New Zealand is full of surprises. We just spent two days driving around the Coromandel Peninsula, a mountainous outcrop reaching into the Pacific Ocean east of Auckland. On day two we stumbled across Lloyd Franklin, a larrikin blacksmith who makes knives out of waste. He hand-forges the blades from spent spring coils, and makes the handles from found materials such as native timbers, deer antlers and beef bones.
With prices starting at $750 and going up, Lloyd’s knives aren’t cheap. But he is quick to point out that a well-made knife is an heirloom, a purchase that will outlive you and your children. So we asked Lloyd how to sharpen your knives, to keep them healthy throughout their lifetime.
A GENERAL GUIDE
“First off, those modern diamond encrusted sharpening steels are shit. Traditional steels actually used to have north/south magnetic polarity, and if you knew what you were doing you’d actually be realigning the steel molecules in the knife to sharpen it, without actually losing any material from the blade.
“The new diamond encrusted ones are just big round files. They will actively gouge away at your knife until over the years there is nothing left. If you have one, throw it in the bin, along with those fancy sharpeners that affix to your bench or wall that you run the blade through. You’ll be lucky if your knife lasts ten years with one of those around.”
Lloyd says if you have a traditional honing steel, that’s a great tool. But you’ve got to know how to use it. “Most people only sharpen the middle section of their knife. They miss the base of the blade near the handle and they miss the tip. You must make sure to glide the steel all the way along the blade. A good trick is to run a black marker along the blade’s length on both sides first; this way you can ensure you have run the full length because you’ll rub the marker off.”
“By far the best way to sharpen a knife is to use an oil stone. They are simpler to use, solid and have both a coarse side for removing chips and a fine side for flattening out the burrs. A honing steel only has one all-purpose surface. If you invest in a good knife, invest in a good oil stone.”
The technique for using both, however, is basically the same. First we need to remove any chips that have been knocked into the blade since the last sharpening, then we flatten out the burrs, then we polish to a really sharp edge.
To remove the chips, first run your finger along the edge of the blade on both sides to see where any are.
With the knife at 15 degrees to the steel or stone (coarse side), glide along the full length of the blade in a flowing motion from base to tip, using the whole area of the stone or full length of the steel.
For a stone, repeat the action a few times on one side, then flip the knife over and do the other side. For a steel, constantly alternate from side-to-side and, after a few strokes each side, stop to check your progress.
Run your finger along the edge of both sides of the blade again to see if you have smoothed off all the chips. Once the chips are smoothed they become burrs – tiny smooth bumps rather than sharp-edged chips. If you are down to burrs, move onto the next step. If not, repeat the gliding process until you have.
FLATTEN THE BURRS
Flip your stone to the fine side and repeat the gliding process for a few more strokes each side until you can’t feel the burrs at all. Same with the steel.
When you can’t feel any more burrs, the final step is to polish the blade edge to a final sharpness. Repeat the gliding process on a piece of leather or coarse denim up to several times each side.
We’ll close with a final word of wisdom from Lloyd: “A sharp knife is much safer to use than a blunt knife. But only if you know it’s sharp! Be sure to let everyone who uses the knife know what you’ve done.”
Lentil and Matt Purbrick are Grown & Gathered: a self-sustainable farm in Victoria. Their website will make you want to pack up and move to the country.