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Old 09-02-2008, 09:43 AM   #1
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Many times when I meet a new client I get some very serious questions about pricing. Let's be honest, taking kitchen knives to a tinker is a major investment.

(Tinker = > than a sharpener but < than a Japanese polisher.)

I received a PM from a very sincere member here who told me a little about his/her knives and asked flatly if it was worth the trouble and expense. I responded that it's not the knife, it's the edge.

Obviously, in most cases it's the restaurant itself who pays my fee, not the individual cooks, sous-chef and the chef himself. But not always. I have a chef client who drives up to Wisconsin from Tennesee for service.

In many cases, the service costs more than the individual knife. I have many personal knives, that see only my own uses (they are called EDC knives) and in most cases the knives cost less than the service. My own every-day-carry Razel is worth fifty bucks and has a sixty dollar edge.

Consider this. If a fugu chef has an old favorite 50 dollar sashimi, do you think he feels 120 to 150 dollars is a bad idea?

To be sure, I didn't come here to work. But even Alton Brown in his video states that sharpening needs to be left to professionals. (I disagree with his "once per year" philosophy because I want to see problems before they get too bad.)

As Buzz can verify, I have about 15 years in harness and many thousands of dollars in equipment from various disciplines. And we keep studying. New alloys come along every few months. The Spyderco page of steels must list sixty types on their web page.

I told the person who sent me the PM to just send me a knife and I'll sharpen it at no cost. This will remove the doubt that come here for money and it might demonstrate the role tinkers play.

If you have a professional tinker in your area (one who uses Japanese waterstones, not mechanized equipment) bring him a knife that used to be your favorite but now has fallen into disrepair. It will quickly become your favorite once again.

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Old 09-02-2008, 08:57 PM   #2
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Old 09-02-2008, 09:35 PM   #3
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CB, I am trying to understand your work and it's practical benefits to a guy like me. Please understand I intend no insult or disrespect for you or what you do as I ask these questions.

I am not a knife enthusiast. I'm a retired financial executive who taught himself to cook late in life. I have a set of Henckels Professional S knives I received as a gift. They replaced a set of Chicago Cutlery Walnut Traditions I had bought for myself when I was getting into serious cooking. I am happy with these knives. I sharpen them myself using a Lansky system of stones with a clamp on angle guide. I'm sure you know the equipment I am talking about.

When I sharpen my knives, they perform very well. (I am pondering my superlatives as I have no exposure to knives you have worked on.) Suffice it to say that I am very pleased with their performance. They slide easily through all foods and do all I ask.

If I'm careful and do good job sharpening, I get an edge that's better than brand new.

So what I want to know is, if I pay you more than the cost of my knives to work on them. What would I get as a practical difference I could actually see and feel in my kitchen.

I've seen the pictures you posted of the mirror polish on the blade edge. What does that translate to on the cutting board?

I guess what I'm asking is is there a practical application for this or is it something that is reserved for collector's items?

Again, just trying to understand.
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Old 09-02-2008, 10:19 PM   #4
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CB, I am trying to understand your work and it's practical benefits to a guy like me.

When I sharpen my knives, they perform very well. (I am pondering my superlatives as I have no exposure to knives you have worked on.)

So what I want to know is, if I pay you more than the cost of my knives to work on them. What would I get as a practical difference I could actually see and feel in my kitchen.

I guess what I'm asking is is there a practical application for this or is it something that is reserved for collector's items?
Andy, I don't know how Chico will answer, but in my opinion you already have what you need. Before insanity arrived at my doorstep I was happy with a chef's choice 120 electric. Now I have an EdgePro plus a bunch of Shapton GlassStones, flatteners, borosilicate and smooth steels, felt and leather strops, chromium oxide and diamond paste, how to DVDs' etc. It's a craze that usually goes hand in hand with Japanese kitchen cutlery addiction. Chico's love of sharpening eventually lead him to Japanese steel and geometry and it is for him to comment.

