Monday, 19 December 2016

STROP Paradise

HI there,

     Every now and then,  a company that sells knife sharpening products will ask me if they can send me a sample and all that they ask in return is that I provide and honest opinion. In most cases, NOT ALL, but in most the products have been very good and I do my absolute best to get the word out.

     I am not interested in selling things myself and I can assure you, if I say that I like something, I do like it, it is something I would use professionally. I don't get any money or anything from the companies and most of the time, all of the time in fact, it is one time thing. They send the products, I test them out and then do my part to socialize the product and then it's all over.

     (Now if a company wanted to make an exclusive deal, i.e. we want you to promote our product only type of thing, it would have to be a very good product indeed but I can't see that happening).

   Recently I was sent a stropping kit from Garrett Wade Tools in the US, Brooklyn to be exact.

Stropping Kit from Garrett Wade Tools

   All the nice man wanted me to do was just try it out..
Strop Kit from Garrett Wade Tools (Doesn't include the dream knife..Takamura)
    The stropping kit included this beautiful paddle and two strops, one is felt, the bluish looking one for deburring and the other is a premium leather, in fact it is extremely smooth leather. The really cool thing is that these strops are magnetically attached to the paddle, so you just lift it off and they fit perfectly onto the paddle.   I was extremely impressed with the look and feel of the stropping kit, it is very nicely put together. It came with some green paste (Chromium Oxide) which can be loaded onto the leather of course.

    I was excited to try it out and it just so happened that 15 knives arrived to sharpen. It only took one knife to convince me that it is an exceptional product. I would recommned this to anyone and I will definitely be buying more of the leather "inserts". You don't have to buy the paddle again, you can just get more strops that come on a piece of wood that is stained to the same colour as the paddle and has a magnetic strip on each end, brilliant.

   Now the next time I will order the even higher level of leather, the bridle leather and I can't wait to see what that is like.

  Folks, there is a ton of great products out there, I have already talked about JENDE industries and their great nanocloth and CBN products, there are more of course. I don't get to try everything, not everyone sends me stuff........just the smart ones :)

    Again, Garrett Wade Tools recognized that I may have the opportunity to show people their leather strops and indeed I will do that. If anyone in the Halifax area wants to see and try them out, that is perfectly fine to me. 

 I like the felt strop, in the past I have ruined many many nice strops by nicking them, so with the felt used first, it takes any hits that the knife may give out. Now the damage I have done to strop is mostly just carelessness but I use them very very often. For the average sharpener, these things should last for years if you are careful. 

    Remember, Garrett Wade is not paying me to say these things, in fact, I am sure that they don't even know who I am so my opinion is mine and I am just sharing it.  It matters not to me what people use but since a lot of nice people seem to be visiting my Blog and are clearly interested in sharpening, then this a product that I can very highly recommend. It's fantastic actually, that is after about 30 knives now by the time I finished this. 


Thanks for reading my Blog.

Peter Nowlan

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Strops and Sprays -My Thoughts


    For folks who get serious about knife sharpening, during our journey we encounter a lot of different options that become available, besides of course the vast array of water stones out there. One of these "extras" I call them is CBN, Cubic Boron Nitride which is an extremely hard substance, when I say hard, I think Diamond is the only thing harder. This product comes available in a spray, the CBN particles are in suspension so you can use it to laden your leather or nanocloth strop with. The purpose of the CBN is to elevate levels of refinement up to ridiculously high numbers, in the millions.   Now I don't pretend to understand the science behind it but that doesn't mean I, or anyone else can't use it. I don't know how my Apple Watch works but I have it anyway and can manage it.

     As usual, I will place random shots in my Blog to keep it interesting.

     Here is an example of some CBN products from Jende industries, you can see the spray bottles and the nanocloth strops, quite a brilliant idea I think, to colour code the strops and sprays.  There are other sprays besides CBN but that's the popular one. I have used them all and have tried many through the years so I will give you my thoughts here.

Strops and Sprays

Shapton Stone Holders, the Field holder on the left and the awesome heavy stone holder on the right. The can of coke is what I brought back from Japan in 1987


     One of the things I have always struggled with, well over the last three years anyway is "do we really need all these extras, do we need CBN sprays on exotic leathers to enhance our sharpening?" I have asked myself that many times and I can honestly say that MY answer is a definite "NO"

    I completely understand that people create these products for the purpose of selling and making money from them and yes, they are pretty cool. I can honestly say that the edges of a knife do feel sharper after using them, they "pop".  That however is all I get from it, and I will explain myself and to clarify, I have nothing against these products.

   Novice sharpeners, and as far as I am concerned, we can be novices for years, but I think we need to focus and stay focused on the fundamentals of sharpening knives. Stick with the basics needs:
Three water stones, coarse/medium/fine, a stone flattener and a nice leather strop, even a nice bare leather strop will do, nicely.  Now, let's say that you have all these things and you get your knives sharp all the time, you have developed muscle memory and ready to explore some nifty things that you have been reading about like CBN on your leather or nanocloth or balsa. Go for it, give it a shot and see you how you like it.

