Monday, 18 November 2019

Deburring a knife

Hi folks

This video demonstrates how I personally deburr. I also talk about the differences  between a BURR and a WIRE EDGE.

Peter Nowlan

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Sharpening Video - The basics by hand

I've made some minor adjustments to my technique that pertain to pressure. Nothing major and anything published earlier by me and Knifeplant is still valid.
Peter Nowlan

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Asymmetrical Edges and how I deal with them.

     I can't believe that it has been a decade since I opened up my business. If there is anything that I have learned it's that I don't know everything.  After 10 years and thousands of knives, each bringing with it a new experience, I'm continuously surprised how much there is to learn about knife sharpening. 

    The thing is, you can still sharpen knives and do that very well without trying to learn new things but often, and I have seen this occur, it's simply Ego that prevents people from picking up new ideas because they are now willing to listen, they are unable to accept the fact that someone else may know more, or just know something different than they do. These folks just carry on using the same process from day one, which again, can work just fine. However, if I was like that, I would not be half the sharpener than I am today and I also know that over the next ten years, I will continue to learn. I have no ego so it allows me to be a sponge and absorb new material and filter some of the stuff out.

I just came back from two weeks in France, I didn't learn anything new about sharpening but I did learn a heck of a lot about wine.

Asymmetrical  Edges
     Several years ago, the mere thought of having to sharpen a knife that did not have a 50/50 grind terrified me, well not really but I had no real idea how to deal with it. Since that time I can tall that many sharpeners don't because the knives that started off with asymmetrical grinds just became somewhat symmetrical because the person sharpening did the same thing on both sides, made no adjustments to maintain the edge geometry either because he/she preferred a 50/50 grind or they didn't know what to do. That was me back then about six years ago and it has only been in the last few years that I have reached a spot that I'm completely comfortable with the process.

    This is how I managed to overcome the learning barrier:

     First off, I really had no idea what a 70/30 grind meant, what the numbers mean for example and how do I relate those numbers to my sharpening. Was it 70% on one side and 30% on the other in terms of angle, time spent, number of strokes, pressure?

    After doing research on the forums, I ended up doing this 7 strokes on one side and 3 on the other which kind of worked but just didn't seem right.  Finally I called my friend Jon Broida because I knew that he spent time in Japan and besides, he is a brilliant sharpener and always eager to share information.

13th century forge at the Abby of Fontenay in Burgundy 

    Anyway, Jon revealed to me that the creators of the knives, like the Misono with its 70/30 edge do not really get concerned about the numbers, they don't measure things, there is no ratio, they just make sure that one bevel has a larger surface area than the other. I think these ratios like 70/30, 80/20 are numbers that we have applied to knives, the Japanese don't.

    So with that in mind, I stopped stressing about the meaning of the "ratios" and just started making sure that the surface area on the right side of the knife is larger than the left side. Since that moment, the sharpening process became very easy for me and it still is today.  

(This is a huge hammer used in the forge that was built by monks, it is powered by a massive water wheel that is not show but it's behind the hammer. 1220)

   This is how I sharpen a Misono for example.

     First of all I know that I have to adjust something to retain the wide bevel on the right side, the 70 side so do that, to make that bevel wider than the other side I just have to do three simple things.   have to reduce the angle so that it matches the right side. The sharpie will help here but it only makes sense that If I sharpened both sides at 15 deg for example, then eventually both sides would be the same, it would be a 50/50 grind. 

I start on right side on my coarse stone and raise a burr using whatever pressure is required to accomplish that, just like any other knife.  

I flip the knife over and now is the time to make an adjustment. I raise the angle slightly, I use a little less pressure and I spend less time on the left side,  (the 30 side) because the surface area of this bevel is not the same size as the right side bevel,  in order to maintain that difference I need to adjust the angle, pressure and time, I reduce them all but I do raise a burr on the other side.

     If this sounds complicated, it just "sounds" complicated, it's easy. Just start by adjusting the angles on either side, that will do the most important job. Forget about counting strokes, i.e. 7 on one side and 3 on the other. Use the amount of strokes necessary to form burrs on either side of the knife but keep in mind the overall goal, to ensure that the surface area of the bevel on the right side is wider than that on the left and if it turns out to be a 70/30 difference in size that's great but it doesn't have to be difficult. You will be surprised just how easy it is by simply adjusting the angles on either side and it's just by 2 or 3 deg. 

That's how I do it, I have restored many knives that were asymmetrical when made but became 50/50 over the years of sharpening.  I do it by following the steps I described above, there are no tricks.

