'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

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Chappychap
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'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Chappychap »

Hi folks,

Wondering if some more experienced sharpeners than I can shed some light on a topic that has proven elusive in my research: 'touching up' an edge.

I'm referring to situations like:
* You receive a new knife and want to 'touch up' the edge so that it really shines, without taking off more metal than its needed
* You want to restore near-peak performance to a blade you've already sharpened more thoroughly, but want to avoid taking off more metal than is necessary

My questions are as follows:
1) How does the touch up routine differ to full sharpening? with full sharpening I'd follow the raise burr/remove burr/refine edge with backward trailing strokes routine. Is touching up simply skipping the first to stages and moving straight to the backward trailing strokes part and skipping the first two steps? I.e. it's basically stropping, where you use a whetstone or a leather strop.
2) What's best to use? I.e. what do people use for touching up, and specifically when would you use a strop Vs ceramic rod Vs an xK whetstone(s)?
3) At what point should you no longer do a touch up routine and instead opt for full sharpening?

Thanks all. I couldn't find any threads on this exact topic but please don't hesitate to point me in the right direction of this conversation has already been concluded elsewhere.

Cc
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Eli Chaps »

For me, I always sharpen a new knife. I'll probably use it for some amount of time, typically not too long, just to see how the factory edge performs, but I'll be itching to put my own edge on it.

I don't concern myself with how much metal I'll be taking off as I know I'll need to get the profile changed to my mechanics. Meaning, even if I have no intention of changing angles, thinning, etc, I just know that as a free hand sharpener they way I do things will not perfectly match the factory grind. So I'm going to drop down to a course edge and then work up to whatever.

For maintenance, I've fallen into a routine of stropping vs. rods. I keep a strop in the kitchen and use that for routine maintenance and have been happy.

As for touching up, it's just a thing you'll develop a feel for and there is no clear cut answer. One thing that I think helps, is focus on one knife. Get it to a level of sharpness that you're very happy with. That's your baseline. Just keep using it, with maintenance, and you'll start to feel how it is cutting. It will just be natural and the performance and feeling the edge will tell you when it is time to hit a stone.

As for the stone you go to for touch ups, that's up to you, but I still go through the same motions (form a burr, flip, form a burr, deburr, etc.) The only thing that may change is how far down the grit ladder I go. But, if I start higher and do my work but realize I'm not happy, then I drop drop down and start over. It happens. You roll an edge, maybe you're aren't focused, or the edge is further gone than you thought, whatever. Be honest with yourself and recognize if you need to drop down and rebuild.

No big deal. If you're a home cook I'd put metal loss way down the list of concerns.

Sharpen and use 'em. Let the knife tell you. It will not lie. Your job is to not have pre-conceived notions based on what the internet (me included) says and most importantly, to be completely honest with yourself. With time and experience, it will all start to come together.

Mind you, I'm still on my journey and believe I always will be. ;)
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Radar53 »

I think that you will find that everyone will have a different way of doing this, so you could get a lot of responses.

Some good advice above & without getting into lots of detail my basic "process" is the following.
Once a good edge feel like it needs a little attention, I start this with strops (without compounds); bovine, kangaroo.
When this doesn't give me what I'm looking for, I then strop lightly, on fine, dry benchstones.
Ditto for a move to actually move down a stone grit and get more into re-sharpening, and so on.

As above the blade will tell you.
Cheers Grant

Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're not going to get you!!
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Ourorboros »

Touching up, a opposed to going down to a mid-grit stone or even a full progression.
So if a blade has lost that "fresh off the stones" feeling, a stropping or high grit stone (whatever the one you use for that blade) will take it back. To me that is touching up.
Anything more than that is more than touching up. YMMV.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Ourorboros »

I should have added that it's a question of how far off the apex the edge is, or perhaps time.
If a strop or fine stone gets you to an apex quickly, you are touching up. If you need more to apex, you aren't just touching up - as the term implies you aren't looking to do much to get back to your ideal edge. Or if you are simply using a coarser stone to restore tooth.
But when is really a question of you're taste and experience.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by d_rap »

Rather than making too much of a distinction between "sharpening" and "touching up," I think of it more as a continuum. What I do depends on what I need to do to get the blade performing--or looking--the way I want it to.

My first question is where exactly is the knife falling short? Maybe on a pull cut through a ripe soft tomato the knife is sticking a bit before it catches rather than just perfectly cutting into the tomato skin. Maybe I'm getting some tiny chips or too-rapid dulling and think I can mitigate that. Or maybe, largely for aesthetics, I want the bevel to have a mirror polish. Or I want the knife to be able to break a piece of hair on contact, because I can be kind of a perfectionist and like the challenge. Practical or silly, what do I want the knife to do that it isn't doing?

