Where there is a will there is a way

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Keeping your knife-edge sharp

My first sharp knife
I've had some knives my father gave me for the past 5 years.

He was always a believer in keeping knives razor sharp. He bought good knives with good steel that would hold an edge, and would grind them by hand regularly with a block stone, and also a leather stroppy thing for the finest edge. I grew up with our knives always kept razor sharp, and you had to be careful after he had just sharpened them or you would cut yourself. Knives were respected in our house, always wiped off and put back on the knife rack and thrown in to be washed with the dishes. When I grew up and moved out, and realized how differently everyone lived, and the discipline that my parents had that not everyone had, I saw that most people didn't sharpen their knives. They kept many cheap tin knives in the cutlery drawer, and cutting anything was a frustrating struggle.

Anyways, back to my knives. They became dull. I didn't have the discipline yet to sharpen them regularly, but I respected them, and held onto them, and bought a stone block. Over time before my life became less chaotic I lost the small one, my husband ruined the big one, but I managed to save one of my father's gifts and the sharpening block. Just recently, I decided to sharpen my putty knife with the block while renovating. Then, if finally happened! I was sick of not being able to cut into a squash for dinner, and I actually sat down, and started grinding the edge of my last good knife. I had finally arrived at a state where I left perfectionism behind enough (waiting for the perfect time to do something perfectly had kept me from achieving so often), and also had grown enough personal discipline to just do things.

Starting small with my own knife

I looked closely at the edge as I went along. I remembered how he had taught me to do it (I just hadn't had very much practice) about the degree of the angle. It was exciting to actually achieve a sharp edge like my father's after doing it for a few minutes. I also had fond memories of him sitting in the kitchen, and grinding knives, so I enjoyed doing the same thing, so far now from home. I also had the understanding now of how early man had made their first sharp edge from stone from watching the Human Journey documentary, which I could connect to this current activity-- I really respected the ability to maintain my own tool.

We can't go backwards guys! We've come so far, for so long, to get our sharp edge, to go back due to laziness to use factory turned-out dull crappy tools our whole lives.

Now I am going to keep my one knife sharp for a start, and over time, buy more good knives. And I hope my habits will leave a strong impression in my children, as my father's did in me.

By the way, that squash cut like a dream.

P.S. (Added Feb 2011.) Something else, it really works to actually keep looking at the edge to see how sharp it is. There is basically a hill on either side of the point, and you are sanding away, or grinding it away, to create the point. You have to wear away the bump until you've met on both sides. You can sand at a more flat angle as you go.

The whole "looking" and sensing thing - is something that our ancestors did, all the time. Now I am more connected than before, that is what I do, and now I can do it as well as I want. Sensing your materials...

My dad also smears vegetable oil on his cutting boards and cures them in the sun to create a food-friendly varnish.

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