Knife Sharpening is one of those gray areas for many people in the culinary world and, the day to day world of people who carry knives in their pockets. I have been in the cutlery business for over 30yrs and, in that time I can tell you that sharpening professional cutlery tools is really a misunderstood process and art. I have been a professional sharpener for 20yrs of the 32yrs in the cutlery business. So it is in this post that I am going to begin to address knife sharpening with a series of posts and videos that I promise when I am done you my much loved readers will know more about knives and knife sharpening than anyone else you know and this I promise!
In this post I am going to begin to address “knife sharpening” with a “knife steel” or “honing rod” that you will find in every chef’s kit and every home cutlery set. Using a steel is very misunderstood in the world of knives and sharpening. “Steeling” a knife is actually good for the blade and will extend the sharpness and cutting performance of the blade if the process is performed right. Most people I know think that “steeling” a knife is “sharpening” and knife, but, it’s not! So many of us have watched people on T.V., celeb chefs and people on the internet stroking/rubbing their knife against a steel or up and down on a steel of even stroking the knife in reverse on the steel and explaining that this is how you sharpen your knife. They are wrong! Period! Steeling is not knife sharpening, it is knife honing!
So let me begin by telling you what “knife steeling” is not:
Using a steel on a knife is not knife sharpening, it is honing or truing or straightening a blade that has rolled to one side or the other. On the other hand, knife sharpening is the process of removing metal from the blade in order to thin the blades bevel. The thinner the bevel the sharper the blade. Your bevel is made of two parts: the secondary bevel and the primary cutting edge. Now, even though “steeling” isn’t sharpening it will make your blade feel sharper. Technically speaking a knife steel is also called a file by us old timers and this file cuts micro serrations into the primary cutting edge of your blade, especially if your are using a “grooved” steel. Now, when you watch these people on TV or the net and they are rubbing the blade on the steel all they are really doing is deforming the blade. What will happen if you hold the blade to high to the steel(see video for explanation) you will dull the blade and deform it and if you are doing this on a “grooved” steel you run the chance taking pieces of steel from your primary cutting edge. If the blade is held to low to the steel then the angle of the edge will never meet the steel correctly and nothing will happen except that you will scratch up the primary bevel or profile of your knife.(see video for explanation) This is part one of how to sharpen knives with a sharpening steel.
Stay tuned for part 2 and we will get further in depth in this subject.