Whetstones and Sharp Knives

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KnightExemplar
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Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby KnightExemplar » Sun Mar 12, 2017 1:04 am UTC

I'm pretty happy with my progress I've done on my pairing knife. The knife I'm using is a rather ordinary blade. It came sharp, but its been a few years so I spent today restoring it back to quality-cutting potential.

Spoiler:
Click for a higher-quality video

Image

I've literally cut paper like this this for hours. :oops: :oops: :oops:


I tried the cheap Walmart sharpener btw, and the quality of that is... subpar. I've held the best knives before and I was only going to be satisfied with a better experience than cheap crap. A long time ago, I was a knife salesman... and once you feel the potential of high quality knives... you really can't go back.

Fortunately, if you manage to buy high-quality steel blades, a good sharpening routine, as well as good "knife care"... it seems like you can get rather sharp knives and keep them sharp. The Zyliss knives are high-carbon steel with a full-tang. It looks like cheapo rubber and plastic all over, but it gets the job done. They have simple little plastic sheaths that do keep the knives protected as well, so its the cheapest thing I found that meets the bare necessities.

Still, a set of whetstones still is a chunky investment. My investment is ~$75 for my whole set... a bit more than what most people spend on knives... but cheaper than a very high-quality knife.

I pretty much just bought various Grit sizes that seemed cheap on Amazon. The recommendations elsewhere seem to be "Coarse" (Less than 1000), "Medium" (1000 to 2000) and "Polish" (well over 2000 grit). I grabbed three grits from "On Sale" items on Amazon for 600, 1000, and 6000... but I don't expect the specific numbers to be too important.

* Utopia Kitchen's 600 / 1000 Grit stone $16
* King's 1000 / 6000 Grit Whetstone $27
* Norton Flattening Stone $32. Water-based Whetstones grind very quickly and become "curved" in a very short time. If you want a "flat" knife, you must have a flat stone. So re-flattening the stones after every sharpen is necessary. From my understanding, "Western Style" oil-stones don't need to be flattened as often.

In frustration in my first couple of attempts, I've also purchased a 20-degree angle guide. Although I really should have just done the paper-trick. Still, a big 20-degree wedge really is teaching me the proper angle and stuff... there are cheaper plastic ones also available.

I've also got a honing steel. Remember: Whetstones are for sharpening! Honing steels are for realigning the blade! The honing steel is incredibly important, but it really doesn't do the job of "sharpening".

-------------

Anyone else get into knife sharpening? The Whetstone took me several hours before I "figured it out", but I'd have to say that this is the sharpest blade I've made personally. So I can highly-recommend water-based whetstones to anybody who is willing to put forth the effort.

The concept is rather simple: keep the knife edge at 20-degrees against the flat whetstone. The "hard part" is training your hands to keep the blade at a 20-degree angle the whole time. Especially with the "tip" of the blade, because you have to lift the knife handle through the curve to keep the edge at a 20-degree angle. So its not like you can just keep your hands still the whole time.

Beyond that, rub the knife at 20-degrees until the "burr" is created. A burr is simply a flap of metal so thin that the metal "curls over", this is the limit of your blade itself. After that, polish the burr out and move up to a higher grit. At the highest grit (6000 grit for me personally), you're basically polishing the blade. You can physically see the "shininess" as the edge gets smoother and smoother... polished to a mirror-like finish. Even then, some people don't stop at 6000 grit. They take the final step of "stropping" the blade on leather. I'm personally happy with my 6000-grit level of polish even if it isn't the sharpest possible.
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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby Zohar » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:19 am UTC

You might find some more interest in the food forum. We've received some high quality knives for our wedding. They haven't needed sharpening yet but I imagine we'll need to do so soon enough, so may as well learn how to do it...

Also figured I'd share this video of a very sharp knife and an adorable cat.
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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby ucim » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:30 am UTC

I can certainly appreciate the fervor of getting a really sharp knife but my interest is more in keeping them sharp than in making them sharp. I have a(n ordinary) Swiss army knife (Victorinox), and it was great at first but dulled rather quickly. What I use now for shapening is a set of ceramic rods (Crock stick), which does a fair job. It has holes to hold the rods at two different angles, you sharpen with the narrow angle and finish with the wider one.

But it doesn't last, and there are areas I never get quite sharp.

I can see the "it doesn't last" part being a function of the knife steel, but it could also be a defect in my technique, or in the sharpener's technique. Dunno.

I'm listening.

Jose
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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby KnightExemplar » Sun Mar 12, 2017 3:04 am UTC

ucim wrote:I can certainly appreciate the fervor of getting a really sharp knife but my interest is more in keeping them sharp than in making them sharp. I have a(n ordinary) Swiss army knife (Victorinox), and it was great at first but dulled rather quickly. What I use now for shapening is a set of ceramic rods (Crock stick), which does a fair job. It has holes to hold the rods at two different angles, you sharpen with the narrow angle and finish with the wider one.

But it doesn't last, and there are areas I never get quite sharp.

