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.