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Sharpening 101.8 – The Sharpening Steel


Pictures of sharpening steels are boring, so here is a picture of some snazzy armour from the Gräz Armoury instead.

Good morning everyone.

While trying to come up with some sort of subject matter this morning that didn’t require any effort on my part, I realized that I had neglected to broach the topic of sharpening steels in my series on sharpening. Heavens forfend! We can’t have that!

After you have sharpened your cooking knives and have used them for a while, you’ll notice that they start to get dull again, sometimes very quickly if you make the mistake of using them on a hard surface. Your knives aren’t necessarily dull (yet), but the cutting edge has gotten misaligned from the plane of the blade. The fine edge produced by sharpening a blade is actually a rather fragile thing, as the steel has been made so thin at the edge that it is fairly easily bent if it’s pushed into something hard, or if you tend to move the blade sideways as you cut. Once the edge has become misaligned, you can straighten it out again with a sharpening steel, rather than resharpen the blade.

A sharpening steel is more accurately defined as a steel hone. It removes very little, if any, steel from the blade upon which it is used. What it does is provide a hard, smooth surface with which to work the fine edge of the blade back into alignment. You can often determine if your blade needs to be steeled by using the fingernail test that you use for checking for burrs while sharpening. Take the edge of your fingernail and run it from the center of the blade face out to and over the edge. If your fingernail stops at the edge or doesn’t pass over easily, your fine edge is bent and you need to steel your blade.

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Hack-It-Yerself, Make it Sharp

Replacing a Knife Handle


Figure 1 – A beloved old knife with a broken handle. Click any picture to enlarge.

Good morning everyone.

One of our favourite kitchen knives is an old Sabatier 4” paring knife that we bought around 30 years ago. It’s the first knife I reach for (when it happens to be clean) when I need a small knife for food preparation, and over the years it has been used, abused, and run through the dishwasher a zillion times. A couple of years ago, the plastic handle finally cracked badly enough to where a big chunk of it fell off, and we had to set the knife aside until I got around to replacing the handle, a job that I just completed rather successfully, in fact.

I would think that this is a fairly common problem for beloved old knives, so I’m going to take you through the steps that I went through in replacing the handle (scales is the proper term) in case some of you might want to try it. A word of warning though: this was my first time at replacing a full length tang type of handle and I didn’t look up any instructions. I just did what I could see that needed to be done to get what I wanted, and it pretty much came out how I wanted. It would have been nicer if I hadn’t tried to saw off one of my fingers with a hacksaw, but you can’t have everything.

This is going to be a rather long article, so if you’re not interested in the knife repair, now is the time to bail. The handle repair starts after the jump.

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Sharpening 101.7 – Stropping and Polishing


Paddle strops. From the bottom: Lee Valley strop, Butz strop, four sided razor strop

Good morning everyone.

Today we’re going to talk about polishing the edge on your bladed tools by using leather strops. Stropping is typically associated with straight razors and barbers stropping them on a hanging strop, but stropping can improve the performance of just about any already sharp blade.

A strop is usually a piece of heavy leather, close grained or suede, and used either loose or mounted on a holder or a piece of wood. It can be as simple as an old leather belt or a fancier store-bought strop. The leather can be used bare or charged with various honing compounds. I like to use both bare and charged strops, as the honing compound quickly removes small scratches and the bare leather puts a mirror shine on the edge.

Strops that you buy from stores like Lee Valley or Woodcraft are usually two-sided paddle strops that use fine suede leather that isn’t charged with a honing compound. There are also four-sided strops available, such as the topmost strop in the lead picture. That is a German-made strop that has fine slate on one side, a close-grain leather strop for using red rouge, another side for black rouge, and a bare close-grain leather side for final polishing. It’s made for straight razors but it works great for wood carving tools too.

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Sharpening 101.6 – Sharpening a Serrated Blade


The teeth of a tiger shark Image: Wiki

Good morning everyone.

Today we’re going look at sharpening serrated blades. It just so happens that I have an old Wusthof bread knife that we’ve had for at least 30 years to serve as my demonstration vehicle. It’s been badly abused over the years and poorly maintained. When I was looking for a test knife, I examined the thing and was appalled. I asked my wife if she had been sawing conduit with it, but she claimed to not know what I was talking about, and even called me a looney old bastard. A likely story.

What is a serrated blade? (Why the hell are you reading this if you don’t know what a serrated blade is?) Here is what the Wikipedia entry has to say:

A serrated blade has a cutting edge that has many small points of contact with the material being cut. By having less contact area than a smooth blade, the applied force at each point of contact is relatively greater and the points of contact are at a sharper angle to the material being cut. This causes a cutting action that involves many small splits in the surface of the material being cut, which cumulatively serve to cut the material along the line of the blade.”

That sounds close enough for a general description, although the cutting action is more complex.

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Sharpening 101.5.3 – A Partial Review of the Work Sharp KTS

The Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener. Image: Work Sharp

Good afternoon everyone.

