The Kitchen Bladesmith
March 11, 2015 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Kramer first became fascinated by sharpening when he was in his early twenties, hopping from restaurant to restaurant as a prep cook. In each kitchen, he found chefs who knew almost nothing about knives. (At many restaurants, in fact, the chefs got their knives sharpened by an old-timer who would drop by once a month to tune up knives in his van. For the next week, a lot of band-aids got used.) "These are our main tools," Kramer recalls thinking. "Why don't we know how to take care of them?"
posted by smcg (69 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
There is a cookware shop that sharpens knives. This reminds me I need to take mine in. (We used to have a friend who was a knife sharpener, but we don't live in the same town anymore!)
posted by Kitteh at 8:49 AM on March 11, 2015


I didn't realize the thing about Japanese knives and honing. Not that I would buy one, as the article makes a good case for clumsy Western home cooks not buying them. I bought the Cooks Illustrated recommended and cheap Victorinox Fibrox knives a while back and just steel them from time to time and they keep plenty sharp for my needs.

I actually didn't think they were that sharp, but then my mother-in-law used our boning knife yesterday and described it as "frightening" so maybe they are!

Incredibly expensive knives are kind of cool and kind of weird. I can imagine they are fantastic tools but it seems like you reach the point of greatest value/quality far, far before you reach those knives on the price scale. So despite their brilliance stuff like that ends up the provenance of rich geeks.
posted by selfnoise at 9:05 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


For the next week, a lot of band-aids got used.

That's interesting, because I find properly sharp knives to be more controllable and predictable, I guess at least partly because they require less force to do the same job.

I also recognize that as a home cook, I have the luxury of being able to take the time to learn good sharpening technique and keep up with knife maintenance, which I wouldn't necessarily have if I was working in a high-pressure restaurant environment.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:08 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


My mom used to tell me stories of when she was a kid in Brooklyn that actual an Scissor Grinder would come into the neighborhood in a little truck and announce his presence using a PA system. She said all the women (and a few men) would flood out onto the street to get their knives, etc. sharpened. It was like the adult version of the Ice Cream Truck coming through.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:10 AM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


So despite their brilliance stuff like that ends up the provenance of rich geeks.

Yeah, I don't know enough about this very esoteric sub-niche to have ever heard of this guy before, but now I'd bet twenty bucks I know someone who owns one of his knives.
posted by Naberius at 9:11 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hand-tool woodworkers everywhere are chuckling.
posted by butterstick at 9:13 AM on March 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


I bought a couple of Japanese knives, a 10" and a 6", and I absolutely adore them both. They're thinner and more lightweight than a typical western knife, but they hold a sharper edge, longer. I also have a Wusthof that does work better for certain things, but I sharpen it almost twice as often and still can't get the same edge as I can on the Globals. So I guess it was a bit of a splurge, but it's one I've never regretted.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:19 AM on March 11, 2015


I am an avid home cook and not a rich geek, but if I had the extra dosh, there are a lot of expensive high quality kitchen tools and appliances I'd own in a heartbeat without regret.
posted by Kitteh at 9:23 AM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


ChefSteps, purveyors of highly mesmerizing modernist cooking videos, also have a great series on knives and sharpening. Why Sharp Knives are Better.
posted by capricorn at 9:26 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


butterstick -- supersharp, right ? (been a while, since I don't use chisels or lathe tools very often, but believe that was the rec.woodworking term .. )
posted by k5.user at 9:26 AM on March 11, 2015


I was doing a boat building contest where you had 3 hrs to build a boat, using all hand tools ,so I got into tool sharpening. This is a really obscure art and I can sharpen a wood chisel so you can shave with it, but I feel like I have barely understood what is going on even though I know quite a bit about metal.

There is an old Portguese guy that sharpen knives out of his 1960's mid engine van that drops by my shop every month or so to talk shop as he also repairs accordions on the side.
posted by boilermonster at 9:30 AM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


That's interesting, because I find properly sharp knives to be more controllable and predictable, I guess at least partly because they require less force to do the same job.

