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Sharp Knives and Hard Steel

I recently had the chance to attend the USPCA conference in Texas, which in itself is a great opportunity to connect with fellow chefs from across the country and sharpen my skills with lectures and demonstrations from experts.
One of the classes I attended was a knife sharpening class. Dominique of Star Knife Sharpening in San Antonio was our local knife expert and shared with us different types of knives and the proper techniques and angles needed to maintain a great edge. After all a sharp knife is a safe knife and works best when properly sharpened.

First lesson - Honing vs Sharpening. Most of us use a steel or stone to hone our knives. This means we merely take off the ragged edges caused by use. This helps our knives cut as opposed to ripping our foods as we use them.

Sharpening actually reshapes and fine tunes the blade. If you are using one of the electric type sharpeners, the key is to use only the weight of the knife, do not push down! This swill damage the blade. Best bet - find an expert to sharpen your knives. Ask questions - this person should know at what angle your knife should be sharpened. Most knives are in the 22-25 degree range. German knives have an edge on both sides - typically 17 degrees primary (cutting side) and 22 degrees secondary (backside).  A Japanese knife - completely different. Many Japanese knives are only sharp on one side, and have a  14 degree bevel. Some have an 80/20 ratio meaning they are sharp on both sides, but not evenly. A German knife is more of a 50/50 ratio.

Knives will vary widely in quality, cutting, and maintenance. Some tips for picking a great knife:
  • Rockwell rating - the higher the number the harder the steel, the longer they will hold an edge
  • German knives are the workhorse. Japanese knives are the Ferraris.
  • Pressed knives are cheap - think stamped out in mass production - many Chinese knives are stamped and not good quality
  • Forged knives are one piece, hot metal that is poured to form a knife and ice or oil quenched to harden the blade
  • Japanese knives can be layered, 3 ply to many layers (Damaskus Steel has 33 layers) and have a thicker spine (top of knife) than their European counterparts - they tend to have harder steel and have a long history dating back to Samurais
  • Stainless steel (really stain resistant 80/20) is better than high carbon knives that can rust - the higher the polish, the better the cut
  • Swedish steel is one of the best
  • Do not use diamond steels (sharpening rods) - it creates micro serrations that can damage your knife
  • Dimpled knives create air pockets that help release the food from the knife easier, less "sticky"
  • Good sharpening skills requires patience, pressure and good angles

A little video of proper knife sharpening skills is attached. Enjoy and good cooking!

2 Comments to Sharp Knives and Hard Steel:

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easyessay on Wednesday, December 02, 2015 10:34 AM
thats to grerat article
Reply to comment on Thursday, August 10, 2017 5:27 AM
Very useful article! As a housewife, I always struggle with sharpening my kitchen knives.
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