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What's important when you sharpen kitchen knives

I get asked a bit about paper towel cutting and how to get there, because I do it sometimes in videos when I'm testing out or showing off a particular stone. And each time I have to tell people that it's not actually particularly important or worth worrying about too much, the reason I do it is mostly because I use paper towel instead of stone holders and to clean up, so I always have it to hand.

What's more important in a well sharpened knife (imo) is: functional longevity, or edge retention. I did a little vid before Christmas that had a very impressive paper towel cut at the end, but what I didn't know until after I'd started using it was that I'd left a very small wire edge on the knife, and it rolled on the board. That was not a good sharpening job despite looking cool in the video.

Here are a couple of other short vids; the first shows a Mazaki after putting it on my lovely new Rosy Red Washita, the second is the same knife after a week of preparing X number of meals, without touching up or stropping:

Now this is a good sharpening job, but it's not because of the first video, it's because of the second. The knife is Shiro2 and it does lose that final 10% of ultimate 'sharpness' a little more quickly than A2, or particularly AS, but it doesn't matter that it can't go through paper towel any more. The fact that I can easily decollate Little Miss Dior in the magazine shows that's it's still happily good enough for use in the kitchen. I don't need to get out a stone, I don't need to lose more metal.


Anyhow, that's just my take. Perhaps other people see it differently and think the knife could do with a touch up at that point? But I just thought I'd say for anyone newer to knife sharpening: You shouldn't necessarily equate the sharpest edge with the best edge.


ancient grey sweatophile
This is essential kitchen wisdom. You to not need a super hard steel to hold an edge, and you do not need (or even want) an ultra fine high polish edge in the kitchen. Sharpen kitchen knives with stones infrequently but hone frequently, preferably with a steel that is built for honing, not honing plus a little sharpening. An F. Dick butcher steel (polish) is perfect. Even my very old and moderately soft Sabatier carbon steel knives can easily go half a year between sharpening but still be able to slice a tomato thin enough to read the logo on the knife blade (if it had not disappeared over fifty years ago).
I never use paper towels when doing knife work so I have never really tried the paper towel test. I have accumulated a decent supply of work kitchen towels over the years I just use those- if anyone was wondering why we rarely use paper towels at home.

Can the blade julienne a pepper skin side up? Does it get wedged while cutting carrots or potatoes? If the answer is no to either of those, it works in my kitchen.

Now I do have two slicing knives, one for slicing stations. The other for cleaning proteins. The finer finished for the proteins. I need a little tooth to slice roasted beef.

Mmmm. Aogami Super Blue. I am so glad I made it my steel of choice!
So I agree that kitchen knives should be balanced between edge sharpness and edge durability. Of course this will look different depending on the steel, profile of the blade, type of knife, etc. Generally, the finest stone I finish on for kitchen knives is a generic ceramic stone I bought for a few bucks at a flea market years ago. I would rate it roughly with a soft arkansas. I sharpen boning, butcher, and chefs blades to the point they will pop a few arm hairs at a steep angle. I aim for a 38-40 degree (total) bevel angle as I favor durability. I have a cheap set of stainless Oneida knives for general kitchen use. Despite the cheapness, these knives are made with a pretty darn good steel. It will take an edge well enough (though it takes much more effort than a traditional carbon steel blade), but they hold an edge a good long while.

Paring knives I sharpen at closer to a 30-32 degree bevel angle as I like them sharp. Filet knives even a little less. While this edge won't live as long, these knives are abused less. My sharp standard for paring and filet knives is skinning a ripe tomato without pressing out juice. Boning knives I aim to sharpen a little less bevel angle than chef or butcher knives, but I still want a durable edge.

Now that I've finally gotten through to my teenagers to not use the decorative glass cutting board to cut carrots and cucumbers on, my kitchen knives don't see much abuse. I use wood cutting board, and a silicon mat for raw meat. I usually go a few months between sharpening, and I can still cut up a whole chicken fairly easy.
I want a durable, toothy edge for most of my kitchen knives and won't sharpen much past 1K. I will be a little more tedious for a thin santuko for slicing some veggies and for fillet knives. YMMV
Very much agree with frequent honing on the steel and occasional sharpening on the stone. So far, I've not gone past a soft Arkansas to reestablish an edge, so I definitely like a bit of 'tooth'. As to edge durability, my favorite kitchen blade is a six-inch chef's knife from France, a le Prince Gastronome, and is of softer steel. The edge requires attention but hones up easily. As can be seen, it has lost some steel over its 30-year life, but hasn't taken on a recurve profile and its performance remains excellent. I love the sound of that knife against the steel.

Also important: maintenance of handles. Most of my handles are polymer, but on oiled-wood scales such as on the le Prince, I periodically treat with Howard's "Feed 'n' Wax" which contains orange oil and beeswax. Of course, knives should be washed only by hand and dried immediately, even if of stainless steel.

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After @cotedupy wrote the recent article about improving kitchen knives I applied either mineral oil or walnut oil to all my wooden handles. They look and feel better.

I typically resharpen 2-3 times a year. For my chef’s knives I always use a ceramic hone before use. I am not quite as good about honing before use on the paring knife and the steak knives that I use for a lot of utility work.
I sharpen kitchen knives with 600 grit diamond and a very light touch, and then use a smooth steel for edge touch ups between sharpenings. Steel ranges from German Henckels to custom S35VN and Magnacut.
Frankly that's all you'd ever need, Soft arks are probably the most underrated knife stones out there. Really, really good edges on all sorts of steels. :)

I also agree that a soft Ark makes a really good knife finisher. Especially with a little burnish on it, which makes it finer still. I can see no real need to go with a finer finish on most knives.
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