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Learning how to sharpen

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

Hi!

 

I've been searching around and reading a lot on this forum (and others) for a few weeks, and I think I'm beginning to understand what's happening here.  I have had only the very worst knives (Farberware), and I've realized that for me to enjoy cooking more I need to get better with a knife, and part of that is having a better knife and keeping it sharp.

 

I just got a Victorinox 8" chef in the mail, and I want to use it to improve my knife skills and learn how to hone and sharpen.  I have no qualms about destroying this knife utterly (I'm convinced that I can't mess it up badly enough to make it perform like my Farberware knife, which is about as sharp as the dull end of the Victorinox).  I'm about to buy an Idahone ceramic honing rod.  Since my next knife will be a 10" chef, I've decided to go with the 12" hone.

 

The hard question has been whether to learn to freehand or go with a Chef's Choice sharpener.  I'm not interested in the sort of intermediary guide systems.  I consider this the beginning of my improvement in the kitchen, and since cooking for the two of us and an eventual family is of long term importance, I think I have the time for the learning curve involved with bench stones.  Also, since the knives I'm used to are so very awful, I think I can live with a poor-to-mediocre sharpening job on my Victorinox until my skills improve.  If the knife really gets messed up before that happens, I can easily replace it before moving to a nicer knife, given the Victorinox price point.

 

My precise questions have to do with bench stone size and sharpening technique.  Mark in the Chef Knives to Go videos appears to be using a 3" wide stone that's 0.5" high.  Are their tangible benefits to stone height and width?  I plan to get the Norton India coarse/fine combination stone (I know to hold off on using the coarse side), but the one I was looking at is 8"x2"x1".  The next size up is quite long and more expensive, and is still less than 3" wide.  Is a 2" width any significant disadvantage? I also plan to get Hall's hard Arkansas, and I have a fairly wide choice in size.  I don't have a set budget, but money is definitely an object here.  Will I regret paying less for less width?  What about height?  If I can get by okay on 2" wide Norton, is their any particular need for a 3" wide Hall's?  Is there a good reason not to get the Hall's hard Arkansas only 0.5" high, which would also save money?  And if I had to choose between 8"x3"x0.5" and 8"x2"x1", does height or width affect performance more?  Sorry to ask the same question six different ways, but these are the options I'm looking at.

 

I intend to follow BDL's suggestions on using the oil stones dry to simplify cleanup.  I'll get a brass brush and run the stones through the dishwasher regularly.  Do oil stones require flattening?  If so, do the methods described by Mark on CKtG work for oil stones (coarse grit sandpaper on a flat surface or maybe someday a diamond plate)?  Are there any major differences between Mark's knife sharpening technique on those videos and what one would do on an oil stone (aside from the splash of water)?  And using an oil stone "dry" means totally dry, right?  Not even a splash of water or drop of oil (I realize I could use a splash, I'm just wondering how dry is meant by "dry")?  Would this work on the Hall's as well as the Norton?

 

Finally, for aesthetic reasons and because fatigue isn't likely to be an issue given the smaller scale of my kitchen tasks, I am pretty sure I will move from Victorinox to German knives.  I particularly like F. Dick's 1905 series.  So pretty!  Is it true that I could sharpen those knives on oil stones, and that I probably wouldn't want to sharpen Japenese knives on oil stones?  Could I avoid needing water stones by choosing knives of more or less typical German steels?  I'm fairly certain the improved performance of keener, harder, lighter Japanese knives is just not really that important for chopping my daily veggies, whereas the aesthetics of a heavy knife and pretty handle...I don't know, I like that.

 

Sorry if much of this is collected in other posts; I have tried to keep questions thoroughly answered elsewhere out of this post.

 

Anyway, advice will be appreciated

JH

post #2 of 17

I use these Nortons

 

http://www.sharpeningsupplies.com/Norton-India-Bench-Stone-8-x-3-P23C25.aspx

 

8x3 has more stone and steel contact per stroke. These are only 1/2" high but using the stand the short stone is irrelevant. A full 1" is better if you have no stand. Long ago I used a Smiths 6x1.5" tri hone but after using an 8X3 waterstone I converted all stones to 8X3"

 

I use the stand for the Halls Arkansas after the India stones.

