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View Full Version : a critique of sharpening technique



Dubsy
08-15-2011, 09:08 PM
i know im still new here, and very well could get shunned for saying this, but its worth it. so here we go.

ive always hated how in culinary school they taught you that a steel sharpens a knife, and when you get out into the real world you realize it doesnt, and you have to learn a whole mew set of rules for using stones. thousands of methods, and ALL of them mean scratching your knives while learning. i HATE those scuff marks. but i thought this was the way it had to be, so i just went along with it. im decently good, i can get a blade shaving sharp quickly enough. but when i was asked to be a Teaching assistant, i didnt want to overwhelm kids on learning to sharpen knives, so ive been looking for a good alternative. i think i found a better one.

i picked up a set of MAC ceramic steels (white 1200gr. and black 2000gr.) and quickly realized that they sharpen knives. they dont take off a whole lot of metal, but a DMT diamond steel does. in total, it comes to around $100, which may buy you two stones. and the 2000gr. MAC steel makes, in my opinion, a PERFECT finishing edge on a kitchen knife, and ive used it as a hone for about a year.

in short, i found that for me a set of abrasive rods work alot better than various stones. its just my opinion, and i thought id put it out there for you guys to try.

tk59
08-15-2011, 09:35 PM
This is fine. The edges wouldn't be as even or pretty or long-lived but they would be serviceable. I know people that get by on the bottoms of ceramic bowls.

Eamon Burke
08-15-2011, 10:03 PM
It can work(many people do it), but it's not the same thing as keeping an edge sharp.

There are basically 2 different sets of skills, one for sharp knives and one for "servicable" knives. Dull means it won't cut. But Sharp doesn't mean "not dull". Take a look at this guy:

http://youtu.be/o6tu0Zugn1w

Could I make a cucumber shark? Sure.
Could I do the cuts he's doing the exact same way? Nope.

He surprised me because he is using knives that look like they've never been sharpened and never will be, and doesn't seem impaired in his technique--he has used sorta-kinda-sharp knives for so many years he's mastered them, and cuts toward himself in a pen grip and grabs his edges with abandon.

I don't keep my edges falling through food, but it's certainly way beyond a 1200 grit hone finish. I put an edge on a Victorinox chef's at work yesterday when cutting 30lbs of new potatoes into tiny pieces. Took me over an hour. I used my knife today to cut up the other 20lbs, and it didn't take me 20 minutes. Neither time I was really rushing. But I don't have the skill set for using less-than-sharp knives.

Personally, I don't think "servicable" is acceptable, because it degrades food quality and can be fairly dangerous. But as far as "better than various stones"...sure there is a TON of garbage out there. Thanks to dishwashers, frozen meals, fast food, and overzealous marketing, standards have fallen so low that people are basically cutting with spatulas and can be impressed by pretty much ANYTHING.

I think you should teach kids how to sharpen. You have a knife skills class, right? A knife skills class should include a methodical approach to basic sharpening. This may sound like knife-nut mentality, but taking excellent care of your tools was once integral to the American spirit--the one that created the mystique we've been riding down for a century. There are 2 ways a cook interacts with food that make up 99.9% of cooking: heat and knifework. They should, as cooks, understand how the knife works and why. Honing rods do not instruct well--they give off a Gordon Ramsay image of a guy battering a knife to look "serious".

If you need to hone your knife to get it through one day, something is wrong.

Dubsy
08-15-2011, 10:04 PM
thats the thing, i re-edged an old Victorinox with them. the edge is wicked even. a little off at the heel, but its not that big a deal. its not a mirror, but its even, and zero blade scuffs.

Eamon Burke
08-15-2011, 10:11 PM
Blade scuffs you won't have with a steel. :wink:

But you know, you can avoid the scuffs on the face altogether by sharpening at a higher angle, especially on softer steel like that. It's far less important to have the edge steep than it is to have it aligned properly.

Dubsy
08-15-2011, 10:12 PM
and i didnt mean a hone, i meant using them in place of a stone. diamond and ceramic are both abrasive, and remove metal, much the same way stones do. its not just realigning an edge, its actually removing metal, and putting a new edge on the blade. it works really well. im not saying stones are overrated, they're definately quicker, but for kids that are just being exposed to culinary arts, and barely know the differenece between a French knife and a bread knife, its easier for them to learn one method, and different tools for different results.

SpikeC
08-15-2011, 10:21 PM
The problem with these sort of shortcuts is that the edge gradually degrades to the point that the knife needs to be replaced. With cheap knives it isn't that big a deal, I suppose. I bought a chef's kit from a pawn shop once, and the knife with the bolster down to the edge had been shortcutted to the point that it was no longer useable. Why not just sell all of the students Harbor Frieght beltsanders? Then they can grind edges in seconds.

