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All you need is a good sharp knife . .

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Well, since I've started working in a kitchen, I've discovered my kitchen knives are all dull as dirt. So I'm sitting down with the sharpener and sharpening them all this evening.

Does anyone have any suggestions/helpful hints for somebody who's never really done this before?

post #2 of 14
Describe "the sharpener." Flat stones, V crock stick, hand-held pull through, roller, "sharpening steel," what? If flat stones are they already oily?

Somewhat less important, but still nice to know, describe your knives -- as to shapes, type of steel, and edge (smooth or serrated). Were they expensive knives? How long ago were they purchased? Much use since then? Have you ever sharpened them before yourself? If not you, who and when? How long have they been dull as dirt?

Do you have a "steel." If you do, describe that too please. Is it metal or ceramic? Does it feel very coarse or fairly smooth? If it's grooved (and it almost certainly is) do the grooves run parallel to one another or do they cross in a "diamond" pattern.

Finally, describe the knife work that's going to be expected. Mostly rough-prep vegetables, or will you have to do much fine work? Julienne and brunois? Micro-brunois (1/16" x 1/16" x 1/16" if you can believe it)? Much meat work? Boning? Carving? Portioning?

There are three parts to sharpening. I'll tell you a little about them, but start with the warning that terminology is very inconsistent. When you get advice, it's important to pin down the person helping you to make sure you understand what they're saying.

I call the three parts "profiling or grinding," "sharpening," and "steeling or straightening." A sharpener profiles an edge to create a shape that's easy to sharpen and will hold that edge for a long time. Profiling uses very coarse abrasives, removes a lot of metal, and is typically done with a grinding machine. Sometimes new knives are so poorly ground they need to be re-profiled right out of the box. In fact, that's not uncommon. Knives that have been properly profiled which get heavy professional use, might need minor grinding (thinning) every year. Home use knives, maybe every five.

Sharpening is the process of shaping the edge so its cross section is a pointed V. A dull knife's looks more like a "U" The "pointier" the "V," the sharper. It's important that the V be the correct angles for the intended tasks. Too narrow a V will wear too quickly. Too wide will feel dull from the start.

Steeling: Kitchen knife steel, when ground and sharpened to the proper geometry, is not the hardest thing in the world. It bends when it gets used. Even though the edge may still be very sharp (pointy "V") it doesn't feel sharp because the edge won't cut straight down. Running the knife along a steel straightens the edge and restores the performance. Frequent steeling is essential care for most knives.

There are lots of ways to sharpen, but there's no one way that's best for everyone. The more I know the easier it will be to help you to get your knives to work their best, and stay that way.

post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 
To sharpen, I was using a sharpening steel that came with one of the knife blocks. Grooves run parallel, though the steel feels fairly smooth to the touch.

The knives themselves are varied: serrated, unserrated, steak knives, etc.

I just recently started work as a cook as it never really strikes you as how dull your home knives are when you compare them to professional knives.

I did make improvements to the lot of them, but didn't know if there was anything special I should doo for the serrated knives.

Thank you!
post #4 of 14

You can't really "sharpen" any of your knives with your steel -- only maintain and restore the edges of the non-serrated knives. The serrated knives won't need much maintenance. But once the edge wears down on your smooth-edged knives, which will happen very quickly (month at most -- quicker if you don't steel regularly) in a professional environment, they will need to be sharpened.

There are a lot of different ways to sharpen knives, some better than others. The "best" ways are involve learning what has become a rather esoteric skill, or complicated and fussy equipment, or both. And did I mention expensive? It seems though that your knives aren't far enough gone to need free-hand stones or a rod-guide system. So, good news there.

The easiest good way is a Chef's Choice 130 electric knife sharpener. They're not cheap, though. Around $130 at Cutlery and More (google them). The Chef's Choice is a flexible enough system to repair mildly damaged blades, give you a very good (as opposed to excellent or merely good) edge, and maintain it. The edge itself is "double beveled," and set at a fairly broad angle -- which makes it strong and long-lasting. I believe the model 130 will steel your knives for you as well, which means another skill you won't have to learn. It's the best system for people who don't want to learn a new skill and can afford to buy their way out of it.

