29 September 2008

We digress for a short while ...

It's been waaaaaaaaaaay too long since our last installment
of Sharpenology, and I was recently reminded of this by a
loyal reader and good friend ... who shall remain nameless,
but whose initials are W. Evan Sheehan.

Thanks Evan!

Evan had some questions and I'm pretty sure that he's not
the only one with these questions ... or some that are very
similar ... so I decided to get back in to the writing rhythm
by addressing them.

It all began with this [with minor edits by Yours Truly]:

So many questions...

I am concerned that, at best, I am doing my knives little
good and, at worst, that I am harming them.

I've just finished running my two beloved kitchen knives
over my whetstone; they feel sharper, but not Doc-Sharp (TM).

I also tried helping out [his sweetie's name went here]
knives which have -- to my knowledge -- never been
sharpened before.

I've also got some questions brought on by thinking --
dangerous, I know -- about Sharpenology.

So, in no particular order and without further ado:

1. You've talked about different kinds of sharpness --
cutting turkeys vs cutting tomatoes vs wood carving.

What do you do for knives you use in the kitchen for
multiple purposes? Chopping onions, mincing garlic,
slicing tomatoes, slicing cucumbers, etc.

I keep a separate knife around specifically for cutting
bread, ought I to consider keeping separate knives around
for tomatoes?

2. How does one learn to tell the difference between the
different types of sharpness? (Some of this may already
have been covered on Sharpenology, in which case you'd
not be remiss to smack me in the head and just point.
I should be re-reading that first.)

3. How do you learn to tell when a blade is sharp and
when it needs sharpening?

I've tried looking at the blade, but except to notice
notches it doesn't seem to do me much good. I can
feel that the blade has more bite after I'm done with it,
I've always assumed that meant it was sharper: true,
false? Are there different tests for different types of
sharp (related to #2, I know)?

4. How do I improve my sharpening technique? I haven't
really got anyone around to teach or watch me do it, so
I've got to figure out some way of self checking.

5. Sometimes I feel more of a bite running my finger
right-to-left than the other way, does that mean I did
something wrong?

6. I've noticed a couple of knives with a bevel that is
nigh invisible or maybe not even there, do you have
any tips that will help me not fubar these blades?

7. Where did you learn all this stuff? Maybe I can quit
bothering you and go deal with some of this on my own.


That's a whole lot of questions ... so I'll address the easiest one first:

Where did I learn all this stuff?


Many moons ago ... when the Earth's crust was just beginning
to cool, several years before I met M. Animal MacYoung ...

Oh, sorry! Wrong story ...

I learned about the importance of maintaining ones tools from
my grandfather ... who was the most brilliant natural engineer
I've ever met. He could build anything out of practically
nothing, and could repair any mechanical [or electro-mechanical]
device he ever laid hands on ...

When I began collecting knives at the tender age of 8 or 9,
I figured that I'd better learn to take care of them so that
they'd always be ready to take care of me.

In those days, about the only information around came from
books ... either about knives or knifemakers, and these were
few and far between.

Somewhere in those early years I came across a brief essay
on knife sharpening by A. G. Russell ... who was also selling
arkansas whetstones ... and I saved my pennies to buy one
of these stones & followed A. G.'s minimal instructions on
how to use it.

After many hours of trial & mostly error, I was able to
leave knives in better condition than when I found them.

I kept at this as my collection of knives grew and over
time discovered more books & articles on knife maintenance
which I cheerfully devoured ... gradually accumulating a
collection of sharpening stones and devices equaling my
collection of knives.

As I worked my way through all of these wonderous devices
and 'new' methods of sharpening my beloved knives [and by
this time, the knives of many of my friends and neighbors]
I realized that my grandfather had been right [again] when
he told me that I should learn to work with the simplest
tools, because they would always be available to me.

In this case, the simplest tools were [and are] my hands
and a nice, flat whetstone.

Since that realization, I've used a wide variety of
whetstones ... and am still testing and comparing as
'new' ones are available ... but it still comes back
to the fundamental tools: my hands and a nice, flat

So ... the short & sweet conclusion of that long-winded
answer is: practice.

Probably not the answer that Evan [or any other
folks who might actually read this] wanted to hear,
but that's just how it is.

Next time, more answers to Evan's questions ...