Friday, 29 December 2017

What keeps me going?


Not long ago, I was asked why I am passionate about sharpening, what keeps me so interested after decades of doing it. I had to think of that for a while but the answer is pretty clear and it may surprise you.

I have tried all sorts of other things, started woodwork, playing guitar, making wine but I lost interest and no longer do anything but sharpen knives and I can honestly say that I enjoy it as much today as I did 30 years ago and I don't see any end to that feeling in my future.

It is much much more that physical act of sharpening that keeps me going, although that is exceptionally enjoyable, the feeling of satisfaction and reward and accomplishment. Achieving a skill that did not come easy to me.

    However it really comes down to something simple for me. If I know ten things about knife sharpening by hand, I also know that there are at least ten things that I have yet to learn, new elements of the skill that lie hidden in the future, this is what keeps me so driven.  I don't know what I don't know so I cannot say what I will learn tomorrow but I just know that I will learn something new and I will keep learning.

   There are old men in Japan that have been sharpening knives for 40-50 years that still see their Master Sharpener once in a while, what more could they possibly learn?

   If sharpeners at that level are still being educated, clearly my journey is far from over that  is the key, the coolest thing about freehand sharpening.  Many people won't get this, they have stopped learning because their ego's prevented them from continuing. I know several sharpeners who would never ask a question to another sharpener, I feel sorry for those poor bastards to be honest. I would be miserable if I thought that all I had left was to use the skills I currently possess and that is it.

It is exciting for me to know that at some point, if I am lucky, I will meet someone who can teach me something new, like etching knives for example, how the heck does that happen. Yes I have seen lots of videos and have a good idea but to actually perfect that little trick would be very cool to learn. 

Just thought I would share this.

Peter Nowlan

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Coarse Stones - Important?

Hi folks,

   As I have mentioned in previous posts, when I started up my business and when I did know as much as I know today, I began collecting water stones. This is in itself of course is good but my thought process at the time was flawed.
    In my mind at the time, the achievement of the sharpest knives was only possible if I had the highest grit water stones you could buy, so I began my collection aiming at stones in the 5,000 to 16,000 grit range. Coarse water stones, 120-800 grit were not even on my sharpening radar, I had one but it's importance was completely overlooked by me.

    Things have completely changed and it is only in the last eight years or so that I began to see the error of my ways and realized that these coarse stones need to come out of their cases more often.
I don't know where I went wrong, probably just ignorance on my part and a lacking of a sharpening skill that I have learns a lot after thousands of knives.


      Now keep in my mind that this is coming from someone who sharpens other peoples knives daily.  Theoretically, if you only sharpened your own knives, once they became sharp, you can keep them that way with a 1,000 grit stone. This doesn't mean a 400 or 500 grit stone, or even an 800 grit Naniwa Professional for example won't come in handy, believe me, it will, you will need it eventually.

    Now, I cannot imagine my life without all of my coarse stones, 120, 220, 320, 400, 500, 600 and the awesome 800 grit stone.  


    If you afraid of ruining your knife with a coarse stone, taking too much metal away or screwing it up, it is fear you need to conquer and you do that by using one. Yes of course, a 400 grit stone is going to remove metal faster than a 1,000 grit stone but all you need to do is monitor your pressure and use a level of pressure that is conducive to your level of comfort with the stone and the condition of the knife you are sharpening.  Common sense will guide you and tell you not to use too much pressure. The stone won't grab the knife out of your hand, I have never ruined a knife with a coarse stone.


The beauty of a coarse stone is that it sets the bevels up nicely and quickly for follow on refinement, it will raise a burr more quickly and it can also do a great job of initial burr removal and again, it is all about pressure manipulation. 

You may ask, "why do I need a coarse stone if my knife is always sharp?"

You will need to THIN your knives eventually and this is best achieved with a coarse stone. You will also need to repair nicks in edges, maybe not in your knives but the time will come again, the Shapton Glass 500 for example excels at this task.