Well, it's certainly conventional wisdom that blunt knives are more dangerous than sharp. All I can say is that in many years of cooking I've only ever cut myself with sharp knives.
posted by yoink at 9:48 AM on March 11, 2015


For the next week, a lot of band-aids got used.
That is the mark of idiots handling knives that happen to be sharp.

Apprarently no one took the time to teach proper knife use, such as: when holding something with your off-hand, curl your fingers under slightly at the end knuckles, and point those fingers towards the blade. This provides a blade rest about 1/2" over the slicing area that is guaranteed human-flesh-free. Next: don't raise your knife more than 1/2" to chop.

EVERYONE should learn this.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:52 AM on March 11, 2015 [12 favorites]


Shun knives were at Costco and I kick myself not not grabbing one up.
posted by Renoroc at 9:59 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


BTW, as I've said before: if you want to learn how to sharpen knives, get a high-powered magnifying lens or loupe (preferably 3x or more).

After sharpening, turn the blade on-edge, and look for shiny spots. These are "flats" or bends in the very edge of the blade, which are dull. You can also find divots - ultra-short dents - this way.

Sharpen some more, and look at the same area again. Learn how it changes.

If the subject of the article had used this technique, he would have known why he wasn't getting an edge on his "5th knife" - he hadn't nearly ground it enough yet. Since he didn't, all he could do was think, "That oughta be enough...".

Honestly, sharpening isn't black magic, as the article really wants you to believe. It's simple geometry. The closer you get those two surfaces to an exact point, the sharper it is. (The narrower the angle between them determines force versus penetration, and it also determines edge strength, obviously). A 3-D profile of an actual blade, at the microscopic level, will show a rough, narrow plateau (with gouges left and right) between the two flat(tish) sides of the bevel. Sometimes the edge will bend over, bending the plateau off the centerline entirely - that's what honing steels correct, by restraightening these bends. (Most "honing" steels also have grit that does some material removal as well.)
posted by IAmBroom at 10:03 AM on March 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


While I do knifemaking as a hobby, doing it full-time would require a major drop in income for the foreseeable future. I do note that the hallowed "master bladesmith" certification for ABS is considered a joke by the vast majority of knifemakers, as it has been shown (by a member of the ABS board) that the "tests" can be passed by a sharpened crowbar, and he had to fight to get a non-bowie-style knife included in the set of blades for judgement. In short, the organization wants its designated masters to make duplicates of a specific style of knife as made by one of its founders, and if you don't make that type of knife, you'll never "pass." They also make you pay them for years to even take the tests so you can't just work yourself up to master-level ability then pass, first you have to pay membership for three years, then you can take a "journeyman" test (the crowbar one mentioned above), then keep paying dues for another 2 years, then pass another set of arbitrary and mostly-mocked tests. Oh, and then keep paying them or they'll revoke your mastership.
posted by Blackanvil at 10:05 AM on March 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


Alton Brown did a spectacular episode of Good Eats about knife care and maintenance. Since he's now doing gameshow cooking, it may be that people haven't seen it in a while. But it's well worth looking for.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:15 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think I have ever gone over to cook at someone else's house and not had to hone their knives on the bottom of a mug first. No one in my demo seems to even realize that knives need to be sharpened anymore.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:16 AM on March 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


My grandfather taught me how to sharpen knives using sharpening stones. He always carried a little Case pocket knife sharp enough to shave with. It can be quite meditative & I always think of him a bit as I do it.

I'm definitely in the camp of sharp knives make cooking so much easier. I also agree it's a lost art. I had a date over for dinner a couple of years ago who asked what she could do to help. I asked her to cut up an onion or something, and she proceeded to pick up a knife and run her finger down the edge of the blade. As I was trying to staunch the bleeding I asked her what in the world possessed her to do that. "I wanted to see if it was sharp". There was no second date.
posted by kjs3 at 10:29 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think I have ever gone over to cook at someone else's house and not had to hone their knives on the bottom of a mug first. No one in my demo seems to even realize that knives need to be sharpened anymore.