    My only problem with it is that for years, I was reading about different refinement levels for different knives, 1k to 2k for European knives, 5k-8k for Japanese (HARD) knives. So why do I need a 64,000 grit edge on any of these knives, ever? I don't. Having said that, they do work and you will definitely see an improvement but is it worth it? 

    For me, no,  but I think that this is something you should explore and see what you think, it is fun to try different things once you have all the fundamentals well in hand.  

    For me, a man who sharpens knives professionally, I have a different mindset:

If I put a 64,000 grit edge on a knife, produced by stropping it on leather laden with the appropriate CBN compound, how long is that extremely refined edge going to last?

    Many of knives I sharpen are under heavy pressure in a professional setting so how long will that edge, or any edge last? I don't think it will last very long, in fact, I think it will vanish rapidly but I have not tested this at length, this is just me picturing that refined edge slicing through food and being stripped away quite quickly.

    So if I were to sharpen a knife and then strop it on series of strops each laden with progressively finer levels of spray, yes I will see/feel the edge of knife become very sharp indeed. A little sharper than if I just stropped it on bare leather. Now, if I give that knife to a professional chef and he feels it and is blown away by that edge, that is nice. HOWEVER, what happens if 50 minutes later that edge is gone, what will he think of me then? ( it will feel like smoke and mirrors)

    Is it not better to place an extremely sharp yet "smart" edge on that knife, one that will retain it's sharpness for as long as possible, and we know by now that there are many factors that influence edge retention besides grits and angles. 

   So the bottom line of for me is that if it is something that if you want to try out, I encourage it and just have fun with it. Don't rely however on a CBN spray to get your knife sharp, it must be sharp before the edge hits the strop. 

   So what you could do is just maintain your edge on that CBN laden strop as necessary to keep it up.  A professional in a kitchen is not going to do that, not a chance in hell, but you could. 

I really like the way Tom Blodgett at JENDE industries has set up his sprays and strops. For folks close to me they are welcome to try them out, I have all of them.

     I think of these products and options, you don't need them but they can be fun and effective and serious sharpeners just like trying things out, there is nothing wrong with it. My personal favourite is a very nice quality leather without anything on it but it has to be good leather. I also have two strops with the green paste, the chromium oxide and I like those as well. I just like keeping things simple, I enjoy trying everything but most of the time I just get back to the basic setup, that works well for me.


Now this is a big knife. I sharpened it using freehand and the Edge Pro to finalize the polishing of the bevels. That curve in the blade is hard to reach by freehand but the EP handled it beautifully.

   I don't have lot of experience with other CBN compounds, Tom recognized the opportunity, saw me as an influence to other sharpeners and sent me his products to test so I did that.  I know there are other brands out there, choose whatever works for you,  follow your instincts. 

    Someone else is sending me some leather strops to evaluate as well so I will talk about them.

I will say that the very best strops that I have ever seen, EVER are from Fendrihans, now these are several hundred dollars and are for razor stropping but I will have one, oh yes, I will definitely own one some day. I get most of my Shapton products from there.
    To finish off, I picture those men in Japan, many of them elderly men who many recognize as master knife sharpeners. I don't know when one becomes a Master at something like knife sharpening but clearly they are highly skilled artisans. Do you think that they rely on CBN sprays or use them at all? I have a hard time picturing that.  We learn by trying different things, some we keep, some we discard and chalk it up to another lesson. I've learned my lesson and I am glad I tried these products out. If it makes you feel good to use these things, if it builds your confidence then why not, there is certainly no harm in it. 

These are very cool knives belonging to a great chef and great man here is halifax. I had the opportunity to visit him and see his fantastic collection of knives. Dennis Johnston is a master at Pad Thai as well.  He also has some Murray Carter knives which are truly something. feelings above relate to knife sharpening. 
When it comes to honing razors, I am quite positive that the CBN and Poly emulsions are probably quite good, excellent in fact.  If fact this is where these products shine I would say. I think there are only a couple of good spots to purchase them, from Jende or Ken Schwartz, you can't go wrong with either.


Sunday, 11 December 2016

Article for Knifeplanet Common Sharpening Problems you may face

Hi folks,
As promised, here is a link to the article.

It's purpose will be clear once you read it, fascinating stuff :)

Thanks for looking

The ARTICLE to end all Articles

Friday, 9 December 2016

What's Your Angle

     Hi Folks :)

     I still have people interested in sharpening or coming to take a lesson who are very concerned about the angle to sharpen a knife it, often, the concern is quite significant and has even stopped the learning process before it begins.
     I was one of those people once, deeply distracted by idea:  "I need to sharpen this knife at the exact angle that it came from the factory at" and how the heck does one do that if sharpening freehand.  That was about 10, 000 knives ago and only recently I have found a way, it's my way, but I found a way to discuss the Angle Issue in a manner that, once read, hopefully it is no longer an Issue. What I am going to suggest will surprise people but know that it isn't something I did not  just think  of today, this comes on the heels of several years of solid sharpening, hundreds of hours and thousands of knives.  The only thing that came to me recently was the ability to put this into words. (Remember, I lay awake at night thinking of these things, this is what happens when you are obsessed with something).

