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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Whetstone and Steel - A Sharp Regimen

Many people have kitchen steels.  While a good one can be quite expensive, for the most part a low-end steel can be quite inexpensive.

However, the unfortunate thing is that many people believe that a steel alone is sufficient in 'sharpening' a knife.  This is not really true.  To truly sharpen a dull blade, metal literally needs to be removed.  This can only be done with a grinder or whetstone.  And not many people keep whetstones in their kitchen.

So, why have a steel at all, you might ask?  The whetstone is very coarse and has a sufficient grit to physically remove metal from the blade, but this action unfortunately leaves the edge very rough, uneven, and full of burrs and such.  This is where the steel comes into play - to refine the sharpened, but roughened, edge of the blade.

So, the process of resurrecting a dull knife is to work both sides of the blade on a whetstone first, and then move on to the steel to hone the edge.  Both are needed.

I'd heard once that you can 'keep a sharp blade sharp' with a steel, but I don't believe it.  I've been sharpening knives ever since I was about 8 years old, in boy scouts (yes, I was a scout... and not for a short time...laugh it up), and used exclusively sharpening stones.

It seems pretty simple to me - you use a stone to grind off the outer edge at such an angle as to create a new edge, and then smooth that edge with a steel, to make it even.

Now, if you happen to have access to a professional or industrial grinder then go to town I say.  But for most of us, a simple whetstone is decent enough.  It's super quick, and really easy, and if you do it regularly, it can keep your knives sharp forever.

So, although I've long wanted a real pretty sharpening stone specifically designed for the kitchen, I can't really justify dropping over $200 bucks for a good one.  Even the low-end kitchen stones are over $50, and I just keep coming back to my old scouting whetstones.

I've a couple of these stones (one of which is quite literally the same one I used when I was 8 years old - and still going strong!) and so a while ago I just pilfered one from my gear, and it now lives in my kitchen.

It's not pretty.

But it works.

So, every time I put my knives away, before I do, I'll give them each a good 2-minute work out on the whetstone.

And then just a quick minute on the steel.

A simple regimen that takes less than 5 minutes every time you use your knives significantly, and you can keep their edges sharp and honed forever.

And - if you're like me and you don't want to spend exorbitant amounts of money on a sharpening stone, just go to your local camping/sporting/scouting outfitters, and pick up a cheap $5 whetstone.