I seriously only learned this in the last couple of years, and I'm in my 30s. I am simultaneously amazed that I missed out on this knowledge, and baffled as to how I ever would have acquired it. Where and when do people learn this stuff?

Growing up, there was one knife, and I'm sure it sucked, and there were two pans (a tall one for rice and pasta and a flat one for everything else) and, like, some baking dishes. Cooking classes weren't an option at my schools. I guess I would have sought out knowledge about knives, etc, if I'd known it was out there, but as far as I knew there was "at-home half-assery cooking" and "professional" cooking and nothing between.

The person who taught me about knives (and pans, and etc.) worked in a high-end specialty cookware store for years, so it isn't like he learned at school or at home or some other place that just about anybody would experience.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:44 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I use the Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker to sharpen and it works really well. My main knife is a Shun, but the Victorinox knives are really great and 1/10 the price. (I wouldn't give up the Shun, though).

Here's a Serious Eats guide.
posted by Huck500 at 10:48 AM on March 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


hone their knives on the bottom of a mug first

Clever McGyvering there Liz. Never thought of that.
posted by kjs3 at 10:54 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huck500: I, too, have a Sharpmaker. (Isn't that instructional video a howl?)

My wife won't sharpen or even steel a blade, so every time I think of it, I sharpen all of our usual knives. It doesn't take long, and everything -- particularly cutting tomatoes -- is so much easier when I am done.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I should take the Sharpmaker down to my workbench and sharpen up my chisels, too. Now if only I could figure out how to sharpen drill bits on the thing….
posted by wenestvedt at 10:56 AM on March 11, 2015


Anecdote from the article: Before the friend returned Kramer replaced the cockatoo, and even started calling the bird by his predecessor’s name. Sadly, this did not fool the bird, nor the owner.

Bro, do you even sitcom?

posted by resurrexit at 10:59 AM on March 11, 2015


Where and when do people learn this stuff?

Anecdata: I happened to learn it when I got into woodcarving/whittling in my early 30's, under the influence of another more experienced whittler I'd met, who also gave me a small book about how to sharpen knives. With that start to make me aware of the issue at all, I was able to learn more and (pardon the pun) hone my skills further. By the time I started getting into cooking (again, with an experienced chef as a mentor), I took those skills into the kitchen with me.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:05 AM on March 11, 2015


I seriously only learned this in the last couple of years, and I'm in my 30s. I am simultaneously amazed that I missed out on this knowledge, and baffled as to how I ever would have acquired it. Where and when do people learn this stuff?

My mom worked for a catering company in her teens or early 20s, and I got it from her. No one I show it to has ever heard of it before. Have a WikiHow! (But this link ought to say 'hone' and not 'sharpen,' they have different meanings. Honing is like ironing the blade flat, and sharpening involves removing some of the metal itself. I hone my own knives with a honing steel but I still have them sharpened like once a year or so.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:06 AM on March 11, 2015


In each kitchen, he found chefs who knew almost nothing about knives.

Back in the day when I was dirt poor, my roomy/best friend and I cooked at parties etc. for a living. Once, there was a huge party at a national institution, and for some reason, we were hired rather than their in-house kitchen.

So we came to the kitchen in the morning, and were instructed by the chef about the kitchen. He told us he never lent out his knives, but that since we were amateurs and probably didn't have our own sets, he would make an exception. But we really, really had to be careful, since professional cook and dangerous and so on.
His knives would've been good for buttering toast or spreading jam. We had our own with us, so no big deal.

We also had to clean the whole place before we felt it was safe to cook in, but that is another story.

No wonder the organizers hired an out-of-house company, though.

Conclusion: professional cooks come in many forms and shapes. They are not always the sharpest knives in the drawer. (Sorry, sorry, couldn't help it…)
posted by mumimor at 11:07 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do not really know how to sharpen a knife properly. But I do know sharp when I see it - I have a sledge microtome that will slice tissue at 10 micrometers or less, and when it is off it's darn easy to see the difference in section quality. (That, I have commercially sharpened, and keep 5-6 blades around so I always have a good one on hand.)