The next best is the Spyderco Sharpmaker. This is a "V-stick" system. Another good one is the Idahone. Lansky is also good. These systems will leave you with a good edge -- and cannot repair chips or damage. Almost certainly good enough for your needs. The best is the Spyderco Sharpmaker. Reasonably priced, too. $50ish

Least but still acceptable are the "pull through" sharpeners by Chef's Choice, Wusthof, etc. These aren't exactly a magic bullet. It takes a lot of pulls to sharpen a very dull knife -- like 50 to a 100. But once you have an edge they're OK until they get too dirty to use. Chef's Choice makes the best.

Steeling is something you should do with a decent knife almost every time it leaves the block if you don't want to have to keep sharpening it. It's a simple and necessary form of maintenance and restoration. It's sort of the knife equivalent of "moisturizing." My wife (a) says that sounds gay, (b) reminds me I've never moisturized, and (c) I'm not exactly perfect about steeling, either.

If the people in your kitchen can't teach you to steel a knife quickly and effectively, I'll give you some links. Similarly, if there's a tri-hone (3 stone) sharpening station in your kitchen or something like it -- get instruction from people in your kitchen, or if you need it I'll be happy to help.

Let me know what you think,
post #5 of 14
I pretty much agree with BDL here. A good steel is only good for maintenance, not sharpening.

The Chef's Choice is a pretty good sharpener for what it is. I've used it a couple of times - found it worked better on some knives than others, but all ended nicely sharpened. Like BDL said, not great, but good.

My personal preference is a good whetstone, one with a coarse and a fine side. Actually, I have two stones so there can be for different surfaces to work with.

Using a whetsone takes time and prictice, but I love the hands-on feel of the stone, and when done properly, my knives are very sharp.

post #6 of 14
FWIW, I use four stone surfaces as well. From coarse to fine they are: Norton IB-8 which is a combination coarse and fine India, (Hall's) soft Arkansas, and (Hall's) black Arkansas.

However, I can't recommend free-handing on stones to Sparkling Burgundy as she's under time pressure to get those knives sharp and keep them that way. Also, she doesn't seem to need either the coarse or extremely fine surfaces. Very coarse is for repair and re-profiling, and very fine is for polishing an already sharp edge.

Sparkling Burgundy's knives don't seem to actually need re-profiling. Also, there's a certain minimum level of steel quality required before polishing on black or translucent Arkansas or an 8000 grit water stone pays off. That's why I feel comfortable recommending limited systems like ceramic V sticks.

FWIW, the Chef's Choice 130 is a real step up in quality (and price!) from the previous generation (120) -- and unbelievably better than the first generation (100 and 110). I agree with you that a Chef's Choice is not the best of all possible edges -- still, it's a very good edge that holds up to pineapples, gourd skins, chopping through cartilage and root-ends, you name it. And the machine makes it so easy to maintain -- you almost look forward to it. Almost.

post #7 of 14
I'm not a culinary pro, but I use knives a lot and I've found this system not only sharpens razor-sharp, it also repairs nicks very well. Works on serrated knives too.

Edgemakerpro World's Best Professional Knife Sharpening System
post #8 of 14
The biggest thing to stress when sharpening a knife is to do every stroke EXACTLY the same, even when pulling through a ceramic rod sharpener, which I personally hate. They kind of hit a wall after a while where your knife simply wont get sharper. Stones are definately the way to go. I use a diamond stone and get my knives sharp enough to shave hair by pushing the knife at a low angle mantaining forward motion in an arc, flip it, and repeat 10-20 times depending on the shape of the edge when I start. Arg this is hard to explain without showing you...basically the motion is like you're trying to shave a very thin layer off the stone, by arcing you get the entire length of the blade in one swoop. The forward motion as opposed to horizontal motion is crucial because otherwise the blade will get a burr on it, a very thin flange of metal that sits in the top of the edge and tends to lean one way or the other rendering the edge much duller than a burr free blade. Steeling can also take care of burrs.

