THE ALCHEMY OF STEEL - PART TWO


SHARPENING
THE BASIC CHEFS KNIFE

Never buy a knife you can't handle. Ask the clerk to open the package.  Your hand will tell you if a knife feels cheap, doesn't fit, bad balance, and trust your instinct.  How they cut is another story. If the blade bends, slips, or is inadequate for your size hand or grip, pass, look at another. Bent blades are an accident looking for a place to happen and ER rooms and stitches are expensive.
If I had to survive on one knife, I would select a 8 inch chefs knife. Look for a slight curved edge on the blade for dicing and chopping as the curve and the rocking motion of the blade is the key to chopping. For slicing and other delicate cuts a straight blade is better and should be longer.  

Some delicate Wasabi slicing blades are 14 inches long, when dressing a hundred pound tuna for Sashimi you might need a 14 incher.  See if the weight suits you. A real heavy chef's knife might be OK for Bulbar the Barbarian but too heavy for a slight built chef. A handle-heavy knife will tire you out. 

The weight should be equally balanced between the handle and blade in most applications, cleavers are different. For the frugal, I did not say cheap everyday shopper the knife of choice in a Chefs knife style is the Victorinox, the parent company of Forschner. This knife is a favorite of the gang at Cook’s Illustrated and was recommended over many others costing a lot, as much as five times more.  Light fast and goes through anything, stays sharp, steels quick.

It is and I have quite a collection, it is for short orders my everyday go to knife. Light, no slip handle, and kept sharp with a minimum of effort. I have never re-edged the blade, just a steel and always washed and dried by hand never the dishwasher, the scourge of knives. It’s going on ten years gets used three times a day and never reground.


SHARP OUT OF THE BOX
SOMETIMES

All knives generally are shipped sharp.  Most can be sharpened further.  Many of the cheaper steels will dull faster than those made with better metals. It's called holding an edge. Many started out sharp enough to slice a ripe tomato. After a week or so they smash the tomato and your sandwiches look like they were made in a blender. 

A good knife in some cases is about as good as the person sharpening them. Thats why it is in the curriculum of the first week in most culinary schools. The three elements of cooking tools are the knives, pots and pans, and gadgets.  The three elements of cooking are prep, cooking control of equipment and presentation. I call it the three ‘C’s cutting cookware and contraptions.

Handles are another "bone of contention". Polished plastic and smooth finishes become dangerously slick when used on or cutting chicken. I learned with a Chinese style cleaver.  So I like a larger knife with a textured grip and some weight when cooking chicken parts for twenty people. The handle should also keep your fingers off the cutting board.  

Tramontina from Brazil made some inexpensive restaurant white handle Santoku, Chef and Boning knives for commercial use and were available at SAMS Club.   But SAM’S (part of Wal-Mart) used to carry them, but knocked them off in China and now calls them/aka Members Choice, Bakers Choice, something like that in Sam’s Club. Not the same thing, read on.

I recently found the Original Tramontina’s made in Brazil at COSTCO together with Tramontina commercial pots and pans.  I reloaded my arsenal of gifts and useful low cost knives. They are simple sharp and efficient, and have a white non-slip handle that is great. They are very reasonable in price. 

One piece stainless knives with integrated handles look like an accident looking for a home. I do not like them. I own both bolstered Western and Eastern style knives. The two most dangerous things in a kitchen are dull knives and the mandolins when in the hands of an incompetent. Admittedly the Mandolin reigns supreme in the annals of medical treatments for cooks and chefs some delivering job ending cuts hard to heal.  There are safety gloves made to be used with the mandolin. 

Emergency rooms are great places because you get to meet many new chefs who tried to imitate others by sharpening or steeling their knives in a fast impressive way usually resulting in many stitches.  This is where you can learn," Who does the best in good old square knot surgical sutures".  Never accept substitutes, you want someone who knows what they are doing so your chef's hand's will look good for the cameras when you do your YOU-TUBES on "How to Make Scrambled Eggs".

If you work in the culinary arts you make a living with the only real tools you bring and take home every night. It is important to take care of those tools because they are expensive, can ruin easily and dull knives will get you cut faster than sharp knives. 

