Last updated 02.14.18 — A kitchen knife is deceptive. It’s simple, yet powerful. And the actual cutting edge, the source of its power, is barely visible to the human eye. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to take it for granted. But resist that urge. Because just a modicum of knowledge about knife edges can help you learn the best way to maintain your kitchen knives and keep them sharp. (Photo below: my Shun Classic chef knife.)
Every knife has an edge style, a way the blade has been ground to make it sharp. The most common, of course, is a V-edge which looks like it sounds—two slanting sides that go straight to the cutting edge. The great majority of kitchen knives have this type of edge. Or a variation on it called a compound bevel (or double bevel)—a large V with a much smaller V on top of it at the very end. The second V is so small that, unless you happen to have the eyesight of an eagle, you would never see it.
Along with the standard V, other common edge styles are convex, hollow, chisel, and serrated (see the illustration above):
Convex is a particularly sophisticated edge that looks a bit like the cross-section of an airplane wing. Two long arcs curve toward each other and intersect at the edge. It’s sharp, but stronger than a traditional V. It’s trickier to sharpen and often, after multiple sharpenings, tends to be transformed into a traditional V.
Hollow edges are common for hunting knives and such as well as inexpensive butcher knives, but rare for quality kitchen knives. The shape of the curves that create the edge curve in the opposite direction as convex.
Chisel edges are mainly found on traditional Japanese knives, especially sushi knives, and are wickedly sharp. They’re ground on one side only while the other is left flat (more or less) which gives them a very small total edge angle. Yikes. (I explain more about angles shortly.)
Serrated edges most people are aware of, and are most common in bread knives. (Also tomato knives, as well as steak knives.) Like chisel-edges, they are ground on one side only, which also makes them quite sharp. They hold their sharpness incredibly well because the actual cutting edge is hidden inside each mini-arch, protected by the pointy outer edge of the blade. Unfortunately, they are time-consuming to sharpen and many professional sharpeners will not bother. They’re also problematic to hone. Many sharpening experts advise simply buying a new one when your old serrated gets too dull.
Recap: The odds are, your kitchen knife has a traditional V-edge which will make maintaining it a pretty straightforward affair. But if it does not have this standard kind of edge, then you need to be aware it will need some special attention when being sharpened and honed. (If you don’t know the difference between sharpening and honing, see my article The Sharpening Cycle.)
Bob Kramer Carbon Steel Chef Knife
Bob Kramer, world-famous American bladesmith, has teamed up with J.A. Henckels to produce a knife that uses the same fine-grain steel his handmade knives use. Except instead of having wait in line to buy it in a lottery or an auction for thousands of dollars, you can buy it whenever you like for a few hundred. Oh, it doesn’t have the fancy-schmancy Damascus steel patterning, but it will slice like a banshee and snuggle in your hand like a highschool sweetheart. Can you tell I’m in love?
Bob Kramer Carbon Steel Chef Knife, 8-Inch by Zwilling J.A. Henckels
What’s Your Angle?
When you hear a kitchen knife pro say a knife has a 15-degree edge, they are not talking about the overall cutting edge of the knife, they are talking about only one side. To measure this angle—logically called the edge angle—you must draw an imaginary line through the center of the blade and measure from there to the outer side of the primary bevel. (See illustration.)
The complete cutting angle of the knife (which is rarely referred to and is composed of the sum of both edge angles) is called the included angle. Since most knife blades are ground symmetrically, in most cases, the included angle for a knife is simply twice the edge angle. Simple, huh?
Knives manufactured in the Western/German tradition (e.g. Henckels and Wusthof and crew), traditionally, were ground to a 20- to 22-degree edge angle. Which meant that the actual knife (the included angle) was cutting with a 40–44 degree wedge. Doesn’t seem that sharp, does it? It wasn’t. It was designed to be just sharp enough, yet take a ton of abuse. It could nick a bone and not chip, or saw it’s way through frozen pork tenderloin (something it should never be used to cut through in the first place) and still not crack or break. It was a warhorse.
This has now all changed. German knife manufacturers nowadays try to match the finer angles of Japanese. Which is great news for the consumer!
Japanese knives (and Japanese hybrids) are factory ground with edges from 10 to 15 degrees. Which adds up to included angles of 20 to 30 degrees—the smallest of these creating a wedge half the size of the old, typical Western knife. Whoa. No wonder Japanese knives are all the rage—they make everything you slice feel like butter. But beware, there’s no free lunch. Try abusing a Japanese knife and you will pay for it with chips and cracks galore!
Before we leave this discussion on angles, let me repeat that not all knives are created with two symmetrical edge angles. There are some notable exceptions—the biggest being the whole family of chisel-edged traditional Japanese knives which are beveled on one side only. One of the reasons they’re designed this way is to take advantage of the geometry. Think about it. Instead of adding up two 15 degree angles to get an included angle of 30 degrees, their second angle is perpendicular (or 0 degrees), thus making the included angle (the total wedge of the knife) a screaming 15 degrees! That’s almost three times the sharpitude of your typical German knife. That’s scary sharp.
Quality Kitchen Knives
Some top-notch recommendations to choose from—either for yourself or as a gift. Beauty, comfort, and high-performance at a great price.
The Final Frontier—Under the Microscope
The cutting edge of your favorite chef’s knife may seem to be a smooth ridge of metal, but it’s not. If you looked at it through a microscope, you would see it was made up of very tiny—and very jagged and uneven—teeth. Sort of like an ultra-fine roughed-up saw blade. Depending on the quality of the steel the knife was hewed from, as well as the fit and finish of its latest sharpening, these teeth might almost disappear (under the microscope). On top of this, because the metal has been ground to such a fine wedge, these teeth would be extremely thin.