You ask about practicality, umm no. Your knives work for you as sharpened and you are happy with that yet curious as to why fanatics like myself tout ultimate sharpening. There is a great deal of pleasure from the feel of a knife practically falling through its prey under its own weight. You can get much of this with your knives by giving them a secondary edge (thinning) of ten degrees and a primary edge (bevel) of about fifteen degrees. The steel in your knives can handle this quite well. Following this sharpening the edge MUST be stropped with an appropriate medium, the norm being smooth thin leather charged with chromium oxide. This makes an unbelieveable difference in slicing and push cutting ability.

As Chico the Harley rider might say "If I have to explain it you wouldn't understand...."
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Old 09-02-2008, 10:43 PM   #5
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Andy, I think Buzz explained most of the concept here.

I would add one proviso, are we talking about a professional using a knife as a tool in his trade, or more like a hobbyist who simply enjoys cooking.

To that, do you enjoy sitting down and working with tools, just for the fun of doing it?

And as I have stated, the people who most utilize my work don't really give a "tinker's danm" about the precision or artistry or history, at all. I can sharpen a knife worth 400 to 1,000 dollars, come back in a month, and find that this same knife has bounced off a concrete floor and then gets tossed into a scrub sink.

Do I own expensive knives? Of course I do. But if I was going to Sturgis, I'd sharpen a six dollar Chinese Old Timer Schrade (perhaps two of them) and go on vacation never to think about them. I'd care more about the oil filter on my bike than a cutting instrument.

If you like to cook, and you enjoy learning a craft, by all means, study and practice. Be advised that Japanese sword polishers refer to sharpening expertise as "the curse." Nothing will ever be sharp enough, no surface will ever gleam as much.

(Go to youtube and search out "Japanese Sword Sharpening." There is a five part series where a polisher describes his craft.)

I learned very early about this curse. As a baby boomer, my parents wanted me to go to college and rule the world. It was no longer fashionable to be blue-collar. My Dad took my hands once and examined them. I thought he was going to say, "Piano player or thief."

Instead he told me I had the hands of watchmaker, or "dry hand man" as it was known. He didn't look happy. He knew I was a tinker at an early age, but he decided to "curse" me with college. I figure it was four years wasted.

(Pssst. It's not the knife. It's the love of the craft. It's the artisan.)
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Old 09-03-2008, 08:05 AM   #6
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I think I get it. You are practicing an art. Seeking the ultimate edge. It exists for itself, not for its practial purpose. I can understand and appreciate that.

So, why do people, professionals, pay for this service? Or do you do something less and more practical for these customers?
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Old 09-03-2008, 10:05 AM   #7
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Ok, I have a question.... say somebody like me, that has no knife skills. One would cringe to see me chop/whack away at my food. I think I do a pretty good job, but I know I lack the skills for proper knife usage. So how long would that edge last under my crappy knife skills and I'm sure I don't use the proper medium to cut on either. I have a combo of vinyl (thin and flimsy.. but handy), some wooden (I have no idea what they are made of... probably the typical stuff), and some plastic... (which I like cuz I can toss in the dishwasher).

As my love for cooking has grown, I have over recent years been steadily upgrading my kitchen tools based on frequency of use and ultimately seeking better performance. Knives have only recently came into the radar for me. I'm not buying top of the line stuff, but I'm not buying the cheap-0 stuff either.

To have a good knife, and a good edge, what would be the best cutting board to lengthen the edge life?
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Old 09-03-2008, 10:35 AM   #8
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Ok, I have a question.... say somebody like me, that has no knife skills. One would cringe to see me chop/whack away at my food. I think I do a pretty good job, but I know I lack the skills for proper knife usage. So how long would that edge last under my crappy knife skills and I'm sure I don't use the proper medium to cut on either. I have a combo of vinyl (thin and flimsy.. but handy), some wooden (I have no idea what they are made of... probably the typical stuff), and some plastic... (which I like cuz I can toss in the dishwasher).
You've answered your own question. If you truly chop/whack, the only way an edge will hold up is to sharpen it the same as axes are sharpened, about 25 to 30 degrees per side. More acute angles will die under the punishment you inflict.


