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Triple Threat: Advice for Chef's Knife, Pairing knife, and Bread Knife - Page 2

post #31 of 42
Most major Japanese brands are sharpened to 15* on each side.

While it's impossible to read Shun's collective mind, I suspect Shun sharpens to 16* to provide some very slight rationale for purchasing Shun sharpening gear -- such as their electric knife sharpener -- also set to to 16*

Shun's electric knife sharpener is manufactured by the same (American) company which makes Chef's Choice, Edgecraft; and it's very fair to say that the Shun is the company's bottom of the line Asian knife sharpener (they make four others). Any of the Chef's Choice machines will grind a Shun to 15*, and both the knife and the machine will work perfectly well.

Furthermore, there's nothing magic about manufacturers' suggested angles and/or supplied edge geometry. Sometimes they're the best for the knife, sometimes they're not even close. A good sharpener considers the shape of the knife, the material of which it's made, and the use to which it will be put, before deciding on the edge angle, type of bevelling and symmetry.

Freehand sharpening is the most comprehensive and flexible system. A good set of stones is NOT a cheap investment though. Not that you can't find a couple of adequate surfaces for not too much, but if you're into doing really good work and want a versatile set, it will cost you.

Rod-guide systems are probably the closest results you can get to freehanding. Better under many circumstances. The learning curve is much shallower. Cost goes from low-medium to high-medium, but at least it's pretty well capped -- that is, there's a limit to how much you can spend on your rod-guid system. The best home system is the Edge Pro Apex. Highly recommended.

There are only a few electric sharpening machines which are (a) not harmful to your knives; and (b) do a decent or better job on them. We may as well limit the universe to Chef's Choice, since the others which fit under our criteria umbrella are expensive and/or unreliable. Chef's Choice machines work extremely well, and contrary to a great deal of uninformed opinion won't harm your knives. The edge is not as good as can be produced by a good free hander; but the edge is produced quickly and there's no BS about learning a new skill. Although they do make a machine which will handle the most common edges of Western and Asian knives respectively, the weakness of Chef's Choice machines is their lack of versatility. Nevertheless, they are the best choice for a lot of people because they're simple enough to use.

Ceramic "V" stick systems like the Spyderco Sharpmaker are useful for "touch ups" but are way too slow to get your knives really sharp. Also, they don't really do much in the way of getting a precision edge angle; they just make you feel better about your inaccuracy. Nice to have around if you want something that straddles the difference between a medium grit sharpening stone and a honing rod, without being as good as either. Of the V ceramics, I slightly prefer the Idahone to the Spyderco, and the Spyderco to the Lansky. Those are the Big 3, and no matter how I rate them, they're inherently equal. Just make sure the set in which you're interested can be set to the angles you want.

Pull throughs come in two basic flavors: Table tops like the Mino Sharp, Henckels, Wusthof, Chef's Choice, etc., and "'V' grooves" with carbide wheels or rods. The "'V' grooves" themselves may be devided into those which are dragged over the blade, and those which the blade is pulled through. Just to make matters confusing, you can easily think of the table tops as a species of V groove. With two exceptions, these are either a waste of time or will destroy your knives.

The table tops are very slow. To take a knife from barely dull to barely sharp takes something like 60 passes. And no matter how many times you pull the knife through the slot, they won't get a knife sharper than medium sharp. Furthermore, they get dirty easily and range from difficult to impossible to clean. It's not a question of aesthetics, the abrasive surfaces don't get dirty so much as "load up" and "clog." When they're clogged, they don't work -- at all. There are two which are best of the bunch -- MinoSharp and Chef's Choice. Because they're easy to use and fairly cheap, it's how some people roll. Try not to be one.

As to the rest of the V grooves, including the "miracle" sharpeners you see advertised on TV like the ones with the protective handle you drag across the knife, or the ones with the set of rods which clamps to the table. They do not actually sharpen so much as rip your knife's edge into teeth, which then cut like a saw. These are effective -- that is, your knife will cut after being sharpened; but it won't cut correctly and neither the edge nor the knife will last very long. Of these, Chantry sharpeners will screw up your knives, but they look doing it. Not a bad choice if you can live with the rough cutting and doing damage to your cutlery.

There's often an exception to the rule, and this time it's the Blackie Collins sharpener.

