Friday, September 4, 2009

Carbon Knives - Patina or Rust?

When I first started getting into Japanese kitchen knives I was very interested in carbon knives and how they did or didn't react to specific foods. I didn't want to taste steel on fresh fruit, know what I mean? Yuck!

Over time it's become clear to me that carbon knives (once "seasoned") are very safe to use on anything that's going to be cooked (like onions for example) but still may not be the best choice for fresh fruit where I would select a knife with at least stainless steel cladding over a carbon core if not full stainless. Carbon knives appear best used for proteins, both raw and cooked, as they seem to impart no flavor to the food. Anyone notice what steels are predominatly used for sushi knives? Yup - carbon!

So even though we know that we can use them for some tasks safely there's still an issue of maintenance that's going to be greater than that of their stainless cousins. Use and care of a carbon knife is somewhat like that of using and caring for a cast iron pan - they need some TLC in the way of seasoning to keep them in top form and to keep the red stuff (aka- rust) at bay.

I often get asked what's the best way to deal with seasoning (or forming a patina) on a carbon knife. My personal method is to use, wipe, use, wipe, wash when done (with soap and water), and then oil for storage. I choose to use Camellia Oil for this simply because it's made for the task and also washes off easily. Once the surface of the knife begins to oxidize across it's entire length (that is forms a patina) then the need for oiling is greatly reduced. I will use the oil until the knife crosses over from brown patina to blue, purple, black(ish) as this is often an indication of a nice strong seasoning layer having been formed. I would strongly advise, however, that if you are living in an extremely humid environment (such as Hawaii) that you always coat your carbon knives with oil before storing away.

Remember,....patina = good....rust = bad!
There's a fine line between the two and you're the one who controls it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Conditioning a New Sharpening Stone

So many people I talk to are shocked to find out that new stones aren't flat out of the box. I know this sucks but it's the truth, you need to flatten all of your stones before using them.

New stones can come with stickers on the surface (which when removed leave glue behind) or maybe just ink imbedded into the surface due to fancy markings, often come uneven, all come with high edges/corners, and some will even have a sort of surface crust on them that needs removing before the stone actually works correctly.

My advice is to soak (if your stone requires soaking) the stone first and then follow with rounding the edges and ends, then flatten, then round the edges and ends (again). The order that you do this procedure is the same that you do for flattening a stone each and everytime although it's much more important to do the edge rounding at the pre-flattening stage when the stone is new because these high edges won't allow for you to flatten the stone correctly because the flattening stone/plate will be lifted off of the stone's surface. Sounds crazy I know - but trust me this is key to getting your new stone(s) really flat.

Japanese Knife Sharpening Services....

It's a fact, that one bad sharpening job will turn your expensive Japanese knife into a butter knife or worse. We've seen a great number of damaged Japanese knives that were sharpened on grinding machines or by inexperienced hands left ruined as a result.

Don't make the mistake of allowing a sharpener to work on your Japanese knives unless they confirm that the work is done by hand on waterstones - not a belt grinder or any other grinding machine. You need to find a service that will sharpen by hand using Japanese waterstones.

Also, ask questions about how long they've been in business and don't be afraid to ask for recommendations. If it's a simple job on an inexpensive double bevel knife then maybe this is overkill but for high dollar high end single bevel traditional Japanese knives having major repair work you need to make sure that the person you're trusting has the knowledge and experience to back up they're talk.
Most professional knife sharpeners are charging a premium for sharpening these knives. Why? It's simple - because they can. They know that these knives are expensive, and have a certain "aire" attached to them. They know that it takes more time and skill to sharpen them and they know that the user understands this so they take advantage of the situation. You pay the premium price while getting the basic service. I'm not trying to badmouth the professional knife sharpening industry but after hearing of hundreds of horror stories I just have to believe that where's there's smoke - there's fire.

We, at do charge more for sharpening these knives than some but less than others and we like to think that we offer a great deal in return. We use a highly refined "hand" sharpening procedure that utilizes between 6 - 10 different waterstones. The resultant edge is strong, highly polished/refined, and is nothing short of "High Performance". It's the best possible edge that can be attained through any sharpening method. It is the edge that your fine Japanese knives deserve.

We do major repair work as well, often times working on family heirlooms and high end knives made by famous makers.

One of my favorite repair jobs that I'm quite proud of is the refurbishment of this 330mm Shigefusa (KIYA) yanagiba owned by Harrleson Stanley (from Shapton USA). This knife was gifted to Harrelson personally by the owner of Shigefusa after having survived a hurricane. The knife was found under sea water as seen in the before picture. I worked on this knife to bring it back to what I believe to be close to what Shigefusa would do themselves.



As you can likely imagine none of this work was done by machine, it was 100% hand work done on waterstones. There's only probably a few pro sharpeners doing this level of work in this county and maybe even the world for that matter so remember - ask for credentials! 
Well I really didn't want this post to be a rant but it kind of is non-the-less I guess. My point in all this is for you to beaware of who your handing over you're expensive and very special Japanese knives too.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

OK,,,,,,,,here we go! :)

The reason why I'm now finally getting into "Blogging" is that I keep getting asked to create a Blog, well rather I keep getting suggestions to do so, and now here I am doing it. Never underestimate the power of suggestion folks :)

I'll be trying to keep up with this new avenue and will look to post some of my thoughts and techniques for Japanese Knife Sharpening as well as keep you updated on what's new and upcoming with our company  and at our online store.

Hopefully you'll find some things of interest to you and you'll see your way back here to check in every once in awhile. Hope to see you around.