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Knife sharpening question

I have 3 original Sabatier knives (filleting, chef's, cleaver) 2 American Knives (chefs, Santuko), 1 German, utility knife, and 1 Japanese paring knife.

The German knife and one of the Sabatier's have heels. I have been using a Chef's Choice electric sharpener for a number of years. It's been great except for the knives with heels. The last 1/2 inch or so does not go through. After a while they have lost their balance because this part of the knife is wider then the rest. It's millimeters, but it makes a very big difference.

So this has brought me to the realization that it is time to learn how to sharpen my knives with a stone. I am looking for a whetstone that is easy to use and not too expensive. Any help would be great. Thanks!

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  1. I'm sure others will give you good advice about whetstones, but I'd like to make another suggestion. Perhaps you could have a professional knife sharpener grind a bit off the heels so they would work with your sharpener.

    6 Replies
    1. re: GH1618

      < Perhaps you could have a professional knife sharpener grind a bit off the heels so they would work with your sharpener.>

      Good idea, but I think more than a bit of the bolster has to be taken off for a Chef's Choice sharpener.

      See how deep the knife is in the Chef's Choice:


      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        I see, but wouldn't it be sufficient just to reduce the blade at the back. It wouldn't go through, but at least you wouldn't have the extra blade depth intervering.

        1. re: GH1618

          Just doing the blade, will eventually create a gap where the heel section of blade can't contact the board. The bottom of the bolster needs to be level or above the edge.

          1. re: JavaBean


            I think that is what GH meant. Just reduce the bolster area. Move it up

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Opps, sorry GH.
              Yikes, that's two brainfarts in a row...must be going senile:(

          2. re: GH1618

            <but at least you wouldn't have the extra blade depth intervering.>

            I agree. That may be jefpen2's problem. I am not entirely sure.

      2. <The German knife and one of the Sabatier's have heels>

        I would be very surprised that your American knives (Chef's and Santoku) have no heels. Do you mean bolster?

        Knife heel is this:


        < I have been using a Chef's Choice electric sharpener for a number of years. It's been great except for the knives with heels.>

        It sounds like you mean bolster.

        <So this has brought me to the realization that it is time to learn how to sharpen my knives with a stone.>

        Knives with a full bolster is also challenging on a whetstone, but a least it is possible. You will need to remove a little bit of the bolster to make sure the knife edge can fully contact the cutting board. If you don't, then bolster will be lower than the rest of the knife, and you will have a gap.

        < I am looking for a whetstone that is easy to use and not too expensive.>

        With your knives, you can pretty much use anything. Arkansas stones should work, so will an inexpensive Japanese waterstone.



        4 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          this is what I'm refering to. Mine looks like this. I think it would have to be ground down to be even with the blade? Can I do this with a stone?


          1. re: jefpen2

            Yes, you can use stones to grind down the bolster, but it takes a while to do the thick ones on a German knife. A bench grinder or metal file is more effective.

            1. re: jefpen2

              Hi, jefpen2:

              You're going to need to regrind/have reground that heel reinforcement. It's not that big a deal, except--as you've noticed--the reinforcement gets in the way of putting it through/across a "slot" sharpener.

              It's just a progression from chef to slicer to petty to parer, if you think about it...

              If you want to get a jump on the future, have a bladesmith cut a "choil" up into the reinforcement that will give you enough clearance to run through your sharpener. (These reinforcements are largely unnecessary unless you are disjointing large animals).


              1. re: jefpen2

                Yes, there are a few ways to do it with a stone. You can grind the bolster from the two sides, which is what you have suggested. You can grind the bolster from the bottom. Regardless, it is probably easier to send it someone to do it for you -- if you want to continue to use your Chef's Choice sharpener.

                If you don't care to use your Chef's Choice sharpener, then I would just move the slightly bolster up from the heel, so it no longer interference your hand sharpening.

            2. I too have used a CC sharpener, perhaps too aggressively on some good German knives all with substantial bolsters. The result which did shorten the effective blade length and balance by taking away the blade profile for the last 1" closest to the bolster. Best decision I made was to locate a professional knife sharpener who was able to bring down the bolster so the effective length and shape of the blades were restored. I think I paid about $5.00 per bolster repair since I had several knives to fix. I also sprung for sharpening service on those knives and they came back like new and sharper than ever. Point being over zealous mechanical sharpeners have consequences but there are cost effective ways back to good knife profiles

              1. Note how the bolster of the Sabatier is angled and the Germans are nearly level withe the edge.

                If I have to drastically reduce a bolster I emulate the Sabatier which F Dick uses a similar angled reduction.