Why is this helpful to know? Because it should alert you to how fragile, and susceptible to corrosion, a knife blade really is. It’s not like a spoon or fork or some other totally polished kitchen implement. It’s got a raw, unfinished component—the edge—that’s continually being exposed to the elements. Exposed to hard surfaces, to acidic fruit juices, to water and air ripe for oxidation (i.e. rust), to all kinds of stuff it needs to be protected from. That’s why it’s so important not to let it bang around in a drawer or soak in a pot or lie unwashed in a puddle of pineapple juice. (See Keep Your Kitchen Knives Sharp — Top Ten Tips for more advice on maintenance.)
Below are two photos taken with an SEM (scanning electron microscope) of a knife blade ground at two different grits—the first significantly coarser than the second. The first is at a magnification of 600x, the second 800x. Notice how rough and unfinished-looking the knife edges are in these photos. How thin and delicate. . .
Take a tour of the kitchen knives you own. Can you correctly identify what kind of edges they all have? How are you currently storing them? Are you protecting them from getting damaged and dulled? Now that you know a little bit more about the nature of your kitchen knives’ edges, hopefully it will inspire you to do your best to care for them. The better you protect and maintain your knives, the less you’ll have to sharpen them and the longer they’ll last.
What are your feelings about Chef’s Choice sharpeners? I was reading about the model 15 TrizorXV model. It is supposed to take a 20 degree blade down to a 15 degree angle. Is that good or bad? I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so. . . . And I’m not a professional. But I would like to keep our knives sharper and safer.
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of power sharpeners in general and Chef’s Choice in particular. While they are convenient, my biggest concern is they tend to take off too much metal (usually using a diamond grit, yikes). They also create a short, steep bevel that cannot be customized to suit the knife or the way the knife has been worn. There’s also the problem, if you have a knife with a bolster, of them not being able to reach the heel of the blade. Believe it or not, before I came up with my own solution—using a professional sharpening service—I bought a Chef’s Choice, tried it out, was a bit horrified, and, then, packed it back up and returned it.
Here are two articles on the KKG site which should help you get started on your journey towards sharp kitchen knives:
Kitchen Knife Sharpening Action Plan
Why Use a Professional Knife Sharpening Service?
All the best, KKG
I’ve gotten interested in sharpening recently. But I don’t understand what you mean by a diamond grit or why its bad :)
You must be replying to my comment above about Chef Choice power sharpeners. With “diamond grit,” I’m referring to the type of abrasive their sharpening wheels use. The wheels are composed of a diamond abrasive which is super aggressive and can quickly take off quite a bit of metal. This can be “bad” because, when creating a new bevel, they have a tendency to take off more metal than is necessary. (Every time you sharpen a knife, you are slightly destroying it. So the less metal you can take off to achieve a new, sharp bevel, the better.) Diamond can also be “bad” because there is less margin for error. If you don’t know what you’re doing, or if you aren’t careful, you can easily take off too much!
The opposite approach would be to sharpen by hand using a Japanese waterstone. Hand sharpening can’t match the speed of machine sharpening, plus the waterstone is softer, much less aggressive, and takes more time to wear down the metal. Thus, it gives you more control. And there’s less chance of taking off more metal than necessary.
This is my understanding at least—sharpening is not my expertise :)
Good question! In theory, the curved blade on a rocking santoku is designed to give you the ability to “rock” back and forth while chopping/dicing/mincing without having to lift the blade up off the cutting board. It’s supposed to offer speed and save the chef energy and strain.
But in practice, I think it’s more a manner of style— 1) style, as in cooking style, Do you like to rock or do you not care that much? and, 2) style, as in looks, Do you like the way a more fully-curved blade looks?
For example, even with chef knives there are two styles to the curve of the blade, 1) German (which has become more the standard), that has a more defined curve to the belly of the blade, and 2) French, which is more flattened out and all-around straight. You can easily “rock” a German chef knife while chopping while with a French you can’t rock as much and must lift.
If you look at my post on Quality Chef Knives on Sale, both santokus are labeled as “rocking.” But it appears from the photos that the Miyabi Evolution santoku has more of a curve (going towards the tip of the blade) than the Global does. Thus, it should be able to rock more. If rocking is important to you (or whoever you might be buying the knife for), then you might lean towards the Miyabi. But, odds are, the feel and look of the knife are going to be just as, or more, important as the amount of curve in the blade. So, make sure to take everything into account when deciding.
Hope this helps!
Which one of these edges is most suitable for a multipurpose knife?
If you’re talking about a kitchen knife (which I assume you are), then, in my opinion, the best multipurpose would be the good old “V” edge. It’s the easiest to hone and sharpen and keep in tip-top shape. It’s also well-suited for all-around use because it’s pretty strong, not overly delicate.
First off, thanks so much for sharing this wealth of information. I’m developing my cooking and knife maintenance skills. Everything you wrote has been extremely helpful.
I wanted to get your thoughts on the Work Sharp WSKTS-KO Knife and Tool Sharpener Ken Onion Edition. It uses a belt sander like some professional services. The additional attachment even claims to create the elusive convex edge. The price point is high. Does it have the makings of a quality system?
I’m glad KKG is giving you an education :) Here’s my two-cents worth:
1) I read up on the Work Sharp and I am NOT a fan. It’s basically just a specialized belt grinder. And I’m wary of belt grinders for sharpening because they tend to create convex edges (see my comment below), can easily take off a lot of metal, and can ruin your knives by getting them too hot. (The trick with sharpening is how little metal you can take off to get the knife back into shape again.) People that rave about belt grinders for sharpening are usually not using them on $150 kitchen knives, they’re using them on cheap knives and tools. They’re OK for polishing and lighter stuff though.
