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Sharpening Damascus knives

  • 02-03-2022 10:01am
    Registered Users Posts: 6,939 ✭✭✭

    Over Christmas I invested in a really nice set of Damascus 67 knives, having struggled with crappy knives for years. They were scarily sharp when they arrived and having heavily used 2 of them, they need a sharpen as although they're still sharper than my old knives, they're not 'catch my fingernail' sharp, if that makes sense.

    I bought a 1000/6000 whetstone and have tried using it with the smaller knife but I'm really struggling with it. I've followed this guide which is really good, and although I'm definitely getting there it seems like it's taking ages, definitely more than the 10 - 15 minutes recommended.

    I've also seen another guide that recommends using a sharpening steel as a whetstone shouldn't be required more than 3 - 4 times a year. I haven't tried using the bigger knife on the whetstone yet so will try that later, but should I try a sharpening steel first?


  • Registered Users Posts: 19,619 ✭✭✭✭Muahahaha

    Cant answer your question OP but about a year ago I asked my butcher what he uses to sharpen his knives. I forget what he told me becasue he also said bring them in and he would sharpen them for me. Im in there every week anyway so now just bring them in to him about every 3 months, like yourself I have a full set but two of them get 90% of the use so just bring the 2 of them in. Have no ideas what he uses as its done out the back but they come back super sharp. Id say if you are a regular customer and known in a butchers most of them would mind and you know it will be well done as theyre dealing with knives day in day out.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,617 ✭✭✭Feisar

    A steel is more or less for touching up. In that you should give the knife a few licks of it before and after use, not meant for an actual full sharpen. I use a 3000 grit stone in basically the same way, three goes either side before and after use and I have perpetually sharp knives. I like 3000 grit as it maintains the blade without the removal of too much material like 400/800/1000 grit. Plus with my little and often approach it's unlikely I'd be maintaining a perfect angle. I probably have a wobbly convex edge on them but it works. 3000 is also good in that it'll have micro serrations which helps the knife glide though tomatoes for example. It may seem to be taking ages but is each pass hitting the apex of the edge? Not criticizing, just pointing out what could be happening. A sharpener with a guided rod system may not be a bad way to go, plenty of cheap options out there, no need to go with a Wicked Edge Generation 3 Pro sharpening system!

    First they came for the socialists...

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,939 ✭✭✭SuprSi

    Thanks both, I have a butchers down the road that I could pop into so will check that out. I've ordered a ceramic sharpening steel that'll be here tomorrow too, so will try that out.

    That Wicked Edge thing is something else 😲

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,617 ✭✭✭Feisar

    Just a word of caution on the butchers, ask how they do it. A chef I knew years ago dropped in a Global knife to a butchers and it came back sharpened alright but with a very bad angle.

    First they came for the socialists...

  • Registered Users Posts: 622 ✭✭✭Deise Musashi

    The lads are spot on here, some butchers will know how to sharpen Chef quality knives, but a lot are used to soft knives, that are treated as a consumable.

    A little maintenance often, and infrequent full sharpening sessions, will give you the maximum life and performance in your new knives.

    With a ceramic steel, use a stropping (edge trailing stroke), no more than 3 per side (John Verhoeven's paper I quoted elsewhere has the proofs for this).

    A 3,000 grit (Japanese rating) is a great choice for maintaining an edge, again a little stropping action allows the edge to slide over any harder inclusions or steel fragments in your stone, rather than crashing edge first into them.

    I would also make a strop from some leather and wood, an old belt, handbag or jacket can donate the leather if it's handy.

    Plain leather has silicates in it that will strop your steel, or add a little fine abrasive like Autosol or Peek (from motor factors, wash knife well after), polishing rouge (wood working suppliers especially the fine cabinet maker types), or diamond polishes (ebay or amazon, Chefknivestogo,

    I can sharpen your knives if you want, to whatever level of finish and angle you deem appropriate.

    I live in Co. Waterford, so if you are anywhere nearby, you could call in and we can go over some sharpening tips (starting with safety and first aid, I cut the bejaysus out of myself at times).

    A great set for a home cook is a 1,000 and a 6,000 grit waterstone, having a 3,000 would split the "jump" in grits nicely too (the usual advice is to double up so 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 8,000). A coarser stone can be used for bevel setting, thinning, and chip/broken tip repair, I mentally consider below 1,000 grit grinding and shaping stones, 1,000 to maybe 4,000 sharpening, and over that polishing (pretty aesthetically, and completist, but not necessary to get work done).

    I have also used fine grit wet and dry papers from a motor factors when I hadn't stones in that grit, stick it on a piece of float glass (heavy bathroom shelf type glass, or a flat tile) and use like a disposable stone.

    The number one thing when sharpening is to raise a burr, work on one side of your edge until a burr is raised along the edge, you can feel it, but a recent tip online has me using a flashlight to see the burr.

    Once you have a burr all along an edge, swap sides and do the same number of strokes to the other side, and make sure the burr has flipped over (plastic deformation of the steel). Now go to a finer grit and go again, eventually the wire edge (burr) gets hard and snaps off (work hardened embrittlement) and you will have a nice sharp apexed edge. The finer grits raise a finer burr (where the light helps, as it gets tricky to feel with wet hands) and you refine and reduce until an acceptable edge is achieved.

    It's a very zen, relaxing pastime, if you aren't a line cook I guess, and you can definitely do it yourself.

    Any questions, or progress pics, let us know.

    Small burr, or small fold in edge.

    Burr raised along whole edge - sharpening going well.

    Clean edge, no burr - finished stage

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  • Registered Users Posts: 6,939 ✭✭✭SuprSi

    Wow, thanks for that great advice. I would love to take you up on your offer but I live in the UK so it's not an option, but next week I'll try getting a burr on one side before going at the other.

    I've managed to get an edge on the smaller knife now, using edge trailing strokes on the whetstone, then the ceramic steel, and that seems to work with the other knives, but I'll try it on one of the older non-Damascus blades to hone my technique.

    Thanks again!