FAQs

Below are some quick FAQs that just scratch the surface of the endlessly explorable world of cutlery and sharpening. If you can't find an answer to your question here, send us an email (evan@strataportland.com), we'd love to hear from you!

+ How often should I get my knife, or razor sharpened?

The simple answer - whenever it stops performing at the level you want it to.

The longer answer- everyone's sharpening frequencies are different because everyone's blades are different in their make and purpose, as is everyone's frequency of use, preferences, cutting surfaces, materials cut, knife skills, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. There are many chefs around the world that sharpen every single day, and there are many chefs that feel fine with using a honing steel for several weeks before they get it properly sharpened.

For example, if you like your edge to be razor-sharp such that it glides effortlessly through food, but you start to feel some feedback that requires a little more effort to cut, then it's probably time for you to get it tuned up. But, if you don’t really mind a less keen edge, you could probably wait a bit longer.

Or, if you use your blade everyday and put it through a heavy load regularly, it will become dull more quickly and you will probably need to get it sharpened more often than someone who uses their blade less frequently and more gently. It all depends on your needs and preferences.

As a general guideline, the softer the steel, the shorter its edge retention will be, and the more often you will need to get it sharpened; conversely, harder, high carbon steels will have a longer edge life and typically require less sharpening.

For straight razors, you should consider getting it sharpened after the normal honing procedure you or your sharpener perform no longer creates a suitable edge. An edge that needs sharpening tends to pull on hairs, rather than cut through them, leading to irritation and razor bumps/ingrown hairs. Different shavers have different preferences in terms of what level of initial keenness they prefer after a sharpening (usually: very keen, balanced, and mellow), and tolerances in how far in the spectrum they let their razors get to; all of which take time to understand. If you're not well-versed in knowing when to get your razor sharpened, let us take a look at it and ask you some questions, and figure out a plan of action that might be best for you.

+ Is my knife "good enough" to be sharpened? What makes a good knife "good?"

We get these questions a lot, both of which have a subjective and objective answer. Unfortunately, the throw-away economy has worked its way deep into the cutlery world, and there’s now an abundance of ‘cheap’ cutlery in people’s kitchens; by ‘cheap’ we mean both the price point for the customer because of the materials used incurred by the producer. The materials used in these types of knives are of a certain quality that make them difficult to sharpen, and yield a result that may not be what one would hope to achieve when getting their knives professionally sharpened. Most of these products weren’t created with sharpening and long-term use in mind, but simply to be used for a short while, and then ‘thrown away,’ only to lead the customer to buy them again; pretty good business model, huh? That’s all to say, most knives (even if you think/know they are cheap) are at the very least worth a try to sharpen! We will do our best to mention during the time of service that the result may not be what can be achieved compared to a ‘better’ knife, or if it’s just not worth the time for either party. Subjectively, you may even find that the result on some of your more value-driven knives is to your satisfaction because you don’t need a knife that’s so sharp it can cut through the heavens, and that’s great. So please don’t feel ‘embarrassed’ or ‘insecure,’ when bringing them in, as we aim to treat any knife brought to us as if it were one of your most cherished tools!

So what makes a good knife ‘good?’ Subjectively, a good knife is one that helps complete your tasks safely and efficiently, and/or one that you simply enjoy using. That could be one of the more value-driven knives mentioned above, or an extremely rare tamahagane honyaki blade made by some 10th generation master smith - it all depends on what you appreciate and what works for you. Objectively, there will be knives that outperform others in almost every facet used in measuring the tangible quality of a knife- from its edge retention, toughness, sharpenability, fit and finish, materials used, heat treatment, and even rarity and resell value, etc, etc. Almost always, the ‘better’ these qualities are, the better the knife will perform, especially over the long-term. More can be done with a better quality knife--from the number of edge types it can take, to post-purchase aesthetic customization variations--there are simply more options a quality knife can take advantage of. Even if you aren’t looking for the Ferrari of knives, or even knowledgeable about knives to begin with - put a knife of cheaper quality next to one of better quality, use them side by side, and you’ll notice almost instantly a difference in these objective qualities. But again, different users prioritize different qualities, and that’s all part of the game. We’re always happy to talk about what qualities to look for if you’re in the market to purchase a knife with certain goals and values in mind, or want to assess the qualities of one you already have, so reach out anytime!

+ What is stainless steel?