But the bigger question: Where do I go to learn how to sharpen my (crappy) kitchen knives? And my (half decent) pocket knives...
posted by caution live frogs at 11:26 AM on March 11, 2015


"Apprarently no one took the time to teach proper knife use, such as: when holding something with your off-hand, curl your fingers under slightly at the end knuckles, and point those fingers towards the blade. This provides a blade rest about 1/2" over the slicing area that is guaranteed human-flesh-free. Next: don't raise your knife more than 1/2" to chop.

EVERYONE should learn this."


The Claw. Funny that this is coming up here.

I lost two fingertips before Chef showed me the claw. That was 15 years and a dozen restaurants ago. This last week we had a stage at our restaurant—dude has crazy great experience: high end, sommelier, et cetera. Watching him cut bread for a table it was clear, for all the bottles he's popped, he's never had to cut bread.

"If you take one thing from this experience," I told him, "Use the claw." And I showed him.

And then went home, didn't use the claw, and cut the everloving hell out of myself.

tldr: USE THE CLAW.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 11:45 AM on March 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


I have a roller sharpener (looks like a chair wheel, you put the blade in and roll it back and forth), a honing stone that I use mainly for yard tools, and a spinner sharpener that looks like the device you make in the wilderness with a stick and a string to start a fire, only made of metal and plastic bits. I try to use them regularly but I never feel like it gets my knives really decently sharp. I'm not enough of a foodie or kitchen whiz for this to really be a problem, though.

I also have a knife, supposedly a "Swedish fish knife" acquired from some Crate & Barrel type of store decades ago, that never loses its edge. Never. It's still perfect for effortlessly slicing a tomato. The wooden handle is turning gray and the blade has, I guess, seasoning all over it, so it looks like hell, but it's still the best knife I own. I worry that if the handle splits or splinters I won't be able to replace it.
posted by dhartung at 11:49 AM on March 11, 2015


"The knife there on the shelf—
it reeked of meaning, like a crucifix.
It lived. How many years did I
beg it, implore it, not to break?
I knew each nick and scratch by heart,
the bluish blade, the broken tip,
the lines of wood-grain on the handle ...
Now it won’t look at me at all.
The living soul has dribbled away.
My eyes rest on it and pass on. "

(Elizabeth Bishop)
posted by aramaic at 12:11 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


showbiz_liz : No one in my demo seems to even realize that knives need to be sharpened anymore.

Truth. I just sharpened the knives at one of our local aquariums, and everyone stood around like I was doing a magic trick.

I think that a big, big reason for this is the ubiquity of really pretty good knives at places like Target for less than $50. When I learned sharpening about twenty years ago, this wasn't the case; you had really cheap stuff made out of brittle steel that would hold an edge, but would chip really easily, or high end knives that could cost $50 plus per knife. Those were the select few that had both edge retention as well as flexibility.

Nowadays, it is so much easier to find a drop forged knife that meets all these requirements for $20. And so, people don't sharpen anymore. They just buy a new one, or keep using knives that get duller and duller without noticing.

And that is, as anyone who works with knives will tell you, the most dangerous kind of knife to have. A dull one requires a lot more force to accomplish the same task, and the chances of it slipping and cutting your soft human flesh go up exponentially. (Also, a dull knife will leave more of a laceration than an incision, so if you do get cut, it'll also take longer to heal with a dull knife.)

Huck500 : I use the Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker to sharpen and it works really well

When I was in college in the early '90s, I made extra money sharpening knives for local chefs and scissors for hairdressers and barbers. I received a free Sharpmaker from Spyderco for selling some of their products to local police and fire departments back then, and I still use the same one today. I can not overstate how good of a sharpener this tool is.

And IAmBroom's technique for finding flat spots on the edge is an excellent suggestion. It allows you to focus on that part of the edge until it is corrected, and then you resharpen the whole blade to even it all out.

