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Honing Japanese Chef's Knives

Discussion in 'Social Life, Food & Drink, Travel' started by KJT, Dec 5, 2009.

  1. KJT

    KJT Well-Known Member

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    OK hopefully the people on this forum can explain to me the best way to hone/sharpen my Shun knives. I have two Shun chef's knives (one 10", one 7") and a Shun paring knife. Both the paring and the 7" need their edge rebuilt somehow - a relative took a wustof steel he found in a drawer to them on Thanksgiving and pretty much dulled the edges beyond belief. Admittedly, they were getting dull on their own after almost 2 years of use and needed some attention, but now they're in horrible shape and are completely unusable. (it also looks like he chipped the 7"'s edge in several places...)

    The information online on the matter is completely contradictory - some sites say only use the Shun steel, some stay only use a smooth steel or glass steel, some say only use a ceramic steel, some say don't use a steel at all. For a variety of reasons that aren't worth going into. Most of the discrepancies revolve around the hardness of the Japanese steel, whether or not a steel actually files a knife or just reshapes it, if a steel with teeth with chip a Japanese knife, etc. etc.

    I'm sure some of you folks use Japanese knives - what do you use? I know I can send them back to KAI to get sharpened for free, but I'd rather know how to at least maintain them properly at home. Little help?
     
  2. kwilkinson

    kwilkinson Well-Known Member

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    Sharpen with waterstones. Start with 800 grit stone (I only use that if the blade is damaged or needs some heavy work), then eventually work my way down to 9,000 grit.

    I always use a ceramic steel.

    FWIW, I have a 10" Shun Elite chef's and a 6" Shun Elite paring.
     
  3. KJT

    KJT Well-Known Member

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    Sharpen with waterstones. Start with 800 grit stone (I only use that if the blade is damaged or needs some heavy work), then eventually work my way down to 9,000 grit.

    I always use a ceramic steel.

    FWIW, I have a 10" Shun Elite chef's and a 6" Shun Elite paring.


    Thanks. Do you know any books/sites/videos that describe the process adequately? The internet can be a very unhelpful place sometimes, with all the misinformation out there.

    Also where does one purchase good waterstones and what is a reasonable price? What grits are necessary?

    As for the ceramic steel - would this be acceptable? http://www.japaneseknifesharpeningst...ductCode=IDH12 I keep reading that Idahone rods are of the best out there. I'm assuming I want a "fine" grit - is that right?
     
  4. HORNS

    HORNS Well-Known Member

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    Kyle, why only a ceramic steel?
     
  5. Dmax

    Dmax Well-Known Member

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    I have the ceramic steel linked above and it's good. I plan to get 3 more for people to give to people whom I previously bought Japanese knives for. AFAIK, Manton had the same steel until he dropped it and got a black ceramic one from MAC. Maybe he can comment on which he likes more. I would only use ceramic or smooth steels on Japanese knives. For waterstones, you need something around 1000 grit for general sharpening and something between 4000 to 6000 for polishing/removing scratches from the 1000 grit stone. Some knife nuts take their edges all the way to 15000 grit stones but for most people the two stones above will suffice. A good value is a combination stone, which is basically two stones glued together. Korin has a Togiharu brand 1000/4000 stone for $40 which looks good. All waterstones need to be soaked in cool water for about 5-10 minutes before every use. You may also wish to get a stone fixer, which is a rough grit stone used to keep the surface of your other stones flat. Some people use the rougher grit stones to flatten their other stones. The best book about kitchen cutlery, including how to sharpen, is "An Edge in the Kitchen" by Chad Ward. Before writing the book Chad put together the sharpening article on EGullet that many people refer to. There are a couple of sharpening DVD out there. Korin has one starring their sharpenig master/co-owner Chiharu Sugai. Murray Carter, a well regarded knifemaker, also sells a set of two sharpening DVDs on his website. There are forums dedicated to kitchen knives if anyone is interested in learning more: Knife Forums/ In the Kitchen Fred's Cutlery Forums
     
  6. KJT

    KJT Well-Known Member

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    Wonderful post - thank you!
     
  7. HORNS

    HORNS Well-Known Member

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    Wonderful post - thank you!

