Believe it or not, there’s no recipe today…
I know, I know… How dare I?! My daring aside, we chef’s have to maintain our tools from time to time. And since tool maintenance is such an important part of having a smoothly running kitchen, I want to take the time to devote an entire post to tool maintenance; today’s topic is our knives. Specifically, sharpening them. I hope, in the fullness of time, to take some of my blog space and time to talk about some of the other aspects of kitchen tools, including choosing them, purchasing them, and maintaining them. Those ideas can be addressed later. Today is about sharpening knives.
I’ll try to lay this out in a logically progressed manner, so that anyone, whether they’ve done this before or not, can follow it.
How do I sharpen my knives?
The following is a list of the tools that I suggest everyone who cooks should have in their kitchen.
- Knives worth sharpening!!
- A diamond stone (600 grit – green)
- A “Polishing Stone” (1000+ grit)
- Stone Oil (for oil-stones)
- A clean, level surface
In addition to the 600 grit stone that I recommended above, I also have an 800 grit stone, giving me three levels of sharpening.
All things being equal, I highly recommend that you buy your diamond stones on a block, like you see here in the picture. I find the very thin ones to be quite difficult to use.
What do I do?
I highly recommend reading and watching everything by Bob Kramer. He’s a master, and one of the resources that I turn to when I want to do some fine-tuning on my own technique. Yes, I’m quite good. But everyone can learn from others, and Bob Kramer is the person I turn to most frequently when I’m looking to brush-up on my skills with a stone. Here are a few links that should get you started:
- Bob Kramer: 5 ways to tell if your knife is sharp enough
- Bob Kramer knives and some secrets about knife sharpening techniques
- And finally:
- How to sharpen knives
- And for those who want to see the master’s home site:
- Bob Kramer: Kramer Knives
There’s a lot of good information here. Bob Kramer is not just the master, he’s also a highly skilled instructor. His steps on how to tell if your knife needs sharpening, how to choose the right knife sharpener for you and how to sharpen, are perfect for anyone at any level of understanding. He really knows what he’s doing, and is able to break it down effectively for any reader.
How I do it:
1. What kind of Blade and what kind of Edge do you have?
- The kind of blade that you use will determine the style and technique that you use to sharpen the blade, and how it will interact with the stone.
- Take a look at this site to understand the differences in blade-type: Blade Type
- I use a “Western Style” blade for most of my cooking. I have, and very much enjoy using, a Santoku knife. Sharpening it requires a different style and pattern from sharpening my chef’s knife.
- This is a very important question to answer, since it will affect the way that you sharpen your knife. The following are the two most frequent grinds that I see in kitchen knives.
- “Hollow Ground”
- If you’re using a hollow-ground blade, you can simply lay your blade flat against the sharpening stone and let the shape of the blade guide the sharpening process.
- “Flat Ground”
- I prefer these, as they encourage me to determine the shape and angle of my blade myself.
- Use this Wiki site to determine which blade shape best describes your knife: Grind
2. First I assess my blade.
- I hold my blade up, angling it so that the light bounces off the very edge of the blade.
- I then run my eyes slowly, carefully along the blade’s edge, taking a look at the shape of the edge, noting places where there are warps in the blade, as well as any wear and tear issues that have occurred since my last sharpening; things like knicks, dings, and cracks.
- Obviously, warped and/or cracked blades may be beyond saving, depending on how bad the problem is. And this is the time I look for these problems.
- Next I feel the edge with my fingers.
- [Insert appropriate “Do Not Try This At Home” comment here…]
- Using a very light touch, I carefully run my index or middle finger along the side blade’s edge. I do not put my fingers directly on the blade – I run them along the side, where I can feel the imperfections of the edge without any fear of getting a cut. This is to verify what I thought I saw when I looked at the blade’s edge, as well as discover other issues that I may not have been able to see. Believe it or not, I can “see” the imperfections of the cutting edge better with my fingers than with my eyes.
2. Once I have a clear understanding of the imperfections on my edge, if there are any (hopefully it’s just time to sharpen…), I pull out my stones. Sometimes I have waited so long between sharpening that I’ll need to use more than one of my stones. Here’s how that works:
- If my blade is really dull, I’ve dropped it on the floor (GASP!!) and it was damaged, or there are problems with the cutting edge, I’ll start with either the 600 grit or 800 grit stone.
- Which stone first?
- The smaller number corresponds to a more rough cut on your blade.
- Use 600 grit when: You have to completely reshape the blade’s edge or fix bigger problems or edge issues. I most often use 600 grit on my knives once the initial factory hone wears off, and it’s time for me to sharpen my blade for the first time. Factory edge sharpening is different from home-sharpening.
- Use 800 grit when: You have minor edge imperfections that need to be worked on, or you’re just conducting your routine sharpening.
- Use a Polishing Stone when: You’re fanatical about the hone on your blade, you want it to always be as close to perfect as it can be, and your relationship with your blade is as good, if not better, than it is with your skillet. I’m not sure if I should admit that this does, in fact, describe me.
- Which stone to use is a judgement call. How big are the issues that need to be dealt with? If you’ve got to re-shape your edge significantly, or need to fix something big, start with the 600 grit stone. For most people and most sharpening needs, an 800 grit stone will manage just fine.
3. Grease the surface of the stone.
- How you do this depends on what the stone needs. Most “Diamond Stone” stones are designed to be used under running water, so for those stones you’ll simply turn on the sink and start to hone your blade.
- Most stones that are actual stone are best used with an oil lubricant.
- I use water for my diamond stones, and coconut oil for my polishing stone.
4. Sharpen the blade.
- I’ve covered this pretty well already, but here are my basic steps:
- For my “Western Style” chef’s knife, I hold only the handle, and anchor the blade with my index finger.
- I set the angle that I’m using, and then use a circular motion to sharpen each portion of the blade.
- For my Santoku knife, I hold the blade with one hand and the handle with my other.
- I set the angle that I’m using, and then use long, strait strokes to sharpen each portion of the blade.
5. Clean up the blade, and assess your work.
- As soon as I’m done sharpening, I rinse the blade with hot water, and then re-assess the edge to determine if I have solved all of the issues that I identified.
- As above, first I look. Once I’ve looked carefully, then I run my finger along the edge to make sure that the edge is smooth and sharp, and that I didn’t cause any new issues with the sharpening process.
- Once I am satisfied, I wash the blade with soap, dry it with a towel, and replace it in the knife rack.
6. Clean and tend the stones.
- This is nearly as important as tending your blades. Your stone needs to be properly cleaned, dried, and stored in order to be useful for you the next time you use it. Not to mention still being usable 5 years from now…
- The oil-stones should be rinsed with hot water, dried with a towel, and left to air-dry for several hours somewhere they won’t be affected by the kitchen-mess you’ll probably be making soon. After all, we sharpen before cooking, not after, right?
- The water-stones should be rinsed thoroughly with water, and probably a moist towel. These should also be dried with a towel, and then left to air-dry somewhere out of the way.
- Don’t forget to put these away after they’ve had a chance to dry out…
- Do you sharpen your own knives?
- Do you sharpen your knives often enough?
- Do you know what kind of stone you’re using? Is it a water-stone, or an oil-stone?
- Do you know what the grit-count of your stone is?
- Do you have a preference in your blade-type?
- Do you have a preference in your edge-type?
- Did you know the difference between “Hollow Ground” and “Flat Ground” before reading this post?
- Do you have any other questions or thoughts for me?