Saturday, 22 December 2018

End of Year Tip


I told you it's tough coming up with new material on sharpening. I decided that I would give the one tip that has helped me achieve the sharpest knives that I have ever achieved. I have talked about it before but it continues to prove its value over and over.

It is the LIGHT TEST

As you know I use four different levels of pressure to sharpen, the first level is the burr forming level which is a blend of medium to hard pressure. It always depends on the knife itself, the condition of the edge. I never ever just pick up a knife and start grinding metal away, the metal has to be removed in a controlled manner so it's critical to inspect the edge and feel it to determine the most suitable course of action.

In my case, that always leads me to grab a coarse stone, either 120, 220, 320, 400, 500, 600 or 800 grit with my Shapton Glass 500 being the most common starting stone, the burr forming stone and it is an excellent one.

Now I form the burr on both sides and then as I have mentioned in previous articles I reduce the level of pressure dramatically after the burr is formed to commence the burr removal process. Remember, I only use the first level of pressure, I call it P4, once because I only want to form the burr once, on both sides of course.

Now I start to clean the edge by using ever diminishing levels of pressure on the same stone.

I realize that some folks don't bother with this, they let the higher grit stones do this and they maintain the same level of pressure. I don't like this plan,  actually, it used to me my plan but I changed it several years ago. I don't like the idea of relying on my medium and finishing stones to remove metal, I like to get rid of all that I can on the coarse stone.

This brings me to the Light Test.

I look very carefully, and I mean carefully at the edge of the knife that I have finished all the coarse stone work on under a good light. So I have formed the burr and removed it using four levels of pressure, If I have done this properly I should see no light at all. The picture above is greatly exaggerated, it won't be that obvious and again, this is just the way I do things, but it really has made a difference. It just takes a second to look at the edge before putting that coarse, or beginning stone away.  If I see no light, I move on to the next stone, a 1k for example. If I do see any light at all, the light is a reflection of metal that is off the to side of the Apex, the primary edge, it is tiny but big enough to reflect light. This is metal that needs to go.

If I do see it, and often it is just in one spot, I go back to the stone with medium pressure and concentrate on the edge area where I saw the reflection, I work both sides of the edge and then just check again. Usually it just takes on more sharpening on the stone to get that edge as clean as possible on the first stone.

NOW, when the edge is clean, when I see no reflections, I have set the stage for a truly sharp knife, the knife will be very sharp at this stage and I am ready to start refining the edge now and the bevels on finer stones.

The light test is very easy to do and it works, it reveals any unwanted metal clinging to the mother ship, it has to go. You can leave it until the next stone but why, why not squeeze every single ounce of goodness out of that first stone and make the knife as sharp as you can with it?

Thank you for sticking around in 2018. I promise to keep the Blog going until I can no longer do that, hopefully for several years from now.

Peter Nowlan
New Edge Sharpening.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Sharp Talk

Hi folks,
     The purpose of this article is just to chat about some miscellaneous items related to sharpening freehand that have come up recently.

Knife made by Rick Marchand in Lunenburg.
It is very nice, easy to sharpen and takes a fantastic edge.

     Recently I was conducting a sharpening demo at Big Eric's on their Grand Opening day. A lot of people are interested in knives and seem captivated by the sharpening process, a lot of good discussions came up. A similar pattern emerged: "I used to watch my Grandfather sharpen on an oil stone", I hear this a lot and in fact it is how I got started sharpening, watching my dad do it.

     Along with these conversations came some familiar misconceptions about sharpening and I was able, I think so anyway, to teach some folks a variety of things, to clear up some of the myths that at one time, I probably believed in myself.


     Myth 1: "I use a sharpening rod to sharpen my knives, they turn out great" I hear this often, and I mean OFTEN. It goes to show that people are interested in sharpening knives, they love the sensation that a new knife delivers and spend the rest of their days trying to re-capture that feeling by making the new, but now dull knife, sharp again. Most seem to just wing it, give it to a friend with a grinder or just pick up one of the multitude of sharpening gadgets, the "best knife sharpening tool in the world" devices that are easy to find. The "sharpening rod" or Hone or Steel is the most common one that is being misunderstood on a daily basis by millions of people. Companies are happy to stamp "sharpener" on one of their devices and people just gravitate towards them.  
So what do I tell them?  

   I am often dealing with older men who have "been sharpening for years" so right off the bat there is a barrier to break down. How do you tell a nice old man that he is wrong, even though the rod has been in his family for years and, "it's all we ever used" sort of thing. 

