly a joy to use when sharp. 

   You can get the same sensation and benefit from other knives of course, it doesn't mean that just because you don't own a $400.00 Fujiwara that you are missing out on all of this. If you have a $100.00 Henckels or any other knife that you keep sharp,  you are in the same ballpark. The purpose of this post is not to have anyone think that in order to cook properly they need a Japanese knife, I am simply saying that they are very nice to use but any good knife that is sharp is enjoyable and food friendly.

    Young cooks, and older ones perhaps maybe just have to use what they have, that's completely fine but it is not fine if they never have them sharpened and that is often the case. 

     I don't think anyone should feel pressure to purchase a hand made Japanese knife, get one when ready and just see how it feels and you don't have to spend a lot of money on one either.


This is what I like to tell people that are considering the knife and are not sure how to keep them sharp:

Before purchasing the knife, take a look at some sharpening videos and do some reading on sharpening by hand if you have really no idea where to start. If it is something you think you would like to do, and you will then  just buy one 1,000 grit water stone and go for it. You can buy a King 1k for about $30.00.

Here is a link to an article I wrote for Knifeplanet that was subsequently posted on LifeHacker, one of the largest websites in the world. 

Here is a video I did

There are others out there of course, some really good ones. 

Thanks for visiting. The article I wrote about sharpening and overcoming some common problems is in with Knifeplanet for final editing, I will post it here when it is live.


Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Smoke and Mirrors

     Hi everyone, thanks for being here and I don't say that lightly. When I started my Blog about five or six years ago I always thought that I was basically just writing to myself, I could hear crickets in the background. I know now that some of you visit more than once and knowing that motivates me to write more.

    Let's talk about mirror finishes again, as something dawned on me just recently. I do not put little videos up of myself performing slicing miracles as you know, I think that they represent the talent of the sharpener yes but they may give the wrong impression to novice sharpeners.  What if you just can't seem to get to that point, does it mean you are not a good knife sharpener?

    Before I answer that I will continue.

     That thought made me think of my pictures of mirror edges and perhaps I am being hypocritical by posting them. I post them because I know that some people like to see them and it may encourage them.

    Do not think that these slicing through a tomato videos or mirror finishes are that important. Think of them as a side branch to sharpening, not a critical path but an optional one.  Just because I can make a bevel look nice it doesn't mean than I am a better sharpener, I just found the process fun and challenging to do.

     A novice sharpener shouldn't be concerned about those things, in other words, if you have tried to make the bevels on your knives look like mercury, and it didn't turn out, forget about it. I was sharpening for 30 years before I could do that and even now it doesn't always turn out

    Remember, you first all need a nice collection of water stones with pretty fine grits. Also for any of the ones I did I used the Edge Pro Professional. I have full size stones up to 16,000 grit and I can get an edge and bevels pretty nifty looking. However, to really make them pop, I need to incorporate the precision that the EP delivers.


     If you have worked hard and done this, good on you, nice work. My point is that these are not things that you need to worry about. How do you know I just didn't move the lighting around or something to achieve this absolutely incredible and beautiful finish :)  I'm just kidding but I am very serious when I say that you don't need to worry about this. This isn't going to make this knife any sharper.

     In the case of the knife above, it is a very old hunting knife that had gone to grinder hell and back. The owner just wanted it to look nice again, and of course be sharp again. It is not going to be used in the field anymore so I just made it pretty. In fact I used a different technique for this knife. I sharpened it and polished it by hand until I was satisfied with the results. My standards are always significantly higher than the owners so I knew that my work was done. However, before I packed it in for the night, so to speak. I took this knife to the Edge Pro and very very gently with a 5k and 10k stone just went over the bevels to as I said, make it POP.

   Your goal should be to make it sharp, don't worry about pretty yet or ever, things will come naturally over time anyway.

     Listen, for every knife like this there are 10 that didn't turn out so well when I first started this process, so don't let the pictures or videos you see discourage you in anyway, The journey can be longer for some than others, you may need to linger on some of the stepping stones before continuing on.

