Sunday, June 07, 2015

Knife Sharpening 101

I have always enjoyed learning new things, and a while back I bought a whetstone so I could sharpen my own knives. I love to cook, so this seemed a natural extension of that love. But, the first two times I tried it, based on a video I found, I pretty much botched the job, taking even more of the edge off. I also had a guy down the road who sharpened knives, so I took them to him and he repaired the damage I had done, putting a keen, proper chef's edge on them. Unfortunately, he passed away about a year ago. My knives were getting duller by the day.

I was reminded of when I was a kid, and the Summer would start to run hot. My brother and I spent time "down the shore" (the Jerseyest of Jersey expressions), including time with Uncle Charlie and Aunt Shirley, shucking corn on the front porch, listening to the Phillies game on a transistor radio. Uncle Chick (what we called him) would shuck the corn with an unfiltered Pall Mall dangling from his lower lip, not clamped with his upper lip, the cigarette defying the rules of gravity, the ash growing to improbable lengths, and all the while it was bouncing to the rhythms of the conversation between Uncle Chick, and Phillies announcers Ritchie Ashburn and Harry Kalas. We would boil the corn and serve it with dinner, every single day of the Summer as was the family's custom, and Aunt Shirly would bring out a knife for the butter (none of that midwestern rolling of the corn right into the butter - uncivilized Barbarians). Uncle Chick would thank her, then look at it curiously and say, "That damned knife wouldn't cut butter in July!" He'd laugh like it was the first time he'd ever thought of that.

That kind of summed up my current knife situation. Dull knives. Deceased knife sharpener. It was time to learn this task and sharpen my skills (that one was for Uncle Chick). So, I trolled multiple videos until I found this one:

I watched it three times. This man, it seemed to me, knows a thing or three about knives. Then, I clicked on Kill Bill Vol. 2 and went to work. Listen. If you're going to develop knife sharpening skills, you could do worse than watching Beatrix Kiddo going to town with a fistful of Hatori Hanzo steel as the backdrop for your endeavor. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would also suffice, I am sure.

First, I ran the blade up and down the coarse side of the stone, the strokes nice and even, the small pits getting ground out, the gleam returning to the edge, the sound of steel on stone creating a kind of rhythmic Zen. There is not only a sound that goes with this job, but also the feel of the stone as the blade gets sharper. I did all of the knives on the coarse side, then flipped the stone to the finer grit, and honed them to a long-forgotten sharpness. The sound was different, as was the feel, but the easy rhythm of it remained the same.

I could see how much sharper the knives were, and I grabbed a tomato to confirm my craftsmanship. I was able to cut paper-thin slices of the tomato, even with the 12" chef's knife. Simply beautiful and amazing. Did they taste better? You're absolutely right they did.