The Happy Knife, Part 1
In this segment we are going to discuss the steel. We will stick to the basic version on this article. We will cover different styles of sharpening devices later on.
You all have seen them on the cooking shows and they are priceless when used correctly. With the knife you have purchased, the typical steel will work fine however many of these Japanese knives (very high-end) or more modern knives have been forged in a different way and will not respond to the steel the same way. When steel is forged it hardens the steel and the gauge or term used to measure the hardness of the steel is Rockwell Value. The average knife has a Rockwell Value of 56 to 59, while the higher end knives typically have a Rockwell Value of 65. The average home or professional steel has a Rockwell value of 57 to 63 typically. This means that the higher end knives are actually harder than the steel and will not be affected by the aligning process. You will need to have the proper steel to use with that knife. Keep in mind these higher end knives I mention are anywhere from 600-1000 for a single knife. I don’t think, I will ever justify that in my knife collection. (Chris’s comment, not Kathy’s.)
Every time you use your knife, you should first use your steel. Note that I did not say “sharpening steel”, because that is really a misnomer. A steel doesn’t sharpen, it re-aligns the knife. When your knife is dull, the edge of the blades teeth or “hairs” have gotten out of alignment or curled over. This causes the knife to have difficulty cutting through the food.
Using a steel actually re-aligns the edge of a knife.
To use the steel properly, make sure that you are using the correct angle of the knife to the steel. Too much and you flatten the edge not enough you are just dragging the side of the blade on the steel causing scratches on the side.
Below I am not holding the knife correctly so that you can see the angles. Always hold your knife with care.
Also you don’t have to bear down on the blade. Little to no pressure is needed against the steel. You are simply
straightening microscopic hairs on the edge. When you apply too much pressure you are actually rolling the hairs to the other side and then switch to the other side and flatten them or roll them right back.
There are many views on how to align the knife from this point.
I have seen people face the blade edge downward toward their hand drawing from the base of the knife to the tip in a smooth motion like cutting something alternating from side to side.
I have also seen where you pull the blade upward stroking the blade from base to tip alternating side to side.
Then finally there is the option of placing the point of the steel on a cutting board and use a downward stroke to protect yourself from any cuts or mishaps.
I have never seen conclusive evidence as to the proper method. I prefer using the method of pulling the blade toward the base of the steel and using a cutting motion from the Bolster to the Tip of the blade.
In any way, if you control the blade and are paying attention, you should be fine. I may someday perform a test on what works better. If someone out there has done this please post a comment so we can provide quality information here. What I can say is I have never seen using the steel with the sharp edge facing out works or if actually dulls it even further. I may be wrong but the results I have had are negative.
After you have passed the knife over the steel a few times you can then clean it. You want to use a clean paper towel or bar towel to wipe the sides of the blades as you have actually created small amounts of steel dust.
There will come a time when the steel will not work. The blade has dulled just too much. At that point, I would suggest taking your knives to an expert to have them professionally sharpened. They carefully grind a small bit of the metal off of the blade bringing it back to a sharp edge.
If you follow these simple steps, you will find that prep work or carving will speed up and also the final product will have nice clean edges for the presentation at the table. A dull knife you need to use more effort and there is more of a chance to get hurt.
Chris & Kathy