As a friend chef and martial artist says to me all the time, "You are one with the knife". I replied, "Yes, Sensei". I replied back, "That a knife is like a rattlesnake, the minute you forget what you are holding, it will bite you". He replied, “ Keep writing recipes, leave the eastern philosophy to me…"


HEALTH NOTES
DIRTY HANDS 

By the way, I don't know if it is my x-ray vision or just TV lighting but a few of the hot dog chef's on some of the shows should either get a soft or non-invasive manicure, wear gloves or just scrub their hands better. Nothing finer than someone handling every piece of food, no gloves and absolutely filthy fingernails.   If it isn't dirt, its fungi, or some alien disease, and please don't touch my food that way.  This month alone four shows had guest chef's on who looked like they, and not the dishes needed to be thrown into the dishwasher. Hold the plates, get the Brillo and the scrub brushes.


THE STEEL
SIMPLE EXPLANATION

I repeat the "purpose of the steel" a lot here because after many years I have learned it takes eight times for something to soak in with some folks.  
A sharpening steel is a long cylindrical piece of steel vertically serrated with a handle. If it does not have a handle it is called a 'burnisher" but they are not seen too often.  Last one I saw was in the Philippines.  I think it was a cheap steel the handle fell off of.

I cut one off myself to keep in a backpack, ruined one cutoff disk.  Took up less room.  Most Steels vary from 10 to 16 inches, the average cost 15.00 and 40.00 US Dollars and higher for premium name brands and celebrity endorsed products.  They come in fine and medium textures.

The diamond and ceramic steels which remove material quicker cost a bit more and are more aggessive working like a coarse stone removing bits of the blade and creating a new edge.  DO NOT USE A DIAMOND OVAL STONE till you know what it can do and you will most likely ruin a good edge with one, because the edge has various bevels creating an uneven edge and tends to curve the blade killing the edge.

We are using the steel as a freshening device more so than as a metal removal and reshaping device. I prefer long Japanese stones for edge corrections like chips, dents and general reshaping. I detest electric sharpeners and electric disc and belt sanders from a well known Chinese importer.  They are better on lawn mower blades, not Sashimi knives. Leave them at the gun show. The yokels with their Buck pocket knives are amazed when the artisto puts a new edge on their favorite partner by sanding half the tempered edge away.


BASIC STEELING
(SAFE) FOR BEGINNERS

Place the tip of the steel on your board holding the steel straight up or direct vertical.  Here are two tips for your own 
protection.

HINT ONE:  On my big plastic cutting boards I drilled a countersunk hole in the corner with a 1/4 inch drill bit about 1/4 deep. Basically a small shallow hole, then countersunk the edge so it will wash clean.

HINT TWO: Oiled wood boards and slick plastic boards can slip.  I use a safe method when newbies and people are around. I have slick Corian and Granite counter tops.  You can just purchase a white cheap rubber sink stopper. Cut off the ring from the nipple in the center and pitch it.  I vertically place the steel or "stab"  the soft sink stopper on my counter top so it doesn't slip. Even wet it holds.  Gives you a better picture of the angles you need, for the beginner

THE RIGHT BEVEL:
Place the knife bevel at a 10-12 degrees (Japanese) to a 20-22.5  degree angle (German Knives) against the sharpening steel near the top. Starting at its base (the handle end) and at the right angle, I pull the knife's sharp side down and the handle drawing toward me. Do the other side. Repeat until the knife is honed, five times should do it. 

IN REVIEW:
Bring the knife down and across the steel drawing it to you to erase those rolled edges that make the knife dull. Now place the blade on the opposite side of the steel and bring down and across to remove the roll from the other side.  When you can’t feel the burr on the edge the knife is sharp.  Keep repeating these steps until the knife is sharpest. It is now de-burred, straightened and sharpened. 