Grinding/sharpening wheel from the year 1220. The surface of this wheel is extremely flat and smooth.  I told you, sharpening is in our blood..

Thanks for reading this, if you have any questions just fire them away a

Peter Nowlan
Halifax, NS, Canada.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Little problems, little fixes.

15,000 grit Shapton Pro on a Zero Tolerance folder.

    Hi there, the purpose of this post is to tell you that we experience sharpening issues, I do anyway, and this is usually how I get around it. So what is a sharpening issue?
    I just mean that sometimes the edge isn't up to par, something is going on that is preventing the knife from being as sharp as I can normally get it.

     When this happens it is almost always a result of the steel, the knife being resistant to abrasives and this is a common problem on lesser quality knives yet these make up a very good portion of the knives that we own and the ones that I personally sharpen. 

    There is a simple lesson to learn that solves these issues and I carry it with me on every knife that I do.

        When I sharpen a knife, and every knife that I sharpen is pretty dull, I always inspect the edge first just to see where I should start. I choose a sharpening angle, which for softer knives will be between 15 and 20 deg per side and I check the knife for anything that will hinder the sharpening process. If there is something, chips, bend, tip issue,  I deal with that first. I also check to see if the knife needs thinning, if yes, I take care of that first, I will thin on coarse stones and then refinish the blade with sandpaper and then sharpen.

     I choose my coarse stone which will be from 220 to 800 grit depending on the edge and the steel.  Shapton Glass 220 is usually the first one I go to or it could be a SG 500 which I love.  If the burr formation is taking a long time I may switch to a different stone, the Gesshin 400 or my new Morihei 500 that I got from Tosho Knife Arts, it's really good. 

Morihei Hishiboshi 500

    I start the sharpening process using the same technique that I've used for the last 10 years with minor tweaks within that period.  If you are just starting it is important to focus on the goal, the goal being to re-establish the primary edge and to do this we need to bring Side A and Side B of the knife together as precisely as humanly possible at the Apex of the knife. Our levels of precision will differ but we don't have to be perfect here, we just need to get those two sides back together and form the new edge, the microscopically thin line that we call the Primary Edge.

    Also, know that this involves the BURR and there are three aspects of the BURR that needs our attention and understanding of:


    I select my SA (Sharpening Angle) and go for it, I'm shooting for burr formation and this will take me 1 minutes or 8 minutes, there is no rush but it's essential to accomplish this goal and it will test my patience and my persistence will prevail. 

12 Deg dream knife sharpening angle

   Once I have formed a burr, the Primary Burr which runs from heel to tip and is consistent in size, and I have done this on both sides, I start the Burr Removal process, on the same stone. I've reduced my pressure and just keep reducing it, shaving that burr off and moving towards the final goal,  a clean edge, as clean as my skill allows it to be.

     Now before I move on to a 1, 000 grit stone, which is most often the case, I do the LIGHT TEST. This simple, quick check has greatly improved my edges, it's made a huge difference. I am not suggesting I created this test at all, smarter sharpeners than I am have been using it for years. 

    As the final test before switching stones I look at the edge under a good light source. I'm holding it straight up and down and looking for any light, any reflections. If the edge of the knife is a toothbrush, the light would be the toothpaste that hasn't been completely washed off yet.  Sometimes it is hard to see the light, it may not be there at all which means I have successfully brought Side A and B together, there is no lingering metal fragments clinging on to the mother ship. These metal fragments creating the reflections have to go and I found it better to do this on the first stone rather than rely on finer stones.

So if you are having a problem attaining the sharpness that you are used to, try this simple check. 

   If I do see light, I just go back to the same coarse stone, do a little more grinding at a moderate pressure level and keep checking the edge under the light. It doesn't take long and when I am done, the knife is going to be quite sharp and it is time to move on.

       Once I start with the 1,000 grit stone I am using a slightly reduced level of pressure than when I started. I am still going to produce a tiny burr, a micro burr that can be hard to detect but by doing so I know that I have reached the edge of the edge. 

   If your knives are not cutting it, make sure that your angle is not to low, you need to be reaching the very edge of the edge and a sharpie will help here. If the angle is to low, you may just be hitting the area behind the edge of edge, the "shoulder" of the knife and this is not doing anything in terms of sharpening, you're off target.

   I continue this way, I form the burr, I detect it and then I do the most important part of the entire process, I remove it and I really concentrate on this part.  I personally do this by using ever diminishing levels of pressure. I don't get a wire edge or anything nasty this way,  I don't have to run the edge through a cork which always seemed counter productive to me. 

    I always finish on a leather strop usually loaded with green paste, chromium oxide which is easy to get.  This helps clean the edge and will improve the level of sharpness.

