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Steel And Stone


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#1 Leo

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Posted 11 December 2009 - 04:52 PM

I know a lot of folks that don't like using a "sharpening" steel or see any value in it. I think this is mainly because of a misunderstanding. A "sharpening" steel is in actuality a "straightening" steel. In other words, you don't use a steel to actually sharpen the knife. The steel doesn't remove metal from the blade unless you use it wrong. The goal of using the steel should just be to straighten out the edge so the point of the edge is in line with the axis of the knife and not off to one side or the other. When the edge gets bent to one side or the other the knife acts dull but the edge really isn't gone. It just isn't very effective when it's off to one side or the other. Very often just a couple of careful passes with a steel will bring the edge right back to original sharpness. All you've done in this case is straighten the edge back into it's correct position. This is preferred! Don't immediately take the blade to a stone when all that is required is some edge straightening. The stone removes metal and can cut that bent edge right off. If you cut the edge off with the stone you have no choice but to go through the complete sharpening process to repair it. You may be unnecessarily shortening the life of your knife. A couple careful passes with the steel may have saved you a sharpening session.

Always try to bring the sharpness back with a steel first. If the steel fails to bring back the sharpness, then it is time to use the stones to fix the edge. My general rule of thumb is to use the steel to maintain the edge and the stones to repair it.

If you don't have access to a steel and need an emergency substitute, the unglazed ring on the bottom of a ceramic coffee mug will work in a pinch. It takes very little force to straighten the edge, the weight of the knife blade itself is enough.

Try it, you'll save yourself some sharpening sessions.
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#2 Hammerforged

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Posted 12 December 2009 - 09:41 PM

Quite right Leo, I know every butcher worth his salt would not be caught without his steel. As Leo says the steel is primarily for setting the edge straight in line with the axis of the blade. A good pocket "steel" is a used ceramic sandblasting nozzle. These make great "steels" for re-setting the edge.

#3 Geoff / TBow

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Posted 13 December 2009 - 11:07 AM

Caring and preparing a knife's edge is one topic that I will plead ignorant to. Most of us knife sharpener wan'na be's usually scroll through Cabelas or the like and keep buying the newest knife sharpener being heralded as the latest thing since sliced bread. And hoping it will provide the miracle of razor sharp edges without knowing what we're actually doing. I'm glad you guys posted this subject and the response 'cause I find it extremely helpful.

Geoff / TBow
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#4 Leo

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Posted 13 December 2009 - 02:01 PM

Caring and preparing a knife's edge is one topic that I will plead ignorant to. Most of us knife sharpener wan'na be's usually scroll through Cabelas or the like and keep buying the newest knife sharpener being heralded as the latest thing since sliced bread. And hoping it will provide the miracle of razor sharp edges without knowing what we're actually doing. I'm glad you guys posted this subject and the response 'cause I find it extremely helpful.

Geoff / TBow


I tried to find a youtube video that showed the use of a knife steel correctly. Unfortunately, that effort was wasted. I can't stress emphatically enough how little pressure is required to actually straighten out the edge. Every video I watched I could see them applying too much pressure and actually hear them removing steel from the blade. To me, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I'll try and explain it this way. Aluminum foil is only 0.008" thick, it takes very little force to bend Aluminum foil. Steel is only roughly 50% stiffer than aluminum and a knife edge is many times thinner than 0.008"! So applying any pressure greater than what is required to bend aluminum foil, with a steel is easily too much! It takes very little pressure to straighten out a knife edge!

If you strive to not break off the edge, you will be rewarded with a steel edge that has been most effectively work hardened and will end up being longer lasting.

The better you are at using a steel, the less repair (or re-sharpening) you will have to do.
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#5 Spirithawk

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Posted 13 December 2009 - 07:57 PM

I use to work for a boat company that built deck boats. I was the lead upholsterer for 7 years and a sharp knife was esential to my job. You'd be surprised just how sharp a knife has to be to smoothly slice through several inches of foam. Your blade could be sharp enough to shave with but drag it ever so lightly across just one staple and it went from razor sharp to so dull you couldn't slice butter! Reason being, the sharper it is, the thinner the edge. The thinner the edge, the easier it folds over just as you were saying. After the plant shut down I went through dozens of stones trying to find a satisfactory one, as good as the one I'd had at work. My wife, Sameee, and I team up on the knives. I sharpen them with my stone and she keeps them that way with her steel. Thanks for a great post Leo. A dull blade isn't a knife, it's an accident yet to happen!

#6 Hammerforged

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Posted 13 December 2009 - 10:54 PM

I can still remember my Grandmother sharpening her knives, she didn't have a proper butcher's steel. So she used a piece of cold rolled steel rod that my Grandfather had put a handle on for her to use like a butcher's steel. The best for a quick and useful edge is still a set of Ceramic Crock Sticks, these come with a wooden base that has the holes for holding the crock sticks at a preset angle of 15 degrees, as long as you hold the knife edge at 90 degrees to the wooden base and let the weight of the knife dictate the force on the crock sticks these will work every time, a few strokes on each side and you should be good to go. Again, you are not trying to remove any metal from the edge but instead are re-setting the edge from a rolled over position.




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