Why I'm Now Obsessed with Sharp Kitchen Knives

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noboundaries

Epic Pitmaster
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Sep 7, 2013
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Roseville, CA, a suburb of Sacramento
Disclaimer: Stop reading if you grew up with a parent or mentor who demonstrated the value of razor-sharp kitchen knives. Nothing I will share will be new to you.

I grew up with parents and grandparents who threw kitchen knives in a drawer. We had a butcher knife, serrated bread knife, various knives used for steak, and butter knives. The butcher knife was dull and gray with what I now know was a patina. (What I wouldn't give to have that knife now). Nothing was sharp. The only knife sharpener I can remember was an electric can opener with a pull-through electric sharpener on the backside. It wasn't worth the electricity it used for sharpening a knife.

Cutting tomatoes was always a mess. Steak? Saw the meat until you could pull it apart. It was easier as a kid to stab it and bite off a piece. Onions created tear fountains on the first cut. While growing up, I didn't see the difference between the butcher knife and the butter knives, and no one explained it to me. I grabbed any knife in the drawer if I wanted to butter toast.

Flash forward to Navy pilot survival training and learning to sharpen a KaBar knife with a 3"x3/4" spit-stone. The blade wasn't very sharp as issued, but I remember improving the edge with practice. The sheath and stone are long gone, but I still have that knife.

Flash forward a few more years into marriage to a woman whose father sharpened knives with a bench grinder. We didn't live anywhere I could put a bench grinder, but a sporting goods store nearby had 5" oil stones. I bought one and sharpened our inexpensive kitchen knives. It took me quite a while to relearn the skill, but we could soon cut tomatoes without making a sauce. Unfortunately, working 15+ hours a day with lots of travel left me in no frame of mind to spend my free time stone sharpening knives. Consequently, I moved on to pull-through (a waste of money) and electric sharpeners. A diamond-plated electric sharpener did a fine job of sharpening my knives. Unfortunately, it also scratched them. I could live with that while I was so busy working.

With retirement comes time; time to watch YouTube and stumble upon videos about the different types of knives, knife steels, and sharpening techniques. I wanted to see if whetstone sharpening actually produced a better edge than the diamond-plated electric sharpener. A cheap set of stones on Amazon gave me the answer I needed after three weeks, and probably ten total hours, of relearning effort. Whetstone sharpening was superior to the electric sharpener.

However, what amazed me was how my old, familiar knives seemed to get a new life. Knives I never used, like a 6" western boning knife, became scalpel-like in my hands. YouTube videos trained me now to bone chickens and butts. Parting poultry became fun. Butchering a butt into pieces to make sausage with one knife swipe for each piece became an addictive experience.

I also learned that the serrated bread knives are best for crunchy, crusted bread; razor-sharp straight-edged blades worked best on soft, crusted bread without tearing the crumb. Tearless onion chopping became an everyday experience. Carpel-tunnel pain from thin-slicing half-frozen chuck roasts disappeared. Just prior to whetstones, I received a 7" 15-degree edge cleaver as a gift to solve that CT problem. The 7", 8", 9", and 10" chef's knives I already owned, once stone-sharpened, performed as good or better than the cleaver.

So, I'm still in the honeymoon phase of razor-sharp knives. Their current performance, after decades of meh, still amazes me. Yeah, I've cut myself several times from dull knife bad habits, but I don't mind. Plus, I use my cut-resistant gloves more often.

There are a LOT of sharpening systems on the market. With whetstones, I can now restore an edge in less than 5-10 minutes per knife, but I've got the time. If you don't have the time or patience to freehand on whetstones (cheap to expensive) and don't want to spend a fortune, check out Work Sharp (belt sharpening) and Lansky. Once sharpened to razors, your old knife friends might surprise you. Mine do every day.

Happy sharpening!

Ray
 
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My family growing up was the same. In fact my mother still has some of those knives that are just as dull now as they were in the 70s.
I keep mine super sharp with a Work Sharp.
Boy scouts taught me using sharp knives is safer than using dull ones.
Great comments, Tom. Thanks for sharing!

