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Jan 5, 2010 03:00 AM

Confused Over Knife Sharpener's Stages 2 and 3

Tired of suffering with dull knives, I heeded the review in Cooks Illustrated and bought the Chef’sChoice Model 130 knife sharpener. I pretty well understand when to use Stage 1—only when a knife is pretty dull. What befuddles me is when to use Stage 2 (the steel) or Stage 3 (the strop and polisher). The instructions seem to say that Stage 2 creates a “microscopically serrated (steeled) edge, the type preferred by professionals for more fibrous foods.” For Stage 3, it says it is for “hair-splitting sharpness, perfect for preparing decorative platters and for precision slicing of more delicate foods.” So, if I just want to sharpen my knives (and keep them sharp), do I use Stage 2 or 3? I am looking for someone with some wisdom and experience to guide this poor neophyte in the ways of knife sharpening.

Oh, and should I get a pair of those Kevlar gloves before I slice off one of my fingers? I've grown very fond of all ten of them (my fingers, that is).

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  1. I don't have wisdom and knowledge, but I like to talk (write) and cannot stop, so you are stuck with me.

    Assuming the instruction description is correct. Stage 1 is for re-profiling and putting an edge on. Stage 2 is to refine and smooth out what Stage 1 left over, but not completely smooth out. The edge will have very small teeth which is good for "slicing". This helps to prepare many foods like meats. Stage 3 is to further refine Stage 2 to give it a much smoother edge which is great for "push/pull cutting". This help to prepare many vegetables.

    In the end, it is about what knife we are talking about and what we want the knife to do. If it is an all-purpose knife, like a French Chef's knife, I will stop at stage 2. Keep in mind, there are other opinions on this. Some believe all knives should go all the way to Stage 3. On the other hand, I agree with Chad Ward on this.

    Let me quote Chad Ward (author of An Edge in the Kitchen):

    "Sharpening Strategy: Coarse versus Polished Edges


    As a matter of fact, leaving the edge of your knife just a little coarse can be a very good thing. This is where we must compare push cutting to slicing.

    Push cutting involves parting fibers and requires a polished edge. Shaving, for example, is push cutting. So is peeling an apple or julienning a carrot. You are pressing your thin, finely polished edge through the fibers of the food, pushing them to either side.

    Slicing, on the other hand, involves severing fibers and requires a toothier edge. Crusty bread, a soft tomato, roast chicken – anything with an outer layer that is tougher than the squishier inside demands an edge that can bite into the skin without crushing the interior. A highly polished edge will simply skate over the surface of a ripe plum until you put enough pressure on it to push through the skin. But the fruit underneath will give way before that happens. Not pretty."

    While at it, thought about getting a matching armor set? :D

    1. First off, don't pay much attention to the Chef's choice terms - "the steel" and "the strop and polisher" are misleading terms. IIRC, a stage two is a medium grit sharpener and a stage 3 is effectively a higher grit sharpener that also applies a microbevel at a slightly more obtuse angle. The nicknames for stages are marketing.

      What Chem told you is correct, especially in theory. And I've heard reports from meat workers (they use their knives A LOT) that many of them prefer micro-serrated edges because they seem to cut meat more aggressively. They typically use knives that are soft and cheap but take a respectable edge easily and I believe they mostly do their sharpening on power equipment.

      But in practice, I haven't noticed any major limitations of a polished edge. Tomatoes, plums, meat, sashimi, rope, whatever - no problem. I am, however, admittedly a bit of a knife nut who makes sure to buy knives capable of taking an extreme edge, and I typically sharpen my knives to the point at which you could comfortably shave your face with them - not necessary for most applications, but I like sharp knives.

      The point? Not all knives will sharpen equally, just as not all sharpeners will put an equal edge on a knife. And while there aren't many noticeable downsides to a highly polished edge on some knives, you might find that your knife performs best for your applications with a rougher edge. It's gonna depend not only on your technique and style of cooking as Chem correctly pointed out , but also on the interplay between your knives and the chef's choice sharpener. So experiment. Leave a slicer with a rougher edge and go all the way to level 3 with a parer. Try both with your chef's knife.

      I can say without a doubt that a more polished edge lasts longer. But the major upside of a chef's choice is that you can resharpen in just seconds anyway. So see what suits your knives and your cutting style best.

      Sorry - no opinion on kevlar gloves. Probably wouldn't buy em personally. At the same time I can think of a few nasty cuts they might have saved me.

      1. re the gloves:

        only time i ever use gloves is w/ a mandolin, because i prefer to hold the food directly, not use one of the holders/sliders mandolins come with

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          1. I have the same model, and, like you, was confused at first. I'd suggest sharpening only through stage 2, then testing the knife for its intended use -- onions, tomatoes, bread, etc. THEN do stage 3, and re-test on the very same foods. You'll be able to determine the effect of that last stage, and whether it's important.

            As for me, I like stage 2 because it removes no more metal than a typical steel. I probably use it more than I should, just because it's fun!

            (On some CC models, stage 2 is motorized and gritty, unlike your Model 130. So keep that in mind as you read responses here.)

            1 Reply
            1. re: Channa

              Wow. What a lot of really helpful, on point responses! Thanks to all.

              That said, I think the upshot is that I need to overcome my intimidation and experiment. I put a couple of knives up to stage 3, will put another to stage 2, and try to cut a tomato or two tonight.