2) I’m not a big fan of convex edges either. Their best argument is that they are strong. So they’re good for hunting knives and such. Otherwise, I don’t think they’re worth the trouble. On top of that, because of geometry, when they wear down, they can perform worse than when a V-edge wears down.
3) Unless you’re really into learning how to sharpen, or want to do it professionally, I would stay away from power systems and learn to do it by hand. If it were me, I would buy either:
– the Edge Pro system
– waterstones and guides some kind of tutorial.
4) I also highly recommend reading (if you haven’t already):
– Kitchen Knife Sharpening: Five Good Reasons NOT to Sharpen Your Own
– Interview with a Sharpening Service — Seattle Knife Sharpening
as well as my articles on sharpening services:
– Why Use a Professional Knife Sharpening Service?
– Finding a Professional Sharpening Service
5) Please make sure to buy a ceramic hone and use it! Whatever sharpening solution you decide on, honing with a ceramic will make your sharpened edges last and last.
Hi KKG, I would like to know whether you regard a convex edge highly, or not? Please disregard the difficulty of either sharpening or maintaining the convex edge as I am in the final stages of development of a Convex edge sharpening system for hand sharpening (not powered). To answer my question, please assume that my system would work perfectly – thus it is the efficacy of the edge itself that I am inquiring about, rather than how it is created or maintained?
As an aside, if you are interested in discovering more about my product, please get in touch via email
Sorry to be so delayed in getting back to you! There are many fans of the convex edge. . .but I am not one of them.
The two main arguments for convex, as I understand it, are: 1) it can offer additional strength to a super-fine edge, 2) it can help a sharp edge last longer. While both these facets may be true, I don’t find them useful.
#1: I treat my knives with care and don’t tend to use them for high-stress tasks. So additional strength is a low priority.
#2: I rely on regular honing to keep my edges fresh, which I think is much more effective than relying on a convex edge.
#3: I’ve found that a convex edge tends to get in the way of honing. It requires that I widen my honing angle substantially which I find anti-productive and a bit of a hassle.
Hope this helps!
Will a knife with a factory edge of 20 degrees be able to utilize a 15 degree edge?
The short answer is, Yes! Generally, there is a lot of leeway in the angle you can sharpen a knife to. My old Henckels Professional S chef knife which probably, years ago, came from the factory with a 22-degree edge was successfully sharpened to around 12 degrees by Bob Tate at Seattle Sharpening. It’s held up well. That was over three years ago and it’s still pretty darn sharp, sharper than the knives in most home kitchens. Buuuuuut, I have honed it regularly with a ceramic hone since the day I got it back. See my articles The Power of Honing and Best Chef Knife — Don’t Overrate the Factory Edge for more on this stuff.
This all said, depending on the type of steel, the quality of the steel, and how it’s been tempered, there can be limitations. For example, a German knife made of stainless steel hardened to 56 HRC would probably not work well at an angle under 11 degrees. While a Japanese knife made of high-carbon steel hardened to 61 HRC would have no problem.
Hope this helps, feel free to continue the dialogue :)
OK, so there’s apparently this new metal made in America—powdered steel, if I heard the guy correctly—that Japanese knifemakers are using with a Rockwell hardness of 63. Or so. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but is this special steel going to overcome the chipping problems that you’ve described harder knives having?
Curious what you know about this stuff. . .
Welcome to the world of kitchen knife steel!
First off, powder steel is not quite that brand, spanking new anymore. Although it is on the vanguard of steelmaking, it has been around for a few years. Although varieties of it are made in the U.S., it’s most famous for being manufactured in Japan.
Number Two, yes, it’s commonly heat-treated to a hardness of HRC 63. Which is pretty hard. (For comparison, your average German steel knife has a hardness of HRC 58.) And yes, it is more pliable than earlier/older hard steels. So, SG2, which is one of the most well-known powder steels, is more ductile than VG10, an older high-tech Japanese steel.
Finally, regarding chipping:
– Yes, a Shun knife made from the newer, and more expensive, SG2 powder steel (HRC 63) will be more chip resistant than one made from VG10 (HRC 61). But both will still be more brittle, more prone to chip, than a Wusthof knife made from German steel (HRC 58).
– If you care for your blades properly (see my Top Ten Tips), they shouldn’t chip at all. I have a Shun Classic 6-inch that I have been using for a couple of years and it doesn’t have a single nick or chip in it. (I just ran downstairs and checked.)
– The biggest problem is that cooks—home cooks, especially—are in the habit of mistreating their knives. Treat your knives properly and you shouldn’t have any problems!
P.S. You might enjoy checking out my article on Kramer knives where (in the second section, lower down the page) I discuss differences in steel alloys.
Thanks, KKG. Didn’t know how to cook when I got married 24.75 years ago. Wife is very utilitarian when it comes to cooking and just wants to get food on the table; I’m more the creative one who likes experimenting and making different stuff.
When we started buying Henkels products (4-star, because that’s what my mom — a very good cook — had) 24 years ago, we didn’t really know what we were doing and they’ve been abused a bit. (The wife turned my 8″ 4-star Chef knife into a 6.5 inch 4-star Nakiri trying to pry the top of a pumpkin out of the base.)
Now, I think I have a much better idea what I’m doing and I’m ready to invest in something that will be out of the kitchen and safe unless I’m out there doing the cooking. I’m grateful for the advice.