Remember to keep a consistent angle down the edge of the blade on both sides. It is the angle that is important and not how fast you can do it.  After I have steeled the blade I use an old piece of leather glued to a piece of wood that I think my grandfather used it to sharpen his straight razor blade. This pulls off any infinite particles that may be left.  Your Dad called it "stropping". On some websites there are fine stropping compounds for the leather.  I then wash the blade in soapy water, rinse and towel the knife dry by pulling it through a towel. (safety first)


COMMON SENSE ADVANCED
MORE ABOUT STEELING  101

Sharp knives are safer, basically because they cut where you place them and don't slip. It's  a misconception sharp knives are more dangerous. While sharp knives can cut you faster, the dull knife can be equally or more dangerous as the needed force to make it work will also work against you..

A dull knife is more likely to slip during cutting, putting your hands at risk. Part of being in the kitchen is maintaining your knives as an important part of safety and common sense. You develop a feel for working with any tool and if the edge is good and the same each time, you get better at what you do. Consistency.

You rarely ever see a pro on TV heading for the electric grinder to sharpen his knives.   They have twenty fine helpers back stage to do the rote work.  Occasionally you will see one "steel" his knife before delicate slicing.  Many like to show off.  I call it the sharpening fandango.   

😄   A sharpening steel is used to keep knives sharp as a maintainer.   To ensure that your knives stay sharp, a honing steel should be used regularly. Over time, knives will deteriorate and lose their edge. Honing re-aligns the microscopic teeth in the blade that can’t be seen with the naked eye. 

😄 Ceramic and natural stones shape blades and remove materials.  

😄   A sharpening steel is a tough usually stainless metal rod that consists of a slightly softer factor than the knife blade. A knife’s sharpness is maintained by stroking the blade over the rod on a regular basis.   If the steel was harder than the blade too much removal will take place. Again, the hardness of the sharpening steel must be softer than that of the knife. And this is the gaff of it all. The steel is an alignment tool,  it is not made to remove or change the shape of the blade

😄   Great honing steels like Wusthof are made from hard chromium plated steel with a hardness of 65 Rockwell. All honing steels are produced from an alloy tool steel (material no. 2210) with 1.15%C (carbon) content, .6% chromium and .03% vanadium.

😄   When a knife's edge becomes dull, you can reset the edge with a diamond steel or ceramic steel. The difference between a diamond steel or ceramic steel and honing steel, is that a diamond steel and ceramic steel will actually grind away material from the knife, allowing it to reset the edge.

😄   The shape of a diamond sharpening steel produces an optimum edge when sharpening knives. The diamond sharpening steels have a solid stainless steel core and the surface is covered in diamond grains. Depending on the size of the sharpening steel, up to 2 million diamond grains are applied to the surface. Diamond sharpening steels have an extremely fine grit that guarantees a smooth, sharp finished edge.

😄   A ceramic sharpening steel, much like a diamond sharpening steel, will reset the edge of a dull knife. Ceramic sharpening steels are slightly less abrasive and will gently sharpen knives in comparison to a diamond sharpening steel resulting in a finer edge. Ceramic knives are offered in two different grits, 300 or 1,000. Although ceramic is harder than steel, it is brittle and will break if it is dropped

😄  The wrong steel can do more harm than good. All steels do not work on all knives. If your knives are not getting sharp after steeling you might be using too hard a steel,  a new edge may be needed on the knife.  Hint: A good idea is to use the same brand of steel as your knives. 

😄   The edge, even the edge of a fine edged knife, is made up of thousands of small cutting teeth called variations.  When these "teeth" are bent out of line, the knife dulls.  “Steeling,”does NOT put a new edge on a knife; it simply realigns the existing edge, increasing the sharpness.

😄   To properly clean your Steel, use Barkeepers Friend and a sponge following the lines of the steel, rinse and wipe with a clean towel or paper napkins. Dry thoroughly.

😄   If a knife is steeled regularly it should not need to be honed except when the bevel is ruined by wear, chipped or ruined by improper sharpening with a grinder or oval based diamond steels .  Knowing how to sharpen knives is a primary skill cooks and chefs learn. Not having sharp tools is frustrating, time-consuming, dangerous to you, and damaging to the food's presentation.


BEST WAYS TO SHARPEN

STONES
😄   The knife is the primary tool in the kitchen, used more than any other kitchen utensil. This section is about sharpening when the edge is so bad or abused some metal might have to be removed to restore the knife edge. For sharpening, not steeling I prefer stones.  