I also make knives occasionally, and the dynamics that exist between the blade material and the edge profile is a bit tricky. Of all the thing I find difficult in finishing a knife, this is easily one of the top challenges. I can make anything sharp, but making something that is the right kind of sharp, and will retain the edge... that is where it gets tricky.
posted by quin at 12:13 PM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Sharp knifes?
One word: tomatoes. I have cheap knives, but they get sharpened before cutting a tomato. I might not have the patience for an onion or a zucchini, but a tomato, always.



There is an old Portguese guy that sharpens knives ... he also repairs accordions on the side.

Why am not surprised that these skills are practiced in conjunction?
posted by BlueHorse at 12:33 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have an opinel folding knife that I'm obsessed with and use constantly, and that prompted me recently to teach myself how to sharpen it. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I'm getting the hang of it. It helps that although this knife means a lot to me emotionally, it is very inexpensive and easy to replace, so I didn't mind the risk of making a mistake on it.
I also have a full set of Shun knives (thank you wedding registry), and admittedly they have gotten pretty dull through constant use. I understand that a knife shop near my office is world class, and if you buy sharpening stones from them you can sit with their sharpener for a lesson gratis. They also have this neat pdf available on their site that has instructions.
This article was beyond fascinating to me, so thanks for posting.

Also, KingEdRa, at least one of those knife sharpening trucks still exists in Brooklyn. I see the red "ice cream truck" all the time.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 12:36 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I just sharpened the knives at one of our local aquariums

...that were used to cut up the non-performing losers into "Today's Special: Fish Stew!" at the aquarium's restaurant?
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:48 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Knife sharpening is one of those household tasks I know we should be doing, but never actually do. I get around this by using my ceramic knife as much as possible, although at some point I'll have to sharpen that too.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:54 PM on March 11, 2015


I bought a couple of Japanese knives, a 10" and a 6", and I absolutely adore them both. They're thinner and more lightweight than a typical western knife, but they hold a sharper edge, longer. I also have a Wusthof that does work better for certain things, but I sharpen it almost twice as often and still can't get the same edge as I can on the Globals. So I guess it was a bit of a splurge, but it's one I've never regretted.

I also have Globals, and I love them, but it's worth pointing out that they're not at all traditional Japanese knives. Global knives run to a hardness of Rockwell C56 - C58, which is more comparable to that of typical high-end Western kitchen knives - a traditional gyūtō would be significantly harder, in the mid 60s. I would say the softer steel of the Globals is probably more appropriate to Western foods and cooking techniques anyway, though.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:00 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


showbiz_liz: I don't think I have ever gone over to cook at someone else's house and not had to hone their knives on the bottom of a mug first.
I learned this via my nearly skill-less brother. I boasted that I could sharpen a knife on a rock with a flat spot (which is true; I've done it), and he remembered Grandma sharpening her kitchen knife on the bottom of a coffee cup.

That made me think about the fine, unglazed porcelain, and I decided to try it. Basically, it works if your knife needs little more than a hone, because porcelain is fine-grained.

Seriously, people: grab a magnifying glass, a knife, and a coffee cup, and go watch the edge as you work it. You'll see the sharpening in action, and learn how to do this "magic trick".

The only trick is learning to hold the angle steady. Again, the magnifier is your feedback.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:01 PM on March 11, 2015


I guess many people don't notice the clearly marked knife sharpeners on the shelf next to the knives there at Target?

The one I have is stupidly easy to use, although you also need a steel to get an edge that will last for more than a single cooking session, but that probably has as much to do with the cheapness of the knives I own as the sharpener.
posted by wierdo at 1:05 PM on March 11, 2015


There is an old Portguese guy that sharpens knives ... he also repairs accordions on the side.

Why am [I] not surprised that these skills are practiced in conjunction?


