You probably knew this already, but we sharpen knives at Knifewear. We sharpen A LOT of knives. Literally thousands a year. It’s part of basic Knifewear training that you not just learn to sharpen, but to do it incredibly well. With each knife a Knifewear staff member sharpens, they refine their skills and improve our process. We train our staff to be the very best, so that they can give you the very best.
With this happening in four cities across Canada, the question had to be asked: Who’s the best? Is it Knifewear founder Kevin Kent, who for years was the sharpening top-dog? Is it Naoto Fujimoto, expert on all things steel, who does the sharpening training on cross-country tours? Perhaps it is Kasumi Perron, Knifewear Calgary manager who is renowned for her extreme sharpening skills, demonstrating them while dressed sharply in a pencil skirt and cardigan.
Once the question was asked, we had to answer it. But who would judge? That was answered once we made plans for Takayuki Shibata-san of Masakage knives to come to Canada for a visit. Shibata-san knows sharp. He has been called the Wayne Gretzky of knife sharpening, and is probably the best in the world. With his expertise, he would tell us definitively who is the best in Canada.
Once the knives had been collected, Shibata-san set up a cutting board in Chris Lord’s living room and got to work as the Knifewear staff drank beer and watched curiously. Each knife was carefully inspected and used to slowly cut a single slice from a carrot. From that single slice Shibata-san sorted them into two piles. One pile was “good” and the other was diplomatically labelled as “okay”. You can imagine Ottawa staffer Jackson’s dismay as he watched his knife respectfully placed in the latter pile.
The purpose of this first test was to measure “kire-aji” which translates to “taste of sharpness”, how the edge feels when it cuts. Carrots are dense and provide feedback which allows you to measure the thinness of the edge.
Once the kire-aji was tested, Shibata-san gently rested each knife many times on a thick slice of carrot. By using minimal pressure, he can tell how the microscopic teeth of the edge “bite” into the vegetable, the way it grabs as you cut. The master sharpener continued this way like an eye-doctor, testing knife A against B, then B against C, C against A until a hierarchy was established.
After much testing, consideration, and sighing, Shibata-san had finally sorted the top knives. The final two took a very long time to rank. He went back and forth endlessly, calling on his travel companions, blacksmiths Ikeda-san and Kato-san, several times for their opinions.
Not once did Shibata-san look at the finish of the knives. Of course all the best knives looked great as a result of excellent sharpening technique, but the performance of the knife always comes first for Shibata san. Beauty is just an added benefit of the knife being sharpened well. That said, we did ask him to judge that as well, because we all love when things look great.
Sharpness top five
Beauty top five
Overall Knife Sharpening Champions
When the results came in some of us were clearly more pleased than others, but we were all happy to have participated and have our work judged by a master. Overall, the quality of work done was impressive even to a master sharpener like Shibata-san. Everyone who participated took this as a motivator to be better, even the winners. Maybeespecially the winners, as they all know that everyone else is working to steal the crown. We all continue to push ourselves. There is another round planned for Shibata san’s next visit, but this time the task is fixing a chipped knife and repair a broken tip. We are all anxious to find out who comes out on top.
For those interested, here’s what the winner, Kate, did to her knife. She also clarified that this is her standard process for any customer knife, she wanted her work to be the best example of what every customer gets.
“First, the edge was thinned on the two sharpening wheels, 120 grit green then 800 grit pink, then thinned on the 800 grit Naniwa Professional Stone. The edge was done on the 800 grit pink wheel, then polished on the 3000 grit Naniwa Professional Stone. The edge was honed on my jeans, then stropped on leather. By sharpening on 3000 and stropping, it gives the edge more bite and longevity.”