"Sharpening steels" or "rods" including "diamond" steels will screw up your knives something fierce. If you're into "fast and dirty," some of them will put a very toothy edge on quickly. Not recommended. On the other hand, "honing steels" or "rods" are a very useful knife maintenance tool. Unfortunately terminology is inconsistent and the words "sharpening" and "honing" are confused and/or used interchangeably. If you're looking for a honing steel, always look for the terms "fine," "extra-fine," "smooth," and/or "glass smooth." Unless you very much know what you're doing (and then you're not coming to me for advice) you'll stick with round rods. Right now the class of the bunch is the Idahone fine ceramic rod (about $25 at this writing).


PS. Full disclosure: I've been a free hand sharpener since 1962, and have used all sorts of sharpening equipment. I'm currently using a set of four stones, including two Norton India stones, and two Arkansas stones; and an old Henckels extra fine steel (not available anymore) -- the Hand American borosilicate glass rod went to honing heaven and will not be replaced. Waterstones are better than Arkansas stones for almost all purposes and nearly all users.
post #32 of 42
Thanks for the great read BDL..What grit stones do you use? I see they range from
300 to 8000. What would I need for a starter set?

What do you think about the Norton combination waterstones? Is that the same as the Norton India stones?

Watched the Apex video. That looks like a decent set up. Something a beginner could handle.
post #33 of 42
A beginner can handle it, yes, but the thing is, it can produce edges way up there toward perfection. That takes skill, but not nearly as much -- nor as much time to learn it -- as doing it freehand.
post #34 of 42
[QUOTE=mont86;258612]Thanks for the great read BDL..What grit stones do you use? I see they range from
300 to 8000. What would I need for a starter set?

I use a Norton coarse India, Norton fine India, Hall's soft Arkansas, and Hall's (surgical) black Arkansas. The coarse India is the equivalent of a 200# Japanese waterstone; the fine India of about a 700#; the soft Arkansas of about 1200#, and the surgical black of about 5000#. The equivalencies are not only very rough, they fly in the face of Norton's published opinion; but I think most sharpeners familiar with the stones would agree with me. I don't want to get too deep into the whys and wherefores for each stone and stone type; but grit and/or screen size are not absolutely determinative.

My set is a very good one, if a trifle slow, for my knife set which is almost entirely old French carbons. I've used the set for Japanese knives, including Hirmoto AS, and it's really too slow.

What you need for a "starter set" is the best you can afford. Basically it takes two surfaces to pull a wire, deburr, and start a low level polish. That would be the absolute minimum. You'll very quickly want a stone rough enough for profiling and repair, and one fine enough for a middling polish. At this moment, I think the best deal in Japanese waterstones are the Naniwa Super Stones sold by Tools for Working Wood.

Norton combo waterstones were my first set of waterstones. Like all Norton stones they're well made and represent a lot of value. But the market's moved ahead of Norton, and there are better stones, similarly priced. All waterstones are something of a nuisance in terms of prep, flattening, soaking, etc., but Norton's are more of a PITA than many others. It's a function of the type of binder used.

India stones are not the same as waterstones. India stones are fired aluminum oxide, while Norton warterstones are ceramic abrasive in a clay binder.

It's a very decent setup, very easy to master. It's not the be all and end all of sharpening, but for someone who wants to keep a few kitchen knives sharp, it's way more than necessary. Set 1 is a little too rough and basic. Set 2 is the way to start. Not cheap. The downside compared to oilstones (which I use dry, btw) is how much prep and setup is involved. Compared to waterstones, it's about equal.

post #35 of 42
[quote=boar_d_laze;258626]The vast majority of waterstones are aluminum oxide, in a friable clay binder. A few (typically coarse ones) are silicon carbide, in a friable binder. Silicon carbide is also the primary abrasive in Norton's "Crystolon" brand of stones, though there, they're in a fired and much less friable binder. Silicon carbide is also what's used in cheap ($5 or so) double sided stones found in hardware stores and the like. If you can find a decently sized one of these, without inclusions, I find they work better than coarse gritted water stones (cut faster, stay flat longer) for removing damage or reshaping. They're a bit too coarse (the "fine" side is about the same as an 800 or 1000 grit waterstone, depending on the particular one) for a finished edge.
post #36 of 42
"Regular" silicon carbide stones, even the very good ones like the Norton Crystolon are much slower than waterstones using silicon carbide as the abrasive. They also clog much faster, whether used dry, with water or with oil. It's true they don't require the maintenance of waterstones, especially coarse stones which dish very quickly. But they are very, very slowve in comparison and not really suitable for steels taken beyond HrC 60 or so.