Today I’d like to give a partial review of the Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener (WSKTS). I say partial review because I’m only going to look at one function of the tool, that of sharpening knives with a 20° bevel, or the majority of knives that you find in a typical home kitchen. I might do a review on the other functions of the tool in the future, depending on where we end up in this series on sharpening things. I wasn’t planning on doing this review so soon after the articles on sharpening machines, but things worked out as to where I acquired a WSKTS shortly after the last article, and it makes a suitable follow-on.

The knives I used in my testing are the usual ones that I’ve been using: Sabatier Commercial steak knives. They make a nice ‘typical’ knife, they usually need to be sharpened, and if I happen to damage one during a test I won’t feel too horrible about it. This is a good thing, because I did manage to damage a knife in the course of my testing, due to my own fault and not of the WSKTS.

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Sharpening 101.5.2 – Sharpening Machines part 2

Here's a grinder for the hands-on kinda guy

Good afternoon everyone.

Today is a continuation of last week’s article on sharpening machines, only this time we’ll look at machines that I’ve never laid hands on. I’ve done a fair amount of research on two of the machines, the rest I’ve only seen in photographs and I include them for what can or cannot be seen in the pictures to use as examples of differences in some of the machines. The opinions that I might give are all according to me, and you should keep that in mind if you should consider purchasing any of these things. I may be entirely full of crap in my judgments. Of course, if someone wants to send me some of these machines to try out and critique, I’ll be happy to oblige them.

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Sharpening 101.5.1 – Sharpening Machines part 1


This a sharpening machine for kitchen knives and daggers. Every home should have one!

Good afternoon everyone.

So far, we’ve looked at the basics about sharpening and learned some standard techniques for hand sharpening blades. This week  however, we’re going to look at sharpening machines for the home and shop, because sometimes you just don’t have the time to sharpen everything that needs it by hand, and sometimes you might not have the necessary skills.

One thing a good sharpening machine can do is to enable you to grind and hone a specific angle on the edge of your knife blades. Maintaining a specific bevel angle is probably the most difficult thing to master about hand sharpening. The method of sharpening that I’ve shown you is very good for maintaining the bevel angle that is already present on your knives, but being humans (most of us, anyway), we’ll make errors. Our hands will move slightly up or down while we’re working, and we might not grind on all of the bevel surface, or even miss spots. Sometimes a knife has been so poorly sharpened or damaged that the bevel is effectively gone and needs to be reground. A machine can be a huge help in correcting these problems.

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Sharpening 101.4 – Producing a More Refined Edge

Electron micrograph of the edge of a diamond blade for an ultramicrotome. The fibery looking stuff is contaminants on the blade. Cellular gook.

Good afternoon everyone.

The last time we talked about sharpening  I showed you how to put a quick edge on your steak knife before your steak got cold. This time around, I’m going to take you through the steps to put a more refined, sharper edge on your knives.

Why do you need a sharper edge? Won’t the quick edge I put on the steak knife work for everything?

Well, yes and no.

A quick edge on your main kitchen cutlery is better than a dull edge, but refining the edge has definite benefits. A refined edge will cut through things easier, giving you more control of the blade since you don’t have to exert as much effort. A better edge will also allow you to be more precise in your cutting, like making paper-thin slices of vegetables, or peeling the skin off of vegetables without losing half of it, or deboning meat. Since you are working on a proper cutting surface in the kitchen, a sharper edge will last longer between re-sharpenings, and will generally be quicker to sharpen because the main work has already been done. It takes more time to produce a refined edge, but it’s time well-spent.

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Sharpening 101.3 – A Quick Edge

Who's ready for a nice porterhouse?

Good morning everyone.

Has this ever happened to you? It’s dinnertime and you’re having steak tonight. Not just any old steak either, but a two inch thick porterhouse that has been barbequed to perfection. You sit down at the table and grab your steak knife and fork, and with drool running down your chin and your eyes bulging slightly in anticipation, you proceed to carve off a piece of tenderloin. Except that your knife is as dull as your finger and just squashes the steak, leaving a blunt groove in the meat. The rest of the meal turns into a battle between you and the steak as you try to rip and tear off pieces of meat with your blunt hunk of steel as your dinner gets colder and colder. Kind of spoils the meal a bit, doesn’t it?

Well, I’m here to help. Today I’m going to show you how to put a decent edge on your steak knife in just a minute or two, once you’ve practiced a bit and have gotten the feel of the knife on the stone. It’s not very hard at all.

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Sharpening 101.2 – Abrasives


Good morning, everyone.

Today we’re going to talk about one of the most important parts of sharpening, and that is the abrasives used in the sharpening, honing, and polishing process. Most of the abrasives that we will be talking about will be in the form of bench stones, that is, sharpening stones that are intended to be used sitting on a bench or a table, and are larger than a typical ‘pocket’ stone. The abrasive materials used in the various types of bench stones can be natural or man-made, and to keep things as simple as possible, I’m going to refer to both of them as minerals.

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