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TOPIC: Kitchen Knife Strategies

Kitchen Knife Strategies 1 year 9 months ago #8266

  • peppersass
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I started a new thread because I think the title will show up a little better in searches.

A significant portion of my sharpening activity is focused on kitchen knives. Like many cooking enthusiasts, I have a collection of German J.A. Henckels and Wusthof kitchen knives acquired over about 20 years -- some purchased for specific needs, some received as gifts. I also have random kitchen knives that came from heaven-knows-where, plus a few cheap ($10) disposable Scandinavian paring knives. Finally, I have one Masamoto VG10 Gyutou 8.2" knife, but I've been using it sparingly until I determine the right sharpening and maintenance strategy.

We like to cook here, so most of these knives get a lot of use on a daily basis and it's a real challenge keeping them sharp. And for me, extremely sharp kitchen knives are the holy grail: they're safer than dull knives and they make the prep chore lots of fun.

Unfortunately, most kitchen knives, even the ones you get from high-end kitchen stores, aren't made of very good steel. This is a real problem when they're in heavy daily use. In light of this, I'd like to get an idea of what strategies WE users employ to maximize sharpness and life of the edge while minimizing the amount of sharpening required.

Sharpening Angle

In terms of sharpening angle, I'm with Clay: angles less than 20 degrees don't hold up for very long on my German knives made from X50CrMoV15 or similar steel. It's a real trade-off between having a razor-sharp edge and how long the edge lasts. All in all, though, 20 degrees still provides an acceptably sharp edge, provided I can keep it that way. Therein lies the rub. It only takes a couple of uses before the edge isn't so wicked. It's still acceptably sharp, but not as sharp as I'd like. Within a couple of weeks the knife is still "sharp", but it won't shave paper.

Of course, none of this applies to the "hybrid" Masamoto. The longevity is much better, the sharpening angle is 15 degrees and the bevel depths on each side are different. I may do another post with questions on how best to sharpen and maintain this knife. For now, I'd like to focus on the every-day knives.

Initial Sharpening Progression

So far, I've been following a standard WE progression: raising a burr with the 100 grit stone, then doing a few alternating strokes with the 100 grit stones to remove the burr, then running through the 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000 diamond stones, then the 1200/1600 ceramic stones, then the 5-micron and 3.5 micron strops. I use a light touch with all the stones. The result is a wicked-sharp edge that'll shave paper easily. The edge is always quite smooth under magnification, though not always to the point of being reflective. In other words, I'm happy with the edge I get.

But given the use of these knives and the lack of longevity of the edge, I'm wondering if going through the entire standard progression is really worth the effort. Would it be just as effective from a sharpening and longevity standpoint to terminate the progression earlier? What are you folks doing?

Using a Smooth Steel

I've tried steeling to restore the edge before each use. Following advice here and elsewhere on the web, I use a completely smooth F. Dick steel. However, results have been less than stellar. My impression is that that the smooth steel isn't restoring the edge to any appreciable degree. Could be that I'm not doing it right, though I've tried various techniques, including holding the steel at 90 degrees with the point on the cutting board and swiping the knife down at the approximate sharpening angle, and I've tried it with the steep pointed away from me and swiping the knife forward like TV chefs do it. I've tried exceedingly light strokes all the way to applying a small amount of pressure. I've tried doing just a few strokes and doing a lot of strokes. Again, I'm feeling that the smooth steel isn't really doing a whole lot. Why not?

Using a Ceramic Steel

I had a small very smooth ceramic steel that was part of my old EP Apex system (no longer in use), and have had some success restoring the edges of kitchen knives with it. I recently bought a larger version with a handle to use in the kitchen. A few very light strokes along the ceramic steel brings back some of the original sharpness, though not as much as I'd hoped for. Seems to me that the need to use a ceramic steel indicates that the problem isn't that the edge is rolled over, but that the edge needs to be re-sharpened. Would you folks agree with that assessment? Could this be why the smooth steel isn't doing its job?