The only problem with using a razor sharp knife that melts through whatever you're cutting is that youll never go back to a dull one haha.

Some tips:

Use a light oil on the stone

Dont rush, sharpening is an art in my mind and takes time.

First use heavy pressure, then go lighter and lighter until you are just using the knifes weight itself.

The more you practice, the better your muscle memory will get and the steadier your hand will be until you can hone a razors edge in no time.

Good luck!

post #9 of 14
Yeti-Ji -- The Edgemaker System puts a good, rough edge on a knife quickly and doesn't take much effort (or skill). Unfortunately, they'll rip your knives to shreds pretty quickly. Also, the edge has too much tooth to it for my tastes -- sort of like a fine-set crosscut saw. Almost all of this type of pull through sharpener are bad for you knives and leave a rough edge. My favorite blade wrecker is the Chantry. Good looking and a blade that will cut through anything. An exception to the harmful rule is the Meyerco Sharpen-It (designed by Blackie Collins). It's good for touch ups on pocket knives -- not really adequate as a full solution for big kitchen blades.

Clint -- Using oil on a diamond stone is a big no-no. Most diamond stones are meant to be used dry, then cleaned with water. A few are meant to be used with water to float the swarf (metal filings removed from the knife during sharpening).

Diamond stones are useful because they're so much faster than man made oil stones like aluminum oxide and silicon carbide, or natural stones like Arkansas, Belgian, etc., and even faster than water stones. But, unlike water stones, they don't need maintenance. Or, for that matter, water or lubrication of any sort. The limitations on diamond stones are they're very aggressiveness, the fact that they aren't available in polishing grits, they wear out relatively quickly and they're expensive. Still, an X-Coarse/Coarse diamond stone is excellent for repair and a Fine/X-Fine will establish an initial edge very quickly.

Generally: I'd hoped that this thread wouldn't wander into advanced sharpening, because of Sparkling Burgundy's situation. But it seems to have taken on its own life. Burgundy, close your eyes, put your fingers in your ears and sing.

FWIW, most modern sharpeners have moved away from using oil on "oil stones." Following Jim Jurantich's and Joe Talmadge's advice, I use mine dry then clean the coarse stones with water and a Brillo pad, and the fine stones with kerosene. And, in line with their experience, I establish a better edge, faster. Steve Bottorff and a few others suggest that you can use water on oil and diamond stones. I used water on oil stones until very recently, and prefer going dry.

I don't want to get too deeply into what I do and don't do -- certainly not as as example. What works for me and my knives almost certainly aren't the best choices for you and yours. My preferences and advice might suggest strong opinions -- in fact I'm rather agnostic and totally ad hoc on most of this.

Whatever works,
post #10 of 14
The Edge Pro Apex is an excellent sharpener that doesn't require a lot of skill to use. It will put an edge on a blade thats scary sharp. is the url (I can't paste the whole URL, I keep getting a message about needing 5 posts and I am past that)
post #11 of 14
Boar d laze, you stated that the Chef's Choice 130 is a real step up in quality from the 120, would you please elaborate?

I have had the chance to use the 120 on an old stamped blade Swibo 10" chef's knife, and was very very impressed with the results. It was almost in the "scary sharp" realm. I also was able to try it with a forged 8" Chef's Choice Trizor chef's knife, with good but, much less impressive results. My impression is that people with commercial quality stamped knives like Forschners or Dexters would be quite happy, after very little practice, using this sort of sharpener.
post #12 of 14
BDL, what do you mean by "rip a knife to shreds"? re:Edgemakerpro

What I have is a set that has 3 grades--the finest is "hone".
post #13 of 14
Boar d laze, you stated that the Chef's Choice 130 is a real step up in quality from the 120, would you please elaborate?

