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I have questions for users of wet stones

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Hey guys, I'm new here, so thanks ahead of time for your patience.  I am a former cook and former culinary school grad, and my question is for chefs who are currently using a wetstone of some sort.  I assume that anyone who owns a higher end japanese knife or pricier german or custom knife would be using a wet stone...I could be way off...but as far as I can remember most other methods of sharpening really take a lot more of your edge than youd like.   Anyhow, my question is are there any tricks old vets are using to get that perfect angle on a wet stone?  I know some knives are finished at different angles like 20 or 16, in school we were taught 20 degrees, but with my shun the directions clearly said 16.  So again how does one go about ensuring that the angle is consistent?  Thanks ahead of time Ladies and Gents.

post #2 of 8
Whet stone, not "wet stone."

There are a couple of tool and jig systems just as good as freehand sharpening on bench stones. I like the EP systems quite a bit, especially with upgraded stones.

I don't like clamp on edge guides. While they're helpful in terms of providing confidence for beginners that they're doing the right thing, in fact they create inconsistent angles. Most people do better using the "Magic Marker Trick."

I have four complete sharpening kits: Water stone; Oil stone; Loaded strop; and EP Apex with the Chosera kit. And I'm pretty good with all of them. One doesn't necessarily work better than another; although I'd say that some methods are better for some knives and some users. I've tried "scary sharp" with large sheets of sand paper, and find it messy, slow and impractical for kitchen and other long knives. I've also used and taught most of the common tricks (Magic Marker, mouse pad, stropping off the edge, etc.) and tests (glint test, Bic test, thumb drag, three finger test, thumb nail nail pushing up, edge on the thumbnail, etc.) with varying degrees of success depending on person, method and knife. Furthermore, there's no one best level of polish for all knives; nor is there a single universal best degree of symmetry.

Even after you've decided on particular tools, say a three stone, medium priced, water stone kit; there are still a lot of variables -- some important and some not.

As with so many things, sharpening is "horses for courses." If you have specific questions, go ahead and ask them.

Shun are given a 16* angle at the factory, but 15* will work just as well. There is absolutely no need to maintain a precise 16*, which is a good thing because without a very precise jig it would be impossible.

I sharpen most of my European made knives, including the Sab carbons and the Forschners to 15*ish, and my Konosuke Japanese lasers to a bit more acute than 10* -- call it 12*ish if you like; in any case it's steeper than 15*. The Sabs and Forschners benefit from double bevels, but I hardly ever go to the trouble.

The Euros probably do best on the oil stone kit, and the Konosukes on the water stones, but I sharpen the Euros by whim more than anything else, because "best" isn't that much better than any of the other methods. The Konos are more demanding, though.

It just depends,
BDL
post #3 of 8

You are a human being not a machine chef.gif The only way you will be able to maintain a 16 degree angle is if you use a sharpening gadget. That said, you will develop your "own angle" with time. When you have sharpened for many hours your muscle memory will kick in. At this time you might get a 70/30 - 60/40 or 50/50 bevel as your standard. Angles could be 20/16 degrees. This will be your edge! And if the knife cuts well, then why bother about the angle on the edge smile.gif

post #4 of 8
I've got to disagree somewhat with Retop. It's not that hard to distinguish between around 20 and around 15, nor is it particularly hard to learn to hold the different angles. But you do have to learn.

The way I teach is to use graph papers and draw a number of pictures of the desired angle and place them around your sharpening station so you can constantly refer to them. It takes more practice to learn to hold the angle steady than it does to learn to place the knife on the stone at something close to the right angle. The best feedback for a beginner as to determine whether or not his or her angle holding is reasonably consistent is something called the Magic Marker Trick. And make no mistake, consistent angle holding is critical.

I've described the Magic Marker trick a number of times here and in other forums; and it's been described numerous times by many other, better writers and sharpening experts on the web. If you want me to write it out for you, I will; but I'm not going to launch into that and/or a big sharpening tutorial without significant feedback from you.

As I already said, I don't like angle clamps, nor (as I haven't said until now) do I like the coin trick. I think both of them are very inaccurate and will slow down your ability to learn the important angles for your particular kit.

