January 4, 2005
Look Sharp!

Sometimes the best presents you get are the ones you buy yourself. Don't get me wrong - we received some great food-related stuff this Christmas, including a beautiful cookbook I received from my wife, a Wusthof chef's knife from my in-laws, a pizza stone/kit from my other in-laws, and some tasty treats and Guinness related items from my compatriot on this site, Meg. Most of these items they knew I wanted from remarks I'd made earlier in the year or because I put the item on my Amazon wishlist.

There was one item I didn't tell anyone I wanted, but that I went out and purchased for myself right after Christmas - an electric knife sharpener.

Now, I know a food geek like me should be able to use a stone to get a nice sharp edge on a blade, but frankly, I just don't have the knack. I can hone a blade just fine, but for sharpening, I need mechanical assistance.

There is a big difference between honing and sharpening. Sharpening a blade makes the edge of a blade a thinner wedge, better able to cut into and between surfaces. Now, a thin sharp blade means you've also got a weak edge to the blade, and after using a sharp blade for a while, the very thin edge will start to curl and make a J shape. Honing (which is what you see chefs do when they slide the blade along a steel) turns the J into a straight sharp line again- |.

The sharpening process with this machine is three step, with the first step being done only once per knife That's good because that step is the most nerve wracking. I started with a supermarket knife we'd purchased for maybe $8. The diamond grinder soon turned it into a razor sharp instument of dicing.

First you take the current edge off the knife. The slots that do this come with a plastic snap in protector so you know what you're doing when you use these slots. The blade is inserted in these slots and a grinding noise alerts you to the fact that your knife now has no edge to speak of.

Once the edge is taken off, the blade is drawn through the sharpening slots. A magnet holds the blade at the right angle, but you do have to apply some forward resistane while drawing the blade back to keep the knife going through slowly. If you hold it too loosely, the knife will be pushed through the sharpener very quickly, and will not be sharpened.

The third step is a honing step, very like the sharpening step, except that the blade is drawn through quickly in this step.

The result is a scary sharp knife. My wife was somewhat frightened by just how sharp all our knives were when I was done. I cut myself almost immediately while chopping because I wasn't respectful enough of the knife.

If you use one of these machines, I advise that you have a spare onion or two around to waste so you can see the "before" and "after" of the edge on your knives. Slicing a bit will also help to get the steel dust off the blade. Of course a quick wash after sharpening is in order

The Chef's Choice 110 sharpener was something like $80 at Bed Bath and Beyond, but I used a 20% off coupon after the fact and got $16 back. I won't use this often, but the pleasure of working with sharp knives makes it well worth the investment. If you don't want to spend that much on a unit yourself, see if you can get some friends to chip in and have a knife sharpening party.

I don't think I'd serve drinks.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at January 4, 2005 12:37 PM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

I think that sounds too scary for me. I'd rather stick with my imperfectly sharpened knives than risk the sliced artery!

Posted by Meg in Paris on January 5, 2005 at 4:44 AM

Actually, a dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp one. More pressure is needed for the cut, so when a slip is made, it's far more likely to cut you deeply than a lightly pressed sharp knife.

Posted by barrett on January 5, 2005 at 9:32 AM

I knew you'd say that. However, my own personal experience is that the contact of my skin with an exceptionally sharp knife always results in a very deep cut. My medium-sharp knives never do as much damage. I guess it's probably a matter of habit - I know how my knives will react and how much pressure they need.

Posted by Meg in Paris on January 5, 2005 at 12:35 PM

I inherited a Chef's Choice from my stepfather when he died. It is a wonderful tool -- easy to use, precise, and irreplaceable for what it does. There is nothing better than taking clean, thin slices off a roast or a tomato with a freshly-sharpened Chinese cleaver. (By the way: once you use a Chinese cleaver, you will never go back to a chef's knife again.)

Posted by Bob on January 5, 2005 at 6:07 PM

Bob, that scares me even more than the knife sharpener. I am obviously a wimpy chef!!

Posted by Meg in Paris on January 6, 2005 at 3:49 PM

Lansky Sharpeners has a kit for like $40 that contains three stones and a jig to keep the knife at the proper angle for sharpening (several choices of angle for various tools). Additional stones are available. It's easier to find at hunting-oriented stores than it is at kitchen stores. The latter would rather take your $40 (or more) and sell you a single stone glued to a fancy piece of wood.

Posted by DrNotta on January 6, 2005 at 9:41 PM

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, DrNotta, but this is decidedly not a stone glued to a piece of wood.

This is a motorized grinder, not a device that you simply draw the knives through. It makes an awful racket when sharpening.

Posted by barrett on January 7, 2005 at 1:35 AM
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