UK BBQ Mag Winter 2017/2018 - Page 96


The TSPROF range of professional knife sharpeners are seriously impressive bits of kit that I've been getting to grips with for the past 5 months. I was sent one of the older versions of the base unit - the K01 along with a handful of accessories to try out.


The unit arrived in a sturdy wooden box looking like what I thought is an ex-Russian ammo box, with a sliding lid and rope handles - it also doubles up as a storage case which is very useful. The box was reassuringly weighty and very well packaged - plenty of tightly packed paper ensured nothing moved around and plastic bags on the metal components kept the slightly oiled components protected. The unit is quick, easy and intuitive to assemble although there are instructions provided if required.


The K01 sharpening system comprises of a sturdy base and mounting body, a blade clamping mechanism and a height-adjustable pillar upon which an arm and analogue protractor are mounted. Each and every piece of the system is exceptionally well made, with most bar one brass locking wheel made from stainless steel and most of the parts have been machined. The quality and craftsmanship that went into this product is evident from the very first use.


It's commonplace for BBQ enthusiasts to also have a keen interest in knives - after all, they tend to get heavy usage trimming fat and around bones on large pieces of meat so regularly cooked with. Add on top of that other requirements more common in BBQ than home cooking - outdoor usage at competitions and in the increasingly popular BBQ shacks. Knives of a BBQer tend to get used a lot more frequently which can easily lead to becoming a knife aficionado. That in itself leads onto wanting to keep the knives as sharp as possible, so they perform their job effortlessly, which brings me onto knife sharpening.


The TSPROF system is incredibly versatile, it allows for a vast range of sharpening angles to be set, allowing everything from kitchen knives to axe-heads and even scissors (with an available accessory) to be sharpened to a paper slicing finish. It's quick and easy to clamp in all manner of knives, from short boning knives all the way up to long brisket slicers or butchers knives with 30+cm blades. The clamping mechanism also allows for knives with larger spines too, something which some other clamping systems don't cope well with. I had no trouble clamping a couple of thicker knives I use for apple tree grafting. Once clamped, knives can be easily flipped to ensure both edges get the same amount of work, although the mechanism provided in the newer K02 and K03 models looks superior to the one provided in the K01.


Given my first attempt at sharpening free hand with a whetstone resulted in nothing more than wasted time and a scratched blade, I decided the first test should be on something I wouldn't mind messing up, so I chose a low quality 15cm chefs knife which was a supermarket freebie. Once the knife was clamped and the sharpening stone was neatly slotted to the arm, I adjusted the height of the pillar at the rear so that the protractor read 20° (the apparent best angle for a standard kitchen knife). I slide the arm back and forwards once, setting the stroke limiters up correctly for the knife/angle combination so that my stone was always in contact with the blade. This is both a useful safety feature, but also ensures you use the full length of the stone. Everything was now setup, it was a case of pulling the arm back and forth whilst sliding left and right across the blade. It felt a bit awkward to start with, like being asked to pat your stomach and rub your head, but it became second nature in a matter of minutes. A minute or two with the roughest grit got the bevel I was looking for, so I rotated the knife by flipping the clamping mechanism and performed the same on the opposite side. Once that was done I repeated the steps with the other 3 grits of stone I have, getting ever finer. By the last stone and possibly 10 minutes into the process, I could feel the edge was incredibly sharp and it was about time to finish it off by using a leather strop (a piece of untreated rawhide) and this delivered a mirrored polish on the blade edge and made it razor sharp. Stupidly, a couple of beers in and I plucked up the courage to have a shave with it…and the results speak for themselves in this tweet here, how I didn't cut my ear I don't know.


Needless to say I was over the moon with the results and over the following days and weeks I proceeded to sharpen everything and anything I could get my hands on. I started with my own sets of knives, from the nice and expensive ones, even down to those crappy knives everyone seems to accumulate at the back of a draw somewhere. Then I moved onto the immediate family, taking advantage of the adjustable angle to sharpen a couple of cleavers at a 30° for my Mother-In-Law before asking other family and friends bring their knives over for me to sharpen. I think the only time I refused to sharpen any was when my wife's grandma brought around about 30 knives expecting them all done in one evening!


As I got more and more used to the K01 I played around with the angles and decided that I preferred a slightly shallower angle of 17.5° on most of my kitchen knives. It did take a little while longer on the first couple of stones as I was removing more material, but after that initial sharpening, they only require very quick touch-ups.


I knew I was going to love this product, but what I didn't expect was that it'd make me change my mind on what order I spent my money on when establishing my knives. I initially bought some excellent but cheap Victorinox knives with fibrox handles. The fibrox helped keep the cost down, was dishwasher friendly and was fairly comfortable being held over long periods of time. These knives are the workhorse of my BBQ kit, I own a boning knife, santoku, large chefs knife and a long scalloped slicer in this range and I purchased them all for about £100. At that price I won't mind too much if they get dropped or left outside overnight accidentally. I then went onto buy a couple of more of ever increasingly expensive knives made from Damascus steel which cost more than that per knife.  What I realise now, is that I would say to my past self, buy the Victorinox knives first, however, then spend the money on a kit such as the TSProf. Understandably they might need sharpening/honing more frequently as technically the steel is a bit softer, but its far better to have lesser quality knives maintained at the peak of their sharpness then it is more expensive ones that haven't been properly maintained. The difference in having properly sharpened knives of any quality is remarkable.


So why the TSProf over normal whetstones and electric sharpeners?

I tried freehand with whetstones, I looked up countless YouTube tutorials, but the simple matter of fact is that it’s a skill which takes a lot of time and practice to get right. The TSProf K01 is essentially a jig that allows you to produce repetitive and accurate strokes across a whetstone, that anyone can use and simply setup, yet it only takes a minute or so more to setup than it would be to use a whetstone. I find it's this consistency and reliability of the angle which helps make this system so effective. Electric sharpeners are undoubtedly the quickest, but don't offer the versatility of multiple stones for a finer finish and don't offer many angles.


The price is certainly not to be laughed at, depending on the setup and accessories you choose, it can set you back a couple of hundreds of pounds, but having had hands on experience I would say its money very well spent.


It would be difficult not to mention the excellent video review of this kit from an American homesteader - Wranglerstar available here, which features the rather addictive rotating mechanism found on the K02 and K03 models.


As a round-up, it's an extremely well-made piece of kit, that although is expensive and might initially put people off, the improvements it will make to all of your knives will be more than worth it - and you can always offer to sharpen knives for friends and colleagues for a small fee to help recover some of that cost, they'll end up with a knife sharper than most professional grade services offer.


Note the background isn’t great for some of them unfortunately. Please use your placement in the mag appropriately to crop the elements which should be hidden.