Hey there! So glad you found your way back, and a huge welcome to that new person in the back. Yes, I see you back there, LOL. I thought today I might continue on about caring for your knives, specifically sharpening them. To be even more specific, what to use to sharpen them.
Now deciding on a sharpening system can be more than a bit intimidating considering all the choices out there. There's steels and crock sticks, Arkansas stones and Japanese water stones, flat systems and V systems, and more powered systems than you can shake a stick at! So what do you choose? Is there really one best set up? Or is one choice just as good as another, or does it really matter? Well let's take a look at them and see what there is to see, shall we?
Perhaps the simplest are the rods or stick, such as the sharpening steel included in most kitchen knife sets. However I cannot stress enough that every "sharpening" steel I've ever seen does not actually sharpen anything! They're designed to hone a knife, not sharpen it though for someone who does not understand the difference it can be almost impossible to see the difference. You see, as you use a knife, especially one with a very fine angle to the bevel (the angle that forms the actual cutting edge as opposed to the angle that forms the grind of the blade), the edge over time begins to roll a bit which causes a slight burr which can be felt by running your thumb along the side of the blade when it gets bad enough. By honing the blade, this rolled bit of metal can be pushed back to true; removing the burr and making the blade cut smoother. The trick is that this roll does not actually blunt the cutting edge but rather pushes it off to the side so that the edge is not really coming into contact with the material you're trying to cut effectively. When a knife is dull, the edge is worn down, not just pushed to one side or another; so honing the blade in an effort to push it back to true doesn't really do anything useful. To actually sharpen blade, a (hopefully) small amount of metal must be removed in order to restore the edge itself. Crock sticks and diamond impregnated "steels" on the other hand really do sharpen a knife. What's even nicer is that when they start getting worn with all the metal dust that will adhere to the surface of your stick, you can wash them with soapy water and return them to an almost new state. The bad thing is that it's awfully easy to get the angle wrong, making your job much harder.
Next up are more traditional sharpening stones. These come in a huge variety of styles and flavors ranging from simple one sided Arkansas stones, to two sided stones and three sided stones with a different "grit" on each side, to Japanese water stones, and a whole host of items in between including diamond "stones". To use most of these, you put some form of oil or liquid on the stone (water in the case of Japanese water stones) and glide the blade along the surface of the stone allowing the natural texture or grit of the stone to remove small amounts of metal until your edge is restored to where you want it. This is about as old school as you can get, and if you've got the skills it's even possible to make your own (I knew one guy who made a set of stones out of pieces of smooth but not polished granite and marble). What's more, they tend to be quite reasonably priced (well, the Arkansas stone ones any way) and available almost anywhere from sporting good stores and kitchen stores to your local Ace Hardware. Until you get really good however you'll want to use a guide or jig of some sort or, just like with the sticks, you'll find yourself getting kind of inconsistent with the angle you're trying to sharpen at.
Continuing on, we next come to what are often referred to as "V" sharpeners. These sharpeners have two pieces of sharpening material mounted to some kind of base or frame in a V shape, and you sharpen your knife by placing the blade into the V and drawing it through. The sharpening material used can be carbide steel, Arkansas stone, ceramic, or even diamond; and the sharpener can be small enough to fit in your pocket to large enough to stay on the counter or workbench even when not in use. They have a huge advantage in that you get the same angle every time you use it so you know the edge will be consistent; but unless you go for one of the upper end models, such as either the Extreme Edge V-sharpener or the Classic V-sharpener from Warthog, you're stuck with only one choice in angles. So unless you want your fillet knife being sharpened at the same angle as your hunting knife (not a good thing) you'll find yourself needing more than one.
The next step up is a style sometimes referred to as an "Aligner" sets. Available from companies such as Lansky, DMT, Gatco, and EZE-Lap, these sets feature a long, thin "stone" on the end of a guide rod that fits into a clamp that is designed to fit on the spine of your knife. Various slots in the base of the clamp allow you to be sure that the "stone" (which can be Arkansas stone, diamond, ceramic, or carbide steel) will always be at the same angle and at the same time allow you to decide which of 3 or 4 different angles you want to use. A bit more expensive than a plain stones (a basic set from Lansky starts at around $35.00), these sets help to guarantee that you're always at the right angle no matter how inexperienced you are or how shaky your hand can be.