Yep, I got a house full of folks that will use a knife for anything from tightening a screw, to spreading butter, to cutting meat. And that is why I have a set of knives in a roll in the top of the cabinet that only I uses.
JIm

I understand that point, Jim. My wife does NOT respond well to suggestions in the kitchen because she took three years of Home Ec in HS while I played football. Soooooo, I save YouTube videos I know she'll enjoy when she needs to relax, like funny pet and talking Husky dog videos. I often sneak in a basic kitchen knife skills video that isn't too obvious. I've seen her use some of the techniques, and I never said a word.
 
I grew up in a house where all cutting knives were sharp. They are tools and dull tools are worthless. When I was 10 years old the pocket knife I carried would shave the hair on your arm. When I got married (25 years ago this year) my wife cut so many of her fingernails off it was funny until she figured out how to operate a sharp knife. All that said, I have Arkansas blue and white stones, one black, I have the Ken Onion sharpener, but what I use most one the edge angle has been cut is a Smith’s diamond steel. I have a 10” in the kitchen and in my gun room, I have several small retractable ones that are in my trucks and fishing gear. They straighten an edge lightning fast. I use the stones for some knives but much prefer a slightly more course edge, it just plain cuts better for most applications but not for shaving for sure.

https://smithsproducts.com/10-inch-oval-diamond-sharpening-steel
 
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I grew up in a house where all cutting knives were sharp. They are tools and dull tools are worthless. When I was 10 years old the pocket knife I carried would shave the hair on your arm. When I got married (25 years ago this year) my wife cut so many of her fingernails off it was funny until she figured out how to operate a sharp knife. All that said, I have Arkansas blue and white stones, one black, I have the Ken Onion sharpener, but what I use most one the edge angle has been cut is a Smith’s diamond steel. I have a 10” in the kitchen and in my gun room, I have several small retractable ones that are in my trucks and fishing gear. They straighten an edge lightning fast. I use the stones for some knives but much prefer a slightly more course edge, it just plain cuts better for most applications but not for shaving for sure.

https://smithsproducts.com/10-inch-oval-diamond-sharpening-steel
Nice add! I have a little 4" self-contained diamond sharpening steel I use when camping. Works nicely.

I just go to my local Ace and have them sharpen my knives on the Re-Sharp machine.Gives you back a knife with the edge of a single edge razor blade.Knife will cut paper without effort.
Another great add! I did not know ACE offered that service.

The meat counter at the grocery down the street offers free knife sharpening. Years ago we took a few of our daily knives there and they returned them duller than before. I have no idea what they did but wasn't interested in finding out. It proves you get what you pay for.
 
I just go to my local Ace and have them sharpen my knives on the Re-Sharp machine.Gives you back a knife with the edge of a single edge razor blade.Knife will cut paper without effort.
I didn’t know they did that either? It’s yet another skill that I once had, but don’t have time for now. I take them to my butcher, he does them for 4 dollars each. For me it’s worth it.
 
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I don't think my local butcher would answer the phone for $4...lol
🤣 you’re right! I pay for it in other ways! He’s my Tri Tip dealer and he has the market cornered here!

I’d prefer to sharpen my own, but it’s worth my time to have it done there.

Thank you noboundaries noboundaries , you made me remember the old butcher knife in my parents drawer that probably hasn’t been sharpened in 60 years! I have to remember to rescue that!
 
Thank you noboundaries noboundaries , you made me remember the old butcher knife in my parents drawer that probably hasn’t been sharpened in 60 years! I have to remember to rescue that!
And take a picture! I'd love to see it.

I suspect my Italian immigrant grandfather had his own set of knives that he kept sharp. He made all the old country cured meats, and I doubt he did that with dull knives. Unfortunately, we lived on opposite coasts, so I only saw him on major holidays every few years. He was a WWI veteran and has long since passed.
 
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Thanks for memory lane NB! To be honest I can’t remember a time as a kid that I didn’t have a knife in my pocket....it’s a rare thing not to have one now.... I have very early memories (5 or 6) of my dad working the stone and showing me how....shaving arm hair was a thing! It was a rite of passage!

Today even though I have the state of the art belt grinders and stropping belts, I still have a 8 inch tri hone set that I still enjoy working an edge! A carbon blade and stone is a thing....it’s a rite of passage!
 
I've tried sharpening my wife's knives and she complains they are dangerous.
I keep a decent edge on them, but cannot go "fine".
I have a razor sharp Wustof santoku.

