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Looking to start free hand sharpening.

Sat Aug 18, 2012 8:12 am

Hi Mark,
I'm writing to ask a few basic questions about sharpening stones that I'll likely buy. I just returned from Japan, where I bought a new carbon gyuto to upgrade/complement my Henckels chef's knife (and a few smaller Henckels knives). I currently have an old Gatco sharpening kit with about 6 stones, for which I built a little rig that crudely approximates an EP; I also have a Henckels steel.

However, now I want to get more serious and buy some water stones and really take good care of my knives. I've been reading several forums and have consistently found posts praising your 5-piece starter kit (Beston, Bester, Rika), and so I'm strongly leaning toward getting that. The first question I have is about the soaking time of the stones: from what I've read, the Rika needs to be soaked for only 5-10 minutes, but the Beston and Bester need about 1-2 hrs of soaking time. How important is this? I know I will try to soak the stones for the recommended time, but my life obligations sometimes interfere with that and I want to be sure I won't ruin my knives or the stones if I soak the stones for less time. Also, the stones should remain out of the water when they're not being used, right?

My other questions have to do with the time between sharpening and honing/stropping. I am a fairly avid home cook, so I use the knives most nights and sometimes for longer cooking projects on the weekends. Currently, I use the Henckels steel to hone my knives after each use (only 2-3 light sweeps), and sharpen on the stones maybe once every 3-4 months. How often should I use the water stones to sharpen the kitchen knives? I assume I'll use the Rika and Bester more frequently, and only use the Beston if I need to fix the edge, is that right? In between stones, is the Henckels steel sufficient for maintenance? Which is better, stropping or honing (I'm considering putting together a cheap little balsa strop too)? I've seen the Idahone ceramic rod recommended too, but right now I'll probably wait on that because of cost and because I'm not sure I'll need it.

Thanks very much for helping me with this, and sorry about all of the questions -- I've found partial answers online to most of them, but I'm not 100% sure I trust them so I wanted to ask you directly.


Re: Looking to start free hand sharpening.

Sat Aug 18, 2012 8:13 am

Hi Peter,

Yes the 5 pc set is ideal for just starting out with free hand sharpening. I usually soak mine for about 5-10 minutes. If the stone starts to dry out all you have to do is splash some more water on top of the stone and keep sharpening so it's no big deal.
You won't ruing the stones or the knife if you shorten the soak. As a matter of fact, when I'm in a hurry I will put each of these right on my sink bridge and dribble water on it with my faucet and they work just fine right away.

Ok, for maintaing the edge your sharpening rod will work fine on your new knife. Same procedure, just match the approximate angle as when you're sharpening. I usually strop my knives since it's a little more gentle on the edge and I like doing it but your rod will work just about as well. Sharpen your knife once the steel or the strop stops working to bring back the edge. This will vary considerably based on your use habits, what kind of board you use and the quality of your knife.

I have an active forum and this is an excellent question. Do you mind if I post your question and my answer? I'll take off your last name.

Kind Regards,
Mark Richmond
(608) 232-1137

Re: Looking to start free hand sharpening.

Sat Aug 18, 2012 8:14 am

One more question that I thought of based on your response is about cutting boards, can you give me a little info about the different types? I have 2 plastic ones, a bamboo one, and some other wood one, but again my searches over different internet forums was a little unclear -- which tend to be harder on knives, and are there any that really should be avoided?

Thanks, Peter

Re: Looking to start free hand sharpening.

Sat Aug 18, 2012 8:17 am

I'm sure what you have is fine. The big no no is cutting on stuff that is harder than the steel in your knives. So, glass, ceramic etc should not be used. Most wood boards are fine as is plastic. Some people have a preference for end grain boards made of maple and walnut and cherry since they're a little easier on edges.

Re: Looking to start free hand sharpening.

Sat Aug 18, 2012 5:35 pm

Stones -- A home cook with Japanese knives only needs a 5k stone and a strop, or one natural stone. The 1k stone can be purchased to fix chips if you want to fix them yourself. The Henckels should not be sharpened on a 5k stone, they won't benefit from it, and the edge might come out worse; don't go over 2k with German steel. I like the Naniwa Aotoshi for Henckels, but you won't get the ability to fix chips out of it, because it isn't fast enough, so you might just use whatever 1k stone you decide on for your Japanese knife and be sure to deburr. I like the Rika for harder steels. I like a leather strop with some kind of stropping compound on it.

How often to sharpen --- When using the honing rod isn't working anymore. It will vary widely depending on a lot of factors. I have a friend who has low-end Henckels and cooks 2-3 meals a day for her family of 4 on a cheap wood cutting board, and she needs them sharpened once a year. I used a Henckels Santoku at work one day on poly boards, and the edge was shot after 4 hours.

Maintenance -- Strop the Japanese knife, steel the Henckels. The Japanese knife is probably as hard or harder than your honing rod, so it won't be of much use. The Idahone rod does a great job on Henckels steel--it'll re-align and scuff the edge, and really prolong the time between sharpenings.

Boards -- In order of most terrible to best:
ceramic < glass < granite < metal < edge grain bamboo < poly < end grain bamboo < edge grain wood < sani-tuff/rubber < end grain wood
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