What follows then is: what do I need to do to restore the knife to the way I want it to perform or change it so it performs better, or looks better, or whatever? To me, that's the approach to answering the question Chappy puts out about at what point do you move from one approach to the next. The more specific I can be with myself about precisely what I want the knife to do or be that it isn't doing, the more easily I can decide what approach to take. For me that's everything from just stropping on bare leather, stropping with compound, using a ceramic rod (gently), stropping on a high grit stone--or dropping down to 400 and going through a full progression, all depending on what changes I want to make to the looks and performance of the edge.

On the "to burr or not to burr" question, if even a relatively sharp knife can't be restored with some brief work on the strops or a rod or stropping strokes on a high grit stone, then I always go down low enough to easily get a burr, preferably a tiny one, but something discernible, so that I know I have a good apex all along the edge. With an already fairly sharp blade in say W2, that might be achieved in under a minute on a 3K stone, but either way, if stropping/rod work won't get me right back where I want to be (after a touch-up as Ourorboros describes it), I am going for a small even burr and removing the metal I need to achieve that.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by cliff »

I keep a strop in the kitchen. When that's not enough, I'll drop down to stones. As everyone says, it depends on the knife and what I have to do. Maybe just stropping on a high grit stone. If it's tomatoes or butchery, maybe I'll drop down a little. If I want nice, glassy, precise cuts of fruit or veg, I'll go to 10K or a Nakayama. As someone who cooks at home (a fair amount), I'd say I drop down to a coarse stone every couple of months for my daily driver. In between, I'll go to a mid-grit natural or Shapton Glass 2K every week or two.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by jmcnelly85 »

On when to touch vs sharpen... using strops and high grit stones will remove enough metal to keep a good edge in good working order for quite some time; however, it doesn’t exactly remove enough metal to keep the metal at the very edge from fatiguing. Sooner or later, regardless of how much time you spend on a strop or a high grit stone, a new apex will need to be formed, and the fatigued metal will need to be removed to establish a strong apex. Edges may not seem as keen as before, may not last as long, or potentially might even become more chip prone surviving on one too many touch ups. How frequently this occurs varies greatly, my blue 2 gihei’s edge seems immortal with nothing but touchups, while my kohetsu blue 2 seems to only take about 3 touch ups before needing to drop down to a full progression.

Evaluation before any sharpening is the key.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by ken123 »

A good topic without a single answer. So the question of removing too much metal. I don't concern myself with this. If your knife is too dull it needs refinement. Running around with a dull blade is like sharpening without a flattened stone. Don't do that. Wearing out a blade should take you many years to do. If you are old enough and don't process hundreds of pounds of food per day, just put it in your will :)

Stropping. Many knifes become dull with stropping. IMO, this is user error. First you need to produce a SHARP edge. You need to find the angle that is used and refine this angle. If you grind at a coarser angle you will dull the edge. If you strop at the same angle as the sharp edge or even a bit off of that (tenths of degree) you will recreate a more refined sharp edge. If you strop less carefully you will unnecessarily round off or convex your edge unnecessarily, leading to a duller edge. If over time you have reground the edge multiple times you may need to thin the edge. Why? Because as you resharpen you get to a thicker part of the blade. This less acute angle needs to be restored back to the original edge profile by thinning the blade.

When to touch up an edge? This is a process of creative visualization and testing. If the edge is inadequate for YOUR needs, it's time to touch up your blade. To what? That's personal. So for my Nubatama knives, I resharpen it on a 15000 grit Nubatama stone and I'm back again. For some knives, a touchup on a Tajima will do for the TASK requirements. For others an Aoto edge (eg a Saiechi Aoto) will do. For others, a more refined edge like a Nakayama Asagi will do the trick especially for razors. It depends on what you expect and meeting expectations. For many knives and razors, a 10 15 or even 20k Suehiro gives a superb touchup. After that strops are in order. Many knives will benefit from a 4 micron CBN strop on nanocloth. For others, I go up to 0.025 micron (620k) poly diamond edge... and beyond up to 0.003 micron or 5.3 million grit. Expect that you will determine sharpening angles by feedback. I hope I'm not being too vague. If so keep asking :)

---
Ken
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by jacko9 »

I have been using my Fujiyama B#2 most of the time and a strop with CBN seems to keep it going pretty well. Last month I did notice that my novice cutting skill resulted in a few micro chips and they cleaned up right away on a 3K Nubatama Platinum stone. There great knives don't take the same beating as my Japanese wood chisels and that is the bulk of my sharpening.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by ken123 »

Regarding sharpening a new knife first you should evaluate the new knife edge. Look closely at the edge. Often it will have a visible scratch pattern reflective of the original sharpening. Even a coarse grit sharpened PRECISELY will have an exceptional edge for its grit. Spyderco knives are a good example of this with CNC edges. If it is a natural stone finish, it may have a matte pattern but be quite sharp. You should use the edge to understand the intentions of the maker. My Nubatama knives are finished by a sword polisher and I use that edge for a while to see what I'm starting with, only later refining the edge. This becomes an iterative process.