                Rock the Sab back on the edge of the board and see where it sits flat on the bolster grind. Then take that to your abrasive and reduce away. Get the bolster even and then thin the sides.

                Afterwards sharpen the edge.

                I always buzz the bolsters down a bit when sharpening a German knife. If metal comes off the edge an equal amount needs to come of the bolster to keep it on the board.

                I have seen 1/2 the blade not make board contact with a neglected bolster from pull through sharpeners.

                Gottta get medieval on them sculpting the metal with a super coarse abrasive sometimes to get them down then polish them up.

                Any professional sharpener worth their salt knows how to do this. Just ask about a "bolster reduction". If they appear confused find someone else.


                1 Reply
                1. re: knifesavers

                  <I always buzz the bolsters down a bit when sharpening a German knife.>

                  That is nice of you.

                2. So what are my choices if I want to learn how to sharpen with a stone?

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: jefpen2

                    You could watch the Richard Blaine videos on knife sharpening which are online. I'm not an expert, though, so I'd like to know what the knife afficianados here think of these.

                    1. re: GH1618

                      I think the Richard Blaine videos are a good start. They will certainly get you to the point that you can get a knife sharper than you've ever thought possible.

                      As far as choosing stones, there are three basic types - Oil stones, which are very inexpensive and have fallen out of favor recently. You can get a complete set for $60 or so. These folks have treated me well - http://www.sharpeningsupplies.com/Oil...

                      Water Stones are what are popular now - I honestly skipped right over these because they have one big issue, IMO, which is that they are very soft and must be kept flat with a lapping stone which adds work and cost.

                      I jumped right from oil stones to diamond plates which are expensive, but will last virtually forever and need no flattening (in fact they are used to flatten water stones). Much more expensive though at $140 for a kit - http://www.sharpeningsupplies.com/DMT...

                      I added a ceramic finishing hone, and my knives can now easily shave newspaper. Well worth the effort.

                      Don't be intimidated. If you can follow a recipe, you can learn to sharpen a knife!

                      1. re: zhenya00

                        <I jumped right from oil stones to diamond plates which are expensive, but will last virtually forever>

                        They actually don't last that long. My DMT diamond stone used for sharpening last shorter than my waterstones. On top of that diamond stones have issues of producing very refine edge.

                        Need no flatterening is true.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Well, you are the first person I have heard say that among many many reports that I've read. I have little doubt that they will last most of my life keeping a half-dozen kitchen knives sharp. The very rough cutting sensation that the plates give when new goes away quite quickly, but that doesn't impede their sharpening ability - it's just part of the break in period. Light pressure is a key part of keeping them in good shape.

                          I agree you need something finer for finishing.

                          1. re: zhenya00

                            I am sure you have read that many people said that they reserve their diamond stones for nothing but for lapping. Why would one need to preserve a diamond stone for lapping. What is behind that statement is that diamond stones can wear away pretty fast.

                            I am also sure that you have heard of the famous atoma diamond which has the advantage of replacement diamond pads. The reason why replacement pads are needed is, in fact, the stones wear out.


                            As for diamond stones wear, it has been discussed here by other posters as well. The break-in period is a nice way to say that a diamond stone gradually loses its cutting power. Its cutting performance changes over time, not just the so call "break in" period. It cuts less and less until it is completely gone. The cutting performance is not consistent throughout its lifetime.

                            Waterstones are designed to wear fast. Because a waterstone sheds its surface fast, it also means that it re-surfaces its cutting surface, thus maintaining a consistent cutting performance from the first day you buy it to the day it dies.

                            Here is a photo of one of my DMT stones. In the corners, the diamond particles are completely gone. The surface is very smooth like a polished stainless steel -- which is exactly what it is.

                            I know a lot of people claim that a diamond stone last a long time because diamond particles are hard and wear slow, but there is a disconnection. While it is true that diamonds are hard and that diamond layer wears slow, it is also true that the diamond layer is very thin. A diamond stone has probably micometers thick of diamond. A waterstone has centimeters thick of abrasive. We are talking about difference of several orders of magnitude in term of materials.