First of all, take a look at these beauties, imagine the pain the husband went through when the wife discovered these.

Okay, let's get to the ANGLE discussion:

    Here is the deal: Almost all knives, I would say 89-90 percent of knives are sharpened at an angle between 15 and 20 degrees per side, seriously. Most of the people in the universe who own knives own average knives and they fall into this category. The exception to this rule of course are the harder knives, hand made knives with a hardness of 60 plus, these can and SHOULD  be sharpened at more acute angles, 12 deg per side for instance. 

    I think what I am going to say is important to novice sharpeners and even some more seasoned ones: Since we seem to have a vast abundance of AVERAGE knives, why not sharpen them at an AVERAGE angle. Instead of worrying about learning to sharpen a knife at 15 deg, 16 deg and so on, what would happen if we lumped all these knives into the same sharpening angle category, what if sharpened every knife at the same angle? (Please remember that when say "every" I mean every normal, average knife, the medium range Henckels and Wusthof's and Grohmann's?

   I can tell you what will happen, you are going to be able to create extraordinarly sharp knives and here is why.  I've been doing this for years, in all honesty, not once, NOT ONCE, after 10,000 knives at least,  has a person commented on the angle. Who the hell is going to know if I sharpened a knife at 16 deg or 17 deg, who can tell the difference? I can't, maybe some people can, I just haven't met one yet. 

     Here, in my mind and in my experience is how this is beneficial, here is my key to sharpness:

    Sharp knives, and I mean really freaking sharp knives, the ones that will startle you come as result of consistency.  Yes of course Patience and Persistence play a role, a huge one but those are the things that develop consistency. A person who wants to learn to be a good knife sharpener, and we all and that, should think of consistency as their destination and that point is reached after a long haul past passion, past patience and persistence, you need to stop at those spots and linger at each one to reach your destination, Consistency Ville. 

(Yes of course, water stones come into play, we all know that, Im talking about angles here)

     So,  choose an angle that is appropriate for your knife, in other words, is it the dream knife angle (DKA) or the average knife angle (AKA).?  In most cases it will be an AKA and it may be 19 deg, it is an angle that is achieved when you hold the spine of the knife 1/2 of an inch off of the stone for example. It is the angle that results in the removal of the sharpie that you have painted on the edge/bevel. My point is that it is just an angle, it is your angle and it will fall in that range of 15-20 deg, it is fine. 
     Think of that angle as a finger print, it is your SHARPENING PRINT and now you have to make it permanent. Now you can sharpen that knife and every other knife at your angle and this is how you achieve consistency. Get to a point where you can find and HOLD that angle as if your muscles are LOCKED on, like a bionic arm, there is no wavering (In reality, there will be a little wavering, we are human but that's fine, this is cool, this is what we want)  (I realize that we all have unique finger prints by the way...,we don't all have unique sharpening prints, not suggesting that)

    Every time you sharpen a knife at your sharpening angle which by the way is probably the same as my sharpening angle, you are climbing the ladder of consistency and your knives are becoming sharper and sharper. This is because you are gaining and increasing the ability to bring Side A and Side B together at the Apex as precisely as humanly possible.  

    If you don't believe me and think I am an idiot for suggesting you learn to sharpen at one angle, try it out. It doesn't matter to me, remember, I have already passed all the tests here, I have sharpened for some of the top Chefs in the country and just as importantly, for good folks like you, the everyday knife user. I sharpened 80-90 percent of those knives at my sharpening angle because my sharpening print is  firmly embedded, I'm consistent.   ANY thoughts, fears and angle theories an owner may have will VANISH when he/she sees the knife, it won't even come into play.

   It is your responsibility as a sharpener to locate and solidify your sharpening angle, let's say it is 19 deg, get good at that, and then get better at it. Your confidence is going to soar and in return, your edges will blow you away.

    Now, after you have ingrained your Sharpening Print, after your muscle memory is stabilised,  Then go ahead and explore other angles within that 15-20 deg range because eventually you will need to learn a thinning angle which is slightly more acute than your sharpening angle.

    This is what I have done over the past ten years, long ago I was finally able to let go of the Sharpening Angles Shackle and become really consistent. Now, I find that I can easily adjust on the fly but it is still within the average range, the adjustments may be necessary to get a certain knife back to a point where it is easy to sharpen.

Repaired knives from picture above.

     The whole point of this article is to prove that we can sharpen many many knives at the same angle, we can do this and become very consistent and we can eventually be more flexible with angles, our confidence will allow this.

    If all you will ever sharpen is your own Takamura, Takeda and Fujiwara knives,  then the same holds, your angle will be 11 or 12 deg per side however.

(Yes we can sharpen these knives at 20 deg and make them sharp, heck we could sharpen them at  30 deg and make them sharp. We just don't want to do this, these are extraordinary knives capable of holding extraordinary angles)

Thanks so much for reading, please keep in mind that these are my own thoughts,  I'm allowed to have those:)

Peter Nowlan