Some knives of course need an immediate sharpening. This is a judgement call.

---
Ken
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Chappychap »

Thanks so much for the replies everyone. Some really thought-provoking recommendations and I appreciate the time taken to write them. I am trying to refine my sharpening in this area so that I don't end up fast tracking my knives to needing thinning unnecessarily quickly, as that's out of my comfort zone to do a decent job of, hence trying to be mindful on how much metal I take off with each sharpening.

There's a lot here for me to chew over and try out - thanks again.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by ken123 »

Chappychap wrote: Sun Nov 29, 2020 7:29 pm Thanks so much for the replies everyone. Some really thought-provoking recommendations and I appreciate the time taken to write them. I am trying to refine my sharpening in this area so that I don't end up fast tracking my knives to needing thinning unnecessarily quickly, as that's out of my comfort zone to do a decent job of, hence trying to be mindful on how much metal I take off with each sharpening.

There's a lot here for me to chew over and try out - thanks again.
If you need to know more about thinning edges - ask here. We are here to help!

---
Ken
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Chappychap »

ken123 wrote: Sun Nov 29, 2020 7:33 pm
Chappychap wrote: Sun Nov 29, 2020 7:29 pm Thanks so much for the replies everyone. Some really thought-provoking recommendations and I appreciate the time taken to write them. I am trying to refine my sharpening in this area so that I don't end up fast tracking my knives to needing thinning unnecessarily quickly, as that's out of my comfort zone to do a decent job of, hence trying to be mindful on how much metal I take off with each sharpening.

There's a lot here for me to chew over and try out - thanks again.
If you need to know more about thinning edges - ask here. We are here to help!

---
Ken
Thanks Ken! My main two concerns with doing it myself are:
1) screwing up the aesthetic
2) inconsistently thinning

I think for my first run I'll probably send off to a pro. If you do this service, could you share with me pricing for thinning 240 and 210 gyutos? No urgency, would be just great to have in my back pocket. PM or here, whatever works. Again no rush.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by ken123 »

I would be pleased to thin your knives. Sometimes I seem to get passed over, possibly because I think people may think I only sell product as opposed to actually doing the sharpening service. Pricing depends on what the shape of the knife looks like, whether to use natural or synthetic stones or strops, etc and is best determined by actual inspection.

---
Ken
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Chappychap »

Makes sense, thanks Ken. Will be sure to keep that in mind when I get to the point of my blades needing thinning (right now it's only my waistline...)
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Chappychap »

One sense check as I try this stuff - it's ok to dry strop on Shapton Glass right?
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by Ourorboros »

Sure, you'll just load the stone up more but that can be cleaned off later.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by salemj »

Chappychap wrote: Sun Nov 29, 2020 7:41 pm Thanks Ken! My main two concerns with doing it myself are:
1) screwing up the aesthetic
2) inconsistently thinning

I think for my first run I'll probably send off to a pro. If you do this service, could you share with me pricing for thinning 240 and 210 gyutos? No urgency, would be just great to have in my back pocket. PM or here, whatever works. Again no rush.
I'm not a professional sharpener, but everything I have ever seen or read support the following:
You cannot thin a knife without first ruining the finish, even if you then fix it after. So, you're right to worry about these points, but you'd be wrong to assume that someone more practiced will thin your knife without altering its aesthetic (and its consistency).

My own feeling is that, if you like a knife and plan on keeping it, just appreciate that it will need to be thinned at some point, and you or someone else will scratch the blade up when you do. You can remove those scratches in a variety of ways (sandpaper often being the fastest, most convenient, most forgiving, and easiest, and often offering the best performance in terms of food release), or you can have a serious pro use full stone progressions on the whole blade. But either way, it will get scratched, and even if it returns in beautiful shape, it will be because someone (you or someone else) just took extra time to re-polish the blade after thinning, in which case, the polish will not likely match the "original" and will end up being a "change."

