Study Your Edges

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HumbleHomeCook

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Some years ago on the Spyderco Forum, @Deadboxhero was engaged with some dude who had suddenly emerged on the scene and was professing all this knowledge and telling people what to do and he came off with this arrogance that made ya question his validity. Shawn mentioned cross-cutting paper towels in a thread and this guy jumped in and then things progressed and this guy kept saying he could do it and Shawn just kept saying, "show me." And ya know, damn if the guy didn't post a video showing his knife doing it and Shawn acknowledged it too. He was a bit of an ass, but he could sharpen.

That has always stuck with me and got me cutting paper towels, especially cross cutting. Shawn can do that pretty well with some fairly low grit edges and it is impressive. I know all these sharpening tests are hugely subjective and it's your real world needs and performance that matters, but still, I think that most of us like some kind of testing and feedback right?

Tonight I was testing some edges on paper towels and some did better than others. It's all information for me. Two knives may cut the same way, neither as good as I want, but both may have different reasons why.

Anyway, before long I have the main light off and a bright lamp on and I'm leaned over the counter with a loupe and moving my blades back and forth and rolling them around in the light. I'm seeing different light reflections in little spots, a little scratchy here, smoother there, a tiny glint on the very apex in a needle-wide spot, and so on. The edges are talking to me.

The cutting feedback, the visuals, the feel, it's all there. Deciphering and understanding it, now that's the magic isn't it? Why is that little spot different? Is the knife not even, was my pressure different, did I just wobble the angle? Is one side more consistent than the other? Under a little magnification and good light am I seeing pattern in my sharpening?

Study your edges. Run that knife all around under light. Look at it with your naked eye from a distance and up close. Then scrunch down on it with a loupe and slowly crawl along it. Let your fingers tap over the flats and the very edge. What do you feel? Do you feel things that match things you see?

Our edges do not lie. They may mislead or deceive, but they do not lie and the truth will eventually be revealed. Do more than just your preferred cut test. Especially if you're struggling with your sharpening, but even if you like your results.

Study those edges and deepen that database. It will help you understand so much about the knife, you, and the end performance.
 

Jovidah

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Honestly if I'm supposed to put this much effort and study into the edge of a single knife I think I'd rather switch to using a Ken Onion Work Sharp...
Three-finger test and shaving some arm hair is good enough for me. Sometimes I cut up some newspaper. For me the process has to be somewhat efficient; sharpening is a means to an end for me.
 

HumbleHomeCook

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Honestly if I'm supposed to put this much effort and study into the edge of a single knife I think I'd rather switch to using a Ken Onion Work Sharp...
Three-finger test and shaving some arm hair is good enough for me. Sometimes I cut up some newspaper. For me the process has to be somewhat efficient; sharpening is a means to an end for me.
Nothing wrong with that. I'm not a naturally gifted sharpener so I need extra data input to improve. 😁
 

Benuser

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The focus on the edge isn't always that relevant. Have seen very nice, even, crazy sharp edges on knives who were poor cutters in the kitchen. In the kitchen, geometry is what really counts — combined with an edge that can survive board contact.
 

Jovidah

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The focus on the edge isn't always that relevant. Have seen very nice, even, crazy sharp edges on knives who were poor cutters in the kitchen. In the kitchen, geometry is what really counts — combined with an edge that can survive board contact.
This has arguably been my most important lesson in my 'sharpening journey'. I started out in the wrong spot, lurking on some place for outdoor and folder knives, who were more interested in creating massive mirror-finished bevels that looked great when put on display. Only to later find out that this is the opposite of what you want. The best bevel is the one you can't see...
With knives that are proper thin behind the edge they'll still cut surprisingly well on most products even when you severely neglect the edge. It's only on stuff with tough skin like tomatoes, bellpepeppers, etc that you really start to notice a performance drop. And you'll cry again when cutting onions. But they'll still zip through root vegetables without any problems.

I'm not a naturally gifted sharpener by any means, but with three finger test and some occasional newspaper cutting I got pretty far. At least far enough for my own needs!
 

branwell

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Definitely a lot to be learned by trying different stones and techniques and then cut testing. I like paper cuts because you can see / feel / hear the edge in a precise location all along the edge.
Generally these days though I sharpen the knife with whatever new thing I want to try and test it by making dinner. If I like the results I might go back and test the edge on paper to hear how it sounds but if its not to my liking in actual use, I rarely test it with other means. Getting lazy.
 

coxhaus

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I never cut paper. I cut food for lunch or dinner. I can tell when cutting food if I did something wrong. Most of the time not because I am using a Worksharp KO so there is less to screw up. When I first started stropping with the KO I messed up the front edge on my 10-inch knife. I must have rolled the edge. It was sharp but not as sharp as the back half.
 

ian

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Cutting food is generally fine as a test, but paper product tests and visual or tactile information are more repeatable and reliable if you are concerned with precision. There’s more variation in food, so when you have more difficulty than usual with a tomato you don’t necessarily know if the tomato is just softer than usual, or with a slightly different skin. Plus, then you have to either waste food as a sharpening test, or wait to make dinner and then go and sharpen your knife again. Depending on your circumstances, this may not be an option. Personally, I want a knife to be sharp after I finish with it, I don’t want to wait till hours later to test it and then have to come back down into the basement to finish it up. Food testing is also not a real option when I’m sharpening for clients.

I do find food testing useful in checking for steering, though. If a knife is asymmetrically ground, I‘m not good enough to tell if a knife will steer with the edge I’ve given it without sending it through some hard produce.
 
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Benuser

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I check with the thinnest cigarette paper to make sure I didn't overlook some burr remnant.
 
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