Yeah, anybody who's going to try to repair a broken accordion better have a good sharp knife handy for self-defense.

you do know the difference between an onion and an accordion, right?
posted by Naberius at 1:05 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


OK, not to thread-sit, but: once you get the idea, and connect the feeling (of holding the blade at the angle of the edge) with the action (keeping that angle steady), you don't need the magnifying lens - but you still can use the edge-glint trick. Point your knife edge-up, and watch the reflections of a light source as you slowly arc it along the edge curve. You want the reflection off the very edge, not the thin faces leading to the edge. Glints will occur at flats; line-breaks at dents.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:05 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Always Keep and Edge on Your Knife

A few years ago I did some work for Alton Brown and he gave me a couple of Shun knives in payment, which was well appreciated because I never could have afforded to buy them. They are fantastic knives; stupendously sharp and pretty good at holding their edges. I'm a middling cook so I always feel like a bit of a poseur but they are a pleasure to work with.
posted by workerant at 1:37 PM on March 11, 2015


With my nice Japanese knives, I skip the steel which can be damaging. I strop them, trailing edge on a newspaper, magazine, book, stack of papers, etc. Hard felt is great for deburring after sharpening.
posted by Evstar at 1:38 PM on March 11, 2015




But this link ought to say 'hone' and not 'sharpen,' they have different meanings. Honing is like ironing the blade flat, and sharpening involves removing some of the metal itself. I hone my own knives with a honing steel but I still have them sharpened like once a year or so.)

showbiz_liz, I was stopped short by your assertion about what honing is and isn't, because my machining experience says different. The Wiki article you linked to also says different:
The naming is often a misnomer, because the traditional "honing steel" is not a hone at all, i.e. its function is to displace rather than to remove metal along the edge. The term "hone" is associated with light maintenance performed on a blade without the effort and precision normally associated with sharpening, so the name "hone" was loaned. In the 1980s, ceramic abrasives became increasingly popular, and proved an equal, if not superior, method for accomplishing the same daily maintenance tasks; manufacturers replaced steels with ceramic (and later, manufactured diamond abrasive) sharpening "steels" that were, in fact, hones.
Hones are abrasive, and they remove material in use. What you're calling honing is more akin to burnishing.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:12 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess many people don't notice the clearly marked knife sharpeners on the shelf next to the knives there at Target?

Those things do a crap half-ass job, and they're hell on knives. They may be okay for using up cheap blades but I'd never subject a decent knife to one of them.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:56 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've worked in professional kitchens and I know enough to know I should get my blades sharpened, and to know that the Target knife sharpeners are shit and shouldn't go anywhere near my Global. But I'm also lazy/forgetful, so my knives are embarrassingly dull. (I do have a steel and use that regularly, but I can tell my everyday santoku needs professional help.) It's just that amidst the myriad of things I need to do to keep my household clean and safe, my social life intact, my pets healthy, my car and bikes running, etc. etc., getting the knives taken care of ends up falling down the list. I would absolutely run out into the street for the adult ice cream truck style of assistance.
posted by misskaz at 5:01 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


P.S. I don't know a ton about fancy knives, I just got a Global because the handle fits my tiny hands.
posted by misskaz at 5:02 PM on March 11, 2015


Knife sharpening and honing is one of those things that I feel like I should know, but literally never got taught--I picked up chopping skills and things like that from helping my family cook around the house and then from cooking on my own, but no one ever showed me how to use our honing steel and I think the one time I tried I blunted the knife I was experimenting with. I've been worrying about this because it seems so very easy to mess up and destroy my knives, and one is a solid, awesome workhorse of a kitchen knife I inherited from my great-grandmother and I'd really rather not ruin it. I'd been trying, in a halfassed sort of way, to figure it out from the Internet and to sort out what seemed doable for an idiot with no experience (water stones are terrifying) but was not, y'know, clearly awful (the Target mechasharpeners).

So, uh. Suggestions? I have a hell of a lot of tabs open from the links you awesome people left upthread, and I will be working my way through them over the course of the evening. I don't know jack about knives--I have a Haeckels box set which was a gift from my parents--but I do know that I cook a lot and I like to be efficient about it when I do it.
posted by sciatrix at 5:28 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, uh. Suggestions?

The Spyderco Sharpmaker mentioned above is really the best overall sharpener I've ever used. It is a plastic base into which you put either coarse or fine triangular alumina-ceramic rods (they also have very fine, and diamond options, but I think those have to be purchased separately.) When they are in the base they form the shape of an upright V.

