The Cutting Edge

A while ago, I posted about the three basic types of kitchen knives that everyone should own.  I added a honing steel into the mix because it’s important to keep the edge of the knife straight and balanced.  There’s a misconception that a honing steel is used to sharpen knives.  The constant cutting, chopping, and slicing will cause the blade edge to curl and bend at a microscopic level.  The honing steel simply straightens out the edge, not sharpen it.  Eventually, the edge of the knife will start to dull and you’ll just compensate by using more force to cut slice and dice, which will actually dull the knife even more.  The sharpening process actually removes small bits of steel, exposing a fresh blade edge.  Sharpening has brought new life into my knives and its fun to look for things to cut in the kitchen.  My knives are just as sharp as the day I purchased them, if not better.

There are many products made for sharpening knives and I have found using sharpening stones to be the best option.  Most sharpening stones are called whetstones.  There are also waterstones, which are essentially whetstones that need to be soaked in water before use.

The waterstones in their original packaging.

From top to bottom: 180/320 grit combination, 1000 grit, and 6000 grit waterstones.

Coarse – Around 200 to 800 grit. Use for knives that have completely lost their cutting edge, have small knicks that need to be shaved off.  Move on to the medium grit to refine the edge afterwards.  I used this to restore the blade on my Chinese cleaver.  It had never been sharpened in the 7 years that I have had it and since I’ve sharpened it, I’ve been using it much more.

Medium – Usually refers to stones around 1000 grit.  Most knives do not have to be sharpened beyond this grit.  I recommend starting with this grit if you start to notice a degradation in cutting performance.  If you really are not satisfied with the edge, then move on to a fine grit stone to finish the job.

Fine – Can range from 3000 – 8000+ grit.  Sometimes referred to a finishing stone or a polishing stone.  I use a 6000 grit stone to finish my Japanese knives, but the cutting performance between finishing a knife with  a 1000 grit stone and a 6000 grit stone isn’t that distinguishable for everyday slicing and dicing.  There’s a slight noticeable difference, but it’s not like going from a butter knife to a steak knife to cut meat.

Here are some tips:

  • There are plenty of videos online on knife sharpening, watch them.
  • Some sharpening stones come with instructions, follow them.
  • Know the optimum cutting angles for your knives.  My Global knives are recommended to be sharpened at an angle between 10 and 15 degrees, I sharpen mine at 11.5.  My Shuns are sharpened at a 16 degree angle.  My Chinese cleaver however, did not come with any specifications, so I defaulted to a 20 degree angle, which is working very well.
  • Sharpening takes practice.  It takes a bit of time to get the motion and the feel right.
  • Don’t use your finger to test for sharpness, if you do, umm…bandaids.  In fact, see below.  It’s a trick I learned to test the sharpness of a blade.

Easy Sharpness Test

Fold a paper towel in half six times

Becareful of your fingers!  Use gentle pressure and make a slice down the middle, staring from the heel of the knife edge all the way to the tip.  Don’t force the knife down.

The deeper the cut, the sharper the edge. The cut should be smooth and clean.  This cut right here is pretty deep, and it tells me the blade is scary sharp.

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