Rook (as in Rookie)
Have fun shopping and finding a quality knife to work with in the kitchen! You will never regret it. But please do yourself a BIG favor and buy a ceramic steel/hone as well and learn how to use it. It will make your factory edges last and last and when you eventually get them sharpened by Seattle Knife Sharpening they will last even longer :)
Thanks for this information, really solid.
This might sound like a noob question, but do you recommend, or can you recommend a knife sharpener that can handle sharpening all 6 of the type of edges you describe? Or is this something I would need to purchase separately.
I’ve been doing it by hand for year, but honestly I suck at it.
Learning how to sharpen a knife well takes a lot of patience and practice. I, currently, don’t have the time, so I send my knives to professional sharpening services. So don’t beat yourself up :)
When you say “knife sharpener,” are you asking about a machine or a sharpening service (human being using a machine or whatever)? A high-quality sharpening service should be able to sharpen all six edges, but might not recommend doing so.
Why is this important to you? Please feel free to follow up. . .
Great site with a wealth of info! Thank you for sharing all of this!
I found your site while looking for reviews to try to find the best knife sharpener I can afford. I used to use the Lansky system, but I was only just getting the hang of it when we moved a few years ago and the Lansky got lost in the move. I’ve been doing OK without it (I too use a ceramic hone regularly and LOVE it), but some of my knives are in sore need of a sharpening (my husband doesn’t baby them like I do).
I was leaning toward a Chef’s Choice electric one, but after reading your review I am leery of running my good knives through something so aggressive. Aside from a professional service, is there a sharpening system you would recommend? Would it be worth to pick up a Lansky again?
Ooh, also, on the topic of ceramic hones, how do you know when it is time to replace one? I have had mine for over 10 years now. It still seems to do a good job, but I’ve been wondering if it’s starting to get too smooth and how I would know.
Glad KKG has been treating you well ;)
– I am so impressed that you have embraced sharpening and honing. Please don’t take this the wrong way. . .but I’ve found, as a general rule, many women tend to be either indifferent to, or intimidated by, the nitty-gritty of maintaining sharp edges on their kitchen knives. So it’s especially cool to hear about a woman getting into it :)
– Please please please do yourself, and your knives, a big favor and don’t buy a Chef’s Choice sharpener. It takes off too much metal (those diamond wheels), it’s not customized to the design of the each knife, and if you have knives with bolsters, it can’t reach the end of the blade and will eventually leave a swale.
– If you enjoy sharpening (I have mixed feelings, but am definitely too busy), then the Lansky sharpening system seems like the right direction–it’s using a series of stones and it controls the sharpening angle. But it seems like an awful lot of hassle and doesn’t give you much control. If it were me, I would spend the money of the Edge Pro Apex system. It’s the same idea, but gives you more control and seems to be easier and simpler. Especially with long blades such as kitchen knives. Or, if I wanted to make a bigger move, I would buy three Japanese water stones (rough, medium and fine grits) and Murray Carter’s CDs on Japanese knife sharpening and learn from him. I might also check out any Bob Kramer videos on waterstone sharpening as well.
But, please bear in mind, it will probably take you not, days, weeks, or months, but years to equal the kinds of edges any of the professional sharpeners I recommend can produce—especially Seattle Knife Sharpening :)
– Finally, regarding when to replace a ceramic hone. I’ve touched on this elsewhere on the site, but I can’t remember where. Anyway, I’m in the same boat as you, although my hone is only 4 years old. My sense is that if you keep the hone clean of metal filings, and the ceramic doesn’t wear off, it can probably realign, to some degree, indefinitely. But the question is, to what degree?
As you probably know, one of the benefits of a ceramic hone is that it not only realigns, but cleans up the edge a bit as well. Some pro sharpeners I’ve talked to say that, depending on how you use a ceramic hone, it could be creating a very fine microbevel on top the primary bevel. And I think that it’s this function, this ability to subtly clean up and “sharpen” the edge, that you lose when a ceramic hone loses its grit. It is relegated to merely realigning.
I suppose, that the best quality ceramic hones will keep their grit longer. But how long a hone keeps its grit must depend on how hard, and how much, it’s used, AND the quality of the ceramic. And I think it’s a little hard to tell, but you can definitely observe it’s effects. If it takes you much longer to bring an edge back than it used to, then the hone is probably worn down.
So, that’s the long answer. . .
Getting back to your hone, the short answer is: Buy a new one. And then compare new to old. I think you’ll find a new one will restore your knife edges more quickly and allow them to be sharper. That’s what I’m going to do anyway for myself. . . .some day very soon :)
Thank you so much for the response!
Funny story – my husband’s family are all hunters, and his father was the one who introduced me to the Lansky system. But my husband seems not to care about quality knives – he’ll buy cheap and then replace them when they are too abused (rarely make it through 2 seasons). Whereas I buy quality knives and want to keep them that way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across visible damage to the edge of a knife because he tried to hack through things that either shouldn’t be cut or use the wrong kind of blade.
I like “chores” that have a satisfying result at the end – cleaning and restoring leather tack is one of my favourite evening pastimes. I love taking something dull, dirty and lifeless and turning it into a clean, supple thing of beauty and utility. It should come as no surprise that knife sharpening brings a similar source of satisfaction!
I looked up a few videos of Murray Carter and I have to say I think I’ll be going with the whetstone! Not only for the pricepoint (wow! So much cheaper!) but because learning the skill of doing it myself like that would be incredibly satisfying. I think I already have a pretty good idea of holding my angles correctly given how frequently I hone – I can sure tell if I don’t hit the angle quite right!
That is a good idea about getting another hone and comparing them.
