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Need soe advice on Knife sharpening

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I am sure this has been discussed before but I was unable to find the information I am needing. I recently won a few auctions on Ebay and came away with 3 Sabatier items. A 10" chefs knife, 5" boning utility knife, and a cleaver. Well they all arrived this week and while they are all in great condition they are all incredibly dull. I have been trying and practicing for along time to get the skill of using a stone. But I am unsure if I just can't get the angle correct or what, so far all attempts have failed. Some miserably. Now that I have decent knives I really don't want to ruin them needlessly. What is a good and reliable way for me to resharpen these? I have seen some machines that supposedly do a good job. Possibly a rod system? I mostly looking for a way to rebuild the edge and to maintain for future use.

I have no aversion to spending some money to get the proper equipment. Any advice or recommendations will be greatly appreciated.
post #2 of 9
Purchase a tri-stone...and a good steel......each knife has a purpose and
needs to be held at a specific angle when sharpening on a stone.....ie...different angle for slicer vs. chef's knife....google a knife sharpening video or just drop by a butcher shop and ask....good luck.
post #3 of 9
You are perched at the peak of a slippery slope....

One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to get your hands on a book, "Sharpening" By L. Lee. Alot of information, and most importantly microscope photographs of edges and steels is discussed.

Attaining an accurate freehand bevel on a knife without any practise or information is, in reality, impossible. A jig of some sort is needed for the first few knives. There are are a few systems that use a clamp that goes on the back of the knife that has a series of holes in it. Small stones attached to rods are guided through these holes and abrade the knive edge which gives you some guarantee of a fairly consistant bevel. For a beginer, this is probably the easiest and cheapest system to start off with.

After this you have tumbled head-first down the slippery slope of sharpening: Feuds, fist fights and name calling have risen over Abrasive (sharpening stone) choices, lubricants for said abrasives, maintainence for stones, bevel angles, and final polishing.

From this it's head-over heels toexotic metal formulaes, secret forging processes, and a thorough knowledge in Japanese, German, and Swedish steel technologies.....
...."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 #4 of 9
There are quite a few ways to sharpen knives. Not one of them is perfect. They all have trade offs. Choosing the best one for your needs depends on better understanding the systems and your needs.

You said you bought some Sabatier knives. Unfortunately "Sabatier," in and of itself, doesn't convey a lot of information. Sabatier is an umbrella term for a lot of different companies making a wide range of knives. It would help to know which Sabatier -- "K-Sabatier," "Elephant Sabatier," "V Sabatier," to name a few; whether your knives are stainless or carbon; and whether they're modern, vintage, antique or NOS.

even stephen wrote that knives need to be sharpened to different angles. That's sometimes true and sometimes not. The joker in your deck is the cleaver. If it's going to get heavy use on tough items, like hacking through bones, it probably should be sharpened to a more acute angle than your other two knives. If I were sharpening your knives on my stones, I'd profile all three of them, sharpen the cleaver to a 22.5/30deg double bevel; thin the other two slightly, sharpen them to a 15deg flat 50/50 bevel, then maybe strop-stroke in a little convexity. At this point, your eyes are probably rolling up and you're thinking this whole thing is hopelessly technical. Actually, it's not that bad.

The major types of sharpening systems are:
1. Free hand stones **
2. Rod guided stones *
3. V hone sticks **
4. Sharpening steels
5. Electric sharpeners ****
6. Other gizmos
7. Sharpening services

1. Freehand Stones: You've had some experience with freehanding, and so far anyway, you aren't comfortable. The major obstacle to learning to freehand is simply lack of confidence. With a little explanation, the right stones, and plenty of practice almost anyone can learn to do a good job. So, I guess I disagree with foodpump a little. The step from good to very good requires a little dedication and a very good set of stones -- which don't come cheap. That step might also be the place where serious theory comes in.

A good, basic sharpening set is made up of four services. One, coarse to profile and repair. Two, medium coarse to start the sharpening process (raising a wire). Three, medium fine to finish the sharpening process (refine the wire, break it off). Four, a fine surface to polish the face of the bevel. Some sharpeners take this to a fifth, extreme polish level. Now, obviously the first part of a "little explanation," starts with, "WTF is a wire?" But let's save that and most of the finer points for the time you decide freehanding is worth it.

In the meantime, take a look at: eG Forums -> Knife Maintenance and Sharpening

even stephen's recommendation, the "tri-hone," is a system of three sharpening stones to be used free hand. These babies used to be in every commercial kitchen. I learned to sharpen on a Norton 11 incher at my first restaurant job. Let me link you to a video of someone using one: Learn to Sharpen a Knife using a Sharpening Stone You may also want to poke around the Sharpening Supplies site, there's a lot of good information there. If you do decide you want to freehand, let's talk some more and see if we can't get you set up with what's right for you.

