Stay Sharp

Any time I put a new razor head on my razor and I shave I have a little monologue in my head that goes: “You should do this more often because you don’t cut yourself and it’s so much smoother and, really, it’s worth it.”

Now that same monologue is going to kick in when I get my kitchen knives professionally sharpened. I’m such an idiot for not doing this more often. At the Atwater Village farmer’s market, there’s a man who sharpens knives (you can see him above). All I had to do was carry my knives to the market–a 20 minute walk–and cough up $11. That’s a small pittance considering the impact it immediately makes in the kitchen.

Here’s the thing: I have a Japanese whetstone that I use to sharpen my knives myself. I always get them a little sharp (you can tell if your knife is sharp by resting your finger, gently, on the blade and tugging; if it’s very sharp, your finger will stick a little). Lately, though, no amount of whetstone sharpening was getting my knives as sharp as they needed to be.

Which is why, at the farmer’s market, the man working there (he told me his name but I forget!) told me that it would take three hours on my whetstone to do what he could accomplish quickly on his fast-spinning machine. His machine is a wheel made of stone that’s plugged in so it spins extraordinarily fast. He said, “Give me 30 minutes.”

When I came back, he said: “Sometimes this happens, not often, but sometimes it does.”

I gulped. Did my knife break?

“I got your Japanese knife so sharp that it’s now SCARY sharp,” he said.

SCARY SHARP. How cool.

He also showed me how to hone the knife, explaining that the long metal rod (a steel) most of us have in our knife blocks isn’t there to sharpen, but to help straighten out the very edge of the blade. Think of a triangle and the very tip being bent, slightly, to the right. That’s what happens when you press your knife down on the cutting board. He showed me how to create a 22 degree angle with the knife and how to drag it across.

When I got home, I beheld my “scary” sharp knife (on the right) and my very sharp other knife:


The sheer moment of bliss that came, moments later, when I sliced through a bunch of chiles to pickle them (post to come later) is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t used a very sharp knife. The best way to feel this is with a tomato. Get your knives sharpened then simply hold the blade on top of a tomato and drag it across without applying any pressure. The tomato will slice itself.

That’s the best feeling, just like shaving with a new blade is the best feeling. So get your knives sharpened stat. And if you come to my kitchen and want to murder me, use the Japanese knife. It really is scary sharp.

8 thoughts on “Stay Sharp”

  1. Those things wreck your knives though…well not “wreck” per se as much as decrease their life expectancy. Because by going through that machine they are shaving away a lot more of your knife than a stone would. There are places that sharpen knives professionally using stones, I like to stick with those.

  2. Although it’s not a professional sharpening, Alton Brown had a really great tutorial about honing your knife on Good Eats starting at ~4:46 –

    He points out that the Shun honing steel has built-in functionality to show you the precise angle for properly honing the blade. If you don’t have a Shun, though, you need to do it at a 22 degree angle. What’s 22 degrees? If 90 degrees is a right angle, take half of that. There’s a 45 degree angle. Then, take half of that. There’s your ~22 degree angle. I swear that used to be part of his honing tutorial, but it’s lacking from that clip.

  3. A cookstore sent my knives away to be sharpened once. They came back wrapped in paper labelled ‘Deathly Sharp’. I was almost too afraid to unwrap them.

  4. I just brought in the knife I use most to be sharpened. For $5 I got a REALLY sharp knife. I didn’t realize how bad it was til I was able to compare it on tomatoes. Like you, my takeaway thought was that I need to do this more often.

  5. I had to cut up a bunch of chicken recently at a friend’s house with her INCREDIBLY DULL knife. I was terrified that it would slip and slice me instead! Sharp knives are so much safer! Here in NYC I take mine to Samurai Sharpening at the Chelsea Market.

  6. Better clarify that when you say “resting your finger, gently, on the blade and tugging” you mean tugging gently in a motion perpendicular to your cutting edge. Otherwise you’ll just cut your finger up.

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