 

FWIW those Nortons need to settle in. They are very aggressive right out the box but mellow out after some use.

 

I am in the soapy water camp when using oil stones.

 

Jim

post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks, that makes sense. I'll be careful with the India stones at first. I won't be using the coarse until I have a little confidence and understand how this all really works.
What is the stand you mentioned? Can I just put something that won't slide under a stone to elevate it?

JH
post #4 of 17

Don't use the Norton coarse at all, until you can get a consistently good edge with the Ark. 

 

My Norton Indias are 8x2, but agree with Knife Savers that 8x3 are more efficient.

 

A 1" stone is thick enough to keep your knuckles off the bench with a non-slip mat as opposed to an actual sharpening stand.  1/2" could be problematic.  You won't know until you try.  I can't speak for knifesavers, but he probably uses a "universal" stone holder something like this one:

I use an old style Norton IB-50 sharpening station for my India and Arkansas stones, all of which are 8x2.

The new one is still limited to 8x2 and at least 3/4" high, but has a more streamlined look.  I use a piece of non-slip drawer liner for my larger water stones.  Maybe some day, I'll invest the $5 into a DMT sharpening mat.  Maybe.

 

BDL

post #5 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thanks to you both for the input!  A few more questions: Do oil stones generally need to be flattened?  Should I flatten before first use?  What's good for flattening Norton India and Hall's Arkansas?  Cheaper is better (unless it's not).

 

I've been using my new Victoronox daily for over a week (and we've been on a pineapple kick lately, so that includes two pineapples).  By the time my honing rod and stones arrive, it will have been two or three weeks of use with no maintenance whatsoever.  Will it likely be worth honing or should I move straight to the fine India?  This will be my first ever experience with either, if that makes a difference.  I'm not expecting success, just aiming for it.

 

Thanks again

JH

post #6 of 17
Quote:

Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

 

I can't speak for knifesavers, but he probably uses a "universal" stone holder something like this one:

BDL

I do have one of those for waterstones.

 

Here is a better shot of the previously linked Norton 8X3 1/2" stone and the holder they come with. The left is my Hall's Black on another holder.

 

 

They have 5 rubber feet to hold them steady. The stones just drop right on them and hold steady enough without shelf liner.

 

Hone first and if and only if that doesn't realign the edge do you go to a stone. The fresh India, regardless of grit, will be far too coarse for a slightly dull knife. 

 

No flattening should be needed for a long time on India or Arkansas. Get a brass brush to scrub them after use.

 

Jim

post #7 of 17

As a rule oil stones don't wear easily. and the India and Arkansas stones we're talking about are both types well within the "typical" range.  Consequently, dishing is not a problem unless they receive very hard use indeed.  Used for sharpening knives at home, an 8x2 or 8x3 might require flattening every ten years or so.

 

Flattening oil stones of these types is not easy to do with ordinary tools.  When and if they need flattening, your best course is to take them to the sort of stone mason who dresses marble and granite counter tops.

 

On the other hand, oil stones need regular, frequent and effective cleaning; or they will load up and cease to function.  run them through the dishwasher after every sharpening session.  After every four or five, you'll need the full treatment: Soak them in hot water to help loosen the grease and swarf which gets clogged in the pores, or put them in a pan of cold water and bring the water to a boil; afterwards, scrub the stones clean with a brass brush and scouring powder, again using lots of hot water; and finally run them through the dishwasher. 

 

The theory behind using honing oil, or any other liquid for that matter, is that liquids act to "float away the swarf" and prevent clogging.  There's probably some truth to the theory in that oil and soapy water will help delay clogging.  Unfortunately they only slow the clogging process a little.  Stones used with oil, soapy water, or plain water need exactly the same maintenance, and almost as often, as stones used dry.  

 

By "dry," I mean dry.  No Vermouth.  No nothing.

 

Dishing aside, you may want to have your stones dressed occasionally -- say every couple of years if you sharpen a lot.  The abrasive particles do round over, otherwise wear down, and get dislodged, and resurfacing as needed will keep the stone fast and efficient.  

