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Ceramic Steels and Japanese Knives

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
Alright I am the proud new owner of a Misono UX-10 and a Masamoto VG series santoku knife. Now I had previously had Globals and read that they recommend using ceramic steels and not to use Steel Steels. Are ceramic steels ok for these finer edged Japanese knives? or should I just avoid honing steels altogether? (I know steel sharpening steels are a big no no)
post #2 of 17
As a general rule, don't use any steel on a knife with good steel. Touch it up on a waterstone when it gets dull.
post #3 of 17

'm going to avoid the term "hone," because it's ambiguous. You should steel. Not to sharpen, but to maintain the edge. Maybe that's what Chef Aaland meant. If it isn't, he may be right but he's in the vast minority. Anyway...

Use a steel to straighten any slight bending of the edge coming with use. Assuming you want some longevity on your edge, the best regimen is to use a "smooth" or "glass smooth" steel the first few days after you've sharpened, then switch to a fine or extra-fine steel to for the next few days after the smooth steel stops working as well. The fine adds a little "scratch" to the edge so it bites through things it will no longer "fall" through. Tomato skins, for instance. As a practical matter, this means you'll add a slight slice action to your initial stroke on these things. I'm sure you're familiar with the feeling of a blade that's still too sharp to sharpen.

Forschner makes decent fine and smooth steels for a decent price. Sounds like Forschner, doesn't it? But they don't really match the quality of your knives. Pfui!

I know of three really good combination steels. One is the Dickoron "Combi" made by F. Dick. It's a beauty, but around $100. The other two are made by HandAmerica: their (a) steel, and (b) borosilicate "glass" combination rods. You can find them at Japanese Knife Sharpening, Japanese Knife Sharpening The glass is probably the best performer of all three, but requires some babying. If price matters, get the HandAmerica steel. If price doesn't matter Dickoron just screams, "The Best."

As to ceramic itself, a number of materials are suitable and modern ceramics are among them by virtue of their hardness. The trick is finding the right textures.

That having been said, I'd certainly ask around the Knife area at Foodie Forums and at the Knife Forum itself. There are some guys there who seriously know their onions. Also, I'd probably email Koki at JCK and ask him which steels he recommends for your particular knives. I think Masamoto makes some really good ones.

It seems like the majority of Japanese knife users in this country think water stones make the best sharpening system for Japanese knives; and indeed, they're the traditional Japanese sharpening agent. I don't disagree that there's nothing better, but think other "uber" sharpening systems work as well. To my mind every system around has its strengths and flaws, it depends which you find least irritating.

Hope this helps,
post #4 of 17
I meant don't use a steel at all. Nobody can apply even pressure on a steel so you end up with a wavy edge. Being that german steel is softer, it's not as much a problem as you typically sharpen less because the edge won't hold for long anyway. I'd just get a good set of water stones. Norton has a pretty decent starter kit, and king makes some inexpensive combination stones. To start, get a 220/800 and a 1000/400 or 1000/6000.
post #5 of 17
Thread Starter 
Well I am getting Norton's full set of waterstones with the 240/1000/4000/8000 set and the leveling stone. I would just like to know if I should be using a steel to hone in between because I am so used to just giving my knife a few whacks on the steel to straighten the edge out. I mean I guess I could just give them a few whacks on the waterstone, but it would be annoying to have to wait for them to get wet every day before I honed my blades. I just want to know if the steel is really a bad thing. I see it as being just fine as long as it is a very fine ceramic steel and I keep me honing angle the same when I use it.
post #6 of 17
Keep the stones submerged in a 1/3 pan of water so you always have them at the ready. The knife will stay sharper longer than a german knife. You don't have to steel it. What it comes down to though is it's your knife. If you feel more comfortable steeling it, then do it. I just recommend you don't.
post #7 of 17
Lot of different knife uses, lot of different styles. Lot of different steels too. In my experience as a user of knives, and as a user and consumer of knife advice, Chef Aaland's advice represents a minority view.

That is not to say he isn't right as far as use goes, or that his regimen isn't most appropriate for his time in the kitchen. However, I believe most people who use both-side-sharpened Japanese kitchen knives such as yours for work and other frequent use do steel.

When I owned hard steel knives, by which I mean > 60HRC, I steeled. It was both beneficial and without ill effect. It's true Japanese knives are very hard. As a consequence of their hardness their blades can be set to a relatively acute angle at the edge. Approximately 15 deg (or a 30 deg included angle on a symmetric double bevel) at the edge. This means their is very little shoulder behind the edge. Hard edge + weak should = blade bends and waves as much as anything else appropriate sharpened.

The phenomenon of thin edges bending is one of those nuggets of truth behind the myth that knives can be "too sharp" because they dull too easily. The truth is the edges of soft steel knives sharpened at too acute an angle do bend too easily. In your case, the lesson to take away is not that soft bends too much, but that thin bends. A bent and wavy edge is best repaired by a steel.