For your knives, a tri-hone going from coarse India (or medium crystolon) to hard Arkansas would probably be about right. Norton makes the best box. Hall's is the best value. It's possible to spend hundreds of dollars on stones, but the right (if you go this way) tri-hone for you, the Hall's Professional 8" Wet Hone, runs under $50.

2. Rod Guided Systems: These are a "tool" and "jig" system for using stones. They allow the user to choose the exact angle at which he wants to sharpen and get repeatable strokes. There are a few systems out there, the best for home users is the EdgePro Apex. I've got to say that although it's very good, it's also a certain amount of trouble and oriented towards the knife hobbyist who's too fussy to freehand or does so many knives that holding an angle is painful. In other words, rod guides are OCD. Also, things get a little complicated with certain areas of knife geometry, especially around the tip. At the end of the day though, you can get a darn near perfect edge. Great system for the right person, but not cheap. $175 for the Deluxe Kit at Knife Outlet.

3. V Hones: These mostly use ceramic sticks. The leaders of the pack are the Spyderco Sharp Maker, and the Idahone. They're reasonably priced, and easy to use. All you have to do is hold the knife perpendicular to the floor and pull it across the sticks.

Unfortunately, they won't do the rough work you need to get your knives shaped right or repair them; and they won't put the kind of ultimate edge on you want for cutting micro-brunois or boning out four dozen chicken thighs in fifteen minutes flat. Even the good systems only supply two levels of sharpening -- medium coarse and medium fine. They're excellent for routine maintenance to a "good enough" level. I really like them for the home cook who doesn't want to go through the BS necessary to learn stones. In your case, one of these might be the best choice. If, you can't establish an initial edge after 70 or 80 strokes on the rough stick, and your arm starts falling off, you can pay to have that done. $50ish.

4. Sharpening Steels: I'm including steel, ceramic and diamond steels in this group, but differentiating from "honing" steels. Eyes rolling up again? Be patient. Knives are sharpened to a V. When the point of the V wears down to a dull U, material needs to be removed from the edge and the bottom of the V restored. This is sometimes called sharpening. The sharp V bottom is a little bit weak and has a tendency to bend as well as dull. Straightening it out is sometimes called honing. However, there's no consistency in using the terms. If it's important to know what someone's talking about, you have to ask.

At any rate, almost all knives should be regularly honed on a steel. For your knives any decent, fine steel will do (a medium, coarse or diamond will "sharpen" and remove too much material). I recommend the wood handled Forschner as a decent looking good performer. Check it out at Cutlery and More.

Getting back to "sharpening" steels. Nope. Stop. Don't. Danger, Will Robinson. Danger. Some people love them, more people ruin their knives. Requires more skill than freehand stones to hold the right angle. Furthermore, it's a one surface system, and will leave you with a very toothy edge. You might as well use a Chantry.

5. Electrics: There are a few good ones out there, but only one that has anything to do with your knives and situation, and that's the Chef's Choice. The Chef's Choice sharpens to a long lasting and reasonably keen double bevel.

A lot of knife guys will tell you that you can really screw up your knives. However, Chef's Choice improved their blade guide so that if you pay even minimal attention, no problem. What I don't like is that you have two choices for the final angle, and both of them are too obtuse for my tastes (around 20/25), but almost certainly not yours (it's an edge that's difficult to hurt). It's a sharp edge, but not one that [I]just falls[I] through an onion, and not one that's conducive to very fine work -- the proverbial micro-brunois. Another problem is that the design of the machine won't let you sharpen knives with bolsters (probably like your chef's and utility) all the way to the back of the blade. After many years that can cause a slight notching at the point the wheels first contact the steel.

Not the best choice for the working pro. Not for someone who's really into knives, especially their own very expensive collection. And not for anyone with a lot of different knives with differing requirements. Who then? Other knife geeks hate me for saying this, but: For most home cooks that can afford it, the Chef's Choice 130 is the best solution. No anxiety, heap much convenience -- which means it will get used. Can you go $150?

6. Gizmos: These are mostly manual pull-throughs. Compared to the other good choices, none of them come close to meeting your needs. Even the best of those suitable for permanent kitchen duty fit under the rubric of "better than nothing." Of this sorry lot, the best are probably the Chef's Choice and those marketed by major knife manufacturers like Wusthof, Henckels and Global/Minosharp. A lot of the others will rip your knives to shreds. If you don't mind turning your knives into something that feels like a cross-cut saw, check out the Chantry.

