How do I know when to sharpen my knife?
There are 2 common causes why a fine Japanese knife will loose sharpness The first is using the wrong cutting surface. There must be some give to the cutting surface like a good wooden board like Hinoki or end grain maple. Cutting on glass, granite, slate, stainless and melamine will blunt or fold the knife edge over. The second is technique. Using a smooth slicing or rocking motion and not pounding straight down allows the edge to stay straight and aligned much longer. Use proper knife techniques on a wooden board and your new artisan made Japanese knife will stay sharp for weeks under normal use.
A test to determine a basic level of sharpness of your knife is to cut small strips off an 8x11 sheet of regular printer paper. If your knife does not cut the strips easily and cleanly, it is time to strop the edge to re-align the teeth. Re-test by cutting the paper and if it still does not cut properly, it is time to sharpen. Essentially anytime you experience a noticeable drop in cutting ability it is time to strop, sharpen or both.
NB: Remember these exquisite knives feature very hard steel so it is much easier to touch them up when required than wait until they are finally dull.
How to Sharpen my Japanese knife?
In Japan the sharpening method of choice is by a series of progressively finer abrasive water stones. This is an excellent time honored way to restore or refine a high octane edge to your Japanese knife. Many of our chef clients, skilled woodworkers and very devoted foodies have made the investment in stones and learning necessary to master sharpening by water stones. For some it is a very satisfying even zen like task. If you wish to get set up and learn proper water stone technique we will be teaching these skills both in person and shortly online. A simple Japanese water stone sharpening primer to start follows below for those that just cannot wait.
NB: Those of you that do not have the time, money or desire to attend a knife sharpening class need an alternate method to achieve the same edge. Fear not! We listened to your concerns and have developed our own affordable simple to use (patent pending) sharpening system for Japanese knives that will empower you to put a performance edge on your knife the very first time. Please register now to be first in line for the upcoming sharpener launch.
Learning your ABC'S (Angle, Burr, Consistency and Stropping)
If this is your first experience with sharpening on a water stone use a medium size knife like a 165mm Santoku with a double bevel edge (western style) like most of our knives and not a single sided edge which requires a special sharpening technique. Remember one of the qualities that make Japanese knives glide effortlessly through food is narrow angle of 15 degrees to as little as 11 degrees on the edge bevel of each side. Determining the angle is the starting point to sharpening. Creating a burr and consistently maintaining the angle during sharpening are two of the challenges to learn.
This is what you need to succeed in mastering your ABC'S more quickly. An angle guide clip, a medium grit stone, a fine grit stone, water bowl, a leather strop or newspaper and a damp dish towel to secure the stone from slipping. At this point do not get hung up on grit size. A 1000/6000 combination stone will work so will a 800/4000. The angle clip will teach you the feel of the angle and keep you consistent until you can go freehand later if you choose. An everyday bulldog stationary clip of about 2 ¼ inch length that costs pennies at any office supply store can at least get you underway with a 12 degree angle or so on a medium length Santoku,
If your stones need pre soaking do it for 20 mins or until the bubbles stop rising. If you have Naniwa premium stones or natural stones like blue or yellow corticule wet them up and you are ready to begin. Place your wet medium grit stone on the damp dish towel lengthwise away from you.
Clip on your bulldog angle guide or better a pro guide like Mino or Mont Blanc of the desired angle, over the spine of your knife. Place your thumb on the knife spine and maintain a secure but comfortable grip. Wet your stone and keep it wet throughout the sharpening procedure. Place the knife blade resting on the angle guide on the bottom (closest to you) of the medium grit stone. Begin your sharpening stroke towards the top of the stone. Slide back and repeat in sets of 20 strokes or more until you begin to feel a burr on the opposite side. Work the knife from heel to tip using as much of the stone as possible in the procedure. Be smooth and consistent in your strokes. Keep the angle guide in contact with the stone at all times.
After achieving a uniform burr along the length of the blade, flip the blade over and repeat the same process on the opposite side until you feel a small burr on the original side. I use exactly the same technique and stroke in the same direction. I just change hands but if you are more comfortable using the same guide hand then you must commence your sharpening stroke for the second side at the top of the stone and pull the knife edge towards you in a heel to tip method. Use whatever feels most natural to you.
After a small burr is achieved on the second side, stroke the blade edge once or twice just on it's own weight through the edge of a small piece of soft wood. This is a secret method to remove the burr. Now repeat the same procedure 20 strokes or more each side on the fine stone to create the burr on each side. Do a gentle pass through on the edge of the soft wood and test the knife cutting strips off regular 8x10 printing paper. If it cuts effortlessly and smoothly all the way down the blade you are almost done. If not repeat the cycle on the fine stone until it does. Lastly refine and align your sharp blade by placing a piece of newspaper on top of the wet water stone and strop the knife very lightly 10 times each side then 5 times each side, heel to tip but this time with the cutting edge NOT stroking into the stone as you did in the sharpening steps.
The stropping can be done on one of our special leather hand stropping boards with or without a compound. Stropping is the final step. It is a little over the top for regular kitchen duty but it is very satisfying to achieve a razor edge on a fine Japanese steel knife. A polished edge enjoys less resistance going through food.
Shogun Knife Company.,
440 Laurier Ave W Suite 200
Ottawa ON Canada K1R 7X6
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