   I came to realize, a few years into my business that the actual sharpening is the easy part and not the only important aspect of the job. Educating people is a large part of what I do, some are good listeners, some are head nodders who don't really give a shit what I'm saying.

     The explanation is pretty simple actually, it's a matter of explaining some of the sharpening fundamentals, the basics and once understood by those who have egos that allow them to listen, the problem goes away. I just explain the need to bring Side A and Side B of the knife together at the Apex as precisely as humanly possible and in so doing, I am removing the metal that is causing the knife to be dull. I explain that the rod can't remove the metal, regardless of the amount of pressure applied and that it's purpose is to push that fatigued metal back into alignment. I also explain that it is a temporary fix and only effective if done properly. 

Myth 2: Since the process of sharpening a knife involves the removal of metal, it is a destructive process that shortens the lifespan of the knife. 

    This is another easy one to explain. It boils down to people lacking an understanding of what is involved. The same folks who think what I do is harmful to a knife are the same who use a gadget, a pull through device or just refuse to use anything but a Steel. So again it is a matter of educating people as to the fact that primary edges on knives are microscopically thin and come under pressure every time that they are used. The owners cause the knife to get dull basically by using it, I'm just the guy who re-establishes those broken primary edges by removing as much metal as necessary, it has to go. Naturally a good sharpener will remove as much metal as necessary and only as much as required and in any case, less than a Chef's Choice electric sharpener.   I also talk about sharpening freehand being a tradition that has been around for about 800 years. 

    Another very common question, perhaps the most frequently asked question is "How often should I have my knives sharpened?" I've struggled with this answer for a few years, I don't want to say once every 6 weeks for example because they will think I am just trying to make more money by over sharpening their knives. Now I simply explain that when that sensation that a new knife or freshly sharpened knife fades away and you can't get it back despite your best honing attempts, the knife needs to be sharpened again. I tell them at least twice a year, that is at the very least and realistically, that is not enough. I get them to think about maintenance and see how long they can maintain the edge that works for them, the edge that slices through a tomato without bending the tomato and breaking it rather than slicing it. 

Myth 3: Cutco knives are the best knives you can buy.

     This is sensitive topic among Cutco owners. I told a lady who has eight Cutco knives that if she ever wanted to upgrade, I can give her some ideas.
"How can you upgrade from the best knives in the world?" was the response and I've never seen here since. Clearly I didn't know what I was talking about.

Thanks for sticking around. I often wonder if anyone is reading my Blog but even if there is one person out there, I will keep at it.

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.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

My final Knifeplanet Video

Final Video

Lesson Six is the final lesson from me and it is simply an attempt on my part to help folks realize that the basic fundamentals are easy to pick up. It is not that hard to make a dull knife sharp with some practice and knowledge. You will always be improving but to break through the barrier, if you stumbled upon one, is entirely possible.

The most important lessons I learned were from mistakes that I made and many of the mistakes were generated by me listening and trusting everything I read and saw about sharpening. I ran into people just trying to sell me things without taking the time to explain that I didn't really need a 15,000 grit stone, a 320 grit would have been and is much more beneficial.

There are several techniques that work, the trick is to find one that you enjoy using and can easily repeat over and over and of course it does the job of burr formation and burr removal.


Sunday, 3 June 2018

Fundamentals - So Important

Hi folks,

I get a lot of emails from people experiencing problems when they start to sharpen. Typically, the edge is not that sharp or seems to get dull again after being sharp, during the sharpening process and edge retention is poor.

There are two issues here, the edge retention issue can be put aside, once you can effectively sharpen a knife, edge retention is not something that should stop you from using your knife, you will be able to fix that.

Here is what I normally tell people who are experiencing problems learning to sharpen.

Slow down, start from scratch and that begins with an understanding of the fundamentals.


     Understand that the objective, the purpose of knife sharpening is to make a knife that no longer functions in a kitchen, function again, and to be able to do that repeatedly.  That is all there is to the objective and you don't need the knife to be absolutely razor sharp to do that, you need to get it to a point where it can penetrate a tomato skin easily, effortlessly.  That ability comes with an understanding of the fundamentals.

