Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

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KnightExemplar
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Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby KnightExemplar » Wed Mar 15, 2017 7:14 pm UTC

As per Zohar's recommendation in my other thread in "General", it seems like this "Cooking" forum may be a better place to discuss knives and sharpening. I've looked around and it seems like there are threads about general cooking tools, but nothing on knives specifically yet.

The knife is often considered the most personal tool of a chef. Not only are there various styles: Chef, Santoku, Slicers, Paring... there are the various brands... which use various kinds of metals... from easy to maintain "stainless steel" to the higher-hardness (but more rust-prone) "high carbon steels". When I see other forums online, there are discussions about type 440A steel (Aka: Cutco) vs X50CrMoV15 (Aka: Wustof) vs AG-10 (Aka: Shun) and the pros-and-cons (or "tier lists") of the steel types.

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My current knife set is rather cheap, but it seems like proper sharpening technique has allowed me to get it to a good level of sharpness. Somewhat ironically, I've spent far more money on whetstones than my knives.

My paring-knife is almost push-cut worthy, but not quite. It somewhat push-cuts, but still snags and rips paper. Its an easy "slice cut" which is sharper than what most of my friend's blades are. I can push-cut a folded-piece of standard paper (folded for extra rigidity). I reckon that I need a higher-quality steel and/or better sharpening equipment (ie: I don't have a Leather Strop) to get to the level of true razor-sharpness.

I have played with various knives over the years. I'd have to say that my #1 preference is the general Chef Knife, its a good shape for rocking, slicing, and plenty of work. Paring-knife is my 2nd choice... although I resort to more specialized blades as the need arises. (Ex: I do cook my own bread, and the dedicated Bread Knife is easily the best blade for that job).

I will say that my sister's blade (which is a Santoku-knife) has a good shape for slicing... and it seemed to be far easier to sharpen on my Whetstones. I can see why its very popular, although I still prefer the general Chef Knife in my own use. If I were to buy a $100+ blade, it'd be a Chef knife.
Last edited by KnightExemplar on Tue Mar 21, 2017 5:20 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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sardia
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby sardia » Fri Mar 17, 2017 3:41 pm UTC

My insurance gives me useless reward points for being healthy. Most of the good stuff cost too much, but cheap kitchen knives are pretty much free for me. That means I just use chef knives until they're dull, rehone them, and toss into the garbage after that stops working.

Someone gave me a knife grinder, so now I grind knives too. I don't have to worry about destroying my knives via excessive grinding because I can always get more.

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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby CelticNot » Fri Mar 17, 2017 7:10 pm UTC

I don't have my own chef's knife yet, but both lifemate and roommate do, and from them I have learned some very, very important lessons.

The single most important one being... never ever use anyone else's knives because if you manage to be a dumbass and put a nick in one you will end up footing the bill for a new one.

That said, I'm still undecided on what kind of knife I like best, but having used a truly sharp one, it's like night and day.
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby KnightExemplar » Fri Mar 17, 2017 8:42 pm UTC

CelticNot wrote:I don't have my own chef's knife yet, but both lifemate and roommate do, and from them I have learned some very, very important lessons.

The single most important one being... never ever use anyone else's knives because if you manage to be a dumbass and put a nick in one you will end up footing the bill for a new one.


Rub out the nick with a Whetstone. Grind out the nick. :D :D :D
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby CelticNot » Mon Mar 20, 2017 3:21 pm UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:Rub out the nick with a Whetstone. Grind out the nick. :D :D :D


It was actually pretty bad, my roomie did try rubbing it out, but the next time she took it to a hefty piece of meat, a whole chunk of the blade snapped off where the nick was. D:
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby KnightExemplar » Mon Mar 20, 2017 9:32 pm UTC

CelticNot wrote:
KnightExemplar wrote:Rub out the nick with a Whetstone. Grind out the nick. :D :D :D


It was actually pretty bad, my roomie did try rubbing it out, but the next time she took it to a hefty piece of meat, a whole chunk of the blade snapped off where the nick was. D:


Was this a ceramic blade or something?

Steel isn't normally that brittle. Although I've read up that some Japanese metals are incredibly hard... but brittle as a result. Western Knives seem to have a bigger focus on softer, more stainless, and more flexible steels (although they're less hard and therefore go duller quicker). Do you recall the brand by any chance?

Brittle and Hard vs Soft but Flexible. Stainless (rust-resistant) vs Hardness (high-carbon)... It turns out that "durability" is a complicated beast that requires a bunch of conflicting parameters be optimized. Harder steels resist microscratches... but softer-steels resist breaking or snapping outright.

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EDIT: I've looked into a bit of the metallurgy, and it seems like "440A", "440B" and "440C" are a relatively common set of steel. Although all are "high carbon" steels (over 0.5%), 440C has over 1.2% carbon. And with 18% Chromium, it is well into the "stainless steel" category (13%+). So its a high-carbon stainless steel. 440A has the lowest carbon content in the series (0.75%) but still qualifies as a "surgical high-carbon stainless steel"... only demonstrating the pointlessness of the marketing words.