Stones: Coarse and medium stones sharpen by creating "a wire" on the edge. That's a sort of curl that develops from assymetry as you lengthen and weaken one side of the edge by sharpening the other. The curl becomes longer and weaker until it's eventually ground off, leaving a new, fresh, and sharp edge -- assuming the stones are used properly.

Finer stones don't create much, if any, wire. Instead, they polish the scratches out of the edge left by the coarser stones to create a smooth, gliding edge.

Highly polished edges are not necessarily best for every task. As the edge wears slightly it enters a period where many users would find it slightly dull, but too sharp to sharpen; i.e., tomatoes get a little diffiucult, bell pepper batonets want to be cut skin side down, etc. Every chef is familiar with it. The work around is to either leave a little "scratch" or "tooth" on the blade by not polishing too highly, or to put a little scratch on the edge by using a figured steel. Because Japanese knives are so hard, and hold their edge so long they benefit most from smooth a k a "glass smooth" steels, i.e., no figuring, no tooth.

Note, though: On a good blade, a smooth steel takes no material and leaves no scratch, a fine steel takes next to no material and leaves plenty scratch. Medium steels are primarily for people who don't know how to care for a knife. Probably the best steeling regimen for a hard steel knife which has been finished to a high polish is to start with a smooth steel, and when that doesn't work as well, move to a fine. Specialty steels like diamond steels, Global ceramics, etc., are not actually steels but sharpeners.

Returning to stones: If you don't go down to a medium stone, you're not actually sharpening, but polishing. And if the knife doesn't need polishing, what then? You're actually doing the same thing you would be by steeling: Bending the edge back and forth until the whole thing straightens out. In other words, you've found an inconvenient method of steeling. Not that inconvenience should be underrated. It builds character. And characters.

Theoretical users of Japanese knives -- that is people who only own a few knives, or people who are thinking of buying them, often become overly concerned by their hardness. This leads to over-concern about the hardness of everything else -- including the steel. I've successfully steeled knives with HRC > 62 on a 19th Century Sheffield steel (HRC ~55) and an early 70s Henckels fine steel -- no problem. Not to mention bus loads of Globals, Shuns, etc. This is because, although it's made of harder material, the blade is flexible by design -- it's thinness -- while the design of the steel makes it relatively unyielding.

Once more to stones: There's a lot to be said about how well water stones work. Indeed, they're probably the most common method for users of high-end Japanese knives -- both in and out of Japan. Their primary benefit compared to other materials is how quickly they sharpen. Their principal liabilities are expense, and that they require lots of maintenance themselves. That is, they wear unevenly (and rapidly), and require frequent flattening and replacement. Your choice of the Norton combination set is probably as good a choice as a beginner can make. If and when taking out the dish gets old, and replacing the fine grits seems like it's coming a bit too frequently ... we'll talk sharpening.

The choice of a fine ceramic steel is a good one -- as long as the texture's very fine and as long as you already own it. If you mean the Global or Mino, you might want something finer. You mentioned giving your knife a few "whacks." For the love of God, Montressor, use a light hand when steeling a Japanese knife. The little buggers chip -- especially if you abuse them on something as hard as ceramic. If you don't already have a steel, and price is an object, get a HandAmerica borosilicate from Japanese Knife Sharpening (link in an earlier post). It's not only reasonably priced, it's the best steel for high HRC knives in the world. A Victorinox smooth will work almost as well, for about half, but has a plastic handle, and you'll probably still want a fine steel. A Dickoron "Combi" is as good, costs twice as much, and looks as impressive as all ****. As to when and how often to steel: Every time the knife comes out of the block.

Believe me or don't. If you want some high quality advice I suggest moving the question to the Foodie Forums knife group and/or the Knife Forum. I know a fair bit about this stuff -- or at least I think I do. But there are tons of guys who know a lot more on those other fora. By their works you shall know them.

Let us know what you decide,
post #8 of 17
Some very good advice there, especially about diamond "steels" and the trade-off of hard steels and brittleness, and softer steels and more frequent sharpening.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #9 of 17
Very true. I base my usage on the fact that I pretty uch brunoise and oblique a lot of root vegetables and onions etc. all day every day. I need the sharpest edge possible. You CAN you use a steel, but like he said, you have to be more careful.
post #10 of 17
Thread Starter 
Alright Boar well that was a whole lot of advice and wisdom and it is very much appreciated, I will be referring to it for a while to come. As far as the steel situation goes I currently own a Kyocera ceramic steel. I DO NOT use the rougher "sharpening" side at all. When I purchased it my reasoning was that if it is alright for the ceramic knives then it should be fine for my globals that I had at the time. Is this steel alright for the Misono/Masamoto knives or should I put a new steel into the equation as well?
post #11 of 17

That Kyocera rod is out of my experience range. I don't know enough to even have an opinion. That Kyocera even made a "steel" for straightening waves on a ceramic knife's edge seems, well, counter-intuitive. So, I'm really in the dark.

