Adjusting the Angle of Western Knives

The 15-degree cutting angle on Eastern knives offers more precision than the 20-degree angle on Western knives. Will sharpening Western knives to a 15-degree angle improve their performance?

To find out, we passed our favorite inexpensive chef’s knife through an electric Asian knife sharpener shaving its 20-degree cutting angle down to 15 degrees. The transformation was impressive: With the newly sharpened knife, we noticed less drag on foods as we cut them and enjoyed more precision with the blade.

But before you start altering your knives, keep the following points in mind: Western knives are generally made with a softer variety of steel that is more forgiving to the high-impact style of cutting we do in the West, rendering them too soft to hold a narrower 15-degree angle for very long. Thus, if you change their angle from 20 degrees to 15, they will require more frequent sharpening. (Japanese knives are made from a harder, more brittle steel that holds a narrower edge for longer.) What’s more, you will inevitably end up removing a considerable amount of metal from your knife over time. The bottom line: If you want the feel and performance of a 15-degree angle on your blade, you’re better off buying a Japanese knife than altering a Western one.

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