American 440C corresponds to Japanese 440C, and corresponds to European X105CrMo17.

It seems like the Japanese VG-10 is considered among the best kitchen steels right now in many knife forums. It can have a "Folded Damascus" pattern applied to it for a truly exotic look, and seems to have high stainless (15% Chromium) and high-carbon (over 1%) attributes as well.

I bring this up because 440C might be the optimal price / performance ratio... with this offering I found on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/ZHEN-Japanese-Ca ... B00E0EF6GU

I don't fully understand the metallurgy however... but from my understanding... the final heat-treatment of the steel is incredibly important. Apparently "raw" 440C only has a Rockwell Hardness of HRC 5, but with proper heat-treatment it can increase to HRC 60 Hardness... and of course... different manufacturers may heat-treat the steel in slightly different ways for slightly different results. Poor heat-treatment can lead to poor results.

So even in the great scheme of things, it seems like brand-name may be more important than the specific steel used.
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby CelticNot » Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:06 pm UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:Steel isn't normally that brittle. Although I've read up that some Japanese metals are incredibly hard... but brittle as a result. Western Knives seem to have a bigger focus on softer, more stainless, and more flexible steels (although they're less hard and therefore go duller quicker). Do you recall the brand by any chance?


No idea for the brand, but it was a Japanese santoku, so the former point might well stand.

I think the sheer variety in knives is what keeps me from buying my own. I cook a little more often than the other people in the house, but I can't see much of a difference in function between different shapes of knives, or materials. I liked my roommate's old knife because it had heft to it, which made it feel more natural in my hand. But all in all, I just want something that cuts without giving me grief, and won't break the bank to purchase.
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby KnightExemplar » Tue Mar 21, 2017 4:28 pm UTC

CelticNot wrote:
KnightExemplar wrote:Steel isn't normally that brittle. Although I've read up that some Japanese metals are incredibly hard... but brittle as a result. Western Knives seem to have a bigger focus on softer, more stainless, and more flexible steels (although they're less hard and therefore go duller quicker). Do you recall the brand by any chance?


No idea for the brand, but it was a Japanese santoku, so the former point might well stand.

I think the sheer variety in knives is what keeps me from buying my own. I cook a little more often than the other people in the house, but I can't see much of a difference in function between different shapes of knives, or materials. I liked my roommate's old knife because it had heft to it, which made it feel more natural in my hand. But all in all, I just want something that cuts without giving me grief, and won't break the bank to purchase.


You want a general knife. I like "Western" Chef knives: it supports rocking, slicing forward, and even light chopping. Its wide enough to scoop things or crush garlic. The Santoku (which seems to be the Japanese General Chef knife) basically does all of that as well, which is probably why its a popular choice as well.

The only other knife that I use often is the Paring Knife. If you're going to hold a vegetable or fruit in your left hand... while cutting it with a knife in your right hand... the paring knife is the best. And honestly, its a hell of a lot easier to cut things "in your hands" than to pull out the cutting board all the time. I definitely prefer to skin potatoes or other vegetables / fruits with a paring knife than use a vegetable peeler.

Beyond that, the variety of knives are mostly related to their specialty. Bread Knives cut bread. Cleavers or Butcher Knives are for chopping bones and butchering duties. Clam Knives open clams. Get those specialty knives if you need them. Definitely don't underestimate the cheese knife (its really good for cutting cheese). But overall, a chef knife can be used for all of these applications (its just not ideal). So consider these highly specialty blades.

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My three knives in my kitchen are:

* 6" Chef knife -- a bit small, but I'm still learning.
* 3.5" Paring Knife -- Seems like a good length
* Bread Knife -- I cook enough bread that its worth it

Beyond that, cooking is like any other hobby. The only way you learn is by trying it out. If you don't have any baseline, you're basically forced to buy something and just give it a shot. I was a knife-salesman a long time ago, so I was able to try a variety of knives to form my opinions. So really... most people learn what they like by doing things.

I will say that I've been satisfied with my knife set: https://www.amazon.com/ZYLISS-Piece-Par ... B00LIRKR52. I've seen blades hold a sharper edge, but the blade is higher quality than what I see in most people's kitchens. Not quite up to my standards (I'm looking for new knifes), but its damn good for the price point.

I don't use the serrated blade (and I had to buy a Bread Knife at a later time), but Chef Knife + Paring Knife gets a huge number of kitchen tasks done. Really, start there. Or if you want to go Japanese-style, get the Santoku + Japanese Paring Knife.

The set that I'm looking at right now looks pretty good theoretically. However, good knife maintenance requires you to "baby" that delicate edge, so be sure to buy sheaths or a wood block (or some other kind of storage mechanism). The $12 Zyliss set comes with sheaths so its actually very good for a beginner.