  Now, my favourite stones are all coarse and I rarely use any stone about 8,000 grit. Once you learn to make your knives extremely sharp at 400 grit, you too will learn to love them, if you don't already.

Now they will wear out faster than your 1k and up stones of course but if you don't sharpen professionally, you will still get years out of them.

Thank you for being here.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Contacting me

I often get some very nice emails from folks who use my Contact page on my website:

my contact page

However, it is sometimes not possible to for to reply directly to the emails for some reason. I always need to cut and paste the text and your email address and start a new email.

If you do wish to contact me please use my regular email address rather than the Contact page on my site.

If I have not replied to an email, it is because I wasn't able to. (Cooper for example).

My Email


Monday, 11 December 2017

My grey areas cleared up.

    When I got very serious about sharpening and considering opening a business, I started to sharpen as many knives as I could get my hands on. I sharpened steadily, every day for about a year to prepare for receiving customers knives.

    Along my sharpening journey, certain topics came up, aspects about sharpening that I was not sure of  and I am sure that most sharpeners encounter the same issues I had. These are grey areas and I call them that because they were common potential problem areas and the internet was full of answers to all of them. It was a long time before I realized that most of the answers were just folks repeating what others had said and it was often incorrect.

   I'll give some of the areas that I still see being talked about on sharpening forums and are perhaps still giving people problems, not big problems but they can create doubt and chip away at confidence.


     The issue for me, and this is many years ago, was "do we need to form a burr on every stone?" This question came up as I read about people having difficulty detecting a burr on finer grit stones and I still see this pop up. 
      So if we just think about it and how it is formed, it becomes obvious that you only should form the burr once, (or twice depending on the way you look at it, once on each side of the knife). We remove fatigued metal or remove new metal in some cases if you just want to re-profile the blade. This action exposes new, virgin steel so why do you want to keep forming a burr which would be composed of unused steel? We don't  of course. I remember asking someone about it and they told me that it is a good idea to form a burr on each stone to ensure you are reaching the edge of the edge. You don't need to form a burr to do this, this will come with practice, you can paint the edge with a sharpie as well to make sure.

ONE BURR ONLY (both sides). Now it may and probably will happen that you do form burrs more than necessary but that is okay. It is the understanding that you should strive NOT to form additional burrs that is important.


     I also see people talking about needing high grit stones to remove the burr. 

    Burr Removal is of course essential and results in the sharpest edges, the "cleaner" the edge, the better. However, we don't need to rely on high grit stones, like 8,000 for example to make sure the burr is removed. 

   The most significant improvement in my edges came when I started using four levels of pressure on the coarse stone.

SHARP level One came after I formed a burr and then removed it by reducing the level of pressure by 50% but still using the same stone and really concentrating on removing the burr and not forming additional ones. 
Sharp Level Two came on the same stone with another reduction in pressure and this continued for me until I am stropping on the coarse stone with extremely light pressure. By this time the knife is at Sharp Level Three and my goal is Level Five.

This is achieved as I move to a medium grit stone and finally a finishing stone, 5k or 6k.  The burr is pretty much gone by the time I am finished with the coarse stone. Now I know many say you cannot get rid of the burr completely and If you looked at the edge under a Scanning Electron Microscope, yes you would see some metal that just won't detach from the mother ship. However, that is beyond our control. What we can control is our burr removal process and I never rely on finishing stones to get that done.

So Burr Formation and to a lesser extent, burr removal was one of those grey areas that are no longer grey.

Another one was where to finish a knife, especially stainless steel knives, and I mean at what grit level. I kept reading that 1k is the best finish for stainless (Euro) knives but there was never an explanation as to why. As I have mention in previous articles, it took me a few years to find that answer and it all has to do with edge retention, grinding soft metal at the secondary bevel area and it's impact on edge retention. 

However,  I have since discovered that you can finish a softer knife at 3,000 grit and a harder knife at 6,000 to 8,000 grit all with great results. There are so many other variables that impact edge retention that the difference between a 1,000 and 2,000 finish is insignificant. It is all about pressure and understanding that over sharpening is a bad thing.

I hope this helps someone out.