Stainless steels are pretty much what their name suggests - they resist stains, blemishes, and rust., ie, corrosion very well. Because of this, stainless steels are ideal for those who don't want to have to worry about maintaining their blade's appearance or even lifespan if deep corrosion occurs. It should be noted that 'stainless' does not mean 'stainproof,' such that even stainless steels can corrode if not given minimal care and attention.

What makes stainless steels so corrosion resistant? Stainless steels contain a high amount of chromium--typically at least 10.5-13% chromium (depending on who you ask) by mass of the total steel's composition to be considered 'stainless'. Chromium is the same stuff that makes up and keeps the shiny parts shiny in motorcycles and fancy cars, etc,

But what does chromium do? Chromium on the surface of the steel combines with oxygen to form chromium oxide, which acts somewhat like a protective film and makes it difficult for the oxygen in water or other sources to bind with the underlying iron and other corrosion-prone metals in the steel. There are other alloys like molybdenum, nitrogen, and nickel, as well as some other rarely used elements that also aid with stainless properties, but chromium is by far the most common. There are many different types of stainless steels, and they've come a long way in their quality in the past couple decades. Different stiainless steels each have different alloying elements in different ratios that make them slightly different from one another, but as long as the steel contains at least 10.5-13% chromium, it's considered stainless. There are dozens of steels that are both stainless and high carbon.

+ What is high carbon steel?

High carbon steels typically contain a greater percentage of carbon than stainless and other steels. Specifically, typically at least 0.5.% by mass to be considered 'high carbon'. Carbon, the same stuff that makes diamonds, is really good at making things hard.

But what does carbon do? Without getting too technical, carbon increases hardness in steel by interacting with the bonds in the crystalline iron lattice, and allows these bonds to form more strongly during the forging and heat treating processes when the blade is made.

What does a hard steel offer me? Since high carbon steels are generally much harder than stainless steels, they provide a number of performance benefits! Just to name a few:

SHARPENABILITY: the ability and ease for an edge to get really sharp edge

RETENTION: the length of time an edge stays acceptably sharp

TAILOR-FIT EDGES: hard steels can be made to do some awesome things that softer, 'mushy' steels can't do - think sculpting with marble vs soft wet clay - the marble can take on more acute angles, subtle details, finer lines, etc, that the otherwise overly pliable clay can’t. Harder steels can accept extremely fine details, from ultra keen hair-shaving edges, to super fine piranha-like teeth,and hold them during extended use, all of which softer metal can never quite attain.

COMFORT: hard steels require less steel to begin with, thus generally allowing for thinner, lighter blades to be made.

OVERALL LIFESPAN: high carbon steels require less metal removal to create an effective edge, and retain that sharpeness longer as to require less sharpenings to begin with, meaning they retain their overall shape and size for longer as oppossed to getting widdled down at a faster rate compared to softer steels. This adds to the blade's overall value.

In other words, high carbon steels act much more like you would expect a metal blade to act - they can get really, really sharp, and stay sharp longer.

There are many different types of high carbon steels that each have different alloying elements in different ratios, from exotic powdered high speed tools steels, to our favorite Japanese steels, shirogami and aogami; but as long as the steel contains at least 0.5% carbon, it's considered high carbon steel.

+ What is the right steel for me!?

The right steel for you is: the one that fits your needs the best! Each type of steel, of course, has its pros and cons.

The main pros of stainless steel is its ability to resist corrosion and thus need less maintenance from the user, as well as increased toughness (the ability of a steel to ‘bend’ or yield to pressure without breaking or chipping). The softness of stainless steels means that it can take abuse to a greater degree than harder, more brittle high carbon steels without chipping or breaking; they somewhat 'absorb' impact and 'give'. This is great for more novice users whose knife skills may not be up to what is required to wield a high carbon blade safely. The main downside of stainless steel is typically a reduction in the steel's hardness. This usually means a less sharp knife to begin with, a shorter lifespan of sharpness, and generally requires a greater amount metal to be removed during sharpening to be made sharp.

The main pros of high carbon steel are its ability take on a keener edge, keep that edge and thus, do more. Less metal removal during sharpening means greater overall total lifespan. Due to the hardness of the steel, the edge is able to take on endless subtle characteristics offered by the sharpener and the unique properties of their stones. But often most high carbon steels are more prone to corrosion, and thus require more care from the user, as well as an increase in brittleness. The harder a steel is, the more brittle it becomes, and thus generally requires more skill and mindfulness from the user.

