This and That

Random bits of my life

Knife-Sharpening Lesson

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 15, 2010

Knife-Sharpening Lesson

My office mate, Yinnon, has worked in the food business for years, both in restaurant kitchens and as a private caterer. I wanted to improve my knife-sharpening technique, so this morning I brought in my Solingen steel, Victorinox chef’s knife, and Victorinox paring knife.

It’s a good thing we don’t have to go through metal detectors at work — I was also hauling my camera, tripod, two lenses, and cable release. (I was hoping to photograph the new moon or “molad” for the month of Adar, but it was too cloudy. If I succeed in another month or two, I’ll post a photo.)

Here are a few things I learned about knife sharpening:

  • Steels wear out. I need to buy a new one (maybe ceramic, if I can find one) because the grooves are too smooth.
  • The knife and steel should be wet so that the friction doesn’t make the blade too hot. Metal molecules move around more in a hot environment and are more easily aligned if kept cool.
  • I was barely tickling the knife. Yinnon uses much more force and draws it over the steel more times.
  • The knife should be pulled diagonally towards you. Now I understand why some people worry about cutting themselves.
  • In restaurant kitchens, a knife is honed on a steel every time it’s picked up and used. The knives are also sharpened professionally 2-3 times a year. When I asked how long knives last with that treatment, he said that good knives last for years.
  • Professional sharpening grinds down a wider edge on each side of the blade than the narrow margin that is on the knife when it comes from the factory. Apparently, this makes it easier to maintain an edge and to put an edge back on the knife. What a good reason to finally take my knives to a professional sharpener!
  • Butchers apparently sharpen their knives with a zigzag motion. Yinnon’s grandfather did it that way and all the butchers he’s seen use the same motion but he doesn’t know why. Maybe it was to rub the filings off the knife blade.
  • To test the sharpness, Yinnon drags the blade toward him over his thumbnail. The blade should “catch” slightly on the thumbnail and leave a white line where it scrapes.
  • Yinnon holds small blades with a finger on top for more control.

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