It’s a pleasure for us to have Murray Carter from Carter Cutleryon KnifePlanet.
1. Hello Murray, do you recall the first blade that you’ve ever sharpened?
Yes. I was about 12 years old, and I tried to sharpen a folding pocket knife with an old worn out oilstone.
2. Have you been doing it for a long time?
I have been sharpening knives professionally since 1989, and I have sharpened over 100,000 blades by hand.
3. What’s your sharpening technique? Can you tell us more about it?
I popularized the 7 Step Procedure to knife sharpening, and it is highlighted in my world famous instructional DVD Blade Sharpening Fundamentals. The first step involves cleaning the knife thoroughly if it has been used extensively outdoors or in the kitchen. The second step is examining the blade for relative straightness; not only the straightness of the blade but the relationship of the blade to the handle. The third step is completely cerebral and involves formulating a plan of action. For example, does the tip need to be repaired or are there any chips in the edge of the blade? Does the blade’s profile need to be refined? And does the blade need to be thinned down (the secondary edge) for more efficient cutting performance? (Thinning of the secondary edge is usually necessary.) The fourth step is where the actual grinding starts and involves using a rough abrasive to thin down the secondary edge geometry of a blade. The fifth step involves establishing a new primary edge and grinding it to a “scary sharp” angle which can be tested using my patented “three finger test of edge sharpness,” which I demonstrate on YouTube. The sixth step involves polishing the secondary edge on a finer abrasive for rust prevention and improved friction coefficient for increased cutting performance. The seventh and last step involves stropping the primary edge backwards over the fine stone to produce what I coined as the “scary sharp” edge.
4. Do you remember your first challenge when you started sharpening knives?
The biggest challenge was to have the patience to sharpen a blade at an acute enough angle in both the secondary and primary edge to achieve the sharpest geometry possible in any given blade. The plain and simple truth is sharpening knives properly by hand takes a lot of time.
5. Some beginners practice on cheap knives, would you recommend it?
I have always believed that a beginner should practice with a high quality knife because only a blade of good metallurgy (hard blade) will produce the kind of results the sharpening student is looking for. If the goal is to achieve a “scary sharp” edge, the student must sharpen a blade capable of producing one, and softer blades are not capable of that. The misunderstanding is that a good quality knife will be ruined from amateur sharpening practice, but such is never the case. As students gain an understanding and mastery over sharpening, they will be able to refurbish the same knife at will.
6. What do you think is a common mistake beginners make?
The most common mistake is not understanding the dynamic balance between both the secondary and primary edge of a blade. It is not their fault because almost all commercial sharpening systems neglect to emphasize the importance of thinning down the secondary edge of a blade to vastly improve its cutting performance.
7. Is your technique still improving?
The beauty of sharpening by hand is that it never actually gets easier and always requires the sharpener’s 100% focus and attention to get the best results possible. This is why many people take up the pursuit of sharpening because it is very therapeutic insomuch as you cannot think of anything else while you are doing it.
8. How do you test the sharpness of your knives after you’re done?
The most expedient way to test the sharpness of the primary edge is to do the “Three Finger Test for Edge Sharpness.” This test can be done multiple times throughout the sharpening process and is the final method of inspection after Step Seven in the Seven Step Sharpening Process. That being said, actually cutting with the blade as it was intended is the final word in cutting performance.
9. How do you feel about sharpening angles and their importance?
The concept of angles is very misleading and is not something the student of sharpening should worry about. Although it can be argued that a kitchen knife should be sharpened at a such and such inclusive angle or an outdoor knife at a different angle, the truth of the matter is, these blanket statements do not take into consideration three very important factors. For starters, the metallurgy of the blade can effect the ideal angle to sharpen at insomuch as a superior blade can be sharpened thinner and at a more acute angle and still withstand repeated use as compared to a lesser blade. Secondly, the concept of angles does not take into consideration specifically what the blade will be used for. For example, a kitchen knife can be used to make highly ornate and intricate garnishes which require a very thin and acute edge but cutting acorn squash with the same knife will require a more obtuse and thick edge. Likewise, an outdoor knife could be used to field dress a game animal or for cutting through a car door. Each task will require a different edge geometry. Lastly, the concept of angles does not take into consideration the skill and care of the knife user. A careful and deliberate person can enjoy a blade sharpened to a thinner and more acute edge than the proverbial “bull in a china shop” kind of customer. Just picture a sushi chef who carefully wipes down and places his blade lovingly on an uncluttered counter after every precision cut he makes. He is careful to ensure nothing unintended comes in contact with his edge. I talk about the myth of angles in one of my YouTube videos called “Concept of Angles.“
10. Are there some knives that you don’tlike to sharpen?
Any knife that is sold under the pretense of extreme wear resistance, such as the ZDP189 or VascoWear blades, are nearly impossible to sharpen by hand. I sometimes joke that the owners of these knives would be better served with a ceramic blade or diamond coated blade. It is not commonly known or understood that the primary requisite for a high performance knife is ease of maintenance, even before edge hardness and keenness. The Holy Grail in cutlery is a blade that only takes a few minutes to regrind and finish the secondary and primary edge and yet cuts flawlessly for hours on end. This is a great economy of effort. This is why I prefer to use the Hitachi White Steel, because it sharpens easily yet maintains an incredible edge. My last advice for those thinking about learning to sharpen by hand is save yourself a lot of time and effort and get my easy to watch and easy to understand instructional video for $25 as a digital download or $35 for a DVD.
I’ve been collecting knives for over 7 years. During all these years, I've collected knives from all over the world, ranging from Argentina to Myanmar. Besides knives, I'm an avid traveler and I love hunting and fishing.