    Absolutely.

    Still, why exclusively a smooth-surfaced steel for Japanese knives?
     
  8. KJT

    KJT Well-Known Member

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    Absolutely.

    Still, why exclusively a smooth-surfaced steel for Japanese knives?


    I don't believe that the ceramic steels are smooth - they have a grit also, but it is quite fine.

    I could be mistaken though - I'm learning man!
     
  9. HORNS

    HORNS Well-Known Member

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    I don't believe that the ceramic steels are smooth - they have a grit also, but it is quite fine.

    I could be mistaken though - I'm learning man!


    They are smooth compared to the metal ones that are striated, though. And you are right about the presence of a grit, but it being very fine.
     
  10. Dmax

    Dmax Well-Known Member

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    Absolutely. Still, why exclusively a smooth-surfaced steel for Japanese knives?
    Japanese knives are made from harder steel than the German ones. One of the drawbacks of harder steel is that it's more brittle. A steeling rod with ridges will create very small contact areas with the knife and if you apply any force while steeling you can create small chips. A smooth steel will gently move the edge back into alignment. A ceramic steel will align the edge and may also remove a tiny bit of weakened metal but not enough to worry about. If you use a white ceramic rod you will notice black streaks left on it from steeling but you can clean them off using a steel wool pad or something similar. Unless the knife is designed for chopping, like some thicker Debas, you shouldn't chop bones or things frozen solid since that can also chip the edge. If dropped on a hard surface, like a stone or marble floor there is a risk of damage to the knife. Tip breakage being the most common. I just had a tip break of on my Misono parer but I'm just going to regrind it into a slightly shorter parer. [​IMG]
     
  11. HORNS

    HORNS Well-Known Member

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    Japanese knives are made from harder steel than the German ones. One of the drawbacks of harder steel is that it's more brittle. A steeling rod with ridges will create very small contact areas with the knife and if you apply any force while steeling you can create small chips. A smooth steel will gently move the edge back into alignment. A ceramic steel will align the edge and may also remove a tiny bit of weakened metal but not enough to worry about. If you use a white ceramic rod you will notice black streaks left on it from steeling but you can clean them off using a steel wool pad or something similar.

    Unless the knife is designed for chopping, like some thicker Debas, you shouldn't chop bones or things frozen solid since that can also chip the edge. If dropped on a hard surface, like a stone or marble floor there is a risk of damage to the knife. Tip breakage being the most common.

    I just had a tip break of on my Misono parer but I'm just going to regrind it into a slightly shorter parer. [​IMG]


    This makes sense. Thank you.
     
  12. DNW

    DNW Well-Known Member

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    Just bought a Spyderco Sharpmaker set to sharpen my knives. From what I've seen, it works well and just about as idiot-proof as can be for a knife sharpener system.
     
  13. retronotmetro

    retronotmetro Well-Known Member

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    Just bought a Spyderco Sharpmaker set to sharpen my knives. From what I've seen, it works well and just about as idiot-proof as can be for a knife sharpener system.

    Those are good, but I prefer the clamp systems like GATCO or Lansky. I find it easier to get the knife tips sharp with clamp systems, whereas a Sharpmaker can round off the tips if you are not careful to keep the distal end of the blade in full contact with the hone. All it takes is a couple of passes on a Sharpmaker with the knife tip rolling off the edge of the hone at the end of the stroke, and it will get rounded off.

    I just did a neglected Shun paring knife over the weekend with the GATCO at 15 degrees, with medium and fine diamond hones, an extra fine standard hone, then finished with a ceramic ultra fine hone. Came out factory sharp in just a few minutes.

    If you don't have the patience or guts to go with waterstones, clamp systems or a Sharpmaker are great. You can fine tune the process more if you go freehand with waterstones, but you can also get into more trouble.
     
  14. Gradstudent78

    Gradstudent78 Well-Known Member

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    Just bought a Spyderco Sharpmaker set to sharpen my knives. From what I've seen, it works well and just about as idiot-proof as can be for a knife sharpener system.

    That's what I use for my knives. Sometimes I do have to retouch my tips a little, but for the most part it hasn't been a problem. It's a nice tool on keeping your knives sharp, but you'll need something else if you need to reprofile the edge or are trying to get a chip out.
     