      Don't look at these pictures as goals you need to reach but things you may see off to the side as you move along the your path, the important path :)

     Oh and believe me, if you tried these things and just couldn't do it, it does not mean you are not a good sharpener, it is insignificant. If you even reading this, you are probably a good sharpener now.

Peter Nowlan

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

That was Then this is Now

Greetings sharpeners:


     I just wanted to share some thoughts on how I see my business and where it has taken me, from a personal view that is, not a financial perspective.  (I do Okay, enough to buy my sociables)

     I remember about six years ago when I was starting up that I was eager to get business, to get customers to give me their knives. At that time, my real goal was Executive Chef's and restaurants, I thought that this would be very cool for my Resume.  I would go out to dinner for the sole purpose of giving the waitress a Business Card for the Chef then watch my phone for their call. (It never happened that way, and I was wrong to do that, that's not the right approach but I was a sharpener, not  a businessman(

That as THEN, this is NOW:

(Random pictures inserted to keep you awake)

  Nowadays, I wouldn't dream of giving a business card to a waitress of even to the Executive Chef. After a lot of hard work, some chance encounters and word of mouth, mostly word of mouth, I now sharpen for some of the top Chefs in the area and I have sharpened for one of the top Chefs in Canada. I have a restaurant in Quebec ship their knives to me.

 I have a completely different mindset now. I have come to realize that Chefs, not all of them know knives or how to sharpen them.  The sad part is that many cooks and Chefs use dull knives on a daily basis which is very irresponsible in my opinion. Now many probably do their own which is very cool. Or they get someone else besides me to do it, cool as well. What bothers me is that chefs know a very highly respected knife sharpener is in their midst and many, too many,  still continue to use dull knives.

    The way I look at it now is that I don't need their business, now don't get me wrong, I WANT their business but I don't need it enough to go begging:)

    My priorities have changed as well, my most important customers are the little old ladies that get in a taxi to bring me the one knife that they own. Or the fella that tried to sharpen his own on a grinder, he knows he screwed up and asks me to make the pain go away. The everyday customers are the ones that I love to work for now.

     Yes of course it is very cool to sharpen exclusively for some Chefs and I do a few. Chef Jason Lynch for example is very meticulous about his knives and I have been doing them for years, I am the only one who sharpens for him. He will never know how grateful I am for that. Chef Michael Howell and Chef Craig Flinn and Chef Mark Gray are also extremely important to me. They know how to reach me though and I let them contact me when ready.

   I have passed all the tests, run the gauntlets and sharpened for Chefs while they watched, just waiting for me to make a mistake. I did all that and it really built up my confidence, to the point where I can write what I am writing here.

    Don't misinterpret what I am saying, I am always eager to sharpen for any cook and Chef and I don't care how bad their knives are, I respect them because they are at least getting them sharpened. What I don't have time for are the folks who refuse to get their knives sharpened, the ones in the business who know better.

I'm not venting, just sharing, some of you have been here since "the old days" Thank you so much for that.

I have always stated that knife sharpening, learning to sharpen and keep sharpening is a journey, a journey filled with stepping stones. Each stepping stone represents a lesson to be learned and they extend to the horizon, there is end to the learning. There is no summit to reach and say, "Yes, I have done it, there is nothing else to learn"

If I ever got to the point where I think that, I would want someone to put me out of my misery.  I am good at what I do but so are others, I never want to give the impression that I am all that. I am confident in what I do, I have done my homework but I still know my place.

The Stepping Stones


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Folding Knives

Hi there,

     As I work on the article for Knifeplanet, life goes on. I was contacted by a search and rescue helicopter pilot who needed two DPx Heft knives done.

     I had never heard of them but lets face it, it doesn't take long to become familiar with just about anything these days just by searching on Google.  I was quite impressed and anxious to get the knives in my hand.

     To add to the entertainment, the owner asked if I could do it while he waited and while I don't often do this, I obliged, just grateful for the opportunity.

