Just keep sharpening



A little post about the knife rabbit hole. Growing up there were always a huge number of knives around me. I did boy scouts so I had my own multitool knife, a decent Gerber with passable knife, some pilers, various other accessories, since about the age of 12. I had a healthy respect for knives, for the most part. There was one time I threw a kitchen knife very dangerously in the house, "at", my sibling sticking it blade first in the wall next to their face. Not the best look, but to be fair I was confident in my knife throwing, and I did intend to miss, but I /really/ shouldn't have done that. I probably shouldn't start a blog post with an anecdote like that, but I wrote it, it's true, and well... I just don't feel like erasing it at this point. Anyway.... I didn't really /like/ knives. Like I was never interested in their construction, the kinds of metals or techniques used. I barely knew how to sharpen them and mostly only ever made the blade more dull because I didn't really know what I was doing and using terrible tiny stones. When I needed to sharpen them I got better results using those carbide sharpening shear things with a set angle that gouge out the metal of the blade to sharpen them. But I also didn't really need my knife for very much. Cutting some cordage, sharpening and notching a stick to make a stake, some mild wood carving (which didn't go well, because the knife was usually too dull and the the wood too hard, also I didn't know what I was doing, didn't have the muscle memory, or callous' to make it not painful). In short knives were there when I needed them, and I didn't give them much thought. This began to change when I got to college. I got a couple of knives my 'first' year at college, and as a side note literally the first thing I ever did with them was to attempt to free them from the packaging they were attached to by using them each on each others' plastic bindings at the same time sorta by scissoring them at an odd angle and then applying pressure by closing the angle between them. When they cut through the plastic (or one cut through, I can't remember if it was only one or both, but one makes more sense) the knife had so much spring that it flew out of my hand spinning and slicing the skin nearly clean off the top of my right middle finger between the the two knuckles from base to tip. Nearly clean off. It hit bone and stopped leaving a thin fillet of flesh attached to the finger closer to the knuckle next to my finger nail. It needed stitches and the nurse who did it wasn't confident it would heal or if I would regain sensitivity there if it did. Luckily I do have a slight healing factor. It was numb for quite some time, and I do have a scar there if someone might see if they look closely enough, but other than that, It's hardly noticeable. Anyway. These were some pretty basic knives. One was a long curved knife, which frankly is not terribly useful for much of anything, maybe for large cabbages? The other was a shitty short chef's knife. At the time they worked, but they soon became quite dull and annoying to use. I didn't know enough to know /why/ they were crappy, or that I should be sharpening them, or how to sharpen them. I don't even think I had a honing rod (I still don't have one now, but for other reasons). My first decent knife I got on an impulse. I went with some friends to a restaurant supply store that sells bulk goods. You can get stuff near warehouse prices if you have restaurant license, or at a markup if you are a general customer. They had lots of foods, like just add water muffin mix, boxes of hand sized calzones, whole turkeys, large canned goods etc. They also had kitchen supplies, food containers, spatulas, mixing bowls, and of course knives. Nothing here is fancy, it's essentially all industrial stuff, made to be functional, without unnecessary frills. So in essence, ideal. The knives they had were of a few different brands, but one of my friends was looking at the Victorinox knives. The had injection molded or wooden handles, and a variety of different styles for various kinds of cutting needs. I got a standard 8in wooden handle with full tang and rivets. I had watched some good eats episode saying full tang was important in a kitchen knife and at the time I hadn't any reason to view Alton Brown as anything other than an authority. I don't feel the same way now. His opinion on adding oil to boiling pasta water should have been a clue. This knife was essentially the only knife I used for many years after getting it. I never sharpened it, and it never really seemed to need it. Not even a honing session, although I did on occasion strop the edge on the back of my cast iron pan to "freshen up" the edge on occasion. If I had to suggest a solid recommendation for someone who needs a kitchen knife and doesn't want to think about maintenance, it would be a good first choice. There is an amazon basic chef knife that looks pretty ok and is like $20 so maybe that could be a cheaper alternative. I have some much deeper thoughts about amazon basic stuff, but suffice it to say if amazon basic items became the floor for every item they have, and things worse than them didn't exist then the overall satisfaction of human existence would probably go up 10-15%. Some time during covid I fell into the knife making rabbit hole. I think I have to blame the show Forged in Fire, or at least my parents for watching it all the time. I spent some time learning about knife construction, different kinds of metals, their effects in blades, traditional knife crafting methods and how they differ from modern methods. I learned about knife sharpening, and by the end of the tour of the hole had developed a taste for knives, although without any real practical experience to back that taste. I was asked about what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday by my partner. I told her I wanted a good chef's knife, and sharpening stones to go with it. To me it doesn't make any sense to get a good knife without getting a decent stone. The order goes like this. Get yourself a beater knife. Upgrade with a good stone a few months later. Round out the stone with a few different