+ How do I keep a happy, healthy blade?

CLEANING: Keep your sharp edges out of the dishwasher! This is the quickest way to ruin not only the edge and steel, but the handle and any aesthetic finishes your blade may have. Instead, wash your knife carefully by hand, with the soft, non abrasive side of a sponge or rag, moving from the spine to the edge to avoid going against the edge. Dry immediately with an absorbent towel (microfiber towels work best).

STORAGE: Wherever you store your knife, ensure that it is clean and dry, and its edge especially is protected from other objects. We suggest using the box your knife came in, a knife roll, or a magnetic strip, but anything that keeps your knives safe is most important.

+ Uh Oh, I see rust!

If rust does form, you should just do your best to remove it ASAP, as untreated rust can cause pitting deeper into the steel, making the problem worse, and making the steel more susceptible to corrosion in the future. Removal can first be attempted by lightly scrubbing the area with the abrasive side of a sponge. If that doesn’t work, a very fine sandpaper, preferably wet sandpaper designed for metal, can be gently used. We offer rust removal services, even for heavily rusted blades.

+ Is a sharp knife really a safer knife?

It’s not just a marketing gimmick, a sharp knife is actually a safer knife (we’ve inadvertently tested this out, many, many times...). Cuts from a sharp knife hurt less, heal faster, and scar less. Dull knives tend to rip and tear, rather than cleanly slice, making injuries hurt and bleed more, heal slower, and scar more. The cuts from duller knives are generally made even worse because using a dull knife requires more force to cut through things, increasing the risk of slippage. More force = a deeper, worse cut.

+ What is a honing steel/rod, and how often should I use it? What about a leather or fabric strop?

A honing rod, or honing steel, is used to hone a knife’s edge. Honing is the act of re-aligning a skewed, bent, or worn edge to a more centered or true position after using your knife, in order to get the knife performing adequately again. Honing is NOT the same as sharpening because sharpening entails the removal of metal to expose new, unworn metal that will form the edge; while honing just repositions worn metal to a more effective position after it has undergone the stresses of use. Rods are usually composed of either hardened steel, ceramic, or diamond coated steel.

Strops are most typically used in a sharpener’s progression (especially with straight razors) to remove burrs and smooth out the microscopic jagged spots on the edge (ie, burnish), and give a nice shiny finish, but can also be used to realign a worn edge on knives. Strops can come in strap form (often depicted in old-school barber shops when honing razors), or glued to a paddle or other flat surface, and be made from various materials such as: leather, cork, felt, linen, hemp, etc. They can also be loaded with various micro particles such as chromium oxide, aluminum oxide, diamond particles, etc to impart the keenest of edges. Pro tip - if you have your own stones, you can deburr and hone on your highest grit stone!

As far as frequency of use for your honing rod or strop: use ONLY as needed. The act of moving metal back and forth eventually wears out the steel, causing it break and fall off (just like bending a paperclip back and forth too many times would cause it to break), leaving behind a dull edge that will no longer benefit from honing and will require a proper sharpening to be effective again. For razors, you should hone in-between each shave.

To decide if your blade needs honing, we recommend using it for a minute to see if it’s performing up to par or not, or simply feeling for a rolled edge. If it's not performing adaquetly, or you feel a rolled edge, feel free to hone away! Honing can be a fun activity, especially once you get the hang of it, but try and avoid doing so first thing before using your knife as it could wear out a possibly adequate edge unnecessarily. Always hone in a edge trailing motion, such that the edge is moving away from the rod or strop, not towards or against it.

+ Other sharpeners use preset angles, why don't you?

Because there are soooo many variables! Each blade and each user is so different: from the blade’s steel, purpose, design, original grind, etc, to the user’s skill level, preferences, typical cutting surface, and the general tasks and types of food or materials cut (just to name a few!). Given that there’s so many things to think about when sharpening, we don’t use a one-size-fits-all angle for every knife.

When we sharpen your blade we take all of these different variables into account and tailor-fit an angle that both you and we think is best! If you don’t have any preferences, don’t know what angle you’d like, or just want to try something new, we’ll sharpen at an angle we think will work best.

+ Where can I learn more about whetstone sharpening and specialty cutlery?

Well as you can tell, we like geeking out on the subject, so feel free to contact us with any specific questions. If you'd like to get involved in the online community, check out Kitchen Knife Forums, where you'll find a world full of passionate knife knerds.