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Proper sharpening angle for steak knives

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

I have a Ken Onion Shun steak knife (VG10 core steel).  The factory edge was less than spectacular so I profiled it and gave a final edge I am guessing is about 12 degrees.  I thought this blade could hande it but cutting through the crust of a well-seared steak will bend the edge.  The steel is in fact very hard and tough as the tip suffered no visible damage after accidentally being driven into a stainless appliance rather hard.  Perhaps the final angle is steeper than I believe, but should I get this bending at 12 degrees?  If so what would be an appropriate minimum angle for this sort of use?  Note: Of course nothing but the very tip of the plade ever touches the plate and I never cut straight down.

post #2 of 12

The factory bevel angle is nominally 16* on each edge, for a nominal 32* included angle, with 50/50 symmetry. 


For freehand sharpeners and anyone else not using a very accurate tool and jig setup, numbers like 16* and 12* are more fantasy than meaningful reality.  Given how Shuns are made, if your edge is visibly bending when you cut steak, your bevel angle is probably even more acute than 12*. 


As a practical matter, a 15* edge angle (or as close as you can get) with 50/50 symmetry is the best angle for VG-10 Shuns (including yours). 



post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

For freehand sharpeners and anyone else not using a very accurate tool and jig setup, numbers like 16* and 12* are more fantasy than meaningful reality. 

 Well I do have a 14deg wedge for a guide, but near the "narrow" tip where I've experienced bending it is difficult to judge, I may very well be less than 12deg.  For about $30 you can get a chinese knock-off Edge Pro, all Edge-Pro accessories fit it I believe, in furture I do intend to use one of these to set the primary angle.  From there I know I can hold an angle just but the sound I hear from the stone.


That being said I should think that vg10 can handle better than a 15deg angle against steak.  It is hard to sharpen vg10 but using a very hard Arkansas and some time I do get a nice, hair-wittling polished edge.

post #4 of 12

Hand sharpening knife tips frequently results in very acute angles.  You expect to lift the knife when sharpening the tip, but try and be reasonable.  If you don't know how to see the bevel, use the "Magic Marker Trick" to make visual inspection more efficient.  It's something you should use know and then just to keep yourself honest anyway. 


If you go too acute on a Shun, you'll sharpen off too much of the jigane.  With Shuns, as with most other san-mai (including so called "warikomi"), western knives, it's the jigane which stiffens a fairly thin hagane.  No matter what you think it should be able to handle, if you get the angle too acute it will take off too much jigane and the hagane will flex.  And vice versa.  In other words, if your edge is flexing your angle is too acute.  Back off. 


VG10 is an EXTREMELY EASY alloy to sharpen using synthetic water stones of ordinary quality (or better).  Arkansas and other "oil stones," whether naturals or synthetics are not a good choice. 


The Chinese EP clone is an interesting thought.  EPs are good gags if you have issues sharpening freehand or you need very precise angle holding.  If you want precise angles, you'll also need a "collet stop" and "angle finder" to make sure the angle at the intersection of abrasive and edge is constant from stone to stone. 


"Clicking in" by sound is an interesting trick.  I don't think I could do it.  In any case, unless you have very wide bevels, "clicking in" usually results in increasingly obtuse bevels as you proceed up the grit ladder.  If precise angles are your goal you're better off staying with the EP, collet stop and angle finder. 



post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the input BDL.  I never got anywhere near the jigane,  and I can see the bevel just fine, but just don't know it's angle near the tip.  But I do feel a bit silly now.  The blade's flexing only at the tip, where I am not sure of the angle, so the thing to do is, of course, to back off there.  It is interesting that my 6K wetstone worked better for the Shun than my Randall Bowie (hand-forged 440B stainless) which really needed the Arkansas to finish.  My Arkansas has only been used with water, though I suppose that doesn't matter much.  I don't care for the mess of waterstones, I am going to be experimenting with synthetic wetstones and lapping compounds.

post #6 of 12

I mostly use my Arks dry, or once in a while with plain or soapy water.  Dry is fastest, but you have to be very careful about keeping the stones clean.  I reserve my oil stone set, including its two Arks, for my carbon Sabatiers and stainless Forschners.  I love the Arks, but they're just too darn slow to do a good job on my harder, stronger, Japanese knives. 


Messy or not, water stones are just the fastest, best way to deal with strong steels.  And yes, messy is a good term.  Fortunately it only takes a little water to make everything clean; that messy mud is a big part of what makes water stones so good; but flattening is a pain.  Oh yes.  It's a pain. 


Even if you use water stones (and you should) in an EP, it's neater than full sized bench stones and the stones flatten so quickly. 