                    2. re: jefpen2

                      <So what are my choices if I want to learn how to sharpen with a stone?>

                      Are you asking options for learning knife sharpening or options for stones. As for stones, I have made a couple of suggestions (see above). As for learning, there are many knife sharpening videos. Mark Richmond has a series knife sharpening video:


                      Thomas Stuckey also has a nice series of knife sharpening for beginners. In fact, his videos are only the only few good ones on expertvillage (for people who understand the jokes on expertvillage. Heh heh heh:


                    3. Hi jefpen2,

                      As the others have said, your best bet is to find someone with the experience to grind off just enough of the bolster to raise it above the edge of the blade (a reduction, as Jim says), & then re-profile the edge so that it's straight again. I did this on a friend's Sabatier & another friend's Henckels. (The "heel" is actually the back-most section of the blade itself, while that thick 'finger guard' that runs along it is called a "full bolster".)

                      I only have pictures of the Sabatier I fixed, but it should give you an idea of how this fix might restore your knives.

                      19 Replies
                      1. re: Eiron

                        Sorry, here are a couple of better enlargements of the bolster.

                        1. re: Eiron

                          Another option is to have the bolster removed. I've done this a few times, as well. Here are some pictures of what this fix might look like on your knives. These two examples are of Mercer 10" chef's knife & a Henckels 6" cook's knife. (The Mercer I also shortened from 10" to 8", as the chef didn't like its balance or profile as a 10" knife.)

                          1. re: Eiron

                            Very descriptive photos, Eiron. Much than us "wording" the options. I think if it bes to partial remove the bolster. It makes sharpening easier by manual sharpening on stones and by electric sharpeners. How much do you think most people charge for this kind of service.

                            As for the original poster, these full bloster knives are annoying. Try to avoid them if all else are equal.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              "How much do you think most people charge for this kind of service."

                              I don't know of anyone else offering to actually *remove* the bolster (Jim??), but I charged $20/knife. IMO, this is the most functional improvement you can make to these knives. But I realize that some people prefer to leave the bolsters on.

                              On the Henckels bolster *reduction* I added only $5 to the sharpening charge simply because of all the additional work to make it look nice (angle, round & polish the bolster, then straighten & re-grind the edge). I did the Sabatier reduction for a friend, so I didn't charge anything.

                              1. re: Eiron

                                <I don't know of anyone else offering to actually *remove* the bolster (Jim??), but I charged $20/knife.>

                                Sound like a reasonable service. It is certainly worthwhile for moderately price knives like most Wusthof and Henckels Zwilling knives. e.g. $100 knives.

                                <But I realize that some people prefer to leave the bolsters on. >

                                Sure, but it is still nice to reduce the bolster ever slightly.

                                Thanks for your advises.

                                Based on the new knife series from Henckels and Wusthof, I think the "reduced bolster" design is gaining traction, which is a good thing in my opinion. We have Henckels, Henckels Profection, Henckels Twin 1731...etc. Wusthof Ikon...etc.



                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  Hmmm, we might be getting into confusing terms here!

                                  You're referring to these knives as "reduced bolster," but we should say that this is different than what Jim (knifesavers) means when he talks about a "bolster reduction."

                                  Jim's talking about grinding away just enough material so that the knife's edge has complete contact with the board again, & maybe also gaining another few years' worth of home sharpenings before repeating the reduction. (As in my Sabatier pics.)

                                  I would call the style you're referring to (Profection, Ikon, etc) as *partial* bolster when compared to their familiar "full bolster" style. (As in my Mercer & Henckels pics.)

                                  I agree with you, I think the full bolster style is outdated, but some folks still see it as a sign of "quality."

                                  1. re: Eiron

                                    Yeah, I think I myself used the term for two different meaning in the same reply. When I wrote 'it is still nice to reduce the bolster ever slightly', I meant the same as Jim. When I wrote 'I think the "reduced bolster" design is gaining traction', I meant what your partial bolster, as in your Mercer.

                                    Man, I am confusing. :)

                                    1. re: Eiron

                                      I forgot to add that recently I had to partially reduce the bolster for a friend's knife. Same issue as you have pointed out. Her knife edge profile has receded behind the bolster. As such, the knife could not fully contact the cutting board. So I used a diamond stone and grind just the bolster part.

