Why Even Bother?
Why even bother is what some of you might be thinking right now. Why bother writing an entire post dedicated to address the question: what is knife sharpening. For those of you who have experience with maintaining and sharpening knives, it’s probably a question you already know the answer to (you should still read this though!).
But it doesn’t matter, I choose to address this question because I see a lot of confusion about the subject. For those of you who are new and relatively inexperienced with the idea of sharpening a knife, this is especially for you! Understanding what is knife sharpening will help you determine how often you need to sharpen, how to maintain your knife properly, and even what sharpener you should use.
What Is Knife Sharpening – A Rant About Hardness
What is knife sharpening? Well it’s kind of obvious isn’t it. It’s the process of sharpening a knife’s cutting edge! Wikipedia defines it as being the process of making a knife sharp by grinding it against a hard, rough surface like stone. I really like this definition, as it talks about a very important concept: hardness. Let’s digress and talk about hardness for a minute. Hardness can be measured in a couple of different ways, but to simplify things we will only look at the Rockwell Scale. In layman terms, the Rockwell Scale is a method to determine hardness by measuring the permanent depth of indentation on a test material (steel could be the test material for example). Check out the video below explaining the Rockwell hardness test.
Confused yet? That’s okay! All you really need to know is that different knife steels have different Rockwell numbers assigned to them (this is often called the “HRC” number) based on their hardness. Hardness is important to know for a couple of reasons. Firstly, knowing the hardness of your knife will help you understand how often it needs to be sharpened. A harder steel, generally speaking will hold its edge longer and require less sharpening, whereas a softer steel will require more frequent sharpening. Secondly, knowing your knife hardness may be useful in selecting a suitable abrasive (knife sharpener), or simply an abrasive that works better than others.
What Actually Happens When You Sharpen A Knife
Let’s examine knife sharpening with a little more detail (this is important and i’ll explain why later in the post). What actually happens to your knife steel when you sharpen it? Every time you sharpen your knife, you slowly but surely strip the steel off. Knife sharpening then is really steel removal, one pass at a time. In fact, next time you sharpen your knife, take your finger and run it carefully and slowly along the edge and notice how much steel collects and colors your fingertip. If you have a knife with a basic flat grind, you can visualize what the process of sharpening will do to your edge over time. Try and imagine it right now!
If you imagined a knife edge that slowly by slowly becomes more and more thinner, you are correct! So why is this important? It’s important because you only should be sharpening your knife when you absolutely require it. Let me repeat that one more time: Only sharpen your knife when you absolutely have no way around it!
So What Should I Do When My Knives Are No Longer Sharp!?
Great question! Now that we understand what is knife sharpening (the process of metal removal by running the cutting edge of a knife against a harder abrasive material such as diamond or ceramic), we can explore other avenues to maintain our knives such that they retain an edge for longer periods of time. Remember, the goal here is to try and minimize having to sharpen your knives. Okay, let’s explore these other avenues!
- Honing – I can’t stress the importance of honing enough. Honing a knife is the process of simply realigning its edge. Very recently, I wrote a post specifically dedicated to honing and why it’s so important and necessary. Check it out by clicking here. Read the post, understand it, and actually start honing frequently! You will see the difference.
- Stropping – I usually strop immediately after I have sharpened my knife. You should too! Like honing, stropping helps to realign your knife’s edge, and gives it a polished, smooth, clean finish. Here’s a post I wrote about stropping you will want to read!
That’s really all you need to know about knife sharpening! Having read this post, you should now have some background about the concept of hardness measurement, what is knife sharpening and some common ways we can maintain our knives such that they retain their edge for a long time. Now, there is one more thing I would like to add before I end this post: there is no shortage of knife sharpeners (electric and non-electric) currently on the market, so it’s important to do your research and find out which one will work best for you! Take the time to read and understand the specifications and features: What kind of abrasive is being used to sharpen the knife? Can the abrasive be replaced and how much do replacements cost? Are there any options for honing and stropping included?
(Do Your Homework & Pick What’s Right For You!)
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and I hope it will have cleared some confusion about what is knife sharpening. Please leave a comment below. I always look forward to hearing what you have to say! Cheers and until the next one, have a fabulous day!