Hide your good knives from the hub! Seriously. But it’s funny that the gender roles are reversed in your family’s case. It’s usually the husband that has to protect his good knives (and edges) from the wife :)
My impression is that Lansky works best with short hunting knives. So your introduction to it from a father-in-law who hunts doesn’t surprise.
I know what you mean about restoring things, giving them new life. It can be satisfying. I love the way you describe cleaning and restoring leather. The same goes with polishing sterling silver. One of my problems with knife sharpening is that I’m a perfectionist and the other is that there are just other things I’d rather do with my limited amount of free time. But that may change someday :)
Anyway. . .I think you and manual sharpening are a match made in heaven. Go for it! There a whole Zen-like feeling that those who practice it talk about that sounds a lot like you. One thing I’d like to clarify though. There’s a big difference between a waterstone and a whetstone. A waterstone is softer and is the core of Japanese sharpening, while a whetstone is much harder and the core of Western sharpening. I’m pretty sure Murray Carter is always talking about waterstones. But if you get his CD and begin your Carter apprenticeship, in a few months, you’ll be correctly me :)
Best, Nate (KKG)
Thanks for the clarification. I ended up staying up way too late last night watching videos and reading articles on sharpening, and I think you are right – the Japanese water stones will be the way to go. I’m still agonizing over what kind of grits to get – Murray says it’s more technique than grit that’s important, but others are very particular about grits. I’m thinking 1000/3000 will be good to start, and maybe something like a 600 grit for the really bad ones like our cheaper steak knives.
Haha, I could go on and on about gender roles in relationships – I actually have a degree in sociology! It’s quite funny, because there are a lot of ways in which my husband and I are the opposite of typical couples (I do most of the household repairs in and outside; I’m the “handyman”, while he freaks out when I leave the kitchen a mess), but in other ways we’re stereotypical (he fixes the cars, I do the laundry). I actually get it for a lot of things where people joke that I’m the “man” in the relationship, but really I just see it as the ultimate in gender equality that we can embrace our preferences and not shoehorn ourselves into cultural expectations.
But I digress! Thanks again for all the input! It’s great to chat without someone so passionate about what they enjoy!
Sharpening-wise, sounds like you’ve got an excellent plan. Don’t agonize.
I totally agree about avoiding gender stereotypes. It’s fun when that happens:)
I just thought of someone who would probably be happy to mentor you regarding sharpening with waterstones. His same is Peter Nolan and his website is http://www.halifaxknifesharpening.com. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send you his email and offer an introduction.
Halifax? No way! I live on the other side of the country now, but I’m from Nova Scotia too! I checked out his website – I wish I was there I’d love to take a lesson from him! Thanks for the info – I’ll be sure to contact you!
Fantastic read KitchenKnifeGuru! You’ve taken a topic that may usually be difficult for beginners to understand and simplified it beautifully. I’ve bookmarked this particular post and find myself referring back time and again to re-read. I do have one question for you however (one that I get asked all too often myself):
Q. How are you supposed to know what edge angle your knife has if it’s not listed or explicitly stated by the manufacturers? Mind you this is not an unusual issue to run into! Some of the cheaper kitchen knives which you find in grocery stores won’t necessarily have this information. This piece of information is very important to know, especially if you will be sharpening your edge. What are your thoughts?
Thanks in advance for your response! Looking forward to hearing from you. Cheers!
The short answer is. . .it doesn’t really matter. You have the power to determine, and change, the sharpening angle. If it’s a lot more acute than the factory angle, then, the first time you do it you will be taking a lot more steel off than usual. But, after that, after you’ve, as they say, reprofiled the edge, the next time you sharpen will be less severe.
For example: When I sent my knives to Bob Tate of Seattle Knife Sharpening, he took factory edges that were around 22 degrees down to 15 degrees or less. I’ve had no problems and I’ve been ever grateful for the incredible improvement in performance. But please note: It does very much depend on the skill and know-how of the person doing the sharpening. That’s why my solution, and what I recommend to others, is to use a high-quality sharpening service. See my article Reviews of Professional Knife Sharpening Services for more details.
If you are honing/steeling a knife, that’s another matter. Then it’s important to try to match the sharpened angle as closely as possible. Otherwise, you will either dull the knife or have no effect whatsoever on its sharpitude.
If you are honing/steeling a knife with an unknown edge angle, the best thing to do is begin with the most acute angle you think possible. In most cases, this would be around 15 degrees. If it has no effect, then you know you need to widen the angle. Swipe again at a wider angle and check. Keep doing until you feel a change in the cutting edge of the knife. Then you’ve got the correct honing/steeling angle for that knife :)
I do see your point, but not completely. For me I would rather keep the factory edge and therefore look to sharpen at the same (or as close as possible) angle as the edge. Unless I intentionally wanted to put a 15 degree edge on, of course!
I have seen some tricks on YouTube to help you find out your knife edge angle if you’re unsure of it. One guy uses a caliper and trigonometry to find the angle! Are you familiar with any of these techniques?
Thanks for your response!
Eve—to refine my response. . .
Factory edges are not the final word on sharpitude. I would say that the value of keeping a factory edge very much depends on 1) the type of knife (Japanese or German), 2) the quality of the knife, and 3) the quality of its factory edge. It also depends on the skill of the person sharpening the knife.
The sad fact is that a large quantity of German knives—Henckels and Wusthof and crew—do not have factory edges that are worth trying to replicate. For example, I own a lovely Anniversary Carbon Steel 9-inch chef from Wusthof which I cannot wait to get sharpened by a high-quality professional sharpening service. It cuts OK now, but I know that a quality service will be able to improve on the edge tremendously. And I will get it sharpened way before it really needs to get sharpened because I know that the sharpening service (Seattle knives) will be able to improve on what came from the factory.