                                      Kind of like your photo:


                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        Wow! How much work was it to do by hand?? Would you do it again? (I mean, for another friend.) What kind of a knife was it? That Sabatier I worked on was a carbon blade with a cast aluminum bolster, so it would be relatively easy to do a bolster reduction by hand. But I would think a heavy, forged German blade would be much more difficult!

                                        I have to say, I think it's great that we're all helping recondition our friends knives! I know CBAD has done this many times in the past as well. :-)

                                        1. re: Eiron

                                          <How much work was it to do by hand??>

                                          Not much, not much at all compare to most of my other works. Probably just 1 minute the most. Her knife wasn't completely out of wack. The bolster is just a bit more extended than the edge, so I just have to take off a little bit of the bolster.

                                          She gave me two knives. The one which I slightly removed the bolster was a Zwilling Henckels Chef's knife. I think I was luck out because I only need to take very very little off.

                                  2. re: Eiron

                                    Not sure if I would do a whole removal but I imagine it would eat lots of abrasives so $20-30 sounds about a decent estimate.


                                2. re: Eiron

                                  Great post, Eiron. What did you use to grind and round off the thicker German bolster?

                                  1. re: JavaBean

                                    Hi JavaBean,

                                    Have you bought yourself a grinder yet? :-)

                                    I used my 1" belt grinder. And I've discovered, for jobs like these, that the 2-wheel configuration of the Kalamazoo is NOT ideal! Something with at least 3 wheels (like the $50 Harbor Freight 1"x30" or $225 Enco 1"x42") is a much better configuration, as it keeps the return (back) section of belt away from the blade & handle while you're working on the bolster.

                                    1. re: Eiron

                                      No, not yet. At this point, I don't foresee doing any major grinding work, so it's a low (no?) priority item.

                              2. re: Eiron

                                Hi, Eiron: "...your best bet is... to grind off just enough of the bolster to raise it above the edge of the blade..."

                                Or, if you don't want to "reduce" the bolster as often, have the 'smith cut a choil so that you have *many* sharpenings between reductions. You can still pull it through your electric (or across a belt) and not have the bolster interfere. It won't look as traditional, but hey...


                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  Hi Kaleo!!,

                                  Yes, I saw your earlier suggestion to have this done!
                                  *I* don't have the equipment necessary to grind a choil that would be acceptable *to me*. But certainly, this is an option if there's a knife-worker near jefpen2 who can do it. A consideration (for me) would be how much less cutting edge there might be, depending on how/where the choil was designed to reach into the blade and/or bolster.

                                  Have you had this done to any of your kitchen knives? I'd be *very* interested to see how the results turned out!
                                  (Hmmm, maybe this is an excuse for me to buy more equipment .... ??)


                                  1. re: Eiron

                                    Okay Kaleo,

                                    I had to recondition a thrift-store knife for one of my wife's co-workers (she had a Martha Stewart chef's knife that I couldn't sharpen because it was serrated & cheap steel), so I worked on this today.

                                    This Amway 'Marblehead' knife seemed like a good enough upgrade over her Martha Stewart, but the hollow-ground edge stopped a good ways from the heel & it was already no longer contacting the board. I removed the unground portion of the heel & did my best to make a decent sweep out of it.

                                    It's not really a choil, & it was enough of a PITA that I wouldn't want to do this on a regular basis. ;-)

                                    1. re: Eiron

                                      Oh yeah those types are loads of fun. I don't see many but a bad one is a pain.

                                      Kinda like some cheap stainless blades from China.

                                      On a different note, beware some Farberware knives with hollow bolsters. Hate them!


                                      1. re: Eiron

                                        Hi, Eiron:

                                        That's a nice fix. If you just looked at the first pic, you'd think the knife came that way (as it should have).

                                        That tiny little radius in the hollow grind on the Marblehead is pretty funny.


                                2. If I'm reading this right, even a stone will slowly reduce the blade.
                                  Once the bolster is about a dimes worth over the heel, time to get that bolster ground down.

                                  A belt sander is the easiest way to do it.
                                  Or look local or mail in and have it taken care of.

                                  Any pull threw, electric or not, will not address a bolster.

                                  1. In the same boat. I've avoided getting another system other than the chef choice 100. It also kills me when I see what it does to the side of the knives.