   The trick to sharp knives is to accomplish the goals on the first stone, to form, detect and remove the burr and in doing so, to re-establish the primary edge. To get the knife as sharp as you possibly can on the first stone. If the edge doesn't feel really sharp, don't think that you can just rely on the next stone to rectify the problem, it won't. It's a matter of patience and diligence on the first stone used and covering basics. 

   If you are starting off, don't fret about the level of sharpness you get, just focus on technique and the building of sharpening muscles. You've probably seen a million videos of people slicing a tomato without holding the tomato. Big deal, don't worry about that, it's not a goal you need to be thinking about now. Stuff like that will come much further down the road, I sharpened for years before I worked on Parlour Tricks and I got over that.
     I don't care if my knife will fall through a tomato, I want it to fall through 100 tomatoes and that just takes time and a constant reinforcement of technique through practice and focus and enjoyment, above all, enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, take a break and then go back at it.

Easy Peasy

Thanks for being here.
Peter Nowlan

Monday, 22 July 2019

Takeda Knife Sharpening


     The Takeda was a challenge for me to sharpen on full sized water stones. That is, not the Takeda hand held stones that are attached to a wooden paddle. I am sure that anyone who has wanted to sharpen a Takeda is familiar with the YouTube video of Takeda San sharpening one of his knives using the hand held stones. It is easy actually, the whole point of it, and it works but I wanted to see if I can get the knife sharper using my normal method.


    What makes this particular brand of knives different is the grind that Takeda San uses. It is a zero grind, there is no secondary bevel, the blade tapers from the spine to the edge, a Scandi Grind which is meant to be easier to sharpen and it is. It is easier theoretically because there is no angle control issues but I still had to figure out the best way to crack the Takeda code and get it as sharp as I possibly can.

   The purpose of this post is just to explain how I do it and yes, I am completely satisfied with the results, if I can do this, you can.

Step 1 Finger placement up behind the edge/

     Finger placement and where to apply pressure is the key to sharpening success on these knives. Typically on any other non zero grind knife like this beauty, 

     I would place my two Pressure Fingers as close to the edge as possible and sharpen it applying my four levels of pressure as always.

     However with the Takeda, as you can see in the picture above my two fingers are up higher, about 4mm from the edge, Right where the Blacksmiths Finish, that black Kuro-Uchi finish ends, that is where I first put my fingers to start the sharpening process.

     I want to start up there to influence both the aesthetics of the blade, the way it looks but most importantly to keep the blade thin, so for me this is always the approach I take. So the first stage doesn't result it any sharpening, it's the precursor to the actual sharpening, it is an important and relatively easy step to take. I start on the coarse stone and just grind until I am happy that I have accomplished my goal, I will switch stones and move up in grit until I am happy with the appearance. 

     However, before switching stones, I move my fingers down closer to the edge, as close as I can get and start the sharpening. I repeat this with every stone. 

Step two finger placement CLOSE to the Primary Edge

Step One - My two fingers are placed higher up behind the edge.

Step Two - My fingers move down to the edge as per any other non zero grind knife.

(Both steps take place on every stone I use).

   The key is NOT to raise the angle by lifting the spine of the knife off the stone. You don't need to worry about holding an angle which makes these knives easier to sharpen. Basically, the blade is resting flat on the stone and it is just fingers being in the right position that are generating the burr formation and burr removal by adjusting pressure as necessary, I use ever diminishing levels of pressure to clean the edge. Believe me, if the steps above are followed the burr forming and removal are inevitable. Takeda San doesn't worry about burr formation when he sharpens, this is due to the grind of the knife. So it isn't like sharpening a Fujiwara for example where  you form the burr and feel for it, then start removing it. Just follow the steps and the knife will turn from any stage of dullness to remarkably sharp. Like everything else, there is a learning period so manage your expectations.

   The Pressure being applied by my two fingers close to the edge will actually raise the angle just ever so slightly which is fine, Im pushing down on the edge so it just lifts the spine a little. The knife will become very sharp quickly and will retain it's zero grind. If I were to raise the knife off of the stone to achieve an angle I would just be applying a micro bevel, that is not the goal for me.

It is not difficult once I figured it out and I usually stop at 8k or 10k.  I learned to sharpen with both hands just for these knives which impacts the way the wide bevels look but not the sharpness so don't worry about it.

Please just send me an email or make a comment if there are any questions, if I have not explained it well enough..


Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Adjustment to techniquie

A common combination for me

Hi there,

    First of all, what you will read here is optional. I share my sharpening experiences because I really enjoy writing about knife sharpening and also, it may, just may help someone. I never want anyone to think, "it's my way and my way only".  This particular post has something to do with BURR FORMATION as I talked about in my last post and what has changed for me since. 
Don't feel like you NEED to do this to achieve sharp knives.

     For anyone who has followed my sharpening journey, you know that I use four levels of pressure, (I still do) and I start by forming a burr on the first stone only, and then everything I do is about removing the burr and not forming any burrs after the first one. That has since changed and here is how I do it now:


     What I have to come to realize is that this is a mindset change, not a real physical adjustment, I will explain.

    Previously, I believed that additional burrs formed after the Primary Burr was unnecessary as it was a waste of metal, so for many years, a decade, I "thought" I was only forming the first burr and that was it, no matter how many stones I used. 

   After talking to Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports, a brilliant sharpener by the way, I no longer feel that way. I was quite surprised by his response, when I asked him about it. (I was prompted to ask him when another great sharpener named Kevin who told me about it, so I verified the information with Jon)

   Jon told me to think of the "waste of metal" piece as testing a string of pasta for doneness, one noodle, it hardly matters, it's insignificant.  The reason we want to form these micro burrs on the medium and finishing stones is to ensure that we are hitting the edge of the edge.

    As I mentioned earlier, this is mindset change for me. I started sharpening about a month ago with the plan to make a burr on every stone but I didn't change anything with regards to the amount of pressure I use. THIS TIME however, I felt for a burr on the medium (1k, 2k or 3k) stone, I mean actively felt for it where in the past I assumed there was no burr due to the decreased level of pressure I was using since I had already formed the Primary Burr using heavy/moderate pressure.  I was quite surprised to feel a tiny burr and I continued only to find that even on the 5k or 6k, when I felt very carefully there was a tiny burr.  
   Another friend made me realize that it's inevitable, if you are grinding metal away on both sides, even using moderate to light pressure you can form a small burr.  NOW, the change to the way I think is that this is okay, I am only wasting a noodle or two, and there is a million noodles :)

Masakage Koishi

Here is my adjusted technique:

    Lets assume I am sharpening a knife using a 500, 1,000 and 6,000 grit stone combination.

    1.    I form the Primary Burr on the 500 grit stone using P4 pressure, no change here, I'm using whatever pressure is necessary to form the burr on this particular knife.  I follow up with a 50% decrease in pressure to start the burr removal process  (P3), then as I always did I again reduce pressure, using P2 and P1 pressure. 

    I conduct the light test to ensure that I have removed all the metal I possibly can, if so, I move on.

2.     I grab the 1, 000 grit stone and now use P3 pressure, I now want to feel that micro burr and it doesn't take long at all, I move from tip to heel and then heel to tip on the right side of the blade, flip sides and the go from heel to tip and tip to heel using trailing strokes as always and low and behold the burr is almost always there. (I have since sharpened about 100 knives with this new mindset). If I can't feel a burr I just do the exact same thing again, my goal now is to form the most subtle burr that I can, I want to feel it but I want it to be tiny. If I have to increase pressure a littel I will, but just a little. When I do feel the burr,  I go through the P2 and P1 pressure levels to remove that micro burr. The pressure is very light so I am not forming any more micro burrs, not that I can feel. 


2 a.    Before I move to the finishing stone I strop the knife on leather to reduce burr size even more. Burr removal is so important so whatever I can do to remove it, the better the results. (Actually, this can be done between all stones, so I can use the leather strop after the 500 grit stone) 

3.    With my finishing stone, 6k or even 8k, I repeat this process. So yes, I am forming a micro burr on these stones, once only and then I remove it.


So what have I noticed, if anything by doing this?

   The knives are the sharpest that I have ever made them. Now to be honest, I was making them very sharp before this so perhaps this is a perception rather than a reality. I can honestly say that the knives feel sharper though. The change is minor but it's a process I will continue.

    Another point is that there are extremely gifted sharpeners out there who do not do this, they form a Primary Burr and that is it and how can I disagree with them, I can't because I am 100 percent convinced that either way works. I have proven it. In fact, most sharpeners only remove the burr on the final stone.

    If you are curious about this, give it a shot, sharpen 10 knives this way and see if you can tell the difference. There is no harm in it and in fact, my belief is that doing this can improve your skills because you are trying to form the most subtle burr possible using just the right level or pressure. You are not just forming big burrs on every stone, that is not what the goal here is. The goal is to ensure that the edge of the edge is being worked on, on every stone.

   I have not ruined any of the 100 knives I have worked on in the last month so it's not a bad thing.

    Again, just my sharpening process, not yours perhaps.

