Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Knife Sharpening and Maintenance Followup

After my first knife sharpening article, there were some questions and requests for a followup.  So, here you go!

First question I got involved oil, and why I said not to bother oiling coated and stainless blades.  Honest and simple answer, they really don't need it.  A light oiling won't hurt them, by any means, but they're not going to gain much, they've already got permanent protection built right in.

The other big question I got was "Why is my knife still acting dull when I use the finest sharpening stone in my set?"

Well... to answer that, briefly, we need to look at dressing vs. honing a blade.

Honing, in short, is the act of sharpening a blade.  It's what we covered in Knives 101.

Dressing is more of a "tune-up" for your blade.  As a knife gets worked (or sharpened on a particularly fine surface), it develops a very fine curl of metal along the edge.  Dressing removes this curl.  When a chef runs a knife on a steel rod, he's dressing the blade, keeping the edge particularly fine.  The same is true if you see a barber run a straight razor along a leather strap (called a strop, by the by.)

So, when a freshly sharpened knife "acts dull," assuming the rest of the sharpening was done properly, odds are very good that it needs dressed, to clean that last remnant from the blade.  Large blades can be run on a kitchen steel (chef's steel rod) if you have one, or they can use the same strop that medium and smaller blades use.

To use a steel, hold the knife against the steel at as close to the same angle it was sharpened at as you can.  Draw the knife downward across the steel while pushing it away from you toward the tip of the steel. Repeat the stroke on the other side of the knife and steel.  Only light pressure is needed, and less than a half-dozen strokes should be required on each side.  If you need more than that, it's time to break out the stones.  If you watch professional chefs on TV, they all run the knife toward themselves.  This is fast and flashy, yes, but I have a real hard time advising anybody to run a knife toward themself in most situations.  It's far too easy to get moving fast, slip, and find yourself in the emergency room.

My personal strop is an old belt with a plain finish that I've had for about 3/4 of forever.  They don't have to be fancy or expensive, they just need to have a good, hard, smooth tanned face.

The strop runs in a similar process.  Hold it relatively taut, either from a peg, or by tucking one end under a thigh while seated.  Run the knife down the strop, in the exact same manner as if it were a traditional whetstone.  Turn the blade over and run the other side along the strop, following the same principle as used on a steel.

One other thing, while you're oiling that blade.  A drop of oil in the mechanism of a folding knife will make its action far smoother, and extend the life of your tool into generational levels.  As an example of the lifespan of a properly maintained knife, my favorite hunting knife belonged to my great grandfather.  It works every bit as well and as smoothly now as it ever has.

Take care of them, and they'll take care of you.


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