Maintenance/Touch-Up Strategy

Once the knife has dulled to the point where the ceramic steel isn't improving the edge, it's time to touch up with the WE. But at what grit should I begin? I guess this really depends on how long I've waited before touching up, which is a question in itself, but let's assume that as soon as the edge gets to the point where it can just barely shave paper, it's time to touch up. I'm guessing this will be every couple of weeks for a daily-use knife, perhaps four weeks max. Given that criterion, at what grit would you begin your touch-up?

Thanks in advance for any sage advice you can offer!
Last Edit: 1 year 9 months ago by peppersass.
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Re: Kitchen Knife Strategies 1 year 9 months ago #8270

  • Geocyclist
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Hey Pepper,

Here is what I can add:

Initial sharpening progression: I think you are correct to go to finest grit stone. Unless you like a real "toothy" edge this should be the best course.

Steeling: Assume you have a very sharp edge. After light use feel the edge. I can feel the burr on my Wusthofs going back and forth from one side to the other. After steeling 1 stroke on 1 side only I can feel the burr completely on the the the other side. 1 stoke on the other side I can feel it move back. From there I use very light pressure and try to get the angle just right so the burr is centered. If you could cut perfectly perpendicular 100% of the time, and not hit bone you knife would stay sharp a long time. Fact is we make less than perfect cuts. The edge is rolled, deformed, to one side. Steeling just realigns the edge you add. It doesn't "sharpen" the edge. "Sharpening" means to remove metal by abrasion to form/repair the edge. So the bottom line for steeling is you should be able to feel a burr on one side before hand and afterwords that burr should be straightened out.

For steeling technique you only need 2 good strokes per side. A bad stoke can make the edge worse than when you started. I start with an angle I know is too acute, then raise it slightly until you feel the edge bite, check the burr.

A ceramic steel is sharpening, even if just slightly. I have one of these for small touch ups.

The answer to touch ups is it depends on how much you use the knife between touch ups. When steeling does not provide the desired results lock it up in the WE and try a stop, test paper cutting while still in the vice. If the the is still not acceptable then try a few strokes with your finest stone (that you used to sharpen with). So on and so on, keep dropping down to coarser stones as needed. I touch up frequently so I normally don't damage the edge beyond what the finest stone will take care of. Normally stropping daily takes care of my edges.
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Re: Kitchen Knife Strategies 1 year 9 months ago #8272

  • KenBuzbee
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I use a different technique.

First, let me say, I typically use Roselli Ultra High Carbon kitchen knives. They have a very hard steel that holds a great edge for quite a while.

I sharpen these on Naniwas down to 10,000 at 24° inclusive (you didn't say if your angles were inclusive or per side) This leaves a very nicely polished bevel.

In a couple weeks, if they need touched up, I give them a dozen strokes on a Sharpmaker at 30° establishing a small micro bevel. I'll do that 8-10 times before re-establishing a full bevel.

Process is quick and easy to maintain.

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Re: Kitchen Knife Strategies 1 year 9 months ago #8283

  • Allgonquin
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I've been going with 18 degrees on my Henckels, so I think 20 is fine and may last a tad longer. I only go through 1000 and don't bother with the strops or my ceramics. I feel that the edge is toothier and more useful for kitchen tasks. When I resharpen I usually start with 800 - I don't let the edge get too bad before I resharpen.

I have had good luck with my Henckels steel, which is a textured (not smooth) steel. I give it two VERY gentle alternating ( front -back - front- back) passes and it definitely brings the edge back to better than it was on the thumbprint dyno (equivalent to the butt dyno for cars).


Objects in closer are mirror than they appear
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Re: Kitchen Knife Strategies 1 year 9 months ago #8376

  • peppersass
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Thanks for the comments! Very helpful.

Since posting I sharpened most of my everyday kitchen knives and I'm very pleased with the results -- all of them are wicked sharp. We'll see about longevity.