All you have to do is hold the knife horizontally with the spine straight up, and run it down the left side and then the right. You just do this until the blade is sharp to your satisfaction. It can also do scissors and flat sharpening (chisels, fish-hooks and the like) but for the average user who just needs sharp knives it is perfect.

It also doesn't wear out, I've had mine for almost exactly twenty years, and it still works as well now as the day I got it. It also has the benefit of working as fast or slow as you want to, so if you have knives that you want to keep spotless and scratch free (something that electric sharpeners will eventually do), it's a great choice.

From dull, it can take a couple of minutes worth of work to make a knife really properly sharp again, but for maintenance sharpening, it takes just a few seconds to pass the blade back and forth for a few strokes to get it back to top cutting condition.

There are whetstones that go finer, and they are required if you want to sharpen something like a straight razor, but for the vast, vast majority of sharpening needs, this is the one I'd recommend.
posted by quin at 5:48 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't think I have ever gone over to cook at someone else's house and not had to hone their knives on the bottom of a mug first. No one in my demo seems to even realize that knives need to be sharpened anymore.

Most of the kitchens where I lend a hand turn out to have a crappy set of serrated knives, which are kind of awful but are oh so much better than dull decent knives.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:13 PM on March 11, 2015


Yeah, anybody who's going to try to repair a broken accordion better have a good sharp knife handy for self-defense.

No, it's more that accordions are filled with tiny blades that require tuning. Like knife-sharpening there's a lot of repetitive work and an obsession with tiny details. Having a good accordion repair person is one of the great benefits of living in an industrial civilization. Sharp knives are nice too.
posted by sneebler at 7:57 PM on March 11, 2015


For the next week, a lot of band-aids got used.

wtf? I'd be extremely interested to know what kind of alleged 'restaurants' this was happening at. Yes, we cut ourselves sometimes. But... more hand slicing because knives are sharper? Pfft.

Shun knives were at Costco and I kick myself not not grabbing one up.

You should keep kicking. I only have one Shun (a gift) and I love it more than I love oxygen. Holds an edge forever.

I'm definitely in the camp of sharp knives make cooking so much easier.

I get what you're saying, but there isn't really a 'camp' here. Sharp knives make cooking easier--and much, much safer--period.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:25 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Back in the day before I was rebuilding accordions for a living (yes really), I worked at Chuck E Cheeze. The knives we had to chop food were dull as hell so I brought a whet stone to work and sharpened all the knives, it was great having sharp knives I even put up a sign "Caution knives have been sharpened". I was asked to never do this again.

Another good trick knife sharpener is the back of those white ceramic highway bumps if you can get one without glue on it.
posted by boilermonster at 11:05 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh man, y'all are making me feel guilty for how rarely I use my steel.

And while I learned the claw at my crappy restaurant job, I didn't learn anything like how to actually hold a chef's knife properly — I think some folks here are over-estimating the amount of actual knife skills most short-order cooks need. Tomatoes and onions were diced with a grate and press tool, and the only regular chopping was stuff like hacking baked chicken breasts into cubes. We still got those 8" plastic-handled Sysco knives sharpened once a week, but I think they were used for stuff like opening bottles and spreading beans than chopping. I remember seeing the main cook use the blade of a chef's knife to open a jar by hacking at the lid, which I'm still surprised didn't lop off any fingers.

(I can at least take credit for finally forcing CarsonB to get a damn chef's knife, even if it was also one of those terrible Sysco knives from Smart & Final. Someone mentioned cheap Target knives upthread, and having used both, gimme a cheaper knife made for actual restaurant use any day. Too many cheap Target knives have terrible balance and heavier, worse blades.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:07 PM on March 11, 2015


For the time being I'm staying at a friend's house during my gut-renovation.

I don't have my knives here, and I tried to explain to this lunkhead that what he was calling knives could better be described as knife-shaped flat spoons. He disputed that, and showed me that with the serrated one he could saw through a piece of semi-hard cheese, if he applied himself.