I have had the chance to use the 120 on an old stamped blade Swibo 10" chef's knife, and was very very impressed with the results. It was almost in the "scary sharp" realm. I also was able to try it with a forged 8" Chef's Choice Trizor chef's knife, with good but, much less impressive results. My impression is that people with commercial quality stamped knives like Forschners or Dexters would be quite happy, after very little practice, using this sort of sharpener.
post #14 of 14
FWIW -- Looking at my contributions to this thread, it appears (I think) I'm handing down the Truth on Tablets of Stone from on High. Sorry about that, Chief. Informed opinions only. It's an interesting subject, the back and forth is fun. Don't confuse conversation with TRUTH. First, there's no best way. The most selective we can get is several best ways for a given person and her or his knives. So Truth is elusive. Tablet engraving, stone and high are two different threads.

Yeti-ji -- Edgemaker uses a set of progressive "sharpening steels," that remove a lot of material and leave a lot of scratch on your knives. There are steels that "hone" instead of sharpen and don't remove material -- and you should have one -- but they don't sharpen. On the other hand, if the steel marked "hone" removes enough material to polish a lot of scratch off, it's removing material. Which is exactly what it does. Finally, even after the last stage, although the knife is sharp, it has a very "toothy" feel which I don't like -- especially for fine work like batonet, julienne, fine dice and brunois.

Also -- a V steel with two rods, such as the Edgemaker is not the same as a single rod steel when it comes to straightening potential. It doesn't do the same thing as a "honing" steel; the principal purpose of which is straighten and "restore" the edge, not sharpen it.

Those fine cuts are cuts I make all the time as part of my home cooking -- because that's how I learned to cook. Breaking things into leaves, then sticks, then dice is something I do more or less unconsciously. You may not make these cuts ever -- finding them overly fussy, for instance. I do more butchering and fish prepping than most people because I buy from Asian stores that provide the quality and freshness I want, but not the Western cuts I use. These tasks are best done with a smooth, polished edge. Plus my knives are more than anonymous tools to me. My K-Sabatier au carbone are almost forty years old and you can't tell them from the same models I bought for my kids five years ago.

If I sound like I'm slamming your system, I don't mean to. If you like the edge you get -- and it's a no nonsense edge a lot of people do like, that WILL by God cut a tomato -- you should stick with it. I wouldn't recommend it to a pro though because these sort or edges tear more than they cut, and don't do fine work well. I also wouldn't recommend it to someone who means to keep their knives for a life time.

Returning (almost by accident it seems) to the theme of this thread -- the restaurant style of cutting with its lyonnaise, julienne, brunois cuts is what Sparkling Burgundy may be doing. Her knife edges should help, not hinder.

angrybob -- The 120 uses a diamand disk shape, a second diamond disk to sharpen and a strop to polish. The 130 uses a diamond disk to shape/sharpen, moving steels to strop/polish and a strop to polish. It's slightly less aggressive -- which is fine since the machine does the work. The idea is that a knife finished at stage two may be considered finished, or stage two can be skipped altogether. The user gets three final profiles -- 1 + 2 + 3 ("trizor" edge), or 1 + 2, and 1 + 3 (double bevels) -- each one appropriate for knives meant for different tasks. I've got to say though, that IMO, they're all more obtuse than I like for my knives -- which is why I still use stones.

My stones "disappeared" four years ago during a move, and I considered changing to a variety of different systems. I used my folks' discarded Model 100 (first generation -- 3 stages but no scissors or serrated) Chef's Choice for almost a year while I contemplated their replacement. The convenience is addictive. (A lot of what I've learned about stones is information I gleaned during that time, researching and trying different systems.)

The big step up between the 120 and previous generation machines is the knife hold/guide system. The old magnetic system was prone to slips and mistakes. I think the 120 is a great unit, but everything else being equal would rather have the 130. However, although I do miss the luxury of ease, neither fits my needs as well as other systems. As good a time as any to say, the most important part of any sharpening system is that it gets used as soon as its needed. Inconvenience inevitably becomes procrastination.

Chef's Choice introduced a three stage "M15" around Christmas last year that was designed to convert European style knives and their obtuse edges to the more acute, Asian style 15 deg edge -- and keep that edge sharp and polished. It sounds interesting, indeed it sounds like an ideal edge for quality European knives. But for some reason seems already to have been discontinued.

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