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Sharpening a butterknife

 

How sharp can I get a humble butterknife?  I’ve been wanting to try this for weeks but I had to wait until I found one I was allowed to sharpen.  For some reason my wife wouldn’t let me use any of the ones in our drawer.  🙂

Daily flatware is not made from high quality steels.  It is optimized for appearance and to resist staining & rust.  This particular knife has (or had) thick, blunt serrations which had to be ground down before any real sharpening could take place.  That was going to cause the most work on the stones.

Maybe some things are not meant to be sharpened… but I enjoy a challenge.  And now this “butter” knife is now sharper than most steak knives.

 

Apex Farmer’s Market 2018

Great news!  We have been approved for the Apex Farmer’s Market.
Come look for us in downtown Apex on Saturdays from April to October.
We will have a booth approximately every other week.
The final schedule is still pending but once finalized, I will add it to our website.

Apex Farmers Market 2018

Can you tell which knife was repaired?

One of the knives that came in over the weekend had a broken tip.  About 3/8″ (10mm) was missing from the end of the knife.  I often forget to take the before pictures. Such was the case here as well.  I did take pictures afterwards.  Can you tell which knife was repaired?  If you pay careful attention to the grind, you may be able to tell.

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What’s this “burr” thing you keep talking about?

This post is for all you knife and steel geeks out there.

“What is a burr?”  Good question.  The short answer is that a burr is just a bit of metal along the knife edge.  You won’t likely get maximum sharpness without sharpening the edge to the point where there is a burr.  And ironically, you definitely will not get maximum sharpness without then removing the burr.

Here’s how it works…
Steel is malleable so, as you sharpen one side, some material ends up hanging on to the apex (the very edge of the blade) and it folds over to the other side a bit. That is referred to as a “burr” or “wire”.  This will happen f you sharpened it right up to the apex and you want it to happen all the way down the knife edge.  Then you sharpen the opposite side and the burr bends back over to the other side.  If you have sharpened the edge to a burr, you’re about to get the blade really sharp.

The burr is an indicator that you have not left a microscopically flat surface at the edge (a bald spot).  It means that you have sharpened the blade all the way up to the edge leaving a nice sharp angle. However, as long as the burr is there, the knife won’t be as sharp as it could be.  The burr must be removed to expose the apex of the blade (the part that really cuts) for maximum sharpness.

Here’s what a burr looks like at 60x magnification.  The picture on the left is a very even burr and the picture on the right is an example of the burr separating as a wire. Both of these pictures were taken at different sections of the same blade after sharpening with a 400 grit water stone.

 

Now see what the blade looks like after stropping.  Both pictures are of the same blade as before.  The picture on the left is the same as above (400 grit stone) except it has been stropped.  The burr is gone and the blade is perfectly usable in the kitchen.
The picture on the right shows the blade after having been sharpened with 1000 grit stone and then stropping.  I regularly take good knives up to a 3000 grit stone and then strop to get a nice polished apex.

You may ask, “why does this matter if they all cut fine?”
Or maybe, “can you tell the difference?”
Fair questions.  I think you can tell the difference between sharpening at 400 & 1000.  And sometimes you can tell whether the blade has been stropped or not when cutting things like tomatoes & bell peppers.  But here are the main 2 reasons that I’ve taken the time to make this post.

  1. The knife sharpened with 1000+ grit stones and then stropped is far sharper.
    It requires less effort to use and it’s going to remain sharp longer than one that has not stropped.
  2. I want you to know how much attention to detail I give when it comes to sharpening your knife.  My objective is that you actually enjoy using your knife every time you cook.

I hope you found this interesting.  If you would like to see a post about a specific topic, please let me know at:  SharpensKnives@gmail.com.

–Tony

Maintaining your kitchen knives

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Rule #1:  Lightly steel your knife before each use

A few light passes on a quality honing steel will  revitalize the sharpness of your knife and can extend the life of your blade by reducing the need for sharpening.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honing_steel

Rule #2:  Use a good cutting surface

Wood, bamboo, and some plastics make excellent cutting boards.
Hard surfaces such as Corian, plexiglass, and Lexan will dull your knife quickly and to the point that they cannot be maintained using a honing steel. These surfaces will require that you sharpen (removing metal) more frequently.

In a recent visit to a friend’s beach house, my very sharp knives were used on a plexiglass “cutting board”. After just one cooking session from cutting on the plexiglass board, the knives were dull to the point of not being able to cut anything. Sure, they could chop if you applied enough pressure, but they could not cut or slice.

Rule #3:  Store your knives in a block or on a magnetic knife holder

Storing knives loose in a drawer will quickly dull cutting edges.  Storing them in a drawer block, free-standing block, or on a magnetic strip will protect those edges as well as fingers.