I got one of my knives from the storage shed, and showed him the "cut a slice from a half-tomato laying face down on the cutting board without holding it" demonstration. His only reaction was, "Get that thing out of here, it's dangerous!"
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:18 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love knives, keep my kitchen knives as sharp as possible (another vote for the Spyderco Sharpmaker), and learned how to use them right in large part from Peter Hertzmann's Knife Skills Illustrated (yes, you must learn the curl). I've found sharp knives are more dangerous than dull knives for me. If you treat a dull knife like the dangerous stupid tool it is, you won't get hurt by asking it to do something it can't. But, even the slightest contact with a really sharp blade will cut you and try as I might, I do get nicked now and then. For me occasional small nicks are a small price to pay for the pleasure of a really sharp knife. I have Wusthof knives but I also have a couple of Kiwi chefs knives (see Kevin Kellys Cool Tools) that are incredibly cheap and stay incredibly sharp - I don't know why.
posted by Jackson at 10:20 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sharper knives are safer because they grab the product and slide through it with less force. The duller a knife is, the harder you have to push, and the more likely it is to slip, which makes it more likely that you will slip and seriously injure yourself than get the odd nick here and there (ask me how I know!). Even deep cuts with a sharper knife will, as I understand it, heal faster and cleaner than the kind of tearing injuries you get with a duller one.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:36 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only real risk I find with sharp knives is that my wife (who grew up without sharp knives and has never worked in a kitchen) would leave them in the dishwater without telling me. We have some dull knives that wouldn't break the skin on pudding and those are no problem, but the couple of sharp knives I keep can turn the water pink in a hurry. (Though the only really bad cuts I've gotten in the last decade or so have been from serrated knives and bagels, I've clipped off chunks of fingernail more often than I'd like to while using the claw.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:52 AM on March 12, 2015


And once I get a job again, I think I'm going to pick up that spyderco, seeing as Amazon has them new starting at $13.
posted by klangklangston at 10:53 AM on March 12, 2015


Where are you seeing them for $13? The one I found is going for $50...not that it isn't worth it, but still, that's a big price difference.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:05 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huh, that's weird. From google a couple hours ago, they had the "other sellers" link starting with a new one at $13, now it's gone.
posted by klangklangston at 11:22 AM on March 12, 2015


Sic transit gloria amazoni... Maybe that was a used one that someone snapped up.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:25 AM on March 12, 2015


This is a great article.

This might surprise some, and some may disagree. I've worked a few years in (several) professional kitchens-- first as a prep and then as a cook. While a sharp knife is essential for many fine tasks, I've learned the value of a dull-ish knife. There's still a lot you can do with a dull knife and when you're working fast, it's actually safer (although no knife is safe if it has nicks or dings).

Nowadays my kit has a large 10" Chef knife that's kinda dull and a several other knives I keep sharp such as a flexible filet and a Santoku.

When I really need to recondition the blade, I have it professionally sharpened. If it's not too far gone, I use a Japan-style wet stone.
posted by xtian at 4:15 PM on March 12, 2015


Naberius: "you do know the difference between an onion and an accordion, right?"

One makes people cry when you squeeze it, and the other's an onion?
posted by traveler_ at 7:03 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cry when you cut it; accordion.
posted by klangklangston at 8:30 PM on March 14, 2015


SPEAKING OF SHARP KNIVES... Does anyone know the brand of the kitchen microtome in this gif?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:17 PM on March 15, 2015


SPEAKING OF SHARP KNIVES... Does anyone know the brand of the kitchen microtome in this gif?

That looks an awful lot like the Shun knife I have in the next room (though sharper).
posted by Dip Flash at 8:50 PM on March 15, 2015


IAmBroom, It's a Damascus drop-forged chef's knife. That's a pretty specific search which led me to this. I can't be positive, but the blade profile is the right shape, and it looks just a bit like the handle he is holding is brown. There also appears to be a maker's mark near the bolster, and it seems to be roughly the same size on both knives.

The Damascus pattern is different, but that is sort of the cool thing about it. It changes with every knife.

It could be something else, but considering what it is doing, I wouldn't be surprised to find out it has a custom pedigree.
posted by quin at 10:24 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


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