Our interview with Dan Bertarelli, from Bertarelli Cutlery.
1. Hi Dan, tell us more about yourself. how did you start sharpening knives?
[box size=”large”]My name is Dan Bertarelli I’m a 3rd generation knife sharpener. My Grandfather Felice Bertarelli opened Bertarelli Cutlery. A Commercial knife sharpening service in Saint Louis Missouri in 1967. My Dad (John) and his 3 brothers ( Roberto, Frank, and Marco) followed in his footsteps and run the company to this day.
I started working for my Dad and uncles the Monday after I graduated high school in 2002. Most of my days In the early years were spent on the high volume side of the business. Machine holo-grinding, repairing and reshaping edges on the large grinding wheel, and machine edging.
After 5 years of learning the ropes I started focusing on hand sharpening.[/box]
2. Can you share your sharpening method with the readers of KnifePlanet?
[box size=”large”]Traditional stone sharpening is the most effective, economical, and expeditious way to sharpen high quality cutlery. I change the equipment I use fairly regularly. Weather it’s the grits of stones, or progression of stones mixing and matching. I really can’t stop myself, you should always be looking for a better, faster, more cost effective way to do any task. I try to buy a new stone, strop, paste, spray, holder, or film every month. Because it’s my job to be hip to all the products and tools in the field.
The standard tools to sharpen pretty much any high quality knife would be:
- Stone holder: something adjustable to fit different lengths of stones. Should be tall enough to keep your hands from touching you table.
- Rough Stone: 200-400 grit. My stone of choice at this time is sold by Kikuichi it’s a large brick size blue stone.
- Medium Stone: 1000 grit. Naniwa Chosera Green
- Fine Stone: 3000-8000. This would be where personal preference really comes into play. I usually have more of this range of stone in my arsenal then any other. It’s almost natural to think, well if it’s this sharp after 3k then it’s gonna be crazy sharp after 5k, and atom splitting sharp after 8k. Wait they make a 16k and oh my god 30k. Any thing over 8k is silly and showing off when it comes to knives. Knowing what steel you are working with is key when it comes to finishing. German blades I’ll finish with a Belgium “Blue” Coticule. Harder Japanese steel can handle a higher tighter edge so I’ll use a Shapton 8k after a 4K or 5k.
- Strop: I’m not a big fan of hanging strops. I have always had a problem keeping them tight. A loose strop can roll your edge. Also I never feel the constancy in my stroke when I use them. Newspaper over a flat medium works great. Right now I’m using Kangaroo mounted on a piece of wood. It stays flat and that’s the important part. Kangaroo leather is super strong and takes abuse well but I can’t speak for certain that it helps produce a finer edge.
- Stone Flattener: definitely the most overlooked tool in the arsenal. Your World might be round but a knife sharpeners World is Flat. DMT lapping plate is my choice at this time. Shapton makes the best one but even I can’t justify the price.
If you gave 10 very good professional sharpeners these exact same tools. Handed each of them the same dull blade. Had them sharpen the blade you would most certainly get 10 different results. We are not soulless robots, angles will be non symmetrical. Stokes will be off. Maybe you had one to many coffees or your shoes are to tight. Teaching someone what my hands are feeling is nearly impossible. It can only be learned through years of practice, trail and error and experimentation.[/box]
3. Do you strop your knives? Why?
[box size=”large”]Yes Leather mounted on a wood block. Newspaper works very well also. Stropping is the final touch. It’s the pinch of salt in a great soup. It puts a certain crispness to the final edge.[/box]
4. Do you test your knives to check if they’re sharp? How?
[box size=”large”]The back of my left thumb nail. I lightly set the edge on the nail and it’s should almost melt into it. Also like the rubber band test. Wrap a rubber band and 2 doll rods so it taut. Place the knife to the band. If it snaps the band without using a forward or backward motion it’s sharp.
I’m not a huge fan of slicing paper. I see it all the time and I’m sure it’s just a pet-peeve. Kitchen Knives are used to cut proteins, vegetables, things of
that nature. My goal shouldn’t be making this Chef’s knife the worlds best paper slicer. While I’m on test pet peeve’s I guess another one I don’t like is the shave test. My grandpa used to say to customers who would inspect his work by trying to shave their arm in front of him. “if you want to shave, buy a razor. This is a knife.” If it shaves arm hair or slices paper, sure it’s sharp. But for how long? Knives are tools and the blade maker has put lots of work in his craft and knows the task his knife is supposed to perform.[/box]
5. What water stone is the most important for you?
[box size=”large”]Well it’s a coin flip between the 400 grit and the 1k. But if I’m on a deserted island and need to take one stone it’s the Naniwa Chosera 1000.[/box]
6. How do you flatten stones? How often do you do it?
[box size=”large”]I use a DMT lapping plate. It doesn’t dish out is constantly flat, and cuts fast. The rougher grits 400-1000 maybe once every two days. The finer grits once a week. I’m doing a fair amount of volume so I don’t like them getting too dished out and having to spend more time later. While I’m losing results because I’m to concerned about stone loss.[/box]
7. How important are sharpening angles?
[box size=”large”]You need to know what angle is best for the task. Focus on being in the “Goldie Locks” range. 15-20 degrees inclusive is a totally fine. If one side is 17 degrees and the other is 18.5 degrees and your customer isn’t happy. Just offer a refund and refer them to the great jig style systems on the market. They will be more constant then hand sharpening as far as angles go. But let’s face it hand sharpening is way more savage than the clamp machines.[/box]
8. Sharpening on cheap knives: yes or no? Is it a good idea for a beginner?
[box size=”large”]Well let’s define “cheap”. I would consider cheap as anything made in China bought at a department store by any company that isn’t usually in the blade making business. Learning on those knives I wouldn’t really say would hurt you. It might frustrate you because the edge rolls or the burrs won’t go away but it shouldn’t do anything bad for your muscle memory when it comes to your sharpening stroke. My advice is find some older carbon blades with a patina. Look at garage sales the take a keen edge and show your work quite well.[/box]
9. Are you still improving your technique?
[box size=”large”]Of course. If you think you know it all you probably know nothing. If you stop the pursuit of improvement you naturally fall behind.[/box]