Finally we come to the powered units, and to be truthful, I'm not really very fond of most of these. The majority of the powered units are based on the old bench grinder, and can put a new edge on your knife in a heart beat. They do however generally have two drawbacks to them. For one, at a price most people are comfortable paying they generally come with only one, or maybe two angles available for use. As a result, just as with the lower end V-sharpeners, you're forced to either buy several different units or else sharpen everything to the same angle. The second drawback is that, like the bench grinders some still use for sharpening, they can very quickly cause the blade of your knife to heat up, destroying the careful tempering that the knife maker put into your knife. As a result, your knife can end up softening over time and loosing it's ability to hold an edge or, potentially worse though thankfully rare, crystalizing and becoming brittle. Admittedly, if you sharpen your knives on a regular basis so that you never need to do any heavy sharpening then the odds of your ever running into this problem is small. None the less, there are really only two brands of electric sharpeners that I really feel comfortable recommending, WorkSharp and the water cooled Tormek; and when it starts at $399 for the smaller model, Tormek is really only suitable for the professional sharpener.
There are a few reasons I really love the Worksharp sharpeners, especially the Ken Onion edition. For starters, they're basically a scaled down version of the belt grinders used by professional knife makers without the $3000.00 price tag. For another, with their easily interchangeable belts and various after-market accessories, you can quickly sharpen everything from your prized Japanese ceramic sushi knife to your lawn mower blade. Try that with your Chef's Choice Angle Select! And perhaps best of all, you can vary the speed so that you can slow it way down when working on delicate kitchen knives, or really put the spurs to it when sharpening grandpa's old double headed lumber jack axe. Add in a price for the basic unit of only $69.95, $129.95 for the Ken Onion edition, combined with widespread availability (you can get it at Amazon.com, Northern Tool, Cabelas, and Bass Pro Shops just to name a few) and it's hard for me to understand why you wouldn't want this system.
Finally we come to honing and stropping systems. In all honesty, you don't really need these to keep your knives sharp; but they can make the difference between a decent sharpening job and a truly professional quality job. Both are designed to remove those little burrs that come with everyday use and tend to remain in minor ways after sharpening. The most basic is the "sharpening steel" that I mentioned earlier, the one that probably came with the set of kitchen knives you bought so many years ago. A strop is often made of a piece of leather impregnated with something like jeweler's rouge; and was a standard feature in many old time barber shops, especially the ones who offered to shave you with an old fashion straight razor. Or you can buy honing belts and wheels for many of the better electric sharpeners. Hell, you can even make your own with a bit of old leather and some jeweler's rouge from Ace Hardware. But if you really don't need this step, why do it? Simple.
You see, if you were to look at the edge of your knife under a really powerful magnifying glass after sharpening, you'd notice that you had some very fine scratches on the blade where the sharpener had "sanded" the edge. If you had finished the job using an extra fine grit, these scratches would not really effect the everyday cutting ability of your knife. However by honing the blade after sharpening you will effectively polish these super fine scratches away, which will lessen the drag caused when you cut something even more and result in an edge that will feel razor sharp even when the angle of the edge is rather blunt such as the 30 degrees commonly used for cleavers and axes. This is why I always finish with a honing belt whenever I'm hired to do a professional sharpening job (for more information on this, check out A Sharper Attitude).
So there you have a run down of most of the styles of sharpening systems out there. So now we really should talk about how to actually sharpen a knife, right? Well, ideally maybe. Only problem is I haven't yet found a way to describe how to do it in a written format that doesn't end up sounding like stereo instructions that were written by a Japanese engineer and then translated into English by a French company that uses Indian and Pakistani workers. So that part is going to have to wait until I finish my next video ramble which will cover that very thing. I promise you I have started working on it already, honest.
In the meantime, I hope this little ramble was useful in some minor way and I look forwards to seeing you again in this little corner of cyberspace I call my own. Until then I wish you clear skies and smooth sailing; and remember. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
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