  15. HORNS

    HORNS Well-Known Member

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    I use the Lansky clamp system, which I've had for 20 years. It's pretty idiot proof, but it takes some time to readjust the blade if you have a larger knife.
     
  16. HitMan009

    HitMan009 Well-Known Member

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    If you have knives made with a very hard metal, using a steel is pointless because it is very unlikely that the metal at the blade would have curled like on an average german knife which is made of softer metal. Getting a ceramic rod is better but that will take a bit of metal off the blade and cause larger micro serations. If you were a knife freak, getting a glass rod would an ideal solution.

    Here is my take. If you use waterstones, using a ceramic steel or any steel rod to hone the edge defeats the purpose. You spend a good deal of time getting the edge sharp and finishing to mirror shine which means a truly sharp edge with minimal and absolutely tiny micro serations only to destroy that edge with a steel rod that not only ruins the mirror finish and the tiny micro serations with an edge that has larger micro serations.

    Use a 800-1000 waterstone to recreate a new edge, use the 6000 side to create a mirror finish which should take no more then 5-6 passes. Every other week, run the knife 4-5 times on the 6000 side to hone the blade and you are good to go.
     
  17. HORNS

    HORNS Well-Known Member

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    I really don't see what the big deal is with micro serrations in the blade. I've been under the impression, for years now - from many sources that I've read and been told, that these serrations improved the cutting ability of the knife. Not only that, but using a steel that has striations in it has allowed me to maintain these serrations in my own knives and has resulted in very sharp and effective knives for me.
     
  18. HitMan009

    HitMan009 Well-Known Member

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    I really don't see what the big deal is with micro serrations in the blade. I've been under the impression, for years now - from many sources that I've read and been told, that these serrations improved the cutting ability of the knife. Not only that, but using a steel that has striations in it has allowed me to maintain these serrations in my own knives and has resulted in very sharp and effective knives for me.

    Yes, it's not a big deal. It is true that micro serrations makes for an effectively sharper blade but it's not a true sharp blade if that makes any sense. I would argue that having serrations creates more feedback which can be beneficial to the user of the knife because he can feel the blade cutting through whatever he is cutting through. When I go around sharpening a knife, I can't shave fine strands off of paper but when I hone down the blade with an effective 10000 grit natural stone, I can get those fine strands easily. However, the blade maybe sharp but not as effective as a blade with more micro serrations because those deeper micro serrations can "catch on" to what I am slicing easier. So there is true sharpness and effective sharpness.
     
  19. HitMan009

    HitMan009 Well-Known Member

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    I recommend this for that little knife freak in all of us.

    Hone the blade to a mirror shine with a high grit count waterstone. Then 0.5-1" down from the tip of the knife, run a ceramic steel for 1-1.5 inches to create bigger micro serrations. (This is meant for standard 8" gyutos). That will give you a very useful and pratical blade.

    I mean you can go even fancier with different angles at different parts of the knife but that's going crazy!
     
  20. HORNS

    HORNS Well-Known Member

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    Yes, it's not a big deal. It is true that micro serrations makes for an effectively sharper blade but it's not a true sharp blade if that makes any sense. I would argue that having serrations creates more feedback which can be beneficial to the user of the knife because he can feel the blade cutting through whatever he is cutting through. When I go around sharpening a knife, I can't shave fine strands off of paper but when I hone down the blade with an effective 10000 grit natural stone, I can get those fine strands easily. However, the blade maybe sharp but not as effective as a blade with more micro serrations because those deeper micro serrations can "catch on" to what I am slicing easier. So there is true sharpness and effective sharpness.

    I do understand. On a larger, more perceptible level, those ginsu knives had serrations in them, which the manufacturers claimed "stayed sharp for a lifetime". Of course, that was not true, instead the novice user was essentially using a fine-toothed saw. On the other hand, maintaining a sharp blade, along with the micro serrations, allowed the knife to effectively cut but also to "catch" whatever it was cutting - the best examples I can use are the skins of really ripe tomatoes or citrus fruits - so it can then slice through the food.
     

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