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I have a santoku that I will be wanting to get professionally sharpened in the next few months. This is the first knife I've owned that was reasonably expensive so I want to make sure I take care of it. Are most professional knife sharpening places familiar with the differences in Japanese knife edges vs a more traditional (for the U.S.) German knife? For example, the angle is different and one side is flat on my santoku compared to, say, a French chef's knife.

Aside from just asking them if they know what they are doing, are there any specifics I should look for or questions to ask in finding someone who can do this properly? Also, is there any kind of reasonable price range I should expect or does that vary too much to say?

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Even if you go to a professional place, the person working that day might not be experienced; one of my friend had a sushi knife butchered at a place he had been going to for years -- the normal knife guy wasn't working that day, and the person doing the sharpening ground down both sides. –  Joe Jan 31 '11 at 15:08
    
You can learn to sharpen your own knife quickly and cheaply. Your results will be as good as a professional if you take your time. Then you don't have to worry about someone else messing it up. A good whetstone will cost you under $50, and then you are set for years. –  michael Jan 31 '11 at 15:45

7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Allow me to help you fast forward through my years of pain trying to get my knives sharpened. I looked all over to find a local sharpening service. I called fancy restaurants, chain restaurants, and restaurant supply stores. I found one who said they performed the service and promptly had three knives really scratched up.

I tried doing the sharpening myself. This isn't a bad idea, but most home sharpening systems won't let you put a true new edge on your knife. The best luck I had was with a Spyderco Sharpmaker. This will do a good job, but I found it to be a pain, and it never really got me the results I was looking for.

Then I discovered sharpening by mail. Its awesome. Ship your knives off, get them back in a state where you should keep bandaids handy. Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal comparing several services. I used the Knife Guy and couldn't have been happier. Unfortunately, it looks like he's no longer accepting new customers since the article came out, but the other services they compared seem to have done well.

One other Note. I read in an interview with Alton Brown that he only sends his knives off to be professionally sharpened once a year or so. If you use a honing steel properly that's all you should need. I've certainly found that to be the case with me.

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I also use the Sharpmaker at home and the two default ceramic stone types are great for maintaining an edge but you won't really be able to reach razor sharpness or set whole new edges unless you pony up for the ultra fine and the ultra course stones sold separately. Thanks for the wall street article tip I'll definitely look into it. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Oct 23 '12 at 19:06
    
Also, maybe note that to get the best results when sharpening at home you should always hone the blade first to have a straight edge to work with. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Oct 23 '12 at 19:08

You will also want to consider what experience they have with different grinds of knives - Hollow vs. regular, for example, and their familiarity with edges. At the very least, sharpeners should be able to distinguish hollow from v-grind and convex edge. You may want to ask if they're familiar with single- and compound- or double-bevel sharpening. Ask what kind of waterstones and grits they have. Can you watch them sharpen your knives? This is a dead giveaway. I have been lucky to find more than a few great knife sharpeners in the city, and they are uniformly happy to let you see them sharpen your knife/knives, and talk about what they're doing and why.

Generally, Japanese knives benefit from being sharpened over a waterstone, a formation of natural stone or a pressed stone slurry that, when wet, will form a slurry that gently and consistently abrades your knife edge to sharpen it very fine. The greater the grit of stone they possess, the sharper they are able to get knives. They can require anything from 15-19º for the edge; changing the angle changes the characteristics of the knife. The angle of the edge affects how cleanly the knife slices through material, its edge retention,and a bunch of other characteristics. Depending on the quality of the metal in your knife, you may not need or be able to achieve lower angles or finer-grit sandstones.

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You need to find a bladesmith. They often sharpen more things than just kitchen equipment, such as carpentry tools. Sometimes they work out of non-chained hardware stores. Look for business with names like "Sharpening" in them, eg: Superior Saw Sharpening.

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Oh boy. Be careful. Knife sharpening isn't a easy as people think. There is a ton of information out there, all of it giving different advice, different techiniques, diffent tools.

I've been a professional chef for 9 years and devoted countless hours to trying to master the art of sharpening.... The reality is- for the average person, you have to be careful.

As the questioner noted- there are big differences between how you sharpen knives. Western styled knives (sabatier, henkel, wustof...) have a different angle(bevel) than japanese styled blades. Traditional japanese blades have a much lower angle (15 degrees?). And western styled Japanese blades are in between (mac, global)

It gets complicated very quickly once you start getting into the nicer blades. If you use the wrong sharpening technique or tool, you mess up the bevel and have to really work to get the right edge back.

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For the average person, i would use a sharpening steel. And if i have to sharpen my western styled knives, use an electric sharper. Dont use the rough grinder too much, otherwise you'll eat the blade faster. This is the easiest, cheapest and most consistent method for beginners. –  Chef Feb 9 '11 at 5:17
    
For japanese blades, send it out. There may be mail in services. I know that Korin in NY has a knife sharpening service. And the knife master is very well trained in polishing/ sharpening. I would trust few others. Most people only sharpen one way and don't know the differce. Oh yeah- grinding a japanese blade on a whetstone will damage the blade ( the metal /edge is too fine ). Of course you could always learn how to do it by hand with a whetstone. But that takes a lot of practice. –  Chef Feb 9 '11 at 5:20

I take mine to the local sewing store. They have someone come in once a month to sharpen sissors. I talked to the guy he also does knifes. I took him one of my old cheap chefs knifes first and was pleased with the result so now he gets my good ones too.

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2  
+1 for not risking the good ones out of the gate –  zanlok Feb 1 '11 at 17:13

I'd recommend checking with a reputable cookware/cutlery store in your area for a recommendation--ideally a local one, as they're more likely to have recommendations than a big national chain (though places like Sur La Table may still have some).

You might also check with restaurants in your area--some of them might have a service they use.

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Butcher shops and fish markets are also great places to ask for advice. Most businesses that use knives as a part of their everyday routine should be able to point you in the right direction. It's usually easier to walk into a store like a butcher shop and start asking technical questions without feeling like you're interfering with the staff's business, so I'd probably start there. –  Hayden Fennell Apr 9 '13 at 19:24

It will really be down to each individial company. Be specific about the type of knife when you enquire and when you drop it off for sharpening, get a receipt/job sheet detailing that, and specify the one-sided sharpen: 'Japanese knife, sharpen one side only'. That way you have some comeback if they f%^& it up.

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