25 February 2009

The waiting is the hardest part …

W. Evan Sheehan is a very patient man … he sent a list of 7 questions to me in September, and to date I’ve answered only 2 of them … and probably not entirely to his satisfaction.

To reward his patience, I will now answer all of his remaining questions to the best of my ability.  I hope …


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.)

While we have talked about different types & degrees of sharpness, we have not gone in to too much detail about how to tell the difference(s) between them in vivo

The feature most easily observed during real world use is probably smoothness [degree of polish] of the edge.  You’d notice this while cutting tomatoes,  boning a fish, or when carving a roast … the cut(s) simply wouldn’t feel as effortless as they otherwise might and yet there wouldn’t be quite the same feeling as a truly dull blade.

In addition, the resulting slices or filets might actually be a touch ragged … as opposed to being slightly mashed from an edge that required additional force to do it’s job.  This is a pretty fine distinction in papyro or in silico … but when you’re actually cutting, it’s a very clear sign.

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 #3, I know)?

Ah, the knowing …

The best way to know is to simply use it [perhaps after I’ve sharpened it for you!] and to pay attention to how the feel of using it changes over time.

There are other ways … such as dragging the edge across a fingernail [very carefully!] and noting spots that drag or seem to skip a bit. These areas either need a bit more polish or still haven’t been sharpened to the same degree as the rest of the edge.

You can tell by looking, but … unless you’re a bit of a fanatic [you know who you are!] I don’t recommend it.

Some folks will say to slice a sheet of newspaper [tougher on edges than you might think] … and this will reveal uneven areas like the fingernail test as well as giving you an idea of how smooth the edge is … but simply using the knife for it’s intended purpose is the best way to judge if it’s sharp [or sharp enough to suit you].

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.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm … sounds like it’s time for another class. Seriously, practicing the basics of holding the blade at the proper angle relative to the hone … maintaining that angle throughout the honing stroke … and not putting too much pressure on the blade while you’re doing these 2 things is really all it takes. If you’re concerned about messing up … pick up a couple of cheap knives to use as sacrifices, and work on them until you feel more comfortable with your technique.

If you’re not applying too much pressure, it’s unlikely that you’ll do any permanent damage to a good blade … but working on some less important pieces of cutlery will definitely give you an opportunity to work on your basic skills without any worries about your good knives.

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?

Sounds like you’ve got some uneven areas along the edge … or possibly a very pronounced tooth from your hone. If you’re feeling this on both sides of the blade, it’s probably from the hone … and I’d say it’s time for a finer / more even grit [cheap hones may not be uniformly rough across their surfaces].

If you’re feeling it only on one side of the blade, it’s time to practice the basics some more … because you’re not maintaining a steady angle or applying pressure evenly through the entire honing stroke.

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?

Are these knives sharp or are they already in need of a tune-up?

If they’re already sharp … either they’re truly wedge ground all the way from the spine to the working edge [not very common] or you need to try looking at the edge(s) under better light and at different angles until you can see what is really going on.

Sometimes it can be difficult to see the edge because the knife isn’t really clean [somehow I don’t think that would be the case in your house] … or if the blade has a truly horrible wire edge from improper sharpening / polishing.

Time for a closer examination … and more data before I can give you a conclusive answer on this one. If you like, you can send me an example and I’ll take it from there … heck, I’ll even pay the return shipping!

Ok … that’s it for this round.

Next up: What should go in a bugout bag …