Knife Sharpening Fetish

I have a small obsession with getting my knives very sharp. I think it goes back to my uncle Frank who is a carpenter and who showed me how he sharpened his chisels on a wet-stone when I was a very small kid. From that point on, I was always trying to sharpen knives. I think my first attempt was using Frank’s wet-stone on a butter knife. The outcome on that one was very predictable.

Then, as a cub and scout for eight years, I tried everything to get my Swiss Army sharp to no avail. I mainly tried using stones. Total waste of time. I did actually buy a wet-stone in my early teens but had no idea how to use it:

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As I got older and into my twenties, the obsession moved to kitchen knives. I tried and failed to use a standard steel a bit like this Wusthof:

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Then I got the classic Kitchen Devils “mini crossed steels” sharpener. I think this was the first one where I actually got a result. The knives were never razor sharp but they were always able to do a reasonable job.

Then I hit the motherlode with the rotating disk sharpener (also from Kitchen Devils I think). This baby finally gave me what I was looking for - bloody sharp knives (in every sense of bloody). The only down-side was that it didn’t seem to sharpen all knives and after a while it stopped sharpening altogether (later I would discover that this is due to the build up of metal on the ceramic which can be cleaned off):

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So things were on the up-and-up but of course I was never satisfied. Then a few years back I was in the Ballymaloe shop and found this beauty:

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I’ve been using it for three or four years now. The big advantage it has is the presence of two grades of ceramic. The rough one to create a basic edge on something very blunt and a finer one to hone a knife that has just lost sharpness. It’s always worked well but suffered the same metal build-up and it was nigh on impossible to scrub off the metal due to its shape. But there were two bigger problems - firstly it was getting more and more difficult to keep an edge on knives even for a day or two and secondly it seemed to be creating very rough pitted edges on the knives.

Recently I decided to do a bit of further reading and discovered this excellent foodie web-site:

eG Forums (The eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters).

They have a fantastic guide to knife sharpening and cover all the issues involved. The ideal for them is a sharpening-stone but that requires too much skill for my liking. The best alternatives are the angled ceramic sharpeners. The rotating disk ones that I had used are like crude mini-versions of these but damage the blade too much.

One that seemed to get good recommendations was the Spyderco Sharpmaker 204. I took a browse over to New Graham Knives in the US who were also recommended. They were selling it for $46.81 including instructional DVD. How could I pass up a bargain like that? A quick check to see that they would ship to Ireland and I put in my order. They shipped the following day and I got it in less than a week. Well impressed!

I did grin when I opened the package as out fell a box of plasters with the byline “because you’ll need them”.

I did the first few knives without watching the DVD and was happy with the results but not blown away. Then I watched the DVD and saw where I was making a few mistakes. I took my favourite chef’s knife (actually a cheap all-metal one from Marks and Sparks) and ran it through the four-stage 160 stroke process. I pressed the edge of it with my thumb and goddammed cut myself! I could not believe it. I’ve only ever cut myself by running a knife along flesh.This thing is now literally razor-sharp. When done right, the resulting knife will cut paper without any pressure.

So after a long, emotional and spiritual journey of over thirty years, I have now reached nirvana and will be happily slicing soft tomatoes with my lethal weapons until my hands no longer work.

Finally, some pictures of my pride and joy:

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Conor O'Neill

Tech guy who likes running slowly

Bandon, Cork, Ireland http://conoroneill.com