I don't want to discourage sending things to a pro – not at all! – but I do just want to be honest that a professional is still going to scratch up and alter the blade, so don't think that the expertise lies in avoiding that. Instead, the expertise lies in (many) other factors, including the ability to create a new, beautiful polish on the blade and to recreate a good profile if it has been lost through sharpening over the years. My point is: if the goal is to have a knife thinned and have it returned without it seeming aesthetically altered in some way, I think you'd be setting yourself up for being an unhappy customer. Once you get those expectations in check, it can feel a lot less intimidating to try it yourself, and/or it can leave you much happier getting back a newly polished and thinned blade from a pro that is does not turn a knife back into "what it was" so much as it gives a knife a new, renewed life as something new.
~Joe

Comments: I'm short, a home cook, prefer lighter, thinner blades, and own mostly Konosukes but have used over a dozen brands.
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Re: 'Touching up' an edge: when, how, and what to use

Post by lsboogy »

salemj wrote: Mon Nov 30, 2020 3:11 pm
Chappychap wrote: Sun Nov 29, 2020 7:41 pm Thanks Ken! My main two concerns with doing it myself are:
1) screwing up the aesthetic
2) inconsistently thinning

I think for my first run I'll probably send off to a pro. If you do this service, could you share with me pricing for thinning 240 and 210 gyutos? No urgency, would be just great to have in my back pocket. PM or here, whatever works. Again no rush.
I'm not a professional sharpener, but everything I have ever seen or read support the following:
You cannot thin a knife without first ruining the finish, even if you then fix it after. So, you're right to worry about these points, but you'd be wrong to assume that someone more practiced will thin your knife without altering its aesthetic (and its consistency).

My own feeling is that, if you like a knife and plan on keeping it, just appreciate that it will need to be thinned at some point, and you or someone else will scratch the blade up when you do. You can remove those scratches in a variety of ways (sandpaper often being the fastest, most convenient, most forgiving, and easiest, and often offering the best performance in terms of food release), or you can have a serious pro use full stone progressions on the whole blade. But either way, it will get scratched, and even if it returns in beautiful shape, it will be because someone (you or someone else) just took extra time to re-polish the blade after thinning, in which case, the polish will not likely match the "original" and will end up being a "change."

I don't want to discourage sending things to a pro – not at all! – but I do just want to be honest that a professional is still going to scratch up and alter the blade, so don't think that the expertise lies in avoiding that. Instead, the expertise lies in (many) other factors, including the ability to create a new, beautiful polish on the blade and to recreate a good profile if it has been lost through sharpening over the years. My point is: if the goal is to have a knife thinned and have it returned without it seeming aesthetically altered in some way, I think you'd be setting yourself up for being an unhappy customer. Once you get those expectations in check, it can feel a lot less intimidating to try it yourself, and/or it can leave you much happier getting back a newly polished and thinned blade from a pro that is does not turn a knife back into "what it was" so much as it gives a knife a new, renewed life as something new.
I've had many knives thinned, and the people who know what they are doing leave beautiful surface finishes - but you need to talk to the person doing the thinning. I used Chris for long time, but i have a knife with Ken123 right now for thinning (Kono GS) that I am sending a CHII blade as a sample grind for him to work off of.

As far as keeping knives sharp, when times were "normal", I was working for a friend in a very high volume pro environment, and I would strop once or twice a shift on some knives - mostly depending on the steel, the amount used, and how sharp I wanted to keep the blade. I am now a big fan of nanocloth from Ken, but I used to carry a couple of strops on magnetic bases from Mark (sold on this site) - usually a felt loaded with 1 micron Chromium Oxide (green stuff) and a balsa or bovine with 0.5 micron stuff. I did a ton of very ripe heirloom tomatoes for a salad one day, and they require a very sharp knife for those glistening slices. I was using a blue steel blade, and I was stropping about every case of product on the 0.5 micron. 654321 method, and the knife performed beautifully - single pull stroke for each slice, no problem with the skin versus soft inner stuff. But for a home user, I would guess a weekly strop might be plenty with a once or twice a year full sharpening and a couple trips to high grit stones in between fulls.

But do give Ken a ring - he and I talk often, and he knows more about sharpening than almost anyone - my knives can push cut paper towels, but he can teach you to get to whatever level you desire, And take his advice on stones - mine have changed over the years (now have a second cupboard shelf started full of stones), but what I use now is definitely crazy good and worth the money - I have naturals, but am using nubatama stuff for the most part right now. I will be getting a dozen knives to sharpen each of the next few weekends (I sharpen for a bunch of lawyers at my brother's firm who are now aware of what a really sharp knife can do - and they all want them sharp for the holidays) and will be setting them up on my Nubatama stuff. Charge them $30-60 each depending on how bad they are, but I give them knives that cut very well, and a sharp knife is now like a cool car in the firm.
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