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Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 9:18 am

Months ago I was contacted by the Culinary Institute here and was offered an opportunity to teach knife sharpening to some students. This was a test (on my abilities) I believe and I ended up with a class of about 10 and it included some senior Chefs, not just students.

They are bringing me back to instruct a confirmed 90 students plus 10 Chefs so about 100 folks in total.
I'm comfortable with this, I'll be using Shapton Glass Stones for the practical portion of the lesson and I'll have a couple of hours to do this. My lessons are now part of the schools curriculum so this will be a recurring event for me.

This is my plan, feel free to chime in, I know that some of you are in the industry and I also know that many, many of you are gifted sharpeners, so I more than welcome your input.
I intend to discuss four main points and show them how to use Japanese Water Stones and steeling. Keep in mind that most of these folks are students fresh out of high school. I have been instructing long enough (in my military career) to know that the audience as a whole will be less than captive, in fact I'll be lucky if I get 20 of them to focus. (Last time with the 10 however, it did go well in that regard)

Four main points are: [color=#004080]Abrasives, Angle, Consistency and Burr [/color]with a huge emphasis on Burr. I will keep reminding myself that these folks are not obsessed with sharpening like us, in fact, most of them will have very little knowledge of the process so talking about things like Nano Cloth or compound bevels or the Suehiro Rika will go completely unnoticed.

I'll start by explaining the Stones and a logical progression and the reasoning behind that, why we need abrasives that is and then get into the angles and consistency portion and finish the lecturing with a good explanation of the Burr, why, how, etc. I'll have some knives with me that already have a good burr on them to let them feel it. Apparently, in my previous lessons, the raising of burr and the chasing of the burr was somewhat lost to them so I'll focus on that.

After this, by this time I should have about 40 or so still paying attention if I am lucky, I'll demonstrate the process and then get some volunteers to actually sharpen some knives.

The last time I had one of the instructors go find the dullest knife that he could, believe me, it didn't take him long. Then I got one of the keener students (the one that was deserving of the hands on portion) to actually sharpen the knife on the stones that I had brought in with me.

Now that was with 10 people, I will have a hundred this time so it will be a little tricky but I'll know who really wants to learn and who is just there because they were told to be there.

As I said, if you have any suggestions for topics apart from the ones I have mentioned, just let me know. Keep in mind that these are kids who have never heard of a bevel before so I need to keep it pretty basic. (knife sharpening can be pretty basic though, it's just us with the OCD that take it beyond the basic but the principals remain the same)


Re: Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 10:41 am

That opportunity sounds pretty awesome. Congrats!

I can give you my perspective as a beginning sharpener. What I always wish I had while I am sharpening is a standard to measure my edge against. If I had only a few minutes in a room with a seasoned sharpener, I'd want a little bit of hands-on time with a really high performing edge and also perhaps with a sort-of sharp edge. That way, I could go away with a feeling for what my target is when I'm practising on my own. It sounds like the class is too big for everyone to have a try at sharpening, but perhaps you could pass around some example knives that would give people these ideas.

If I were taking your class, here's the essential stuff I'd want to leave with: What should my edge feel like when it is really sharp? What should the edge feel like after each stage? What tests can I perform at each stage of sharpening to test my progress? (Show newspaper tests, etc). How do I tell the difference between a wire edge and a sharp edge that lasts?

I've also found that some sharpening styles work much better for me than others so you might want to demonstrate a couple of options--sectioning vs sweeping motions, spine towards you vs spine away, switching hands or not, etc.

In my opinion, you can get through the "theory" portion on bevels, abrasive systems, etc pretty quickly. Those ideas are really simple--the most useful stuff will be practical tips for *getting* that bevel right. Also, I'd think you could keep everyone's attention by starting off with some demos of what your sharp knives can do versus the knives they used to think of as sharp!

Re: Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 11:16 am

Thanks for the excellent reply yamad.
Actually, I do plan to bring in some knives that I've sharpened to give them idea of what they can achieve on their own with some practice. I like the newspaper tests, at home I always do that for my own use so would work well in the classroom too, start with a knife for example that won't cut the paper and then cut the same paper with the same knife after it's sharpened would be a good way to motivate the student who just did it in front of the class.
Yes the lecture portion will be short and sweet but it's necessary.

Great input, thanks again.


Re: Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 11:39 am

Sharpening to suit intend items to cut? Toothy vs polished?

Re: Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 11:58 am



I knew you could - your ever persistence showed that.

I am proud - you should be even more so!

Good luck!



Re: Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 1:08 pm

This thread probably needs a update but most all of the info is still my thoughts on the burr.
http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showt ... 7-The-burr

Congratulations on the teaching opportunity, just remember to keep it short and sweet. Sharpening is a learned skill so to much to fast will leave the student no further ahead than when they started.

Re: Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 1:22 pm

Jason, thanks, great post on the burr, I appreciate you providing the link to it " a burr is like a mudslide" love that one.

Yes, short and sweet with lots of hands on is the goal, thanks again.


Re: Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 1:59 pm

Peter, well I'm glad my noob status is good for something!

start with a knife for example that won't cut the paper and then cut the same paper with the same knife after it's sharpened would be a good way to motivate the student who just did it in front of the class.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but I meant that you could do a demo at the very beginning with your good knives to show how sharp they can get their knives (if they will only pay some freaking attention to you). After that, most of your sharpening tests with newspaper or whatever will be demonstrated on your own sharpening demonstrations, not on the volunteer student's. You could throw in some intentionally failed tests to show what it looks like for a section to be undersharpened, etc. Your knives sometimes failing the tests will also ease pressure on the student if you think it's worthwhile to also do newspaper tests on the student's work.

The point is to avoid making the volunteer student feel on the spot or like they are going to be tested in front of the whole class. They'll be wobbling like they're drunk if it's their first time sharpening and they have to do in front of 89 of their peers and professors--no reason to prove to them that this first attempt is not going to pass your stringent sharpening tests. ;)

Re: Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 2:54 pm

No I understood you my friend. I will demonstrate sharpness with my own knives.

THEN I will bring up my prize pupil and let him sharpen from dull to razor sharp in front of the class. You gotta live on the edge, he is either going to feel stupid (I would be the one feeling stupid too) or he is going to slice the paper beautifully with an edge that he alone produced. That will raise some eyebrows.

Remember, I did this before, exact same scenario and it worked beautifully. (Now I'm not saying I won't feel his edge before he does the final test, I'm not going to set him up for failure)

I'll be playing it by ear, and your point is well taken and appreciated.


Re: Teaching Opportunity - Knife Sharpening

Thu Sep 06, 2012 3:26 pm

Yeah, keep in mind that what you are doing is inspiring these people, and if you give them some basics that are rock solid, they will all benefit(if they are listening) forever, and then a few of them will get interested and learn more.

When I'm teaching people from the start, I explain that sharpening is just Build a burr, Remove the burr, polish what's left. Then I share some tricks that are designed to be encouraging and reduce the intimidation factor. They won't learn a lot of technical knowledge in that time, so I just try to get the basic three steps into their heads and then spend the time being encouraging though creative instruction.
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