You may have heard of the rippling of steel – better known as steel. You may even have a metal rod hidden in your knife block with the handle of your knife set that you rarely, if ever, take out and use for kitchen knives. You could see how the butcher used them, if not in real life, then in the movies. What the hell are you gonna do with him? Sharp knives? Do you impress your guests? (Picture below: Walk-in rod made of DMT ceramics and traditional Henkels steel).
In the world of kitchen knives, there is a lot of confusion about what steel or honing stones or honey really is. And with good reason. There are many terms for similar and dissimilar instruments. And sometimes something that resembles the same tool (whatever you call it) has two very different functions. Moreover, many manufacturers seem to have taken a vow of secrecy and offer at best descriptions of their products that are mysterious. So if you’re looking for clarity… Read on.
Running in is not destructive, but grinding is not.
The term steel traditionally refers to a metal rod with the length of your forearm with which you can stroke your kitchen knives to restore their sharpness. Note that I’m talking about return and not just sharpening, because traditionally sharpening steel works differently than a grinder. The steel simply aligns the edge of the blade, while the sharpener sharpens the metal to create a new edge. Both reach the same end, with a sharper knife, but they do so in different ways. Running in is not destructive, but grinding is not. Running-in is a maintenance task that needs to be carried out fairly frequently, while grinding should be carried out as little as possible. You sharpen the knife until the edge is so worn that you have to sharpen it again.
What is especially confusing is that something resembling the same tool – a shaft with a handle (also called steel) – can be designed to be sharpened or ground and sometimes both. To better understand this, you need to close the knife quickly.
Dexas Jelly Board, 11 x 14-1/2 inch – green, red, orange, blue
In addition to regular sharpening, it is best to use the right cutting board to keep your kitchen knives sharp. (Wood and Plastic is the most detailed article I’ve read about chopping boards – wood and plastic). Don’t be fooled by fun colours – these are high-quality polypropylene sheets with a density suitable for kitchen knives. I’ve had a board at Dexas for ten years and it always looks representative. BUYING NOW on Amazon
Stretching of curved parts
As you can imagine, the steel of the blade is very thin. This is one of the most important qualities that enables him to cut. But it also makes him vulnerable to tensions and stresses he was not meant for. It’s like hitting a chicken bone. Scrapers against the mango pit. Get in the chopping board. Because of all these events, the soft edge of the blade (which at a microscopic level looks more like an uneven tooth) will curl up into stains. The sharp edge is retained, but part of the blade is bent to the side or completely reversed so that the blade is less able to cut. It’ll be duller. But it’s not. And it doesn’t need sharpening. (Picture below : Picture of an electron microscope [600x] Sharpened stainless steel knife with a grain size of 220).
We need to align and straighten the parts of the leaf that are temporarily stacked. Inlet steel inlet. It puts those problem areas in their place. All over the edge of the leaf. Over and over again. (It’s amazing how strong but resilient steel can be). At some point, these sections (remember that they look like teeth making teeth) begin to wear out or break in such a way that they can no longer be repaired or restored. The new edge must be sharpened – the knife must be sharpened. (See my illustration at the end of the grinding cycle)
In theory, a kitchen knife can be sharpened with the edge of a steel letter opener – provided the letter opener is made of a steel that is harder than the knife. You can also use the back of the porcelain plate. (Actually, it’s a nice trick when you’re sitting on your aunt’s cut turkey with a super annoying knife and you have nothing to do). But it’s better to hone steel. It is fast, safe and requires minimal skill and effort.
Depending on the material from which they are made, steel honing can be divided into three main types: Steel, diamonds and ceramics. (For more precision, diamonds and most ceramic stone fabrics are laminated to a steel core).
- Steel blocks
- Diamond stones
- Ceramic stones
Steel stones are the oldest, most traditional and most common. This type is often supplied with a set of kitchen knives. They can be completely smooth or have small grooves running the entire length. The smooth appearance is most benign, while the rib along the edge of the blade is slightly rough when reconstructed. This roughness gives the cutting edge more teeth for at least a while and makes the cut more aggressive. But it is short-lived and tends to wear out faster. (The more grooves in the steel to be sharpened, the harder the knife is). So it’s not my favorite kind of grindstone.