On the other hand, if you own a high-end Japanese knife, such as a Miyabi Birchwood, which (among other things) has been hand-honed at the factory and comes out of the box razor sharp, then it’s much more important, and more challenging, to match the quality of that edge when you get it sharpened. And there would be more involved to matching that edge than simply recreating the edge angle. There is a level of refinement and finish that you would want to recreate as well.
RE edge angle measuring tricks
I don’t think the high-quality professional sharpeners I know concern themselves with calipers and techniques of finding the current edge angle. First place, they can pretty much get a sense of what the edge angle is at first glance. . .and accurately match it if that’s what’s necessary. And second place, they’re more concerned about getting as sharp an edge as possible for any given knife regardless of what it came from the factory with. Some are into matching the factory angle, some don’t bother, and some will do either, depending on your preference. But all of them will, more often than not, depending on the knife, greatly improve on the sharpitude of the factory edge.
Makes a lot more sense now! Thanks again for taking the time to explain every thing in great detail, as well as sharing your personal experience. I’ll keep a look out for your new posts! Cheers!
Have been following your page the last few weeks. I was gifted a Wusthof Classic Chef knife as a wedding anniversary gift and have been researching everything in order to keep my knife’s edge in the best shape possible. I am most torn with the sharpening method as I live outside of the US. I would love to send them over to your friend in Seattle, but the costs of internationals shipping just prohibit that.
I am considering an Edge Pro Apex or maybe a Wicked Edge. I do some traveling to Miami sometimes and am willing to learn the whetstone art, but am definitely interested in some courses or something like you recommended to someone in Nova Scotia. Would you happen to know of any good, reliable sharpening services in the Miami, FL area that have some lessons for those interested?
Also, I found an Edge Pro kit that comes with upgraded Shapton glass tones, plus some additional features for the Edge Pro. Would you say it is worth it getting this kit instead?
Hi Edwin, and thanks for your patience!
I spent the other night researching the two sharpening systems you mentioned—the Edge Pro and the Wicked Edge. I was trying to put myself in your shoes and imagine what I might do if could not send out my knives to top-quality professional sharpener. I watched a number of videos, examined the equipment, read up on the specs as well as some testimonials.
As I already knew, both of these systems have excellent reputations and excellent reviews and have much to say for themselves. I think the three big things they offer are: 1) they are designed to take the minimal amount of metal off necessary to create a new bevel, 2) they enable the user to be very precise about the angle(s) they are creating on their blades and, more or less, guarantee achieving the edge angle desired, and 3) they are fairly fool proof allowing a newbie to grind a very sharp edge without having to spend hours and hours learning how to get a feel for the correct sharpening angle(s).
That all said, I still found both sharpening systems annoyingly, for lack of a better word, “nerdy” in their design. On top of this, and more importantly, they seemed tailor-made for recreating a short, factory edge bevel. But they didn’t seem that well suited for creating a new, longer bevel from further up the blade, the way Bob Tate, my favorite professional sharpener from Seattle, does. I prefer that kind of single, long, gradual bevel because it lasts so long.
Because of this, if it were me, I would probably opt out on using one of these as my main sharpening system (although I might use them to put a micro bevel on). Instead, I would embrace the classic Japanese system of sharpening and buy a couple of full-sized water stones along with knife-guru Murray Carter’s highly reviewed DVDs, Blade Sharpening Fundamentals, and begin learning the art of waterstone sharpening as practiced by the Japanese masters.
Hope this helps :)
Thanks for taking the time to research this. Will definitely take a look at those options.
Hey Edwin, I forgot to mention. It also might useful to read my two-part interview with Bob Tate from Seattle Knife Sharpening.
I have a hollow ground 8-inch knife with a very fine serrated edge. I cannot cut bread with it. So what is it’s correct purpose, please?
It’s hard to be certain without a photo, but my best guess is that your knife is just a general purpose chef or utility knife.
Yes, the serrations can be too fine to tear through bread like a typical bread knife, but I’m betting they will slice through most other foods as long as you use a strong back and forth motion (instead of pressing down so much). This type of kitchen knife is the last kind I would ever buy for my everyday use because the small serrations are just an inexpensive substitute for an edge made from quality steel, sharpened to a sharp angle. You can’t chop with a blade like this, only slice. So, you can slice tomatoes, etc., but what I don’t like about using a serrated blade for even slicing is that it subtly (or not so subtly) tears the food, instead cleanly cutting it, and it rarely works as effortlessly as a quality, expertly sharpened, regular V-edge.
All this said, this type of finely-serrated kitchen knife does have some uses—even in my kitchen. I happen to have a blade like this leftover from before I became more versed in kitchen knives. And what I am grateful to have it for is nasty jobs I don’t want to ruin my quality knives on—usually powering through frozen bread or meat, or anything frozen. And I would advise holding on to yours and using it on tasks like these :)
Here are some photos of mine:
As sharp as sharp can be, I would recommend starting with a volcanic rock, then using pavement from a speeding car, taking the edge off with a brick, then a low-grit grinder followed by high-grit. Then rubbing a river rock on the blade, followed by a course whetstone, then finer, then an hour or so of firmly sliding the blade through a 15-degree cheap sharpener, and then finalizing the razor sharpness with two hours of rubbing the blade over a bunny’s tongue sprinkled with diamond dust—WITHOUT cutting the bunny. (This may take several bunnies.) I love my knives and bunnies.
(Although, to be honest, I don’t understand how you can use “pavement from a speeding car” to sharpen a knife. Do you mean using pavement a speeding car has driven over? Or, better yet, scraping the knife on pavement while driving a speeding car? Ha!)
