Sharp as a Knife

It's been a long journey since I decided I needed a new chef's knife, did all the knife research, and eventually bought the knife. Looks like it was about a year and a half.

Of course, I didn't just purchase a knife. Oh, no. I was going on a life quest to become Serious about my knives. To do the knife thing properly. And, in order to be prepared for my new knife-owning lifestyle, I had to be prepared to sharpen my knives myself. Not with a sharpener. With whetstones.

Oh, it was to be glorious. I would see my knives getting dull, and say, "Now is the time where I, with my serious knife lifestyle, will make the knives razor-sharp. Well, knife-sharp. And I will know that nothing is beyond my power."

A year and a half later, and no knives had been sharpened. The collection of whetstones sat in a cupboard in the kitchen like so many lace doilies, waiting for a day that might never come.

Well, that day finally came.

Shun Classic Chef's Knife with whetstones

The In-Laws were visiting last week, and Melanie's mother owns a Shun paring knife (one of the Alton's Angle ones), and apparently at some point after October of 2008 I offered to sharpen it if it ever became dull. Of course, it might have been Melanie who, thinking I was silly for paying all that money for whetstones I probably would never use, offered my sharpening services. Time dulls memory, and it's hard to know which story is more likely.

In any case, the knife was dull, and she brought it for sharpening. The time for delays was over.

Most of my trepidation with sharpening wasn't about the knives or even the sharpening process itself. If I did a poor job of it, as long as I didn't keep at it for too long, the worst that would happen is that I would have to take the knives to a local shop to have them sharpened. Not a big deal.

As with most projects that never get started, my problem was with the little details, like where to do the sharpening. Some of the videos I had seen show people outside at a table set up with all of their whetstones in a row and a bottle of water that they can pour over the whetstones when they are in danger of drying out. Well, if I did something like that, then I'd want the weather to be nice, and I'd need a table outside, and possibly to have the hose set up to provide moisture, and so on. That set up never happened, so knives slowly started to dull.

When push came to shove, I lubricated the whetstones with the kitchen faucet, then placed them on the island where I could sit down and sharpen them. If they looked a bit parched, I went back over to the sink. It was not a great hardship. If I were sharpening 100 knives, it would be a great hardship. For 10 knives, it was pretty simple.

With the logistics out of the way, I could finally sharpen. I'm not really planning on discussing technique, because I've had one sharpening session based on information I pulled off of conflicting sources from the internet. My knives are sharp, but I can't say that what I did was the best way to do it. Suffice it to say that, at the end of the day, previously dull knives could now cut a piece of paper in twain if such were my wont.

Instead, I will give you a video from the No Reservations Twitter feed that promises knife instruction. It's somewhat appropriate, as Anthony Bourdain is largely to blame for me deciding I needed this lifestyle change, so hopefully this video will help any others who have been similarly urged into sharpening knives. The technique demonstrated in this video is not how I did it, but I may give this technique a go next time.

Am I a better person for this experience? It's such a philosophical question. From a personal perspective, I now have a more direct connection with my kitchen tools that didn't exist before. If the apocalypse comes, I can still have sharp knives without needing any electricity or help from a third party. These are good things. From a social perspective, point at ten people on the street: will they be able to sharpen their own knives? Chances are maybe one of them can, so that must make me better than, what, 90% of all people on the street.