     When a knife is no longer sharp, the primary edge, a very thin line running from heel to tip is no longer a thin line running from heel to tip, it is broken line, parts of the edge have folded over as a result of metal fatigue and this is perfectly normal.  Sharpening involves re-establishing that primary edge by sharpening the knife at a certain angle on both sides on a whetstone until the two sides meet at the Apex. The more precisely you can do this the more refined that primary edge is until eventually it is microscopically thin and quite sharp.

     You need to be able to hold an angle relatively stable, the exact angle is not as important as your ability to keep it steady as you sharpen, on BOTH sides, which is not easy at first.

Knife sharpening in my opinion falls under just two broad categories:


     Everything we do when we sharpen is moving us towards achieving these goals. Our goal is not to make the knife so sharp that it will slice the top of a tomato without holding the tomato, our goal, our immediate goal is to build Sharpening Muscle Memory in order for us to sharpen at a chosen angle and keep that angle steady, consistent.

    Keep the process simple, you don't 20 water stones, you just need a few at the most.

You don't see me getting all hung up on water stones.

     Seriously though, just 2 or 3 stones is all you need and until you become pretty good at sharpening, i..e you have the basics down and you can your knives nice and sharp, just stick with a good coarse, medium and fine stone combination. I never use my 10k and up stones anymore, the most important stones in my collection are coarse stones, ones that range from 120-800 grit.


    It is important to understand how pressure can help you create incredibly sharp edge.
So again, Burr Formation and Burr Removal are achieved by varying levels of pressure as you sharpen.

When I pick up a knife, after inspecting it for any damage, I always start the sharpening on a coarse stone. The level of dullness and the steel will determine which coarse stone I choose and, just as importantly, what level of pressure I will begin forming the burr with.

     You know by now that I use four levels of pressure on each knife with the heaviest level of pressure, P4, being the burr forming pressure. It will change, i.e. the amount of pressure I use depends on the knife, it's condition and the steel it is made from. I just don't start grinding away pressing down as hard as I can every time. Your common sense will guide you and it is something you just need to get the hang of, it isn't hard, you won't ruin your knife or anything. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, I make them all the time and what I have learned from them is what I am passing along but don't be afraid to make mistakes.

     Let's say I pick up Masakage Yuki or a Fujiwara like the one in the middle in the picture above. Even though the steel in these amazing knives is very hard, it's a "good" hard and they are easy to sharpen, burr formation can be very quick so I will start one of these knives at 400 or 500 grit with moderate pressure. I always start with moderate pressure to see how the knife feels on the stone and I will adjust it, heavier, lighter or keep it the same, depending on how the burr forming is coming along. So this is something I just adjust for every knife, the one thing that is constant during this burr forming stage is that I use the heaviest level of pressure that I will use only at the burr forming stage, I start a little lighter than I think it will require, I don't want to remove metal needlessly.

After the burr has been formed on both sides, I check the condition of the edge under a light to see if I can spot any light at all. The goal is to see no light at all and if I do see even a spec of light I will return to the coarse stone with enough pressure to remove the metal causing the light reflections.

Now, since the bur is formed, it is all about burr removal and I start removing the burr, on the same coarse stone by reducing my pressure by 50% (p3) then by another 50 (%) which means the pressure is not very very light and finally, feather light pressure and a stropping motion to finish the work on the coarse stone.

(all this is shown in the sharpening videos avail on my website)


    In summary, if you are having some difficulties, stop what you are doing and then just go back to the very basics, raise a burr, make sure you are sharpening the edge of the edge, not up in the secondary bevel area and just focus on the objective.

    Don't sweat angles, find a sharpening angle by holding the tip of your pinky under the knife, between the spine of the knife and the stone and that can be your angle to sharpen, to build muscle memory and strengthen your technique.

Have fun doing it as well, relax.


Sunday, 6 May 2018

Dull is on the prowl


     I get a lot of emails from folks learning to sharpen who complain about dullness setting in very quickly after they have sharpened the knife. Or the knife is sharp at 1,000 grit but seems to be dull after a 5,000 grit workout.

   I get so many of these questions that a pattern emerges and I think the answer is not to difficult to find and the solution is not hard to identify and put into action.

   Something I have seen first hand is improper use of a hone, (Steel) after sharpening.  The primary edge of a knife, when sharp, is a microscopically thin strip of steel that forms the Apex of knife and runs from heel to tip. If you pick up a Steel and slam it against the knife, the chances of you hitting the target area, which is the fatigued metal that has shifted out of place from the centre of the knife, the chances of moving that back into place with a steel is remote if not done with some attention to detail. I have seen cooks knock the edge off a a knife in 10 seconds with improper technique.