 

If you want to try honing oil, you can make your own by mixing ordinary mineral oil with mineral spirits in equal parts.  Some guys make a big deal out of never being able to get oil out of stones; but -- not to put too fine a point on it -- that's total BS.

 

BDL

post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 

Hello again

 

So my honing rod just arrived in the mail (that was quick!), and I washed it in soapy water and dried it off with a towel, and then I realized I actually have no idea what sort of maintenance it requires.  I assume very little.  I did try to hone my knife, four strokes on each side, attempting to hold a 20* angle (is that an appropriate angle for a stamped Victorinox?).  It left black streaks on the ceramic hone...normal, yes?  I used very little pressure.  I rinsed and dried both and put them away.  Should I be scrubbing the hone or what now?  Should I attempt to completely remove the streaks left on it, or just give it a rinse and be done?

 

Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I did nothing whatsoever with the hone, but the knife is still far sharper than anything I've ever owned anyway.  I'm just going to try to hone it after each meal's worth of cutting and someday magically I will be good at it.  I need to internalize what 20* feels like, if that's even the right angle.  I've been trying to abide by "Steeling Away."

 

I'm using a bamboo cutting board.  I understand these are a bit harder on knives than wooden cutting boards, but since I actually want to use my current knife to learn how to hone and sharpen, I decided to keep it.  When I spend more on a knife and already have the confidence that I can put a reasonable edge on it, I'll certainly buy an end grain cutting board.  I'd like to restore my current bamboo board somewhat and take care of it properly so that it's at least food safe.  Are sanding and oiling even appropriate for bamboo?  I realize it's quite a bit different from wood.

 

Thanks for all the help.

JH

post #9 of 17
Thread Starter 
So my Victorinox is dulling, as expected. I am probably not steeling it well, but I am definitely getting better at it. Obviously the hardest part is and will be holding it at the correct angle, which I assume to be 20* for a Victorinox from the factory. But I don't want to stay with that angle. I don't have a protractor but I carefully folded some paper (Origami finally paying off...) to create something like a 16.875* angle. People on this and other forums have sharpened the same knife to more acute angles without major edge retention problems (beyond their normal problems).
So if one of the hardest parts of honing and sharpening is holding a consistent angle, why should I learn an angle I don't actually want to maintain?
How should I go about putting a roughly 17* edge (33-4* included) on my new Victorinox? To recap, the stones I have are coarse and fine Norton India and Hall's hard Arkansas. KnifeSaver has recommended I leave the India stones alone given the newness of my knife, but will it be practical to narrow my edge on the hard Arkansas?

Advice appreciated,
JH
post #10 of 17
A Victorinox is not that different from other knives. Put a relief bevel on them at the lowest angle you're comfortable with, raise the spine a little when you're near to the very edge - verify with the scratch pattern - and end with a final edge somewhere in the 17 degree area. Don't overpolish. I've the best results with very light stropping on a J1200 stone, after the basics being done on a J500. You may add a few strokes on rough - split - leather. Any finer stone is counterproductive with soft stainless.
post #11 of 17

I think, you're over-thinking sharpening.

 

I've noticed this about this forum, is that many new-to-sharpening people come on here and read so many posts about sharpening and seem to get intimidated as if it's some kind of black art, like alchemy, and only an elite few actually master it. I understand that there are a few, to several people, on this forum that are very good at it and knowledgeable and willing to share their advanced knowledge, and they can get very in-depth on the subject. Maybe too in-depth to a noobie. And that's fine... 

It's OK for them to share and we all benefit from it.

But, I think some people get the wrong impression from it. Mainly the OCD types.

 

I've got news for all of you who are in this same position and are very intimidated by learning to "free-hand", and are contemplating all the equipment they have to buy and it's making their head spin...

 

It's easy! Just try it! And don't spend that much money on all this sh*# at first! And most importantly, stop over-thinking it!

 

Just about every human in the world that has ever lived (until recently) had to learn how to sharpen their knifes. Or swords, or arrows, or spears.

 

Since the dawn of man and the invention of tools, every caveman had to do it. And they never had the luxury of having japanese waterstones. 