😄   A sharpening stone is a convenient tool that can be used to quickly sharpen dull knives. An inexpensive  sharpening stone should be at least 2 by 6 inches and feature a coarse side and a fine side.

😄   Lubricate the sharpening stone. There are three things used on stones, water, oil, nothing. And you have to know what right for the stone you are using. In a kitchen, in a bind, the most common safe oil is Olive oil, except it can go rancid. You really should use Mineral Oil or a light weight Honing or Sharpening oil specifically made for this process available at good Kitchen supply outlets for an oil stone. 

😄   Japanese style water stones use obviously water. Water and Oil do not mix and if you used one on a stone do not change. 

😄   Place the sharpening stone on a sturdy countertop, table or workbench and here's a trick, use two rubber sink stoppers, the five inch flat disk from the sink or bathtub. Cut off the finger grip tit and this makes a beautiful, washable no slip for the stone on the counter. 

😄   For water stones, if you have not made a trough, a wet towel saves the tops of the table and a mess. There are many types of stone holders and grits available.

😄   I do not use sanders or electric sharpeners period, my knives are too valuable.


ANGLES

😄   Different knives have different bevel angles. Filet and paring knives will have shallow bevels 10-12  degrees because to flex you must be thin. Santoku's, Chefs, and thicker bladed chopping knives and slicing cleavers generally are at 18-22 degrees. Sashimi, Nakiri’s, and similar thin-bladder knives have 12-14 degree angles. 

😄   In todays world nothing is final. I have seen field axes used in competition (Alaskan Logging Events) that were sharpened almost to shaving standards. I have dough cutters sharpe enough to carve turkey.

😄   Place the edge of the knife against the surface of the stone. Hold the knife at the angle of the bevel for its type. Start with the coarse side or course stone. Tightly grasp the handle of the knife and, move the edge of the knife back and forth over the sharpening stone, using a circular motion. Do this about 10 times, applying enough equal pressure and look to do the length of the blade consistently.  Do the other side the same amount.

😄   Select the fine side or a finer stone.  Repeat the process watching the angle. You may now use the finest stone, doing five strokes on one side and five on the other in a draw motion.  You will with patience attain an incredible edge.

😄   After the burrs are gone some use a fine, fine steel I have superfine ceramics, to polish the edge further and it can be carried to extremes. I have used a circular ceramic stone steel and my grandfathers razor finish stone that he shaved with, which is about a 2000 grit to polish with. Thanks papa. 

😄   I have stones that can go to 8000 and I understand there are finer stones.  Those who are old enough to have shaved with straight razors, and note there is an International straight razor club, understand this process. I admire their bravery,  and I will continue to use my Gillette Fusion   Dollar Shave Club with their shave butter. I call it frugally “Saving Face”.


ACCUSHARP
EMERGENCY AND CHARITY WORK

Best emergency sharpening tool on the planet. In about 10 seconds, it can sharpen serrated knives, cleavers, light axes, machetes, and many other cutting tools. The large ergonomic handle fits either hand safely and securely. The full length finger guard protects your fingers.  

The sharpening blades are Diamond Honed Tungsten Carbide for years of reliable use. AccuSharp Knife Sharpeners will not rust and can be cleaned with soap and water or in the dishwasher. Replacement sharpening blades are available. It is my field tool and the tool I use on my cheap outdoor steak knives and when doing charity and someone has a really dull knife and needs help when a steeling won’t cut it.  It has brought a few back from death.  It is a pure stock removal tool and one or two passes with a steel is a good idea.

I never thought I would say this but this gadget works and I keep it in my travel bag. Its simple, safe and very inexpensive and if or when I get lazy and run out of time at a gig, it is fast.  When cooking for hundreds at a charity event I don’t have time to nursemaid the beginners.    When hunting it’s in our field dressing kit especially for tough boar hog or deer carcasses.  NOTE:  I do not use it on expensive Shuns, single edged Wasabi’s or my Kramer type thin blades.  Followed by two strokes of the steel and Voila!  Also it does a great job on those fat Steak Knives like those used at the Longhorn or Outback with serrations.   


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