Cooking at home is currently on-trend. With all the extra time spent in the kitchen and all the different veggies to chop, your knives might not be performing as well as they used to. Maybe they're squishing your tomatoes rather than gliding seamlessly through their soft skin, or perhaps, you've had to work extra-hard at trimming your chicken breasts.
Over time, it's only natural for your once-super-sharp blades to grow dull with small dents, minor nicks, and even large chips. You can undo the regular wear and tear that creates dull knives with regular honing and sharpening. Keep reading to learn how!
But First, What's the Difference Between Honing and Sharpening?
Often confused, honing and sharpening are both important to maintaining sharp knives, but they're quite different.
What's Knife Honing?
Over time, knife blades get bent out of shape. Honing with a honing steel realigns a knife's blade into a straight, uniform, sharp cutting edge. In a perfect kitchen, we'd all hone our knives after every use, but honing once every week or two is sufficient.
What's Knife Sharpening?
Knife sharpening uses a whetstone (also called a knife sharpening stone) to create a sharp, smooth edge. Unlike honing, which simply straightens a blade, sharpening actually removes rough steel material from a knife's blade to reveal a new, sharp cutting edge. To preserve the original shape of your knife's blade while maintaining an acute edge, knives should only be sharpened once or twice a year.
Types of Knife Sharpening Stones
Whetstones for sharpening knives come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials.
The larger the knife, the larger the stone you'll need for sharpening. To sharpen an average-sized kitchen knife, choose a stone that's about 2"x8".
Sharpening stones are categorized based on their size of the grit stone with a special numerical system that denotes whether a stone has a coarse (around 220), medium (1000-1500), or fine (4000 or higher) grit. The coarser the grit, the more steel the stone will remove from the blade. Typically, the duller a blade, the coarser the stone you'll need to sharpen it. However, you'll also want a stone with a fine grit for smoothing off your knife's edges. Purchase a sharpening stone set with a stone in each category of grit or a dual-sized sharpening stone
You can find whetstones made from either natural or synthetic materials. While natural materials are more traditional, synthetic materials offer better consistency in grit. There are three types of sharpening stones (water stones, oil stones, and diamond stones). Each is made from a different material and should be used slightly differently.
- Water Stones - The most popular water stone is made of aluminum oxide. Softer than oil stones, they offer quicker sharpening. However, water stones can also become uneven more quickly and will need to be flattened using flattening stone or sandpaper. Additionally, water stones need to be soaked before use. Saturated with water, a knife's blade will skate smoothly over the stone's gritty surface.
- Oil Stones - Made from Arkansas stones, silicon carbide, or aluminum oxide, oil stones need to be oiled before use. This reduces friction between the stone's surface and the knife's blade and provides an easy way to wipe away particles of steel after sharpening.
- Diamond Sharpening Stones - Diamond-based whetstones aren't actually made of stone, but of metal plates containing micronized diamonds. Although these tend to be a bit pricier, diamond stones sharpen knives quickly and last much longer than others.
How to Use a Sharpening Stone
1. Prepare Your Surface
It's important that your sharpening stone is secure while you sharpen your knives. Some stones come with a special bamboo base designed to prevent them from slipping. Placing a damp towel between your stone and a hard surface like the kitchen table or counter will suffice, too.
2. Prepare Your Stone
Follow manufacturer instructions to prepare your stone with water or oil, if necessary.
With the stone horizontal to you, hold the knife in your dominant hand (blade away) and place it on the stone at either 15-degrees (Santoku or Nakiri) or 20-degrees (chef or paring). Place your other hand's fingers on top of the knife's blade. Apply a light, even pressure and move the knife down and across the stone, making a semi-circular motion. Repeat the motion 10 to 15 times until you feel a small fold of steel forming at the edge of the blade. Flip the knife so the opposite side is against the stone and repeat.
4. Refine or Finish
To refine and smooth the blade, repeat step 3 on a stone with a finer grit. If you're satisfied with the blade, simply wipe clean and continue normal use.
More Tips for Maintaining Your High-Quality Kitchen Knives
When you decide to purchase a nice set of kitchen knives, you should also be prepared to invest a little bit of time in taking care of them. With the proper use and care, a high-quality set of kitchen knives can last a lifetime (unless you live forever because then you might have to replace them at some point).
Proper Knife Use
When using knives, always cut, chop, mince, or slice on an appropriate surface. Hard surfaces like countertops or stone cutting boards can damage your knives. Instead, choose a sturdy wooden cutting board or butcher's block made from a block of wood.
Proper Knife Care
In addition to honing and sharpening your knives, you should also wash and store them properly. Your blades will last longer if you hand-wash and dry them immediately after use. Store them properly in sleeves, on a wall magnet, in a cork-lined knife block, or in an in-drawer knife holder.