What are your thoughts about Cutco knives? As a male, I feel the handle is too small for my hands.
I’m not a fan of Cutco knives. Over the years, I’ve responded about them throughout this website. Here’s a comment I left a while back on my Cutting Board Oil page:
“Knives manufactured in the Western/German tradition (e.g. Henckels and Wusthof and crew) are typically ground with a 20 to 22 degree edge angle. Which means that the actual knife (the included angle) is cutting with a 40–44 degree wedge.”
I think this is incorrect. Wusthof claims they sharpen to a 14 degree edge angle on their European-style blades and to a 10 degree angle on their Asian-style blades.
You’re absolutely correct, Mechant. (As a matter of fact, on my Wusthof Knives page I believe I use those newer, updated angles.) In order to better compete with Japanese knives, the German knifemakers have made their factory edges more acute. This is a fairly recent phenomena—say, in the last 6 or 7 years.
Sorry I haven’t had a chance to update this info on this page. . .I will try to get to it sooner than later :)
Just wondering how you feel about the Ken Onion Sharpening Kit found at Bass Pro. I have read that it gives the beveled edge.
I believe you’re talking about this power sharpener:
Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition
I’m not big on powered DIY sharpening systems for amateurs because you need to learn how to properly use them. Until you do, you will be taking off more metal than needed and thus shortening the lifespan of your knives.
But if you’re set on sharpening your own blades with a powered system, this looks like an excellent choice. No highly-aggressive diamond wheels like Chef’s Choice, but softer abrasives that will not eat up the metal so fast. It also offers two powerful controls: 1) the ability to customize your sharpening angle, and 2) the ability to vary your belt speed. Starting off, you’re going to want use as slow a speed as it will go :)
And, yes, using a belt will tend to give you a convex edge which is stronger than a regular V edge.
Work Sharp has also introduced a couple of kitchen-counter models. They don’t offer you as much control as the Ken Onion, but the belts are the right type of belts and they can sit out on a counter top for easy access.
Work Sharp Culinary E3 Electric Kitchen Knife Sharpener
Work Sharp Culinary E5 Electric Kitchen Knife Sharpener
I still much prefer using a professional knife sharpening service. And my first DIY choice would be manual sharpening on Japanese water stones. But if I were to use a DIY power system, these are probably the machines I would consider buying.
Hi Nate. New to your site, but very informative and helpful. Question regarding selecting a style of knife for task of processing (butchering) deer and elk quarters and removing the meat from large sections of bone. Most challenging part of the work for me is getting the meat off the scapula sections—femurs are more straightforward. It’s similar to a fillet action.
I would like to buy my own (that I might not share with my wife) first knife with this specific job in mind and know that one gets what one pays for. I’ve used our chef’s knives for this in the past, but I think the blades might be a bit stiff to be the most effective. Carving knife? Boning knife? Other?
I use an Edge Pro system at home to keep our German-style knives sharp and it does a great job, but am intrigued by the aesthetics of the Japanese-style knives. Thanks in advance for your help.
You’re on the right track! If you are keen on using a kitchen knife, then you need the best shape/style for the job. A chef knife is not only too stiff, but also too chunky and wide for the job. I think the best type of kitchen knife would be a boning knife (not to be confused with a fillet knife which is used for fish and would be skinnier and more flexible than a boning knife, but not as strong and, thus, not as suitable).
Although I love Japanese knives, I’m not sure they would be my first choice for this type of work. They would tend to be sharper, but also more brittle (because of the type of steel) and less forgiving if you nicked bone or sliced into it by mistake. A German knife (with more supple steel) would have less chance of chipping, cracking, or (heaven forbid) breaking.
This said, after doing some research, I’ve found there are plenty of guys using Japanese blades to do what you need to do. You just need to be more careful :)
Below are a few possibles, both German and Japanese. . .
Messermeister can often be higher quality than the other two major German brands. For one thing, they’ll probably come from the factory sharper.
Messermeister Meridian Elite Stiff Boning Knife, 6-Inch
Messermeister Oliva Elite 6″ Stiff Boning Knife w/Olive Wood Handle
Messermeister San Moritz Elite Stiff Boning Knife, 6-Inch
Wusthof Classic 6-Inch Flexible Boning Knife
Friedr. Dick Premier WACS 6-Inch Boning Knife
If you need it to be longer, you might consider a carving knife.
Wusthof Grand Prix II 8-Inch Hollow-Ground Carving Knife
Wusthof Le Cordon Bleu 8 inch Carving Knife
J.A. Henckels Twin Four Star II 8-Inch Stainless-Steel Carving Knife
ZWILLING Pro 8″ Carving Knife
Both of these are expensive, but right on. In the Q&A, customers use them for deer, etc.
Shun TDM0774 Premier Gokujo Boning Fillet Knife, 6″, Silver
Shun DM0743 Classic Gokujo Boning and Fillet, 6-Inch
Maybe too short?
Shun DM0749 Classic Honesuki Boning Knife, 4-1/2-Inch
Highly suitable, but you might find the handles too slippery.
Global GF-31 – 6 1/4 inch, 16cm Heavyweight Boning Knife
Global GF-27 – 7 inch, 16cm Heavyweight Butcher’s Knife
MAC makes an amazing chef knife on my Best Chef Knives page.
Mac Knife Japanese Series Boning Knife, 6-Inch
One final question: Why aren’t you considering using some kind of hunting knife? A good hunting knife would be sharp, very strong, and short and nimble. Isn’t that what most hunters use for processing their meat? I’m not up on hunting knives, it’s another world, but I’m just curious. . .