As to the ratios of symmetry to which Retop refers, they're extremely easy for beginners to see using the Magic Marker trick, and with practice the useful levels are just plain easy to see -- which doesn't mean the difference between 60/40 and 70/30 will be obvious. In fact, based on my own experience I think it's damn near impossible to split that hair, and for those who want useful but not extreme asymmetry I recommend a very easy to see ratio of 2:1 That said, asymmetry isn't necessarily right or wrong, it depends on the knife and its user(s). And again, I'm not going to tell you how to see it unless and until you show some desire.

BDL
post #5 of 8

Good answer BDL. Still I would say that one gets his own angle with time. I have tried it all myself. Best solution was to watch others sharpen (on youtube). From that I got an understanding and created my "own style". I got better edges for sure but still missed quite a lot of things like the geometry etc. All one can do is practise and learn from experienced people. It's hard to be a beginner in this field - I for sure made a lot of mistakes wink.gif

post #6 of 8

Good answer BDL. Still I would say that one gets his own angle with time. I have tried it all myself. Best solution was to watch others sharpen (on youtube). From that I got an understanding and created my "own style". I got better edges for sure but still missed quite a lot of things like the geometry etc. All one can do is practise and learn from experienced people. It's hard to be a beginner in this field - I for sure made a lot of mistakes wink.gif

post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Retep View Post

you will develop your "own angle" with time. When you have sharpened for many hours your muscle memory will kick in.  This will be your edge! And if the knife cuts well, then why bother about the angle on the edge smile.gif

 

This is very true but I think I'd put a titch of emphassis on the after many hours part. Because of that I'm in favor of the clamp on guides for those new to sharpening. They are cheap and easy to use. Any tool that helps some one new get started is a god thing IMO.

Consistency is the most important thing. It's not worth worrying about if your holding at 15 or 18 degrees as long as you are happy with the results and keep the angle as consistent as possible.

The guides should never be turned into a crutch or any permanent solution.

If your going to use uTube look for reliable guides like those from Jon at JKI or Murray Carter. There's a lot of video there that could teach more bad habit than good.

 

 

Dave

I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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post #8 of 8
I disagree with Duck Fat and Retop about "your own angle," Some knives simply don't work well if sharpened to too acute or too abtuse an angle. The best working angle for a given knife is never a matter of 1/2*; but two or three degrees will make a difference. For any given knife, you want to choose an angle which balances absolute sharpness against maintenance -- and that's going to depend on the knife alloy, the alloy's hardness, the uses to which you put the knife, and the knife's grind. An 12* edge on a Wusthof Classic will collapse extremely easily and require constant steeling; but on a Masamoto HC will be a joy. On the other hand, a Masamoto HC sharpened to 20* is just a knife.

Although a lot of very good sharpeners do recommend sharpening with clamps, including Juranitch, Bottorf, and Lee, I don't. Angle clamps will give you acceptable results, but only if you use the right clamps and clamp them to the right place on your knife. Unfortunately, they won't help you learn angle holding. If you want to be a freehand sharpener, the only way to learn is by... wait for it... sharpening freehand. You might as well start learning it from the beginning. It's not very hard, and you'll get acceptable results fairly quickly.

Finding the best angle (or at least an acceptable angle) for a knife which still retains its factory edge is sometimes a matter of duplicating the angle by "clicking in," to the factory angle -- which is actually pretty easy. More often though, you know by experience or advice what the angle should be -- which, for most of the knives in the beginning sharpener/homecook's universe is going to be 20*, 15*, or (rarely) 10*, and just go ahead and do your best and sharpen which ever angle(s) is or are (in the case of multi-bevel edges) appropriate. If you don't know the right angle, just ask.

As I said before, I DO recommend making lots of pictures of whatever angle you want and distributing them around your sharpening station so you can refer to them every stroke or so. I also strongly recommend using the Magic Marker trick.

While the Magic Marker trick won't tell you what your angle is, it will tell you whether or not your holding your angle consistently; and tell you soon enough and distinctly enough for you to correct your mistakes before you completely profile an inefficient angle,

Reading this may lead to the inference that my differences with Duck and Retop are extreme. No. We're all talking about getting to the same place, and each of our methods will get you there. We disagree about the best route, and that's not a terribly important disagreement -- especially if you don't mind being stuck in traffic.

BDL
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