I got my knives sharpened recently, so don't mess with me.
Patti Small (aka The Knife Lady) of On The Edge Knife Sharpening in Bolton has been a fixture at the Wayland Winter Farmer's Market all season. Last month, I dropped off a box of knives and, by the following week, she had managed to convert my dull pieces of scrap metal into razor-sharp blades of death! Now I can cut cleanly through a head of cabbage like butter and mince herbs without transforming them into a blackened mash. Hooray!
Sharp knives really make a big difference in the kitchen, not just in terms of control and ease of use, but also in the resulting texture of the items being sliced. You want to cut cleanly through the cell membranes, not crush them. Sharp knives are also safer than dull ones, believe it or not. You don't need to apply as much force (risking slippage), nor resort to a desperate sawing motion. Just be extra careful the first week you get your knives back. It's like going from a car with a sluggish accelerator to one that is sensitive to the slightest touch. It takes some time to adapt and you'll want to keep all your body parts attached in the meantime.
Patti agreed to set down her knives for a minute and answer some questions:
TD: How do you sharpen knives?
PS: I use a machine called an Edge Pro, which is an upside-down whetstone. The stone moves on the knife instead of the knife moving on the stone. When it can cut through a piece of paper with no resistance, the knife is done.
TD: Once you sharpen a knife, what is the best way to keep it sharp for as long as possible (besides not using it)?
PS: Store it carefully. A knife block is good. A magnet is good. Unsupervised in a drawer is bad. Do not cut on glass. Hard surfaces will cause early demise of an edge. Bamboo is a pretty good cutting surface.
TD: I heard that the dishwasher dulls knives. Is that true? Because I have this irrational fear that I'm going to cut off my arm while washing my knives by hand (also goes for spoons, forks, cups, and plates).
PS: The soap used in a dishwasher is more caustic than handwashing soap. Also, when the knives are in a dishwasher they move and tend to bump into other objects, thus accelerating dulling. I wash my knives in the dishwasher. No big deal for me--I can sharpen them whenever I want!
TD: Those pole things that come with knife sets, what are they called?
TD: Yeah, steels. Is it really necessary to use them? If so, how often?
PS: Whatever steel you use, it should be really smooth. Over 1000 grit. The purpose of a steel is to realign the edge, not to sharpen. If you use one every time you use your knife it should help the edge hold.
TD: How often should people get their knives professionally sharpened in a perfect world?
PS: It depends on how many knives you have and how much they are used. When they can't slice a tomato there is a problem.
TD: What about in an imperfect world?
PS: When you can't slit your wrist there is a big problem.
TD: Touché! Why don't electric knife-sharpeners get my knives as sharp as you do?
PS: Electric sharpeners take more metal off than I do. The machine itself doesn't have eyes to look at the edge. I have one that I used once about ten years ago and ruined a knife.
TD: How much does it cost to sharpen a regular-sized chef's knife? What about a small paring knife?
PS: A small knife is $5 and large is $10.
TD: We just brought the kids to the Higgins Armory in Worcester. Do people ever bring you swords to sharpen? Knights or ninjas, say?
PS: Yes, someone called me with a sword. I sent him away. It takes way too long and I do not have the equipment. It was a samurai sword. I do know someone who will sharpen them though.
TD: What's your favorite kind of knife?
PS: Right now my choice of knife for chopping are two eight-inch Wusthof chefs knives that I hold together and use at the same time. I think that Adam Simha, a knifemaker in Cambridge, is going to make me a knife that will be two blades with one handle to achieve the same effect.
TD: Wow, that's cool! Thanks, Knife Lady!
The Wayland Winter Farmer's Market has closed for the season, but Patti travels often to other farmer's markets in the area. She can also be found some Sundays at Formaggio's Kitchen in Cambridge and some Thursday evenings at City Feed in Jamaica Plain. Her calendar is here, but always check ahead of time to make sure she'll be there. If you're not local, seek out a professional knife-sharpener in your area. I'm telling you, you'll fall in love with your knives all over again!