Beautiful – thanks for the help and guidance. Regarding the use of a hunting knife: I hate to say it, but they’ve been basically replaced for me by Havalon knives with what amount to a disposable scalpel for use in field-dressing the game. When the edge gets dull I just (very) carefully replace the blade using a leatherman type tool and continue on with a new sharp. Two blades are adequate for a full grown elk unless one breaks, which is easy to do. I still own the hunting knives; I just don’t use them while hunting. For this question, once I’m back in the kitchen and turning the quarters and backstraps into cuts for the grill/freezer, the length of the kitchen knives seems to work better than the hunting blades I own for certain instances. I find myself using multiple knives, but I need a longer flexible blade to get some of the cuts off the bone in larger pieces. I think your comment about the more supple steel of the German knives is spot-on, even if I find those blades a little less appealing. Thanks for your help – I will look into each of your recommendations above.
You’re welcome! These are all quality knives that should hold their edges reasonably well and not fall apart.
Thank you for the insights. It is always so helpful indeed to have a ‘point of reference’ !
So, I am looking for a general, all-purpose chef knife that would be a gift for someone starting out. It seems that German knives would be the way to go vs. Japanese. Do you have a recommendation on which one?
Will also include a ceramic steel/hone. Also, what type of cutting surface do you recommend?
Take a look at my Best Chef Knives page where I offer six recommendations. These are all high-quality knives by major manufacturers which should perform decently and hold up quite well.
I agree that, in general, German knives are a wise way to go for a beginning cook—the steel is tougher and can stand up to more abuse if mistakes are made. But you also might want to add Global to the three German brands because I’ve found their steel to be pretty resilient.
Yes, a ceramic hone is must to keep the edges sharp and avoid excessive sharpening.
And far as cutting surfaces are concerned, you should also check out my articles on cutting boards: Cutting Boards—What’s Better, etc. as well as my blog article Best Cutting Boards for your Kitchen Knives. I use both wood and plastic boards in my kitchen for the heavy lifting and supplement with bamboo for minor slicing.
If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask. . .
Hi! Great article on knives! And great posts!
I have a picture of a knife that I cannot figure out how it is used! What is it for?
Sorry, but it beats me, Charmaine! Anybody else want to take a crack?
It’s a frozen food knife, someone said, like for DQ cakes :)
Thanks, Julia! You solved our mystery. And, yes, that makes sense. It has those huge, deep serrations for easily sawing through something frozen solid.
This is a task you should never ever do with any knife you care about, including a quality bread knife, for you will ruin and, possibly chip or crack, the edge.
I was wondering if you have any tips on sharpening utility knife blades? I know its simpler to just toss them and use new ones, which at a certain point I will, but when I discovered you can resharpen them it seems like a waste not to try.
I’ve experimented with various materials such as sandpaper, stone, ceramic tile, small files, and stropping on leather. I found that using a stone seems fairly easy and doable, but at what angle I can’t really tell.
What advice do you have concerning best angle and how do I know if it’s correct?
Thank you :-)
First off, I’m not sure I understand exactly what you mean by a utility knife. Maybe you could explain a bit more or post a photo.
Secondly, although I understand a fair amount about sharpening, I currently don’t actually do any sharpening myself. I rely on pros that I research thoroughly.
That said, here’s my two-cents worth:
1. Depending on how hard the steel is, you might be able to create bevels at whatever angle you like
2. It might be a matter of trial and error.
3. Research websites on knife sharpening. . .there are plenty out there. Here’s an example of a good one:
Sorry I can’t be of more help. . .
KKG. . .I do believe he is talking about utility razors. Should be carefully sharpened at about 15 degrees? Quite a delicate and dangerous task for such a small and inexpensive blade. . .
Hi, I recently bought a Nakiri knife that claimed to have a V-Edge, but it has a compound edge. For ease of maintenance, I was considering using my waterstones to grind down the edge into a V-bevel. Is that reasonable, or would I be causing some form of damage to the knife?
Hello there Kitchen Knife Guru, cool site!
I was wondering if you could shed some light on this knife I bought from France. The seller thought it may be a dessert knife? It’s about 10 1/2in long (with handle), has a stainless steel blade and the handle could be horn or bakelite/plastic.
Kind regards, Katy
Sorry, but your link did not function properly. I got to the page, but it was totally black with no photo. Maybe try sending it another way?
Kitchen Knife Guru: I have a dilemma, sir. I bought a cleaver from Made-In. It’s amazing! I use if for everything! Including trimming a frozen pork belly to fit into a vacuum bag! Such an idiot! I now have a single wave in the hollow blade profile. Can this be fixed? Seriously been looking at anvils lately. Thank you so much for spreading your knowledge to the masses! While many of us watch from afar, sometimes we do stupid things and have to ask an expert! Thanks again!
Well, I guess you won’t do that again, huh? Same with frozen anything, OK?
Is it fixable? It depends on how deep the “wave” is. If it’s LESS than an 1/16 of an inch, it MIGHT be worth grinding down the entire edge. Especially, because of the broadness of the blade, there’s a lot to work with. But, still. . that’s a lot of metal to be ground off.
Visit my Reviews of Professional Knife Sharpening Services page and query one, or all, of the pros I recommend. If you describe well and/or send a pic, they might be able to give you an estimate. Might. Odds are they’ll need to see the actual blade though.
Otherwise, write if off to experience and buy yourself a new one. When you consider how much you use it (sounds like a lot), the price you paid for BOTH will dwindle down to pennies a day after a couple of years. . .
P.S. Do not try to grind it down yourself! Because you won’t have the proper equipment, or skill, to properly grind, and you will produce too much heat and ruin the tempering of the metal.