DPx Heft

     I learned that these were made in D2 steel, a popular tool steel and quite hard, 62. I was very curious to see how burr formation would take place, was it going to be a long hard road or easy? I decided to freehand the knives rather than choosing the Edge Pro as I knew it would be quicker and I wasn't shooting for a mirror finish, just sharpness. 

    These knives are fantastic, I could not get over the quality of the handles, the knives are beautifully made. Burr formation was a breeze, a good thing and I sharpened them both in about 25 minutes.

Shapton Glass 500
Naniwa Chosera 1, 000, 3, 000 and 5, 000 for the finish and a stropping on kangaroo leather strop.

I will be purchasing the folder on the bottom for sure. I have always wanted a really nice and sturdy knife like this to carry around, an EDC and this will be it.

I'll be getting mine here since I am in Canada.

Peter Nowlan

Monday, 7 November 2016

Steeling and Sharpening - Whats the difference and what is best

I titled the article as such because it is a question I have had a few times and very recently.


     First off, I don't think we can say "what is best",  they both have there places and work well together,  you can have Sharpening without Steeling, but you can't have Steeling without Sharpening, think about that.

     Here is a link to the best honing video ever made and it was created by a man I admire, we have different approaches to keeping knives sharp but his video on honing is excellent. Nate Ouderkirk has a website called KitchenKnifeGuru.
Here is a link to his site: KitchenKnifeGuru

This is what Nate is all about, I took this directly from his website:

"My mission is simple: Teach every living thing how to keep their kitchen knives sharp. Sharp is fast. Sharp is fun. Sharp is the key to kitchen happiness. Find a professional knife sharpener, view a video on how to hone, or read a highly opinionated blog post on the latest kitchen gadget—it’s all here!"

    Nate and I met a few years ago via email when I replied to a post made about knives. 

Honing video by master honer Nate

     Nate has told me that he can keep his knives sharp for years just by honing. At first I was very sceptical about that, how can that even be possible?

    However, what if Nate and others as skilled at honing as he is, is so meticulous about the process that he is indeed able to do it?

    Let's talk about both steeling and sharpening and how I think the two process when used together can and will work.


   A Steel, or Hone whether it is made of steel or ceramic like the awesome one in the picture above has one purpose, to push fatigued metal back into place, back into the centre of the blade because through use, normal use, the Primary Edge, that very thin and sharp strip of metal has shifted a little and it can be just in little spots along the blade. So that hone when used like Nate uses it,  can gently push it back into place and thus, keep the knife sharp.

     However, in order for this whole process to work, one needs to do this frequently, every day perhaps, before you cut something. This way, your hone does not have to move a lot of metal, maybe just a millimetre or two that has succumbed to the pressures of everyday life in a kitchen.

     If you hold your knife with the edge facing up and under a good light you can actually see the metal that has shifted reflecting in the light,  your light is like a Dull Scope, it can find the tiny pieces of metal that don't want to play anymore.

Steeling is only effective if it is done correctly and frequently and I mean,  very frequently. By correctly, this implies correct angle and pressure and the correct hone.  

   So does this mean you can keep your knife sharp, i.e. not have to get it sharpened for years if you Steel a knife properly?

     I think that may depend on your perception of sharp or level of sharp that you are happy with, I don't think a knife has to be surgery ready sharp but it does need to be able to slice a tomato effortlessly every time, without bending the tomato before the edge bites into it. If it can't do that, your steeling is not effective.


    What's the problem with sharpening a knife every day, instead of steeling?  The problem is that sharpening involves the removal of metal from the edge, thus,  over time, your knife is changing it's shape,  and we don't want this to happen prematurely, we all want to get a lifetime of use from a knife.

    For me, it is possible to keep a knife razor sharp using both a hone or honing process and a sharpening process without it having a negative impact. 

     This may surprise some but I don't use a Steel (rod shaped hone) to keep my knives sharp, I use a water stone.