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To have a good knife, and a good edge, what would be the best cutting board to lengthen the edge life?
There are two. The first is an END grain wooden board. The second is a SaniTuff rubber board, found in many commercial establishments (also in my kitchen).
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Old 09-03-2008, 11:02 AM   #9
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So, why do people, professionals, pay for this service?
Why is a Nascar worth almost 3 million dollars? Why do they buy transmissions for +25,000 dollars simply to have their mechanics tear them apart for customization--and then buy five more.

The answer is as simple in racing as it is here. That car and my edges are at the end of the day "simple tools." If a chef making +six figures attained his position with his innovation of presentation the edge is important, then I personally am about as important to him as the kitchen plumber. I may not even meet the guy.

In the 1960's and 1970' there was a lot of TV buzz about "the Galloping Gormet." He is the only one I have ever seen that traveled with his own tinker, valued him, and mentioned that relationship publically. I have never heard of a tinker mentioned on "The Iron Chef," short of Alton Brown saying to seek a professional. (There is a video where we meet AB's guy.)

Now take yesterday. I didn't sharpen at all. No knives. Attendance at restaurants is down. The chefs are pushing edges past their prime. The chefs are probably plunging their own sinks, but for some prima donnas, I doubt it.

Oh, and Sattie, cooking with a Chinese cleaver is just as much of an art as slicing with the finest Hattori. If you go to "The Japan Woodworker" you'll find an entire section on tools for your style of cooking.

Edit: One of the things that struck me was the definitions of "crappy...thin and flimsy." If there is a concept that bothers me, this is it. The people of this forum obviously enjoy preparing food, cooking, and sharing with friends. I want them to stride out into the dining area affirming the joy of a new recipe or style. I want them to be confident in trying new things.

You might think this is funny, however, as an average teenage boy, I read about the exploits of Sonny Barger. I was fascinated that people lived that boldly. I now attack the world everyday with that mindset. I feel I owe him.

I would love to place a toasty sharp gyuto into everyone's hand and then say, "Hey, go 'wow' the crowd."

I once saw a sous-chef be given an assignment to block a leg of beef, still in silver. He needed a kick, he seemed almost confused. I gave him a loner 22-dollar butakiri, and watched the meat literally fall off the leg. Why not you?
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Old 09-03-2008, 11:39 AM   #10
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I think Chico might be saying that he practices the "Zen" of sharpening?

And yes, in the proper hands, a cleaver can be just as, if not, more effective, than a French knife, in properly trained hands. One of my instructors in college told me once that when he went through college, they had a Filipino classmate who flatly refused to use any blade other than his cleaver. He could debone a whole chicken, tournay (sp?) potatoes, etc., all with one cleaver.

I have a cleaver in my drawer at work. It's a dirt-cheap, Double Swallow Brand cleaver with a rather interesting polishing pattern on the blade. I've got a decent edge on it, but hardly ever use it. I keep it mainly as a back-up knife, should my chef's knife either "grow legs and walk off", or be in use for something else.
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Old 09-03-2008, 11:51 AM   #11
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After reading this thread..... I've decided to give Chico my firstborn. Much simpler.
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Old 09-03-2008, 11:52 AM   #12
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I think Chico might be saying that he practices the "Zen" of sharpening.
It wouldn't be the first time.

Tell me, would you consider yourself a wealthy man? I might be able to help those edges...
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Old 09-03-2008, 12:40 PM   #13
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And yes, in the proper hands, a cleaver can be just as, if not, more effective, than a French knife, in properly trained hands.
A cleaver, or Japanese vegetable cleaver (Chuckabocho) can do everything a chef's knife can do except stab. It's a pleasure using my 220x110mm Moritaka.

Check out, Chef Curtis Chung and his cleaver skills.
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Old 09-03-2008, 01:24 PM   #14
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Sometimes you think a knife is "sharp enough" or even question why you'd need it sharper until something comes along to change your mind. Let me give you an example; my gf has never really had any good knives before so I lent her a few of mine (a Kanetsune gyuto, a Shun santoku & a Tojiro santoku). While she was very impressed with how sharp they were she still made fun of me a bit for my obsession with sharpening...until last nite. She made sushi for us and was concerned about slicing it. It seems she'd never really been able to cut thin slices off the rolls before- her knives aren't up to it. With a sly grin I assured her that she'd have no such trouble with my knives! You could sort of see the light bulb go on over her head as I effortlessly sliced the entire rolls.

