Tuesday, December 6, 2011

5 Reasons Your Knives Need Professional Sharpening (and where to get it done)

Heck, you don't need five reasons. If even one of the following is true then you simply must take your knives to a professional:

1. You've never had them sharpened.
2. You've been feigning competence with a sharpening steel.
3. You haven't been able to slice a tomato in years.
4. Your blades are bent or damaged from use.
5. You've made the mistake of trying to sharpen them with one of those scary electric sharpeners.

Knives thicken so slowly that it's easy to be complacent. Thicken? Yes - it's the same as becoming dull. A thin edge is what will grab onto the skin of a tomato. A dull, blunt edge is so dangerous because it slips instead of grabbing, often resulting you cutting yourself. When I lived in Seattle I had a great guy take care of my knives.* He was so great that for years after I moved away I shipped him my knives once a year. It was such a pain to do without them for 7-10 days, but they returned to me in such amazing condition that I put up with it (and always tried to send them away if we were going out of town to minimize the hassle).

A couple of years ago my guy retired from sharpening to focus solely on the production of his artisan knives. Amazingly, it took me until last week to find a place in Chicago I could trust with my blades. How did I find it? I asked the cooks at Topolobampo where they take their blades. The answer: Northwestern Cutlery.  The shop was easy to find and even had parking. I arrived with eight knives (2 chef's, 3 paring, one boning, one fillet, one serrated utility) and one pair of kitchen scissors. Twenty minutes later I was back on the road with all my blades, plus a new gyoza forming tool (ours bit the dust last week after about 15 years of active duty) and a new squeeze bottle for piping dessert sauces. I seem to lose one of those every year.

Not in Chicago? Just ask the cooks at your favorite fine-dining restaurant where they take their knives. Then call the shop and ask about their method. A smith who incorporates several different devices and stages of sharpening and polishing will do more precise work.

A few notes on the 5 Reasons:

1. The factory edge on your knife may seem ok but it's nothing compared with the edge a good bladesmith will create. Every time I purchase a new knife (not often anymore as my block is full and I have every knife I need) it goes first to the smith, then into my block.
2. A sharpening steel is a great tool for maintaining an edge, but they cannot sharpen a dull knife. Most people lack the precision needed to use a steel correctly and do more damage to their blades than good.
3. Not sure if you're blades are sufficiently dull to warrant a trip to the smith? It's dull if you have to exert pressure on your knife to make it cut.
4. I've had tips break, had visitors cram my precious blades into a overcrowded dishwasher, and I'm guilty of sometimes using the edge side to scrap veggies off my cutting board. If your knives look bad they cannot perform well.
5. Throw that thing away and spread the word among your friends to do the same. A good professional sharpening will employ an array of stones, buffers and belts. You just can't do that on your own, unless you're prepared to learn the trade and acquire the requisite equipment.

* If you live in New York, Houston or Arlington, VA, you can take a knife sharpening class with him, Bob Kramer, master bladesmith, at Sur la Table. See details here.

1 comment:

Judith Nemes said...

Hi Katie,
Nice to see you on my FB news feed. I've had good luck sharpening my knives at Northwestern Cutlery on Lake St near Halsted, but will check out your recommendation for next time. How are you?! Happy holidays!