Loaded strops are an alternative to stones -- but a lesser one in my opinion because it's (a) more shine than sharp; and (b) tenacious burrs.  But some people like it, and if I'm not exactly a fan, I like to fool around with it sometimes.  When I strop -- which adds up to "once in a while" -- I use balsa strops individually loaded with boron, CBN or diamond compound on a Hand American strop base.  Green chromium compound is a thing of the past, don't bother.  If you're interested in trying that sort of thing, you can get an HA base and magnetized balsa strops from CKtG, but buy your CBN and/or diamond compunds from USP.  The stuff from Ken Schwartz is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too expensive.  And, FWIW, anything finer than 0.5u won't do anything which 0.5u won't. 


More FWIW, you don't absolutely need a base HA or otherwise, but it does make it easy to keep things straight, organized and off the counter.  Worth it. IMO. 

Edited by boar_d_laze - 11/15/12 at 4:52pm
post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 

That's good to know, thanks.  What form of the compounds do you use, and are those right for leather too?


For years I was happy to use inherited dime-store knives, that I sharpened with a tiny 1x3" 1K diamond hone, the Arkansas and a double sided alumina from China, all of which I paid less than $10 for.  I'm enjoying the upgrades.

post #8 of 12

Right now I'm using Hand American boron compound and Hand American diamond spray on balsa.  But since posting to you last, I ordered 50g bottles of CBN in three different grades from USP.  A 50g bottle should last years.  I still need to order some clean boards. 


What is it you want to know about leather? 

  • You can't use the kind of leather belt strops you'd use for a razor to do a good job of sharpening, polishing or truing kitchen knives.  The knives are too long, and the edge will roll no matter how good you are;
  • Leather attached to a hard flat backing is great for stropping, whether loaded with compound or not.  I find the HA magnetic leather strips very convenient and useful for final polishing / deburring, but they're not the cheapest way to go;
  • Uncharged leather is great for truing, knives which are too hard, too asymmetric, and/or too thin to steel.  But so are newsprint, manilla folder board, and a bunch of other stuff; 
  • Some leathers are better than others for different purposes; and
  • Many sharpeners use strops charged with extra fine compound or very fine stones to "touch up"  (although if you don't go through the process of raising a burr, chasing the burr and deburring you're probably just polishing and not sharpening, at best; and creating a wire edge at worst).  



post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 

I knew I should have been more specific.  USP sells the stuff as "slurry" or "compound, and in 2-3 concentraions of each.  Which do you think would work best.  Thanks for all the other info.



post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 

BDL if you were thinking about answering that last one you needn't bother on my account.  I have Asperger's and my brain runs a little slow at times, but I think I can figure out which to use, and USP is always there to help too of course.

post #11 of 12

My son has Asperger's.  Small world.


Slurry because it's easier and neater to apply evenly.  "Heavy" because why not?


Get a few small squeeze bottles at a cheap craft store, and use them to apply the slurries to your strop.  Spray bottles are even better.  Get separate strops for each slurry (or compound), never apply one over another.  Replace your strops when they get cut or gouged.  Replace leather strops when they get crusty. 


Use a piece of plastic with a flat edge, a stiff piece of slick paper (such as a piece cut from a manilla folder) or -- if you can afford $0.75 a small plastic putty knife to spread the slurry as evenly as you can on the strop. 


Use just enough slurry to get a fairly even coating.  Excess slurry will get scraped off by the knife when you sharpen.  You don't want to waste stropping compound, but at USP's prices it's not an economic tragedy if you waste some.  Even their diamond compounds and slurries are (relatively) affordable. 


"Slurry" means the abrasives are held in a water based solution.  In USP jargon, "compound" means they're held in an oil/soap combination as a sort of loose paste.  Compound is more difficult to apply, more difficult to clean off your hands and clothes, more difficult to get off the knife (but really not that big a deal) and has a much greater tendency to irritate the skin.  Compound will stay fresh a little longer after its applied, but that doesn't mean anything in this context.


Compared to thick, oil-based compounds, slurries rock. 


Some people don't react particularly well to slurry either, so try not to get it on your clothes or skin.  That doesn't mean you have to wear gloves, but be aware.


After using charged strops, store them in paper envelopes or plastic bags, or at least wrap them in cling wrap to keep them from picking up contaminants which may damage your knife, or developing bald spots if they come in contact with water. 


After charging your strop with a slurry, give it a few minutes to dry.  Always strop with a dry knife. 


Unless you've been doing this for years, you have no idea how good the new stuff is.  The classic strop charges, chromium dioxide (whether in paste or powder) and red rouge suck. 



Edited by boar_d_laze - 11/17/12 at 11:45am
post #12 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the extra info, that was helpful.  I will be ordering the cbn next week, slurry and compound.  I have a quantity of balsa on hand of various densities [RC model airplane stuff] and will be starting off with that, also going to try charging some mylar.  There's a message in your inbox you might find interesting.



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