Henckels Advice Needed
Hi. First post.
Ten years ago, I got a set of Henckels Professional S. For these ten years, I have gotten by with just the Henckels steel. Now I have a set of oil stones--A Norton IB8 Combo and a Hard Arkansas. Before I used the stones on the Henckels, I practiced on my Dexter-Russel Sani Safe and a hand-me-down Dexter 4898. I had good luck with both knives. The 8 inch Henckels however is challenging me. The bevel (trying for 20 degrees) on both the Dexters is uniform more or less from heel to tip and they are both uniformly sharp. I tried using the same technique on the Henckels and the bevel at the tip (1-2 inches) was two to three times as wide and took many extra strokes to reach the edge as I tried to keep the same angle. I even suspect that as I lost patience, I allowed the bevel at the tip to become less acute. Is the blade behind the edge at the tip thicker than it is in the main part of the blade? Would I hurt anything if I thinned the blade near the tip? And how would I go about that? Or am I imagining things and I actually made the bevel more acute at the tip which made the bevel wider? I was monitoring my progress with a 10x magnifier and there are a couple of splintered spots along the edge. Did I read on this forum that aggressive steeling could have harmed the edge and I should take it back a bit? And if anyone could post a picture of their Henckels bolster/heel after they improved it I would like to see the result before I screw mine up. Thanks in advance. I'm getting a kick out of this and hope that one day I will deserve a nice Japanese knife. JKI is kind of in my neighborhood.
Aggressive steeling can do all sorts of bad things to a knife, especially if you do the bi-directional "french" method which works the heel twice and the rest of the blade once. This results in a "hole" in the edge at the heel, basically a gap between the cutting board and the edge as the blade will stand on the bolster and the "belly" in the blade. If the edge is higher than the bolster at the heel, sooner or later you will need to address that
Likely you Henkles is now very fat behind the edge if you have been using a steel that long without sharpening, but it will be hard to tell with the full bolster since you cannot simply sight down the choil to see. Ditto for the tip, nearly all the European style chef's knives I've personally handled were VERY fat at the tip, to the point it's very difficult to sharpen them.
One thing you should do is watch how you move the handle of the knife as you sharpen, it's easy to change the angle while "lifting" the handle as you reach the tip. You have to be careful to keep the angle of the blade to the stone consistent while rotating the handle end to keep the edge on the stone. You may have changed your angle, but it's equally likely the knife was ground with a fairly fat and blunt tip.
Either way, you will have to grind it back to a good shape and sharp apex to use the tip.
Another thing to remember is that a Hard Arkansas will work slowly on German steel as the steel is full of large carbide particles that are quite abrasion resistant, and the Arkansas stone is fairly smooth as whetstones go. It will take longer to get your Henkle's sharp that it did for the Dexters. Just the nature of the steel.
Get a 20x or so loupe, they are cheap. This will be strong enough to let you see the actual apex of the blade and therefore let you see if you are holding angles properly and if you have actually ground a proper apex at the edge.
I would also guess that the Henckles will benefit from thinning behind the edge. Check the thickness above the edge -- you can just lightly place your finger and thumb on opposite sides and draw them down to the edge. If there is a definite "step" when you reach the bevel, the knife is too fat and you need to grind some of the steel away above the edge with the knife nearly flat on the stones (10 degrees or so) and grinding just above your bevels. Don't get too agressive, you need a lot of steel behind the edge on that knife or the edge wont' hold. Another way to check is to cut thick slices of carrot. If it crunches even though you think the blade is sharp, likely it's so fat above the edge you are just wedging the carrot apart in front of the edge.
There are inexpensive Japanese knives to try out -- Tojiro DP and Fujiwara are two that come to mind -- at very reasonable prices. However, they will be difficult to sharpen on your current stones as VG-10 or similar steel at RC 62 hardness will take an eon to grind on a Hard Arkansas.
I do have a 1/4" to 3/8" inch hole near the bolster. Can you describe the French steeling method that I may have been using? I don't understand how the heel is worked twice as much.
The French steeling method is to start about a third of the way from the heel at the tip of the steel, slide knife to heel and then back along the full length of the blade as it approaches the handle of the steel, per Julia Child.
This works the heel twice, and if using a serrated steel and a soft knife will result in removal of metal twice in the last third of the blade every time. Quite common, and one of the reason one should not use a steel to actually hone the blade. Sharpening a much harder knife on stones will keep the edge much straighter.
If you have been only making a single pass the whole length of the blade you should not be wearing the heel over the belly, but it's also easy to use more pressure there and less along the length as it flexes.
I greatly dislike full length bolsters. They interfere with proper sharpening. I'm also coming to dislike a ricasso for the same reason, and as I'm playing around with making knives, will use the Japanese pattern with neither at the choil. Maybe a metal bolster on the handle, but nothing on the blade, with the edge coming all the way back.