A completely smooth (almost indestructible) steel sharpening stone is by far superior to a comb-shaped stone, but it is not my first choice – one of the main reasons why it cannot be used with a Japanese knife. The steel from which Japanese knives are made is harder and more brittle than German (or Western) steel and tends to crack in the steel shop. That goes for every kind of steel I know.
RECOMMENDED GRINDING SWATES There are two ceramic grinding swatches I have personal experience with –DMT and Messermeister. Both make a 12 inch model (without handle) that is long enough to use a 10 inch knife. DMT has a particle size of 2200, Messermeister 1200. DMT is therefore almost twice as good as the others. Does it matter? Maybe a bit, but the grain size is not large enough, and if DMT seems too expensive, the Master knife is a quality alternative.
I have DMT and it works like a dream. Master knife that I got along well with, but it wasn’t really necessary – I bought it for my friends as a wedding present (I’m not that cheap with a Shun knife). One of the professional grinding services I have used, actually prefers DMT.
Diamond processing technology [DMT] CS2 12-inch ceramic steel
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Knifemaker 12 inch ceramic rod
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N.A.: Both manufacturers also produce diamond and steel models, so make sure that the steel you choose is ceramic.
Length and cleaning
There are two other simple but important details you need to know if you are going to slam the sample: 1) Make sure it is the right length and 2) keep it clean.
1) You want the length (without handle) to be 2 inches longer than the longest knife you want to use. (Bread knives and other serrated knives do not count because they are not easy to sharpen). You will need extra centimetres to slide the knife comfortably over the sharpener in one movement. So if your king of the kitchen is a 10 inch cook’s knife, you have to buy a 12 inch selection stone.
2) You must clean the inlet steel. Otherwise it will be clogged by the ultra-fine metal particles of the blades on which you use it. And it will gradually lose its effectiveness. Gently wipe with a clean cloth after each peeling session. It should then be washed with a synthetic brush or a scraper in hot soapy water about every few weeks, as you would with a gourmet trowel. No steel wool or anything rough that could scratch. (Some people recommend the use of cleaning powder for ceramic shades, but I’m shy because I’m afraid the abrasive effect of the powder will wear down the surface).
No matter how you hold your shadow, it will wear off.
Ceramic shades are a little more difficult to maintain, because even if you clean them regularly, metal residues tend to accumulate a little, making them greyish. However, as far as I know this fineness, because ceramics are usually so fine-grained, has little influence on the efficiency of the printing. However, if you want to clean the ceramic rod more thoroughly (which I do, but not yet), the most effective solution seems to be the use of an eraser. Idahone (a famous grindstone maker) makes one especially for this task, and it must perform miracles. It’s on my shopping list.
Remember, even if you take good care of your shadow, it will wear off. Depending on the brand and quality, and depending on the quantity and frequency of use, it can only last 2 to 3 years. So don’t expect it to last a lifetime with knives with handles.
Extensive training on three levels
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Japanese knives and sharpening steel
Word of Wisdom: Honey steel is mainly intended for the processing of western (or German) knives. This type of steel is solid and plastic. If you have a Japanese knife, do yourself a favor and do some research before you try to sharpen it.
Western Japanese knives (Global, Mashiro, MAC, etc.) can be cut, but only with ceramic or diamond bean bars that are not made of steel (ribbed or smooth). Japanese steel is more brittle than German designed steel and can flow. Only a ceramic or diamond based paint (which is much harder and has a finer grain) can support this Japanese steel without damaging it.
You have to be even more careful with traditional Japanese knives. They shouldn’t be set/cut at all. Period. They only need to be touched with a waterstone – just like you need to touch them. This is the blessing and the curse of the Japanese knives – they are super sharp, but at the same time more demanding. (Note: I obtained this through research, not personal experience, because I am currently not familiar with traditional Japanese knives).
1. Clarify the difference between rag and grinding. Grinding of partitions, grinding machines. Regular maintenance requires grinding steel, do not grind.
2. Of the three honey samples I (and my sharpening specialists) recommend fine ceramics. He’ll take care of your knives while you clean them a little more. And you can use it for western Japanese knives.
3. Make sure you buy a sharpening stone that is 5 cm longer than the longest knife you will use it on. And keep it clean.
P.S. Read part 2, My follow-up article How to sharpen the knife (or steel).
(Photo: Electron microscope image from an academic paper, The Knife Sharpening Experiments, published in 2004 by the University of Iowa professor John D. Verhoven. Figure: With thanks to Mark Rabinov).
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