A part of owning and using waterstones is flattening. Once the sharpener has the equipment, flattening is not so onerous as to make up for the speed disadvantage.

Personally, I prefer aluminum oxide, in the form of Norton India for my coarse work -- given my set of knives. Even at the same nominal grade as an equivalent Crystolon, they're a little slower. But I find they leave significantly less scratch; clean better in the dishwasher, don't glaze as easily, etc. If I had to choose one stone for European kitchen knives it would be the Norton IB-8 combi, and I think I'd get a lot of agreement.

However, once you throw a bunch of knives with modern, and/or better, and/or significantly hardened blade steel into the mix (in other words, Japanese knives better than Shun and Global, and any number of western customs) the western stones can't compete. I know, I've tried. They work, but very slowly. That slowness in a novice's hands multiplies the opportunity for error and means knives never get really sharp. In the hands of someone who's been freehanding for decades it's not that negative, mostly just more zen-out time.

Given a typical Japanese blade made from Gin3 hardened to HrC 60, a "pink brick" at 220# JIS is significantly faster than a Norton coarse Crystolon at (about) JIS #80. (including the several flattenings a damaged knife might require) and doesn't run the same risk of glazing a Crystolon does during an energetic session.

Also, very few of the modern-type waterstones I recommend use aluminum oxide or silicon carbide, but other ceramics. These include stones by Bester, Naniwa, Shapton, and Sigma to name a few. I've got nothing against either abrasive, and have a great deal of experience with stones employing both -- whether in the solid matrices typical of western stones or the soluble matrices of waterstones.

All in all this is the type of discussion I hoped to avoid in this thread. It's an "inside baseball" level of nuance, and might be confusing to someone considering his first set. But here we are, we might as well have fun.

post #37 of 42
I don't think Norton's Crytolon's are very good stones. Yes, they're very consistently the grit they claim to be. But the abrasive is too tightly bound to the substrate, so they become very slow cutting very quickly. They're also impregnated with oil from the factory, which increases the rate at which they plug up. They may have been good for eighty years ago, but they're not today. I've the same objection to Norton's India stones.

(Norton's other products, their sandpaper, their diamond stones, their grinding wheels, are first rate.)

I repeat my assertion that the vast majority of waterstones are aluminum oxide. They're just calling it "ceramic" because they can; what's been improved is the manufacture of substrates. Aluminum oxide is plenty hard enough to cut even hard steels, so that's not a problem.

At this point, were I in the market for stones, I don't know that I'd by anything other than continous surface diamond stones. Prices have been coming down steadily, unlike the prices for water stones, they'll last forever, are much faster, and are finally available in very fine grits.
post #38 of 42

I'm not a fan of Crystolon, so won't defend them.

You're right about oil, whether "impregnated" at the factory or added at the time of sharpening, causing the stones to clog. However, the stones can be cleaned with regular dish detergent in the dishwasher or in a pot of boiling water and that will get rid of the oil, as well left over swarf (filings from sharpening). No stone works well unless clean; but these types are extremely sensitive to loading and clogging.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the dishwasher. I should also mention that I recommend Juranitch style, dry sharpening.


I'm not sure of the vast majority. However there are a variety of other abrasives used, especially at the high end. In fact, some waterstones manufacturers like Naniwa and Shapton make a point of specifying that their abrasives are neither AlO, nor SiC.

The things I like most about waterstones is their speed and relative lack of required maintenance -- and they sure do stay flat. I can't argue with your experience, but mine is different. Stones "lesser" than DMT wear very quickly; DMT's wear fairly quickly; while better stones like Atomas are incredibly expensive. Also, DMT just doesn't give enough range at the high end.

If I were buying a new kit oriented towards knives made with very hard steel, like some of the Japanese, I might get a coarse or very coarse diamond stone, ideally an Atoma, and use it for knife repair, profiling, and stone maintenance. The rest of the kit would probably be Sigma Power and Naniwa -- and end up very expensive. The amount of maintenance waterstones require is annoying to say the least. That the stones themselves are only maintenance makes it worse. Still, you can make flattening, the most odious part, less inconvenient with a coouple of simple gags.