If I couldn't get an answer from the usual cast of smarter-than-me clowns at the Knife Forum or the knife group at Foodie Forums, I'd try e-mailing Kori at JCK -- assuming, that is, you bought your new knives from him. If not, I'd try your retailer -- whomever that is.

In the meantime, just go ahead and use the darn thing. What's the worse that can happen? If you feel like your blade is getting scuffed -- and if it is, you'll feel it on gliding, slicing cuts -- order a smooth/fine borosilicate or steel HandAmerican combination from Japanese Knife Sharpening. From a pure performance standpoint those have to be the best rod going. It might be worth having anyway.

Now, you've talked me into ordering another one. Wonder how my vintage and antique carbon Sabatiers will like a glass rod.

post #12 of 17
Most of the sushi chefs I know keep their waterstones in a tub of water all the time, and pull out the finest one for a few strokes every now and then, and don't steel (or ceramic?) their knives.

Also, if these are single-side edges like the Global Sashimi Yangi, you'll have a lot better luck with a sharpener like the Apex Edgepro than you will free-handing it on a series of waterstones. It takes a ton of practice to be able to maintain a 10 or 12 degree angle across a 12"+ blade.

post #13 of 17

The discussion here revolves around medium-short length (e.g., santoku), western style, double-beveled knives.

It would be surprising indeed, to see an Asian chef steeling a single bevel knife. The reason, I think, is obvious with even a little thought about edge geometry. Imagine steeling a plane blade.

The reason a steel works for evenly double beveled knives should also be apparent.

I've been to a lot of Sushi-ya and have seen a lot of knives sharpened, but have never seen a Japanese or Korean sushi man in SoCal, or a Japanese sushi man in Japan use an edge guide of any sort. FWIW, I've seen plenty of water stone wheels, but never one with any clamping device. Of course, your experience may be different.

post #14 of 17
Actually, they were several different thoughts.

The OP was ordering a set of stones, and just got some new Japanese knives, which led me to believe that he hadn't yet tried sharpening with the stones freehand, which is quite difficult to do properly with a narrow angle on a long blade.

In that case, sharpening with the Apex is actually quite a bit easier and gives a much more consistent edge than free-handing with stones.

The sushi chefs tend to do it freehand because they have years of experience doing it that way.

The OP also mentioned using steels on the knives, and I mentioned that I had never seen a sushi chef use one. This is probably because it's difficult to straighten a single bevel edge.

If these are double-bevel blades then obviously the above doesn't apply.

Also, FWIW, the Apex doesn't clamp anything. The blade is free and the stone is free. The only thing that is fixed is the angle between the blade and the stone.

post #15 of 17
Thread Starter 
Well I ended up getting the glass smooth borosilicate steel from HA and it is pretty sweet. One guy at work has the Global ceramic and after using the HA steel went right back to it. I tried to explain the difference but these are the kind of guys that flail their knife up and down on a steel like the classic butcher that just goes whack whack whack whack! You know what I'm talking about. Am I wrong to think that this is archaic?

However the borosilicate steel seems to be working out well for me and I never purchased a set of water stones but they have a combi norton 1k/4k at work some I'm going to ride that out until I leave and then purchase my own. Any recommendations on care for the borosilicate steel and use?
Also a good stone recommendation would be great, I really think that I will only need a 1k stone since I don't need a really polished edge since I will only be sharpening gyuto/paring knives for large volume work in a pro kitchen.
post #16 of 17
I'm afraid whack whack whack! is me too. Although, I prefer to think of it as "chef music. Since I got my borosilicate, I use a more gentle touch.

Use a soft hand, but don't go too slow. Speed and the small contact area of steel against edge generate the force needed to straighten the waves. As to caring for the steel itself, wash it occasionally. Don't floor test it. Other than that, you know as much as I do.

My knives use softer steel, and the stone I use -- two India and two Arkansas -- are too slow for your knives.

With knives as hard and as good as yours, you need to go diamond, waterstone or "scary sharp" (sandpaper). Since you're comfortable freehanding, we can skip talking about the rod-guided systems -- but EdgePro is the rod-guide of choice. I understand the best waterstones are Shapton. I think HandAmerican makes bases, holders and other stuff that makes sandpaper sharpening civilized, but I may be wrong on this.

I really don't know much about waterstones, but from the little I do, a single 1,000 grit stone is not adequate -- too much scratch. 4,000 grit is a decent finish for slicing but more scratch than is ideal for the push-cutting you do with your chef's. In Shapton, I'd go 220 (for repairs and profiling new knives) 500 to raise a wire quickly, 1500 to finish profiling, and knock the wire off, and 6000 to polish. Or, get the four stone Norton set.

In DMT diamond -- two, two-sided "stones." X-Coarse - Coarse, and Fine - X-Fine.

HandAmerican? You'll have to do the research. You must have wondered about it when you ordered the borosilicate steel. Let me know what you find.

post #17 of 17
I don't steel either. I use primarily Japanese knives. I keep a 2000 wetstone handy if needed. (rarely do)

恵守 世羽棲知安

恵守 世羽棲知安
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