grits. Then once you know how to sharpen knives well on the stone get a good/decent knife (probably of a different profile than the beater, since if it's like a Victorinox, it will still be quite performant, especially with sharpening up to 5000 grit. A decent sharpening can make even a dollar store knife compete with many $100 knives in pure cutting potential, at least for a cooking session or 3). I didn't really do this tho, since I got a whole range of stones and a knife in pretty quick secession, stones in November for birthday, knife for Christmas. During that month however, I sharpened /every/ knife in the house. Now that statement needs qualification. My mom has a /lot/ of knives. She has never sharpened her knives and is in the habit of just buying a new one when the one she is using is no longer performing well. These are generally pretty shitty cheap knives. Think dollar store paring knives. $14 dollar bargain bin long knives. An Ikea knife here and there. etc. So there was a box full of these older knives that were no longer in rotation in the kitchen, and there were some 6 or so knives in the kitchen as well. The stones I got after quite a bit of research were Shapton Kuromaku (aka Shapton pro) whetstones. Thinking back Kiwami Japan might have actually been more to blame than Forged in Fire. Kiwami uses the Shapton stones for sharpening, and the powerful memetics of the channel probably wormed their way into my subconscious to a heavy degree. These are stones that need to be splashed with water before use and produce a bit of iron mess while sharpening, so it's kinda messy. This is a bit different from "soaking stones" which generally could be considered a step up from splash and go stones. My first set of stones I got were the 320 Shapton glass, 1000 and 5000 Shapton Kuromaku. For really dull knives the 320 glass is a bit too fine really. Although it's supposedly 320 grit, it probably is functionally a bit more than that, and have since gotten a 120 Kuromaku for reprofiling, which I don't use much but does come in handy for dealing with big chips, or a broken tip. Also the jump from 1000 to 5000 is probably a bit too drastic. I haven't gotten a 2000 grit stone yet, I just ease out of 1000 with a series of very light passes at 1000 then go fairly hard to start at 5000 and spend a bit more time on it. I have also more recently gotten a 12000 grit stone, which can take things to mirror finish that you can get a nice close shave with. If you only want 1 stone the Shapton 1000 Kuromaku stone is the stone you should get. I mean do your own research or whatever, but I think it's a great stone, and if I only had one it's the one I'd want. It won't let you fix chipped edges quickly but it can get the job done if needed, and for a regularly maintained knife it does a good job with minorly dull blades and leaves you with a good working edge. Loads of people online agree it's great, but the average person is kinda dumb so who knows. Whatever you do don't use those shitty carbide sharpeners. For the money, there is likely nothing that touches how good it is. That said, in order for it to be good, you do have to know how to use it, but that just takes practice, and not even that much practice. In that month after getting the stones I went from complete beginner to in my opinion quite good at it. But that included sharpening something like 40 knives. If you need to wait 4 months between sharpening, that's probably not optimal to learning. Also sharpening then dulling and sharpening the same knife 40 times is probably not great for a knife's life. But if it's that beater knife it's probably got many times that more sharpenings left in it after doing something like that. The other benefit of sharpening many different knives is learning the qualities of the metal and getting a real visceral experience with the different harnesses and blade shapes. Now on to /good/ knives. I only have 2 knives I would classify as 'good'. The first I got right when I got the first set of stones. It is a pretty inexpensive kiridashi. For those who don't know, it is a small utility knife with a single sided grind and a steep angled blade. It's used for wood carving/marking generally, but I use it the most out of any knife I have ever had. I modified the handle and cover for mine quite a bit. It has a high carbon steel, so if it stays wet for any substantial period of time it can rust, so it does need to be taken care of. It can also patina if used on acidic materials. I ended up snaping the tip of it trying to use it to pry something pretty early on. The high carbon steel with high temperature treatment which makes up the cutting edge, which is mostly totally exposed at the tip is quite brittle, so I really shouldn't have been using it like that. Oops. That said, it was fixable since I had stones, it just shortened the blade quite a bit. Anyway, I use it to cut paper, boxes, packaging, sharpen pencils, and even have used it to peel vegetables, like a paring knife. It's quite versatile and I like it a lot. The other knife I have that I would consider 'good' is a Yaxell Mon 8' Chef / gyuto knife. It's got a clad VG10 core, which is a high quality stainless steel, and a black micarta handle. It is a step up from the Victorinox knife by a fair margin. Again, it's not like the Victorinox is bad, there is just a notable difference in quality. It's a pretty good knife for most kitchen work. The main drawbacks are with small things, and hard things. Don't go trying to cut bones with it, it won't end very well. But ya, I like 8' for a general purpose blade. It's not too big to be unwieldly, but not too small to make getting through something like a head of cabbage a problem. Anyway. It's a knife. It's got decent steel. Some people don't like VG10, it's fine. It's much better than the knives I have been using. but. That kiridashi's high carbon. It's something else. So, hopefully I'll be getting a new knife with something like Blue #2 steel. Maybe a nakiri with a more traditional octagonal handle. .

additional links

These Sharpening Stones Are On Another Level [YT]
Sharpening a $ 1 Kitchen knife with $ 300 Whetstone [YT]
Yaxell Mon

incoming references