As it happens, none of my knives are harder than HRC 58, and all sharpen well on my mix of India and Arkansas stones, sans oil.

post #39 of 42
BDL...first post in this forum and would like your opinion on the Nenox S1? I am considering a high quality knife and while I note your favor of Masamoto's HC series (which I will add to my list), I wonder about the Ryusen and Blazen Gyutos in addition to the Nenox and UX10. I like a larger chef knife with handles which fit comfortably in my larger hands. Thanks in Advance..Paul
post #40 of 42
I'm glad you used the word 'mix' in describing the procedures you use for the best results.

I steal from everyone. The Edge pro guys, the traditional polishers, the leather strop guys and the Hand America sharpeners. I own all of their systems.

I do not use any mechanized equipment for one reason, and that's heat. I couldn't find a job after graduating from college and took a job buffing metal for electroplating. We had to wear gloves from the heat produced by cloth wheels.

On most alloys this may not be a problem. But on some Crucilbe alloys they have dropped their heat parameters from 600 degrees to around 150 degrees.
(Which I cannot believe but I've seen it in print.)

People pay good money for top-flight kitchen knives, which can be instantly ruined with one nut, a nano second of foolishness and a heavy hand. I'm retired, I have a few hours to waste it it means getting it right.
post #41 of 42
Nenox S1 are fantastic knives! Excellent stainless that sharpens fairly easily, sharpens very well, and holds an edge well. Usually (but there have been a few problems) great fit and finish -- especially as Japanese go. The first and biggest criticism you can level at them is that they are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too expensive. The second, and this may be a deal breaker for you, is the handle. Not everyone likes it. I have large hands also (palm a water-polo ball comfortably but not really a basketball), and a very soft, very "academically correct," pinch grip. In short, I choke up on a knife when hold it. In my case, the Nenox grip on their big chef's knife is just barely large enough to be comfortable.

Ryusen is the manufactuer; "Blazen" and "Bu-Rei-Zen" are two lines made by Ryusen. As you know Blazens (and Bu-Rei-Zen) have a powdered steel core laminated between outer layers of soft stainless. Personally, I don't like the feel of three layer cladded (san-mai aka warikomi) knives in the cut. However, this isn't something that very many people notice and/or care about. It's a decision you'll have to make for yourself. The knives aren't particularly easy to sharpen, but they do take a good edge and hold it very well. The handles are adequate. The Bu-Rei-Zen (available from Epicurean Edge) is an improved version of the regular Blazen -- better steel, and better saya. But you pay for the upgrade. On the whole, I think there are better knives in the price range and equal for substantially less. For instance, Akefusa (also available from EE) is pretty much a clone at a much lower price.

Misono UX-10 have some of the best handles at any price. They're very streamlined, and agile -- partly because of their low heel. In once sense they're quite pricey, but they're still on the very affordable end of "best knife at any price." They wouldn't be my first choice, though. Even though they feel great, they're somewhat on the whippy side. Another knock is that some people don't find them easy to sharpen.

If "price is no object," and you're seriously considering Nenox S, then you might want to think about custom and semi-custom knives such as Murray Carter and Thomas Haslinger for instance.

You might also want to consider Japanese handled western style knives -- the octagonal and "d" handles are very comfortable and custom sizes, when necessary, are very affordable.

Hope this helps,
post #42 of 42
BDL...well dang you're a great source of information. Really appreicate your insight. Funny you mention "waterpolo" hands, I used to play Holeman in NCAA Div I Waterpolo in my California college years. Our hands are very similar; palm a WP ball, just barely a basketball.
While I have not traditionally used the "pinch grip" method, I have not had a decent chef knife where I would benefit in utilizing the technique, rather I have to muscle the knife vice guiding the blade.

Anyway, I am really close to just pulling the trigger on the Bu-Rei-Zen 24cm Gyuto. To me, the top quality of the blade, handle, astetics, etc. are all there for a "junior"-like Nenox that should last me the rest of my life but seems to have better steel.:bounce:

Additionally I fall into the your category of a home chef that wants the best equipment/knives but do not want to necessarily spend the time/money on stones. I have some but find the work a little too tedious for me. Thus my secondary question is what type of honing rod would you recommend for "maintenance" of the Bu-Rei-Zen? Ceramic/metal? I would use Ken or Dave for professional sharpening services once I take stock of the knives that need the loving care.

Finally is EE the best place to purchase both tools or are there other options for purchase?

Thank you again for your expert insight!

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