 

And... the ones who didn't learn how to do it, usually died off without reproducing. Meaning... YOU come from a long line, spanning generations and generations, of very competent free-hand sharpeners.

 

So, maybe you all should just buy a cheap knife and a cheap stone and just keep at it until you can skin a lion with it. Then, after that, I'd concentrate more on the advanced studies that come with wanting a super sharp knife that will cut you just by looking at it.  

post #12 of 17
Basically I do agree. That's why I'm somewhat reluctant towards guided systems. Sharpening is all about feeling what happens on the stone, and watching geometry getting changed, and not about counting strokes.
This traditional technique of free handing may very well be used on modern Japanese waterstones, though.
post #13 of 17

Some people do make it overly complicated. It's true, that reduced to is essence, sharpening is just rubbing a knife on a rock. 

 

However, a lot of people -- quite of few who've made an honest effort at doing it -- are so put off by the learning curve of sharpening on bench stones that they abandon sharpening altogether.  Fortunately, there are other ways.  "Guided tool and jig" systems like the Edge Pro or Wicked Edge are not only the best alternative for any number of cooks, but a lot of professional sharpeners use them as well.  Fifty years of freehand experience leads me to the conclusion that any one way, no matter how good, no matter if it's the one I favor, is the best way.

 

Regarding "the luxury of Japanese water stones..."  Water stones -- from any country -- aren't necessarily a luxury.  Some alloys won't sharpen well on anything else.  I'd elucidate, but am afraid to over-complicate.

 

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 4/27/13 at 6:07pm
post #14 of 17
Hi , I have just bought a Kai shun 7" santoku and its a hollow ground blade , although its super sharp ATM how often should I hone this blade ( I have a diamond rod) and therefore will go slow and gentle as to not over do but my other question is does a hollow ground mean only one side should be honed I'm new to these blades and I'm confused and don't want to ruin this blade
post #15 of 17

For advice on how to steel a knife, read Steeling Away.

 

Diamond steels are knife eaters, it doesn't matter how gently you use them.  They are especially inappropriate for a Shun knife made with VG-10.  Get something much less aggressive like a fine ceramic or a polished (aka "packer's") steel.  Good steels don't have to be expensive. 

 

And be aware that a steel is not a substitute for sharpening.

 

Whatever you think "hollow ground" means, you're probably wrong.  It means one of two things, either:

(1) The edge is concave as a result of being shaped on the circumference of a wheel; or

(2) It's got dimples in it (aka "dimples," aka "kullen" aka a bunch of other things) which supposedly help prevent food from sticking. 

 

A variation of the first group are "scalloped" edge, bread knives or slicers, are hollow ground on only one side and must be sharpened with a round file or "slip."  But even though Shun sometimes advertises it's santoku as having scallops, yours isn't one of those.   Rather, yours is in the second category.  The edge itself is "V" shaped, and sharpened on both sides.  You can (and should) steel both sides of your knife.  When it's time to sharpen in two or three months, you should sharpen both sides. 

 

BDL

post #16 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

For advice on how to steel a knife, read Steeling Away.

Diamond steels are knife eaters, it doesn't matter how gently you use them.  They are especially inappropriate for a Shun knife made with VG-10.  Get something much less aggressive like a fine ceramic or a polished (aka "packer's") steel.  Good steels don't have to be expensive. 

And be aware that a steel is not a substitute for sharpening.

Whatever you think "hollow ground" means, you're probably wrong.  It means one of two things, either:
(1) The edge is concave as a result of being shaped on the circumference of a wheel; or
(2) It's got dimples in it (aka "dimples," aka "kullen" aka a bunch of other things) which supposedly help prevent food from sticking. 

A variation of the first group are "scalloped" edge, bread knives or slicers, are hollow ground on only one side and must be sharpened with a round file or "slip."  But even though Shun sometimes advertises it's santoku as having scallops, yours isn't one of those.   Rather, yours is in the second category.  The edge itself is "V" shaped, and sharpened on both sides.  You can (and should) steel both sides of your knife.  When it's time to sharpen in two or three months, you should sharpen both sides. 

BDL
post #17 of 17
Thanks for the advice
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