Dubsy
08-15-2011, 10:25 PM
its a high school program, and im only there to help with first years cause there was a huge demand this year. i dont want to overwhelm these kids.

Dubsy
08-15-2011, 10:26 PM
i just realized that this could very well be the very same logic that started the stigma of a "sharpening steel..."

SpikeC
08-15-2011, 10:26 PM
Early training sticks. Don't underestimate the intelligence of young people.

Eamon Burke
08-15-2011, 10:31 PM
Early training sticks.

I have to agree. However, public schools are not exactly suited for this kind of teaching/learning. Not to get too off topic, but part of the inherent problem with public schooling is that there are no right answers when you have a room full of 35 kids and one teacher.

And I never saw anything wrong with Alton Brown's logic--use them properly, care for them, and when time comes to grind on them, have a professional do it. If you want to learn, more power to you. But pro services are so absurdly cheap compared to the quality! What else is like that?

jmforge
08-16-2011, 05:29 PM
The impression that I have is that the true knife nuts want an edge so keen that if you think about a knife that you left at work when you get home, you will bleed a little bit. From the perspective of a pro, how fine does the edge actually have to be so that it isn't a hinderance to you getting your work done? What kind of stone will get you to that point if properly used?

Eamon Burke
08-17-2011, 08:39 PM
The impression that I have is that the true knife nuts want an edge so keen that if you think about a knife that you left at work when you get home, you will bleed a little bit. From the perspective of a pro, how fine does the edge actually have to be so that it isn't a hinderance to you getting your work done? What kind of stone will get you to that point if properly used?

Totally depends on the steel, the knife design, and what you are cutting.

Basically, to imagine the difference between pro and home use, just amplify every aspect by 100-500. Cutting a chicken breast and it pushes the breast an inch before cutting? Not noticable at home. At work? Well, after about 80 chicken breasts it gets old.

I used to be a minimalist, but now I really believe that pros need to have several knives, sharpened differently--the knife you use to bruinoise carrots is not going to perform the same on short loin, knowwhatImean?

tk59
08-17-2011, 11:44 PM
...Cutting a chicken breast and it pushes the breast an inch before cutting? Not noticable at home... Uh... WRONG. I wouldn't want to put up with that. If you only get to cut one or two, why not make it a memorable experience?

Salty dog
08-17-2011, 11:53 PM
It's always a bonus when a sharp knife is sitting around my kitchen at home. I generally don't sharpen them unless the wife asks. I'll use a butter knife before I sharpen a knife just to cook myself dinner.

tk59
08-18-2011, 12:01 AM
...I'll use a butter knife before I sharpen a knife just to cook myself dinner.:shocked3: You didn't just write that...

Eamon Burke
08-18-2011, 01:39 AM
:rofl:
I feel you.

When I cook for other people, I pull out all the stops. I kick everyone out of the kitchen and swear and cook up a hurricane.

When I cook for myself, a surprising amount of food product gets ripped/crushed with my bare hands.

Salty dog
08-18-2011, 01:45 AM
:shocked3: You didn't just write that...

sure did, sure did

MadMel
08-18-2011, 05:38 AM
:rofl:
I feel you.

When I cook for other people, I pull out all the stops. I kick everyone out of the kitchen and swear and cook up a hurricane.

When I cook for myself, a surprising amount of food product gets ripped/crushed with my bare hands.

Man that's called rustic LOL

RRLOVER
08-18-2011, 07:56 AM
The impression that I have is that the true knife nuts want an edge so keen that if you think about a knife that you left at work when you get home, you will bleed a little bit. From the perspective of a pro, how fine does the edge actually have to be so that it isn't a hinderance to you getting your work done? What kind of stone will get you to that point if properly used?

I feel that a home cook(me) can take there edge's a lot steeper(sharper) to the point of almost being fragile,at least I do on some of my blade.I am prepping on my boardsmiths taking my sweet ass time so I don't have to worry about edge stability or retention.I am sure if some of my blade were use in a fast paced pro kitchen on a poly board they might chip fairly easy.So in the end I am just looking for the sharpest possible edge I take each individual blade I own.

jm2hill
08-18-2011, 10:41 AM
I feel that a home cook(me) can take there edge's a lot steeper(sharper) to the point of almost being fragile,at least I do on some of my blade.I am prepping on my boardsmiths taking my sweet ass time so I don't have to worry about edge stability or retention.I am sure if some of my blade were use in a fast paced pro kitchen on a poly board they might chip fairly easy.So in the end I am just looking for the sharpest possible edge I take each individual blade I own.

That's how I feel too.
Home cook? take your edges down to 5 degrees and see what happens. I've microchipped a few knives this way but I wanted to see how sharp it could get. Would never work in a pro kitchen but at home its sure fun.