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Dec 28, 2007 09:25 AM

Weird knife sharpening phenomenon

Well, I'll probably lose all credibility by posting this, as it sounds so wacky.

Some days I get better results with my sharpening steel than others.

Often it seems like nothing's happening -- I can swipe it for 2 minutes and it's just not doing anything to the edge. Then another day, whoa! a few strokes and the knife is noticeably sharper.

Could there be something atmospheric going on? Is that too far-fetched an idea? I only have one sharpening "technique," so I don't think that's it.

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  1. Simple. Some times your knife is more dulled when you start, those are the times it is "noticeably sharper" when you finish.

    Other days, though you have used the knife, you still have a fine edge. You steel for a couple of minutes, when you are done, you still have a fine edge.

    1. A steel does not sharpen, it hones. As a knife cuts it gets out of alignment, the steel re-aligns the knife. If the knife is in alignment no amount of steeling will make it better. A dull knife needs to be sharpened by having some of the metal ground away. No amount of steeling will do this, so again you could steel it all day and not get an improvement.

      Also keep in mind that for a steel to work, it must be harder than the knife. In general this isn't a problem as most kitchen knives are not that hard. However, if you use Japanese knives frequently you should NOT steel them. The knives are often harder than the steel and can not be realigned by it.

      3 Replies
      1. re: vanillagorilla

        The grooved steels are aggressive enough to remove metal. Only a smooth steel will realign the edge. On a properly sharpened knife a steel will not do good things to the edge. It will create micro serrations or the toothyness of the edge which many people associate with sharp

        What may be happening constible is that sometimes you may be closer to the knife's correct edge angle and sometimes you may be way off.

        1. re: scubadoo97

          Ack! I wouldn't even consider going near a grooved steel. My knives would probably cut the grooves right off.

          1. re: vanillagorilla

            A grooved steel is simply a more aggressive tool than a smooth steel. Used properly, neither will remove metal from the blade of a knife, and the grooved steel will more quickly produce an edge. Used improperly, the grooved steel will ruin the edge more quickly.

            BTW, microserrations are not on the edge of the knife, they're on the bevel. So if you're creating them with a steel, you're steeling the knife wrong. And if the material your knife is made of is harder than your steel (which would be necessary to slice the grooves off), the steel will never be able to hone the knife in the first place.

      2. Might also be inconsistencies in the angle you're using.

        1. It's not atmospherics - but there are more factors and variables to using a knife and keeping it sharp than one might think. Here is an excellent article on knife sharpening by Joe Talmadge, an expert:

          He has some good info in the section about using a steel. Just after that section, in Part III - Putting It All Together, he lists some factors that affect sharpness - he's referring to how quickly a sharp edge can go dull, but some of these factors affect how quickly you can bring the edge back, as well. How, and how much the edge has rolled is a big piece of how quickly it can be brought back.

          1. Thanks, everyone, for your replies. Wow, there's a lot I didn't know. The notion of aligning the edge, for example. I'll be studying all of this, and will certainly have further questions as I go along. I appreciate your input!