Add caption

(Magic Erasers by Mr. Clean do an amazing job cleaning a ceramic hone by the way)

I hope I have not confused anyone, just fire any questions away.


Friday, 7 June 2019

Burr On - Burr Off


   One of the grey areas for me that popped up many years ago involved Burr Formation, The question at that time was "Do I need to form a burr on every stone that I use and if so, why?"

     The answer came to me and for the last 8 years I have been quite convinced that Burr Formation should happen once, on the first stone, on each side of course and then everything after that involved the removal of the Burr.


     Recently something popped up on Instagram from a fella that I know is a very good sharpener and he mentioned that he forms a burr on every stone. My immediate thought was that he is wrong and that this is just wasted metal removal. 

     Now, something that is important to me is to be willing to learn and accept new ideas about sharpening and be open to various approaches because there is always a chance that something may pop up that is beneficial and could make my edges better. 

     One of very cool things about knife sharpening is that there is no   "One Technique Rules".  If the process being used results in the removal of fatigued metal, burr formation and re-establishment of the primary edge and burr removal then that's a sound technique. Whether it is freehand sharpening, using a jig like the Edge Pro or a belt sander and a combination of all these things, they can all make a dull knife sharp.

   With this in mind, and my ego well in check as it always is, I looked into this burr formation on not just the coarse stone but even the finishing, 5k and finer stones. What the hell is going to happen if I form a burr on the Kityama 8,000 when for the past 10 years I strove not to form a burr but to continue to clean the edge by ever diminishing levels of pressure?

    I reached out to a couple of highly respected, gifted sharpeners to get their thoughts, one is for it and the other against it. So since one is for it and does it, it was only natural for me to give it a shot and see if I have been wrong all these years.

   Well after many knives, I can tell you that I was not wrong, however, both approaches do absolutely work and in fact I like the burr forming on every stone method now.  I'll explain how it works but know that it's not something you need to adjust to, as I said, both methods work. 

   Remember that the reason I didn't form a burr on the 1k stone for example was that I was thinking it means excess metal removal. I no longer think that way, my brilliant friend Jon told me that it is a very acceptable loss. The method actually involves some additional skill because these additional burrs need to me very very subtle, tiny little burrs so with this in mind you can actually fine tune your sharpening skills by striving to form these micro-burrs.

    This method does ensure that you are reaching the edge of the edge on every stone and if you try it, remember that the goal is to form exceptionally small, hard to detect burrs.

This new approach, for me, involved very little change to my current process, in fact, it is simply a matter of using just a little more pressure on the stones.   So we can call the first burr formed on the first stone: Burr Number One or, Primary Burr, it doesn't matter but this is the one that is  given, it is must.

   In my opinion, burr formation and burr removal, especially burr removal are the most important parts of knife sharpening, we need to clean that edge off, get rid of that burr.

So now all I do is when I reach the 1k stone after a 400 or 500 grit Primary Burr forming stone, I just use a little more pressure to form the burr on the 1k stone. It doesn't take much and in fact I now know that I was really forming burrs in the past anyway, many times on my knives, I just wasn't actively trying to detect them.

       If I moved from the 1k to a 5K finishing stone, in the past I would use 3 levels of pressure to remove the burr. I still use 3 levels of pressure on every stone after the first coarse stone, I just tweak the first P3 level of pressure to form a tiny burr and  believe me, it doesn't take much. I am no longer concerned about removing too much metal as this is just not the case if I am being careful.

    Now, how does this impact the edge in terms of edge stability, retention?  To be honest, I do not know yet if this approach makes the edge weaker or stronger, I don't see the science behind it, I don't see how it will influence things either way, not yet.

    Now how does it impact the edge in terms of sharpness. Again, my edges are edges that I have been very happy with in the past but I am also quite happy with the level of sharpness using this new (new to me that is) technique. The knives are freaking sharp, that's all I can say.

    The purpose of this post is not to try to steer anyone in a different direction, not at all. I am simply pointing out that it works, as other methods do but I was wrong in thinking that I can't form burrs after the coarse stone, I have done it many times recently and can only see positive results. 

    Some folks use edge trailing strokes like me, some use edge leading and others use both, pressure both ways. Some using a sweeping motion working the entire length of the blade while others, like work in sections using two fingers to apply pressure. 

    There are no absolutes, don't be afraid to try something new, as long as the primary goals of burr formation and burr removal are being met, the knife will get sharp.

    If I see any concrete evidence that this technique is detrimental in terms of edge retention over the next several months I will let you know.

   Thank you, I appreciate you visiting my Blog.
Peter Nowlan
Nova Scotia