I sharpened one, a 6" Wusthof Classic Cooks knife, before I did the original post. I re-profiled it to 20 degrees on each side with the 100 grit diamond stones and went through my entire progression (200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200 ceramic, 1600 ceramic, 5u strop and 3.5u stop.) Soon after sharpening, the knife went through some pretty rough handling by relatives cooking in our kitchen over the holidays. Predictably, it lost its razor edge. It wasn't completely dull, but it would no longer shave paper.

My first attempt at touch up began with the 800 grit stone and continued through the rest of the progression. It was a total failure. The knife wasn't appreciably sharper than when I started. It was only after reading a post from Phil elsewhere on this Forum that I realized I needed to raise a burr with the first stone in the touch up progression. Phil calls it a "micro burr". This makes a lot of sense to me -- a knife that's no longer wicked sharp probably has areas where the edge has rolled over, has been flattened, has broken off, etc. Just swiping with fine stones might restore a mirror finish along the bevel, but it won't necessarily fix a damaged edge. For that, you need to restore the bevel to the point of raising a burr.

I began again with the 800 grit stone, this time scrubbing in order to raise a burr. But even after 20 or so scrubbing strokes I barely got a burr at the heel of the knife and it was clear that it would take a lot more scrubbing to get a good burr. So I dropped down to the 600 grit stone. This time I got a burr along the entire length of the blade with just a few scrubbing strokes. The burr was quite small, which is probably why Phil calls it a micro burr. It was easily detectable with a Q-tip and I could just snag a fingernail on it. After some experimentation, I found that The Edge Tester from The Razors Edge is a great tool for determining burr status along the length of the blade, especially when the burr is small. The flat area at the end of the tool gets stopped by the burr when you push up along the bevel.

Once a burr was raised on each side, I ran through the rest of the progression using half the strokes I used when originally sharpening the blade. I still got a nice mirror finish and a wicked sharp edge. Shaving paper was no problem.

I suspect that if I protect the kitchen knives from abuse by the family, and touch them up frequently, I'll be able to start at the 800 grit stone.

On steeling, I think I've raised this point before, but it seems counterintuitive to me that you straighten a rolled edge by running the blade edge-first along the steel. I think if the edge is rolled more than just a little, this would just bend the rolled edge over even more, perhaps flatening and/or breaking it. I would think that the rolled edge would have to be nearly vertical in order to straighten it by running the leading edge against a smooth steel. Seems to me that running the knife along the steel spine first would be more effective for unrolling the edge. Does this make sense?

I tested this theory on a recently sharpened knife after cutting some vegetables. I ran the knife spine first back along the steel on both sides of the edge a couple of times, then stroked forward a couple of times. This appeared to restore the egde, but I need to do more rigorous testing on a variety of knives to be sure. Also, I need to try The Edge Tester on a rolled edge to see if it can detect it.
Last Edit: 1 year 9 months ago by peppersass.
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Re: Kitchen Knife Strategies 1 year 9 months ago #8384

  • jendeindustries
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This is a nice writeup, Peppersass! :)

I see a couple of things popping out at me specifically in regards to Wusthoff and Henckel knives. The steel one those is decidedly soft. With the German school of cooking, they pretty much use their sharpening steel every time they pick up the knife to cut. The material of the knife is softer so it will easily abrade from the sharpening steel.

Because of the soft properties of the blade steel, refining past 2K-3K or the 1200/1600 stock ceramics makes the edge of the edge too thin/weak to stand up to any prolonged use - as you are experiencing. It will most likely roll first, but if it's too thin/refined, it will simply chip out.

I agree with the ~18-20 degree per side recommendation made by Allgonquin, and his light touch steeling technique is essential to prevent burnishing/pushing the edge entirely over and fatiguing the already soft metal. Some of the best Henckels and Wusthoffs I've sharpened have been to 1500 grit at about 20-22 degrees per side. They should slice cut paper quite nicely, and with good technique, they can shave hair and even push cut.
Tom Blodgett
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