    Steeling, (honing) should be done carefully, and as in the top picture. So if steeling habits are poor, it is doom for the edge of a knife and a waste of time, especially when too much pressure is used.

Speaking of pressure:

Corey in Phoenix, amazing knife sharpener.

    A student told me that he was able to get the knife nice and sharp on the 1,000 grit stone but it seemed to get dull again after the 5,000 grit stone. I asked him to show me his routine and it rapidly became obvious that pressure was the culprit.

   Sharpening comes down to Burr Formation and Burr Removal. In order to form a burr a certain level of pressure is necessary of course, I call it P4 pressure, the heaviest pressure that I will use during the sharpening of one knife. Once I have formed the burr on both sides I reduce pressure by half and then again by half and then on the last level of pressure, P1 Pressure, it is merely a feather light stropping motion.

   By the time I get to a 5,000 grit stone, my pressure is light to begin with so in the case where the knife was getting dull again, the fella was just using too much pressure, forming burrs again and dulling the knife.  It takes practice to manipulate pressure but it is very important.

   Usually, a sharpening issue can be resolved by something very simple, it comes down to going back to the basics, the fundamentals.


Monday, 9 April 2018

Setting UP

Hi Folks,
I've been away on a cruise, no knife sharpening although I did meet the Executive Chef on board and we talked about sharpening so I got a little fix at least.

     One thing that I never gave much thought about when I started sharpening full time, i.e. every day was the setup, my Sharpening Station.  At first I was working in the basement in a poorly lit area, no water nearby and definitely not ideal but I did sharpened there for two years.

    Finally, after several different attempts I got the setup I needed but even then, I found a way to improve it.  First of all, you don't need anything elaborate at all. I've seen pictures of sharpeners in Japan hunched over a container of water with the stone resting on a 2"X 4" board over the water and they had been in this environment for years.

Lighting is huge for me, I need a very good source of light to help me sharpen but that is pretty easy. I just got one of those jewellers type of lamps that clamp onto the side of the desk and I got that from Lee Valley Tools for 40 bucks. It's perfect, even has a magnifying glass attached to it.

    This is my current set up. The desktop is extremely sturdy and at the perfect height for me, that is important if you sharpen a lot, but not critical if you are a casual sharpener. Often I stand right here for 4-6  hours without moving my feet too much so it is important to be comfy as I sharpen. 

    The change I just made recently was going from the Shapton Pond which is absolutely fantastic to this plastic hotel pan and the Stone Bridge. I bought the Stone Bridge from Jon Broida at Japanese Knife Imports and as you can see I sharpen at a slight angle. This just aids in water management a little but it doesn't make much of a difference, and it is an optional setup with this particular stone bridge which is made by Suehiro and is quite superb. The water and soaking stones make it rock solid, nothing moves that should not be moving as I sharpen.  What I like about it is that I don't go through nearly as many micro fibre towels as I did on the Pond. I was doing a wash every day but now, with the water here I don't need the towels as much.

   The only thing I was worried about with this setup was testingthe edge with wet finger tips, would I be able to detect sharpness and yes, you can certainly do it. It takes a little getting used to but also, if the edge feels sharp with wet finger tip pads, it is definitely sharp.

  This setup cost me about $130.00 Cdn but the bridge itself is only $40.00 USD, its the Exchange Rate, shipping a getting hit by customs that make things add up. No regrets at all. 

  I can still use my beloved Shapton holder and I use the Pond when I sharpen anywhere else but here at home.

As long as you have a setup where you can stand, or sit, comfortably with a good source of light and left undisturbed you are going to be just fine. As long as the stone is stable and doesn't move around at all when you sharpen, which is distracting, you're good.

Karasu 9,000

Speaking of stones, I just bought this beauty from Tosho Knife Arts in Toronto, the Karasu 9,000 which is the first 9k stone that I have ever seen or heard of. It is not only quite beautiful but it's just an awesome finishing stone. Harder than the amazing Kityama 8,000 but that's okay. Now they say that this one mimics a natural stone or has a blend of synthetic and natural stones.

The dream knife is a Masakage Kiri and it is for sale if you live near me in Halifax. It's from Knifewear so as you may know I sell some of there knives here in NS for them. 

Take care and thank you for visiting my Blog. 

(This is a hunting knife, fixed blade that I did yesterday by hand and finished it at 6,000 grit.