Beyond that, be sure to buy at minimum a honing steel, and the honing steel must be longer than the longest knife you plan to hone. Most Chef Knives are 8-inches, so get a steel bigger than that. While knife edges take months to dull, the edge should be re-aligned often. In fact, you should do ~5 to 10 swipes against the honing steel before every use to maximize your cutting performance. Once you learn the motions and practice a bit, it won't take any longer than 10 seconds.
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby sardia » Sat Mar 25, 2017 11:01 pm UTC

Is this a grinding stone? It seems too hard, and isn't creating silty particles.
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby KnightExemplar » Mon Mar 27, 2017 5:18 pm UTC

sardia wrote:Is this a grinding stone? It seems too hard, and isn't creating silty particles.


I can't say that I'm an expert on this subject... but it looks like a brick to me. Lol. It does seem to be slightly larger than a standard whetstone.

If I were to take a guess, you probably have a lapping stone: a stone designed to flatten other whetstones. Water-Whetstones go "curved" in a very short time... within 2 sharpenings in my experience. So you use a lapping or flattening stone to make a flat surface again. Although... my flattening stone has grooves in it so maybe not.

How "flat" is it? (Although if it was used to flatten other stones, it may not be as flat anymore as when it was fresh)
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby sardia » Mon Mar 27, 2017 5:48 pm UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:
sardia wrote:Is this a grinding stone? It seems too hard, and isn't creating silty particles.


I can't say that I'm an expert on this subject... but it looks like a brick to me. Lol. It does seem to be slightly larger than a standard whetstone.

If I were to take a guess, you probably have a lapping stone: a stone designed to flatten other whetstones. Water-Whetstones go "curved" in a very short time... within 2 sharpenings in my experience. So you use a lapping or flattening stone to make a flat surface again. Although... my flattening stone has grooves in it so maybe not.

How "flat" is it? (Although if it was used to flatten other stones, it may not be as flat anymore as when it was fresh)

It's fairly flat, and I do recall people pouring water over it to use knives on it. You can't tell, but it appears broken in half. One end in jagged and smoothed over.
I thought it was a for honing blades because of how hard it was.
I only did like 20 scrapes on each side before giving up.

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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby KnightExemplar » Mon Mar 27, 2017 6:19 pm UTC

sardia wrote:
KnightExemplar wrote:
sardia wrote:Is this a grinding stone? It seems too hard, and isn't creating silty particles.


I can't say that I'm an expert on this subject... but it looks like a brick to me. Lol. It does seem to be slightly larger than a standard whetstone.

If I were to take a guess, you probably have a lapping stone: a stone designed to flatten other whetstones. Water-Whetstones go "curved" in a very short time... within 2 sharpenings in my experience. So you use a lapping or flattening stone to make a flat surface again. Although... my flattening stone has grooves in it so maybe not.

How "flat" is it? (Although if it was used to flatten other stones, it may not be as flat anymore as when it was fresh)

It's fairly flat, and I do recall people pouring water over it to use knives on it. You can't tell, but it appears broken in half. One end in jagged and smoothed over.
I thought it was a for honing blades because of how hard it was.
I only did like 20 scrapes on each side before giving up.


If people sharpened knives on it, it probably is a whetstone. The stone is necessarily harder than steel so that it can scrape steel and polish it. Lower-grit stones will necessarily feel rougher (while my 6000-grit stone feels almost like soap because of how smooth it is). So you might have a low-grit stone for rapid sharpening.

I might not be understanding the actual size of the thing. There could be a trick of perspective or something... What's the approximate width and length of it?
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby SDK » Mon Mar 27, 2017 7:25 pm UTC

I couldn't talk about paring knives vs. chef knives to save my life, but I am a metallurgist. If you're interested in knowing how heat treatment, chemistry, or material choice affects your blade, or how hardness, strength and toughness are related, I can probably help if you quote this post with a question. Just offering my services, feel free to completely ignore me otherwise. :)
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Re: Knives and sharpening: Cooks edition

Postby sardia » Wed Mar 29, 2017 2:46 am UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:
sardia wrote:
KnightExemplar wrote:
sardia wrote:Is this a grinding stone? It seems too hard, and isn't creating silty particles.


I can't say that I'm an expert on this subject... but it looks like a brick to me. Lol. It does seem to be slightly larger than a standard whetstone.

If I were to take a guess, you probably have a lapping stone: a stone designed to flatten other whetstones. Water-Whetstones go "curved" in a very short time... within 2 sharpenings in my experience. So you use a lapping or flattening stone to make a flat surface again. Although... my flattening stone has grooves in it so maybe not.

How "flat" is it? (Although if it was used to flatten other stones, it may not be as flat anymore as when it was fresh)

It's fairly flat, and I do recall people pouring water over it to use knives on it. You can't tell, but it appears broken in half. One end in jagged and smoothed over.
I thought it was a for honing blades because of how hard it was.
I only did like 20 scrapes on each side before giving up.


If people sharpened knives on it, it probably is a whetstone. The stone is necessarily harder than steel so that it can scrape steel and polish it. Lower-grit stones will necessarily feel rougher (while my 6000-grit stone feels almost like soap because of how smooth it is). So you might have a low-grit stone for rapid sharpening.

I might not be understanding the actual size of the thing. There could be a trick of perspective or something... What's the approximate width and length of it?

3-4 inches wide, and 6-8 inches long. It's broken in half though.


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