Do-It-Yourself Expert Ron Hazelton: Knife Sharpening Myths & Facts
DIY Expert and Ron Hazelton’s Housecalls Host Ron Hazelton dispels common knife sharpening myths in this informative video. Video also features the Chef’sChoice AngleSelect Model 1520 and Model 4643 sharpeners for 15 and 20 degree style knives.
For more product information: Diamond Hone® Sharpener AngleSelect® Model 1520 and the ProntoPro™ Diamond Hone Knife Sharpener Model 4643. For more on Hazelton, visit Ron Hazelton Online.
Knife Sharpening Myth vs. Fact Video transcript
You know for tools to perform this well, they have to be properly set up and really sharp.
And here in the kitchen, the same is true. No tool is more used or more important than the culinary knife.
When it comes to getting a knife sharp though, misconceptions abound, so maybe its time to separate fact from fiction.
A knife steel can sharpen knives. False. You got it. A knife steel is used to straighten rather than sharpen an edge. Let me show you what I mean. I’m using this piece of foil to represent a knife edge. With use, a knife edge can be folded over, preventing a knife from cutting properly. The purpose of a knife steel is to straighten this bent edge. Truly sharpening a dull knife requires the edge angle or bevel be restored and that requires a knife sharpener.
The best method for sharpening is a traditional abrasive stone, that’s what my butcher uses. False. Now, a sharpening stone will reshape a knife edge, however, using it properly requires that the knife be held at a consistent angle as its passed over the surface. Something that is very difficult to do without considerable practice. A better method is to use a sharpener with a built-in guide that will hold the blade at the precisely the correct angle, from the beginning of the stroke to the end.
Electric sharpeners grind away too much metal. False. It’s easy to imagine an electric sharpener might do this, however, a high quality electric sharpener, using diamond abrasives, actually removes less metal than a manual device. That’s because a top end electric sharpener operates at a speed of over 3500 revolutions per minute. Since the abrasives are moving past the knife edge so much faster than would be possible when sharpening by hand, they can be much finer. Finer abrasives not only remove less metal, they also produce an edge that’s better defined and extremely sharp.
The only way to get really sharp knives is with an electric sharpener. False. Clearly, electric knife sharpeners have many advantages, however, it is possible to get some of the same benefits with lower priced manual sharpeners. This one for instance, has built-in angle guides and multiple stations for sharpening and honing. Small diamond coated disks produce a sharp cutting edge quickly without removing excessive metal. When using a manual sharpener like this one, only moderate downward pressure is required.
Sharpening an edge and honing an edge are the same thing. False. Actually, they’re two different processes. Good sharpening systems, first, shape the edge with a coarser abrasive then polish the edge with finer abrasives in the honing stage. The final stage also introduces a slightly larger angle, resulting in an edge profile sharp similar to a gothic arch. This kind of dual angle knife edge is stronger and lasts longer.
Asian style knives differ from American or European types. True and False. In addition to their different blade shapes, the knives have different edge angles. Asian style knives are typically made with a 15 degree edge angle, while traditionally your European and American knives have a 20 degree angle. However, things are changing. If you’ve purchased an American or European style knife in the last two or three years, it may have the 15 degree edge found in Asian style knives. Bottom line, if you have both Asian and European/American styles in your kitchen, you’ll want a sharpener that will accommodate both.
The bottom of a ceramic cup is a great knife sharpener. False. While ceramic cups will remove metal from knives, cup bottoms can be overly rough and uneven. So much so that it’s actually possible to knick and damage the blade. There is, of course, the problem of having to hold the knife at a consistent angle.
The best sharpness test is trying to slice a sheet of paper. True. That’s right, the acid test for a sharp blade is its ability to slice completely through a piece of paper without shredding or tearing. A blade this sharp will have no trouble cutting cleanly through a ripe tomato with only a couple of strokes.
A plastic carving board will dull knives more quickly than a wooden one. True and False. Well, it really depends on the plastic. Hard acrylic plastic or glass will take its toll on any blade, dulling it quite quickly. Softer polypropylene or polyethylene boards, like this one, are much gentler on blades and are considered more hygienic than wood.
New or high quality kitchen knives do not require sharpening. False. Knives made of the finest steel will hold an edge longer but even the best knives dull with use and the initial factory edge only lasts for the first few days or weeks of use. For the remaining 99.9% of a knife’s useful life, its edge performance depends entirely on how it’s resharpened. Maintaining the initial factory edge is not that practically relevant, especially since modern-day sharpeners can put a better-than-factory edge on every knife.
The best way to judge the quality of a knife is by price. False. Certainly, price can be a good indicator of good quality but not always. So, how do you tell if a knife is made of good steel and is properly heat-treated or tempered? Take the knife and lightly tap on a hard surface. If it rings like a bell, most likely, its of the proper hardness. If it sounds muffled, its on the soft side. Also, the blade on good quality knives extends all the way through the handle, creating a steel spine tip to tip.
As Ben Franklin said, there was never a good knife made of bad steel, but even a good knife is not of much use unless it’s properly sharpened. And that’s true.