Friend of mine owns a butcher shop. I asked him about the Work Sharp. He doesn't like it as his cutters use way to coarse a belt to quick sharp.

I have a filet knife with a ceramic sharpener in the holster. Did a great job for a quick touch until the ceramic rods wore out.

I think my brother (also Navy) had a knife with a stone pocket on the sheath.
Not a pilot. He was a HELSUPRRON swimmer.
Pilot's best friend when things didn't go well?
The only knife sharpener I can remember was an electric can opener with a pull-through electric sharpener on the backside. It wasn't worth the electricity it used for sharpening a knife.
I remember my mother grinding her knives on one of those. They did a surprisingly good job when the stones were new.

My father used the valve grinder at the shop on his pocket knives. That meant the perpetual Christmas present was a new pocket knife

When I got married (25 years ago this year) my wife cut so many of her fingernails off it was funny until she figured out how to operate a sharp knife.
Congrats. I just hit 30 years and we got married in our 30's.
I once got a fingernail in a pizza. Ate a lot of free pizza after that firm bite.
 
Ray, your sharp wit (and my dull knives) inspired me to buy a Work Sharp machine today. I had seen them before, but never pulled the trigger due to the price. However, a quick look on OfferUp, and I found one nearby for $50, in practically new condition. Guess I know what I'll be doing this weekend.
 
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Ray, your sharp wit (and my dull knives) inspired me to buy a Work Sharp machine today. I had seen them before, but never pulled the trigger due to the price. However, a quick look on OfferUp, and I found one nearby for $50, in practically new condition. Guess I know what I'll be doing this weekend.
Mike, congrats on the score! It will be fun to hear about the learning curve and your results with the Work Sharp. My over-busy kids really need something to sharpen the J.A. Henckels knives I've bought them. The Work Sharp is on this list. Stones are out of the question.

I've tried sharpening my wife's knives and she complains they are dangerous.
I keep a decent edge on them, but cannot go "fine".
I have a razor sharp Wustof santoku.

Friend of mine owns a butcher shop. I asked him about the Work Sharp. He doesn't like it as his cutters use way to coarse a belt to quick sharp.

I have a filet knife with a ceramic sharpener in the holster. Did a great job for a quick touch until the ceramic rods wore out.

I think my brother (also Navy) had a knife with a stone pocket on the sheath.
Not a pilot. He was a HELSUPRRON swimmer.
Pilot's best friend when things didn't go well?

I remember my mother grinding her knives on one of those. They did a surprisingly good job when the stones were new.

My father used the valve grinder at the shop on his pocket knives. That meant the perpetual Christmas present was a new pocket knife


Congrats. I just hit 30 years and we got married in our 30's.
I once got a fingernail in a pizza. Ate a lot of free pizza after that firm bite.
Thanks for sharing! Fun read.
 
I have 1450 RPM motor with a buffing wheel on one side and disc of MDF on the other. Mostly for woodworking stuff like planes/chisels but will the disc and rouge on a few knifes. Just the right sharpness for us. Wife does the old school chop against her thumb... I have a few wicked sharp but they are off limits only for me. I went on a serious bender one time buying old knifes at the estate sales my aunt ran. Killer scores. I'd buff to clean em up and put on a good edge.

If I leave the house without my pocket knife it’s a worse feeling than forgetting my wallet.
That is my Dad. He has this tiny old Case that has a sharper the scalpel edge on it. Uses it on everything daily. For a long time I had small Vic Swiss on my key chain and it came in handy many times but it failed the metal detector test at gov offices I have to go to.
 
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I have a hodge podge collection of knives, none of which cost more than $30 but I keep them sharp. A Smith's electric works for me and I don't worry about scratches, but I use a stone to sharpen a little Case that that has gone into a front pocket every morning for years. I'm actually on my third one.
Interesting thread.
 
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That is my Dad. He has this tiny old Case that has a sharper the scalpel edge on it. Uses it on everything daily. For a long time I had small Vic Swiss on my key chain and it came in handy many times but it failed the metal detector test at gov offices I have to go to.
I have the same problem, having to go through a metal detector each day. On weekends I carry a small Crush pocket knife on my belt. Decent quality, and it gets the job done. My wife vacillates between, "Why are you wearing that?" to "Can you cut this open for me? "
Never been proficient with a whetstone, so I'm hoping this Work Sharp does the job.
 
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