I can see the "it doesn't last" part being a function of the knife steel, but it could also be a defect in my technique, or in the sharpener's technique. Dunno.

I'm listening.

Jose


The difference between "cheap steel" and "high-quality steel" is on the order of "stays sharp for 1-month" vs "stays sharp for 1-year" (assuming regular honing + good maintenance. IE: Never put your knives in the dishwasher: the abrasive soap destroys the edge). The expensive knives I sold as a salesman definitely last a year with barely any maintenance.

So if its a matter of "knife becomes dull in a month", that's normal for cheaper blades. If its a matter of "Knife becomes dull after a single use", then...

1. Are you honing the blade before every use? The edge of a knife is very delicate, and becomes misaligned even when cutting soft vegetables. It is normal for a knife to be "not cut as well" after preparing just a single meal. The knife is still sharp however, its just not "lined up straight" anymore. About 5 passes on a honing edge will straighten out the blade and you'll cut at near-optimal efficiency again.

2. If #1 is not the issue, then my 2nd guess is that you're creating a burr. A burr is extremely sharp, but incredibly delicate. The burr will snap off as soon as you cut something for real. The goal in knife-sharpening is to get a sharp edge without a burr. The burr is the "secret" of good sharpening technique. You shave away metal until the burr is created, then you polish the blade until the burr is gone.

As you sharpen, you should be feeling for the burr. Gently Rub your finger across the knife (not side-to-side... don't cut your finger off!). Its good to create a burr. Its the easiest way to know that you're almost done sharpening. Just polish it off and then you'll have a far more durable blade.

Zohar wrote:Also figured I'd share this video of a very sharp knife and an adorable cat.


Oh yeah, I'm not quite that good yet. But I did watch that video as part of my sharpening research. Good video!

That is a shitty knife though. 2-rivets implies its only a half-tang. So the knife will literally fall apart in a few years and "loosen" from the handle. I mean... he spent like 100-yen on it, so maybe that's not so surprising. But get a full-tang knife for a good grip at least!

But yeah, he goes through multiple whetstones AND finishes it off with a good stropping. That's definitely more effort than I care to do personally, but it demonstrates how incredibly sharp you can get if you go through the full process.
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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby ucim » Sun Mar 12, 2017 3:15 am UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:The difference between "cheap steel" and "high-quality steel"
Sounds like Swiss army knives are cheap steel. Unexpected, but is in line from what I've heard. (The knife is about $50 and does other things, "top quality" knives are $300 and do nothing else).

KnightExemplar wrote:Are you honing the blade before every use?
No. Sounds fussy to me. But maybe I should (once I learn how). I remember it was really good when new.

KnightExemplar wrote:If #1 is not the issue, then my 2nd guess is that you're creating a burr.
I suspect not - my sharpening technique is to use the acute angle to get it sharp, and the wider angle to get rid of the burr (I didn't know the term before). I'm doing it according to instructions, so that's probably not it. However, I find it hard to get the entire blade sharp. There are areas along the length that don't cut well, and other areas that are very good.

Jose
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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby KnightExemplar » Sun Mar 12, 2017 3:21 am UTC

ucim wrote:There are areas along the length that don't cut well, and other areas that are very good.


Hmmm... in this case, perhaps its technique. My first few passes with the whetstone had this effect. I then researched methodologies to keep the edge straight on the abrasive for the entire stroke.

Each time you pass the knife through the abrasive, you should ensure that the angle is constant from beginning all the way to the end. Furthermore, you should "feel" the burr before removing it. The dull areas will take more effort before the burr appears. Keep sharpening until you feel the burr, even in the previously dull areas.

EDIT: I found this video with Crock Sticks (looks like a nifty tool. It took me literally hours to learn how to hold an angle freehand on a whetstone across an entire stroke. Those built-in angle guides of a Crock Stick). In any case, you can see the guy feeling the edge after every ~10 passes or so for the burr. I've never used a Crock Stick before, but this only demonstrates how "universal" the concept of the burr is. Always feel for the burr while sharpening.

EDIT2: It seems like the downside to Crock Sticks is that they aren't very aggressive when cutting. So a Whetstone cuts very quickly, but it requires a lot of technique to get right. Crock Sticks won't be able to correct a very dull blade, but its far easier to learn. Hmmm....

No. Sounds fussy to me. But maybe I should (once I learn how). I remember it was really good when new.


Another note: the final steps of "polishing" the blade make an incredible difference. You can only "polish" with specialized equipment (Leather Strop, very high-grit whetstones, and the like). Without polishing, its unlikely that you'll ever reach the original sharpness of the blade... although you get progressively closer with higher-grit abrasives.

wider angle to get rid of the burr


FYI: all angles create a burr. Its innate to the process of sharpening. A wider angle will have less of a burr... but it will still be there. It sounds like the methodology of your equipment is to build a compound bevel (maybe 15-degree on the outside, 25-degrees on the inside).

My process of removing the burr is to lightly grind off at the end: one-stroke per side. Its something that I can only do by feeling the edge with my fingertips. My eyes aren't good enough to see the burr, but I can definitely feel it.