7. Sharpening Services: Any good custom butcher shop can hook you up. Unfortunately the prices have gotten too high for most home cooks, even though your knives are near the bottom of the price sheet -- around $8 in big cities; also there's often a several day turnaround which is very inconvenient if you only have one good chef's knife.

post #5 of 9
BDL has very good advice.
Like I said in my first post, sharpening has no set rules, everyone has a different method to achieve a sharp edge. There are, however, a few rules that everyone does observe:

What is dull? If you were to look at the dull edge under a microscope, the edge would be rounded over. An abrasive is needed to remove metal to get two new bevels that meet at a sharp edge.

Bevels. Bevels are the angles of which the two sides of the blade meet. As BDL writes, a cleaver that will take some heavy abuse from bones needs an angle of around 25 degrees. A boning knife which won't take such abuse can get an angle of 18-20 degrees. The "fatter" the "V" shape of the edge, the more robust and hard wearing the edge is, but also takes a lot more effort to cut with.(think of an axe) A "thinner" "V" will slice much easier, but the edge is thinner, more delicate, and will roll over or curl up with use.

Abrasives What ever abrasive you choose, they are defined by the Grit number, coarse grits start at 400, but this abrasive is only used to do general re-shaping.(like breaking off a tip) A coarse grit will leave deep scratches, which weaken the edge, and an edge that has been sharpened with a coarse stone will dull very quickly as the edge will fracture and break off quickly. Most people use around 800-1000 grit to do general sharpening, then move on to 4,000 to remove those scratches, then on to anywhere from 8,000-15,000 grit to remove the previous scratches. A highly polished surface from a 12,000 grit abrasive has very shallow scratches, the edge is strong and will take much longer to wear, fracture and break off.

Even more fanatical about sharpening than cooks and knife freaks, are wood workers, the kind that like to use hand tools. If you think about it, a hand-plane is just a knife jammed into a frame and used to slice off shavings .0001 of an inch from kiln dried quarter-sawn oak or rock maple. A chisel is just a knife blade (albeit a very thick one), but either tool leaves the wood surface shimmering smooth and crisp. However, from the amount of abuse that edge takes, it must be sharpened frequently.

Wood or food, same principles apply: Bevel angle is crucial, progression of finer grits neccesary for a decent edge, and anything else,--how you achieve the results- is fair game.
...."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 #6 of 9
This tip won't help you with a really dull knife. But it helps you learn to match and hold an existing edge angle free hand on a stone.

Take a Sharpie or similar marker and mark the sharpened bevels at the edge of the knife on both sides. Then start sharpening. After a few strokes on both sides check the marks.

If you've matched the angle, you'll have erased the marker. If you're tilting too much one way or the other, you'll have worn off the marker at the knife edge, or up on the shoulder where the edge transitions to the flats of the blade. Often, you'll have worn the edge in some places and the shoulder in others. Keep practicing with marked edges until you have mastered holding an angle.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #7 of 9
Leonard Lee's book Sharpening is the best that I know of in the field, but it's 97% about woodworking tools. There's a very good chapter on kitchen knives, but that's all. Unless you want to sharpen plane irons, chisels, lathe tools, drills, drawknives, and the like, you should try to get it at the library and not buy it.

However, Lee Valley Tools (founded by you-know-who) has an excellent selection of sharpening aids for kitchen knives. The best (unless you want a $600 motor-driven sharpening system) is a couple of dual-grit Japanese waterstones and a little jig that clamps on the back of the knife blade and holds a steady angle - it's adjustable - while you hone it on the waterstone.

Honing Guide for Knives - Lee Valley Tools

From there, you can look around at dual-grit waterstones.

They also have diamond steels from DMK.

Lee was the first, I believe, to suggest that the Microplane (designed and marketed as wood rasp) might be kind of useful in the kitchen. That was twelve or fourteen years ago.

You would do well to sign up for their catalog, whether for woodworking, gardening, or kitchen stuff. :smoking:

travelling gourmand
travelling gourmand
post #8 of 9
I agree....the more heavy work a blade does the more of an angle it needs...
to prevent the edge from doubling or bending.....hatchet, cleaver, axe....the
more delicate the work....slicer...filet knive..less angle....middle of the road....
chefs knives and boning knives.....I go from 15 degrees all the way up to 35 or 40 degrees.......tri-stone is the only way for me....some of the older sabatier's are pretty incredible.....they seem to hold an edge for months or more...one only has to hone or straighten the edge and your back in business....thanks for all the in depth posts...I enjoy them.....
post #9 of 9
I have the Edge Pro Apex. It works very well once you get used to the motion it takes. Well worth the money in my opinion. I seem to get stuck sharpening for friends and family so it makes it a lot easier to put an edge on.
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