I needed to sharpen our kitchen knives, so I found a book to help me along, specifically, An Edge in the Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives by Chad Ward.
Overall, I liked the information I read. I got excited about my kitchen knives! But when I went to try and sharpen my own knives according to the instructions in the book, I was a bit lost. My husband, who has sharpened kitchen knives himself before, seems to think the problem was me, and not the book. Nonetheless, for a novice knife sharpener, I’d suggest that a book is probably not a great place to start your knife sharpening education.
I’m a relatively new cook, so I feel most of what I read about the technical aspects of cooking is new to me. This book was no different. I read An Edge in the Kitchen at a very slow rate, about 10-15 pages a day while I ate breakfast. This worked pretty well for me.
I learned about buying knives: there are more knives out there than I could ever want let alone use! There are knife collectors out there just like there are book collectors. (Why does that scare me?) I learned what is important and what is not important when buying a knife. For example, don’t waste your money buying a block of knives: buy the individual knife that you need and get a good one (and there are good ones for $40-$60).
I learned about cutting boards, knife storage, and general kitchen safety. Did you know lots of food poisoning can be avoided by washing the sink? Keeping separate cutting boards for meat versus vegetables helps too, of course.
An Edge in the Kitchen also reviewed some basic cuts. The middle of the book had color pages illustrating some of the basic ways to cut vegetables and meats for cooking. He also provided a few recipes that require lots of cutting so people can practice with their knives. I personally don’t mind the prep side of cooking a meal, but I admit I’m am incredibly slow with a knife. I have a hard time imagining that some people cook recipes with specially cut vegetables just so they can use their knives more often. Really?
The last section of An Edge in the Kitchen provided some facts about maintenance and sharpening. The maintenance and honing was clear to me. I felt like I was learning something. I liked the comparison of the various sharpening systems, and I accept fully the argument that electric sharpeners are very very bad for your knives.
As I read the instructions about sharpening with a stone, I started getting a bit confused. When I sat down one afternoon to try, I admit I was nearly in tears I was so frustrated and confused. I think the instructions may be good for someone like my husband who’s done it before, but I was completely lost. All the talk about angles and burrs was incredibly confusing. I tried to do what it said, and I don’t think it was good for the knife. My husband showed me what he’s always done and it seemed a lot less confusing that the book made it sound.
So the bottom line is, don’t read a book to try to sharpen a knife unless you’ve already done this before or at least seen it done. I look for a video of knife sharpening on YouTube, and my husband showed me what he does. Two hours later and the one knife I was working on doesn’t feel any sharper to me. And now I wonder if I’ve ruined it.
Chad Ward says in this book that anyone who can cook a complicated recipe can sharpen their own knives. I’m thinking that the two arts are rather different things. I’m not so happy at this point.
I’ll try sharpening my knives again in another day or two, when I’m not feeling frustrated at the thought. Maybe I just need practice.
Do you sharpen your own knives with a stone? How did you learn?
[…] I posted my book review of An Edge in the Kitchen at my book reviews site. I liked it, but when I went to try to sharpen my own knives, I found myself quite frustrated. Just the concepts of burr and angle were rather hard for me to comprehend. […]
I’ve never sharpened my knives (mine really aren’t good enough to sharpen) but the thought actually scares me. Maybe I saw Clue too many times as a kid…
I took my knives and scissors in to the knife store at the mall where they sharpening for a small fee. My stuff didn’t seem any sharper even after that! I concluded it might be more effective just to get new ones!
LOL, I love that you went and got a book on this. I probably would have just googled it.
I think both my husband and I would enjoy this book, but I would leave the sharpening parts for him.
I agree about the block of knives thing. We have one and only about 2 are any good. On the other hand, I bought a good knife for about $20 and love it.
Amanda, well, Ward suggests that even the cheaper knives could benefit from sharpening. It scares me too, but so does the prospect of cooking dinner sometimes!!
Or are you talking about a sharp knife scaring you? My mom hasn’t ever gotten her 25-year-old knife sharpened. It jumps around and squashes things when I try to cut anything. Using THAT thing scares me like none other. And it really is more dangerous, despite what my mother insists!
rhapsodyinbooks, Ward also suggests that out-of-the-box knives are not nearly as sharp as they could be! Most sharpeners don’t do it to a pointy enough edge, so I imagine that the mall guys didn’t either. Of course, I don’t know what I’m doing, so I can’t get a sharp edge either! It’s about about having the correct angle, and I can’t get it.
J.T. Oldfield, well, in my defense, I did get the book because I wanted to learn a lot about knives, not just to learn how to sharpen them. I learned a lot and I’m glad I read it! Only 60 pages were on sharpening. The rest (150 pages) was maintenance and other stuff, like I talk about above. But, I realize that reading non-fiction does come across as rather nerdy. I accept that completely: I AM A NERD!
Kathy, I would also leave it to my husband, except he’s so busy and he travels a lot so he hasn’t gotten to it for more than a year. I decided to take matters in to my own hands. Except it was really hard. I’ll try again soon.
Chris, There are perfectly fine knives out there for $20 (although just $20 more gets you a far superior one). What Ward was saying was if you’re getting a knife block for $50 you’re wasting your money: put that $50 in to one good knife. (Or two of the supermarket ones!)
Of course, there are people out there buying knives for $500 each. And keeping up an expensive collection of many more knives. Those are the people that scare me a little bit. (Ward among them…)
What a cute review. I was smiling the whole way through. I can’t imagine there’s a whole book about sharping knives lol (which is good, because it proves you can find books about anything :).
Mee, like I said above, it’s more than just about sharpening knives!! But yes, it’s for those of us serious about learning to cook — and cut!
Preparing food has become so much easier since I bought good knives. My husband sharpens all mine. I tried to do it once, but didn’t manage it. He is so good at it that I have never really tried since. I’m not sure I’d get much out of this book. I’m obviously not as knife obsessed as some people!
Jackie, I’m definitely not knife-obsessed either, but I felt like I have to start somewhere. I liked it.
LOL, I read a similiar book last year, I think it was called “Knife Skills”. It was all about the best way to cut fruits and vegetables. I don’t remember if it said anything about how to keep knives sharp!
I have an electric knife-sharpener, which I bet your author says is a big no-no. Oh well.
I also laughed about your mom’s old knives. My mom has several old, rusty ones that she actually still uses….because they belonged to her mom (and maybe even her mom’s mom) before her. It’s definitely scary trying to use them!
Valerie, ha ha, yeah electric knife-sharpeners are pretty much the devil. Especially the ones on the edge of your electric can opener.
Those dull knives are pretty scary.
I learned how to sharpen my knives fairly early (with the stone) from my grandmother. Not quite as good at it as she was I’m afraid.
Ladytink, I think the key is watching someone. The book just didn’t help me, my husband did!
[…] reviewed An Edge in the Kitchen by Chad Ward so I could learn how to sharpen my knives (it didn’t really help with that very […]