Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sharpening Up

Got knives?
I'm ashamed to admit that I have a whole drawer full. Many, many more than one would actually need, which, considering my impatience for clutter and non-used stuff, makes me something of a hypocrite in the knife department.
So here's my confession and the reason why the state of things in my knife drawer is what it is: For a long time, when I would start to find the knives in my drawer lacking in the sharpness department, I would just go and buy a new one. Because dull knives (and cheap knives, for that matter) drive me CRAZY, and they're dangerous. (As a side note, I think that a lot of the reason some people don't like to cook or think it's too much work is related to ghetto or dull knives.)
Now, don't get me wrong...I'm fully capable of showing my knives the steel that's parked next to them in the drawer, but the fact is that a sharpening steel is for honing a blade, and after a while, a knife blade needs more than that to get it back to perfectly razor sharp and able to hold an edge.
And I knew this, and a lot of my knives were definitely at this point. And for years and years, I have been saying and intending to take my collection in to be professionally sharpened, meaning ground and re-edged, so that they would be back at a point where a few passes over the steel makes the blade as good and sharp as new.
But I just never made it happen.
And then recently, finding room for not a single new knife in my drawer, and therefore not a single truly sharp knife amongst my collection, I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands once and for all.
So I took a deep breath and decided to buy a sharpening stone and learn how to re-edge a knife on my own.
And after a bunch of looking around and reading up, I decided to stick to the basics, and bought a simple, two sided stone from this place, because they were inexpensive and basic, and what I came to realize is that sharpening a knife is truly a basic thing once you get to know the general gist of it. Among other places, there is some awesome DIY info here. I found the pictorial thing at the bottom particuarly helpful.

I don't think I'm a pro at it yet, but now that I've had a chance to give it a go, the little bit of money and time I've invested in learning and practicing with my new stone has paid off with a collection of knives that's in a much better state than it used to be. And trust me...I know it's one of those things that seems like a dark art and that it's tempting to think you need one of those expensive set ups to get it right, but you really, really don't. Even with the simplest of equipment, it's a skill I think you'll have well in hand with just a little practice, and it's one of those things I wish I would have learned and embraced YEARS ago.

So, if you're like me and have some knives that are making your cooking adventures less than enjoyable, get going and get yourself knowed-up on sharpening how-to beyond just using a steel. You'll be SO glad you did!

Hey splatgirl, I'm new to your blog but now it's a daily read! I was hooked after seeing your concrete countertops. You are so totally my hero.

How is a sharpening stone different/better than an electric knife sharpener?
hey christie! so glad you're here!
to start, a stone is like $15, so it's cheap. And I happen to detest small appliances that have a singular purpose.
If you're interested in a more involved answer and some over the top sharpening geekery, check out this thread:
Excerpted from that, and confirming what I have read elsewhere is this info about electric sharpeners if that's your choice:
Electric sharpeners grind very aggressively and can remove a lot of metal in a hurry. You can turn your chef’s knife into a filet knife with just a little inattention. Using a bad electric knife sharpener is just about the worst thing you can do to your knives. Poor electric sharpeners have given the entire genre a bad name. The better machines are multi-stage and use a slower grinding method.

Just as with the pull-through sharpeners, there is a gem among the electrics. Both Steve Bottorff and Cooks Illustrated rated the Chef’s Choice model 110 as the best electric sharpener available. It puts a very nice edge on knives, sets a back bevel for performance and doesn’t remove metal at an alarming rate. It does have a tendency to scratch the blade, however.

The $85 Chef’s Choice Model 110 uses 3 sets of diamond hones. Each sharpens at a different angle. The first stage is very aggressive and puts an approximately 15 degree back bevel on the knife. It is only used once to pre-shape the bevel. From then on you use the second and third stages (sharpening and honing) only. The final honing is at a very sturdy 25 degrees, which will give very long edge life.
Thanks, Splatgirl! I "inherited" an electric grinder (and a cat, but that's another story, when my husband and I got married. I hate (HATE!) the noise the grinder makes, and even he hasn't used it for years. Your post reminded me that there's a reason my knives don't, well, actually cut things anymore. :-) I think I'll try a stone and report back.
Good for you to tackle this skill. I've never learned either, so you've inspired me to try. When I worked in a restaurant, I would barter sharpening with the other cooks...I would do their prep work and they would sharpen my knives. Now I have a guy at the farmers market.
This is another good instructional on sharpening (has cuss words in it though)
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