Here is MY personal sharpening regime:

1.     I start with a razor sharp knife, I mean a knife that will absolutely thrill anyone who uses it.

2.    Every 3 days, or before use,  using a 2,000 to 5,000 grit Japanese Water Stone,  I maintain/hone the knife. I use extremely light pressure to very gently force that fatigued metal either back into place or,  if is very weak, it may just come off from my actions on the water stone. I am not trying to form a burr or sharpen the knife, just to keep it sharp. I see my water stone as a rectangular hone

    I use trailing strokes only, it's like stropping the knife on a leather strop, it is very focused and methodical work. I don't want to remove any metal that is not ready to be removed so my pressure is very light, it isn't grinding pressure it is honing pressureit is a very quick process, one to two minutes.

3.     When my standards of sharpness for a particular knife fall below my happiness level and my honing process is not doing the job any longer, then I will simply increase the pressure to remove the metal that is causing the knife to be duller than I would like it to be, I put my Sharpening Hat on and take my Honing Hat off.

     The difference here is that I am using a whetstone to maintain rather than a "rod" but it is still honing.  In my opinion, this is the optimum way to maintain a knife, because it also builds muscle memory as the honing angle is the same as the sharpening angle. 

    The key to sharp heaven and to keeping your knives around for an eternity is regular and proper maintenance. 

   In my world, I get knives every day that are dull, they have gone well past the point of honing the knife to get it sharp again, that opportunity passed by many years ago in most cases. So sharpening the knife is the only alternative here. 


     Buy a nice Hone and take your dull knife out of the drawer of shame and think you can sharpen it. The steel is unable to remove the metal properly, it wasn't designed for that. Yes, there are some diamond steels that can remove metal but do are you able to hold that diamond steel against the primary edge at the exact spot until a burr is formed on both sides and then to remove that burr and refine the edge with a single diamond hone? No, it isn't possible, this isn't the easy way out.


    Purchase a nice ceramic hone, it has a much finer grit, will last forever and will do a much nicer job. 

     This is not to imply that even the best ceramic hone has the capability of making a dull knife sharp, it just cannot do that. However, it is much more enjoyable to use and you can purchase them online relatively inexpensively.

Paul's Finest

    I really hope that this helps and makes it clear that I am not against Steeling, I think it is great, it's necessary.  My problem is that I very very rarely see it done correctly.  So when it is not done correctly it is a counterproductive process, it is useless and can damage the knife over time. When I see the celebrity chefs on TV slapping the knife against a Steel it really pisses me off, it is misleading.

     I am very passionate about what I do, if you don't agree with me that's fine but keep in mind that this is all I do, I think about knife sharpening and the best way to keep a knife sharp every single day. This of course does not mean that I have all the answers or that I am always correct, of course not. 

It just means that I am correct right now :)

I will now put some pictures here because I just like that, I like looking at other photos like this so maybe you do as well.

Thank you for being here, it is very very humbling for me.

Some leather working tools that challenged me

Takeda with Takeda hand held whetstone

Some of my sharpening supplies


Sunday, 6 November 2016

What if you run into a sharpening snag?


Just so you know, I am writing another article for Knifeplanet and it is turning out to be a long one.

    I was thinking that people who read my Blog and/or watch my videos, or anyone else's videos for that matter may think that the process of making a knife sharp came easy.  That is not the case at all, if there was a sharpening issue,  I found it and through the years I solved them.

    So if I had problems, perhaps others do, I am sure others do so the article is centred around sharpening obstacles, common ones and my best advice on how to get around them.  It's easy to put some pictures of perfectly mirrored edges and talk about edge perfection but it's really not that easy and I don't want people to have their confidence shaken if they can't get the knife ready for eye surgery or look like it impossibly sharp.  Every knife sharpener has had some problems, some learning to do so you're not alone. Remember, this is something I started almost 40 years ago, don't think I didn't make mistakes.

   I'll be writing about the following problem areas that I have had to deal with and as I mentioned, I'll be doing my best to explain how I got over them. You may not have any problems, or just one of them:



     Some of these are not really sharpening problems but they are areas than can be grey and come up often in sharpening talk, the Toothy vs Polished edge topic for example.

    As soon as I am done and it is published I will place the link on my Blog. Eventually, I will have a video to accompany each problem area, the Burr Formation video has already been uploaded.