Now she's a really fantastic cook; it's just that she never obsessed over the tools like I do, or at least the knives. She has lots of "gadgets" and knows how to use them. But I think it takes your non-professional, home-cooking types some time with screaming sharp knives to really appreciate how much better they make you look. Your presentation is better, things will cook better (eg more uniform slices of veggies are possible with a good knife, hence more predictable cooking) & you can work faster. More than anything though it's just more fun to use good tools.

Will a "professional edge" work better than one you do on a Lansky? Hard to say. I would guess that Chico's services are mostly sold to people who either don't have the skill to sharpen or simply don't have the time. And the Lansky & Gatco sharpeners will do a good job. Still, it's neat to take a knife you think is pretty sharp and then see how much sharper it can still get!
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Old 09-03-2008, 01:35 PM   #15
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To add just a short comment, so do speak verify the high skills needed for a person to sharpen knives. For many years, like 20 or so. I used to make knives. Kind of as a side income. But I could never learn how to sharpen them properly, after making a knife I would take them to my friend who would sharpen them for me. Now when I have more time on my hands I learn how to do a “great” job sharpening. “Great” job by many peoples’ standard, but I do know it is still only mediocre by a professional standard.
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Old 09-03-2008, 01:41 PM   #16
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Check out, Chef Curtis Chung and his cleaver skills.
I love cleavers, but was not particularly impressed with this video, thre are by far better ones. No big deal of course.
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Old 09-03-2008, 01:49 PM   #17
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Yeah that video really didn't do anything for me either.
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Old 09-03-2008, 01:55 PM   #18
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I love cleavers, but was not particularly impressed with this video, thre are by far better ones. No big deal of course.
Here's the part you missed. Curtis's knives are extremely sharp, very acute polished edges. 99.99% of people trying to chop the way he did would chip the edge to death. Curtis doesn't. It isn't easy to do this properly. I know as I sharpen the same way and am slowly developing my chopping skills. Here's Curtis's new sharpening
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Old 09-03-2008, 03:00 PM   #19
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...Still, it's neat to take a knife you think is pretty sharp and then see how much sharper it can still get!

My point in the earlier post was that, while I acknowledge my knives could be sharper, I question the practical advantage of their being sharper. I have no trouble carving uniform slices so food will cook to their best advantage. Beyond that, what?
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Old 09-03-2008, 06:15 PM   #20
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Rob characterized the idea pretty dead on. Granted, chefs are taught knife skills at culinary school, and some of the sushi chefs are darn good.

We have a Chinese restaurant in my little town, and the "cook" is primarily making foods he learned at home for more American tastes. He puts an edge on a cleaver that is very good, perhaps in the 'scary' range. And yet he has no credentials in cooking or sharpening.

But for the most part, chefs prepare food. They have enough headaches with food deliveries and internal cat fighting. The really good sous-chefs I have seen want their own gig, and they are none too shy in explaining their positions.

So, I get hired.

I am also hired by serious folks who are known as the best and most creative cooks in their circle of friends or church. They pride themselves on dinner parties, much like Bree Van De Kamp on "Desperate Housewives." They can't sharpen, the mister can't sharpen, so call that biker whose wife has all that Pampered Chef stuff....

Then there's always the "one knife" guy or gal. There's no way they need or want +/-1,000 dollars in professional sharpening, but they do have a favorite knife. For example, I believe the client I waited on when Buzz came to see me had just picked up two rather mundane santukos. In many ways it would have just been better to sell him a good one, but these were the ones he wanted. That's 200 bucks and tax for a working stiff.

To be fair, all of the tinkers I know on KnifeForums do pro bono work for police officers, soldiers, EMT staff and subsistance hunters.
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