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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby Zohar » Mon Mar 13, 2017 12:57 pm UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:
Zohar wrote:Also figured I'd share this video of a very sharp knife and an adorable cat.


Oh yeah, I'm not quite that good yet. But I did watch that video as part of my sharpening research. Good video!

That is a shitty knife though. 2-rivets implies its only a half-tang. So the knife will literally fall apart in a few years and "loosen" from the handle. I mean... he spent like 100-yen on it, so maybe that's not so surprising. But get a full-tang knife for a good grip at least!

But yeah, he goes through multiple whetstones AND finishes it off with a good stropping. That's definitely more effort than I care to do personally, but it demonstrates how incredibly sharp you can get if you go through the full process.


If you look at the other videos on that channel (his cooking channel), you can see his other tools. He has some good-looking knives, as far as I can tell, and pretty great knife skills too - much better than mine, at any rate.
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KnightExemplar
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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby KnightExemplar » Mon Mar 13, 2017 5:46 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
KnightExemplar wrote:The difference between "cheap steel" and "high-quality steel"
Sounds like Swiss army knives are cheap steel. Unexpected, but is in line from what I've heard. (The knife is about $50 and does other things, "top quality" knives are $300 and do nothing else).


I've done a bit more research, and I thought I'd share. (I read a bunch of clearly baloney articles. This particular link looks legitimate however)

High Carbon-steel blades (what I've been calling "high quality") have a rust issue. Or perhaps more specifically, your standard "Stainless Steel" is highly rust-resistant. But the tradeoff with the metallurgy... is that the rust-resistant steel is softer. This means it holds less of an edge. However, you won't have to worry about a rusty knife if you leave the knife on the drying rack too long (instead of wiping off the moisture). Stainless steel can sit in water without rusting, at least in the short-term (the hours it takes for water to evaporate on the drying rack).

High Carbon Steel on the other hand rusts quickly. So it isn't even safe to leave on a drying rack, and its important to pat them dry each time you wash them. Therefore, it requires you to baby it... far more than stainless steel. But by focusing on purely hardness, it has a much keener edge. Its easier to sharpen by some metrics (although its physically going to take more passes to sharpen, it holds an edge better. So its "easier" from a technique point of view). High Carbon is also more brittle and more prone to shattering. Its the nature of getting something "harder".

--------

It would seem that the metallurgy between knives is a gradient. There's lots of different kinds of steel, so this subject clearly requires more research before I understand it fully. It seems like the $100+ tier of chef knives commonly lists the specific metallurgy that they use.

http://zknives.com/knives/articles/knifesteelfaq.shtml

Looks like a good site, I'll read more about it later.
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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby PM 2Ring » Wed Mar 22, 2017 5:16 am UTC

You may find this recent Cooking Stack Exchange question of interest: Do magnets dull knives?

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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby KnightExemplar » Wed Mar 22, 2017 10:26 pm UTC

PM 2Ring wrote:You may find this recent Cooking Stack Exchange question of interest: Do magnets dull knives?


Intriguing. But I guess I don't plan on having a magnet to store my knives.

I've always been fine with sheaths and throwing the knife in a drawer.
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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby sardia » Thu Mar 23, 2017 1:48 am UTC

Has anyone tried those hand held knife sharpeners? It's just a v shape pair of hard grinding surfaces to sharpen knives. They seem to work well enough, though it seems to grind away too much material.

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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby KnightExemplar » Thu Mar 23, 2017 2:04 am UTC

sardia wrote:Has anyone tried those hand held knife sharpeners? It's just a v shape pair of hard grinding surfaces to sharpen knives. They seem to work well enough, though it seems to grind away too much material.


There are a few different kinds of them.

If you're talking about a "pull through" sharpener, they are utterly terrible in terms of sharpening. They remove a lot of material (arguably damaging the blade) and are utterly horrible.

In contrast, this is what a whetstone gets you. The smoothness of the cut is considerably better and you'll feel it when preparing food. I'm pretty sure that Crock-sticks and other abrasive techniques would work too (assuming your technique is good). The pull-through crap is pretty bad however... despite being very easy to use.
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Re: Whetstones and Sharp Knives

Postby sardia » Thu Mar 23, 2017 2:17 am UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:
sardia wrote:Has anyone tried those hand held knife sharpeners? It's just a v shape pair of hard grinding surfaces to sharpen knives. They seem to work well enough, though it seems to grind away too much material.


There are a few different kinds of them.

If you're talking about a "pull through" sharpener, they are utterly terrible in terms of sharpening. They remove a lot of material (arguably damaging the blade) and are utterly horrible.

In contrast, this is what a whetstone gets you. The smoothness of the cut is considerably better and you'll feel it when preparing food. I'm pretty sure that Crock-sticks and other abrasive techniques would work too (assuming your technique is good). The pull-through crap is pretty bad however... despite being very easy to use.

Hmm, well I already bought it. The funny thing is, I'm sure I have a whetstone from my restaurant days somewhere in my house. I just never really looked for it.


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