How to Sharpen and Care for Your Knives

Learn how to keep your knives sharp and well cared for with this helpful outline.

By Izzy Johnson
Mar 23, 2022
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Knives are the backbone of your kitchen, and proper sharpening and care techniques can ensure your knives last you a lifetime. That said, if your knives are constantly dull or in need of sharpening, it's likely because you have cheap knives with soft metal and a low Rockwell score. Investing in high-quality knives can save you both time and money in the long run, so you can spend less time sharpening and more time chopping and dicing.

It is important to keep your knives sharp not only so they can do their job, but for safety purposes as well. Duller blades are prone to slipping, and when you’re using more force to cut, it’s easy to slice into something other than your food.

There are a few methods of sharpening knives. You can take them to a professional knife sharpener but you can also learn how to do it yourself by either using a whetstone, electric knife sharpener, or a leather strop.

We chatted with local knifemaker Sergio Menchaca of Texas Sage Forge to get his insight. Menchaca, who came to metallurgy through an interest in self-defense, has been making kitchen knives since 2015.

When Should I Sharpen My Knife?

“For most home chefs, you only need to sharpen your knives a few times a year,” Menchaca says. This varies depending on how often your knives are getting used and what you’re cutting. Visually, the blade of a dull knife often looks slightly rounded at the tip and you may see small flaws along the steel itself.

A good way to tell if your knife needs to be sharpened is The Tomato Test. If you are unable to slice through the skin and flesh of a tomato without applying pressure to the knife (and likely squishing the tomato in the process) then it might be time to sharpen your blade.

How to Sharpen a Knife

You can sharpen a knife at home one of three ways—using an electric knife sharpener, a whetstone, or a leather strop.

How to Sharpen a Knife With a Knife Sharpener

An electric knife sharpener is the fastest way to sharpen your blade but it is also the harshest on the steel. Menchaca cautions against the electric can opener-knife sharpener combo, saying “it doesn’t sharpen well, it just erases the blade. My mom dug a hole in her blade using one.” For a good electric sharpener, he recommends Work Sharp, which features a two-speed motor and flexible belts, which have varying levels of abrasiveness. Again, we don’t recommend sharpening our knives with an electric sharpener, however, since it is one of the easiest and fastest methods, here is how to do it.

To use an electric knife sharpener, follow these instructions:

  • Assemble the Work Sharp according to the manual's instructions and install the medium grit red belt.
  • Using the right side of the sharpener, rest the blade of your knife so it’s aligned against the angle and edge guides.
  • Squeeze the power switch and pull the knife straight through from heel to tip.
  • Power down as the point of the blade reaches the center of the belt.
  • An 8-inch blade should take roughly 3-4 seconds per stroke and a total of 5-10 strokes. When you notice a slight burr, or rough edge, forming on the opposite side of the blade, it’s time to switch sides.
  • Repeat this process using the left side of the knife sharpener.

How to Sharpen a Knife With a Whetstone

A whetstone or a sharpening stone is an abrasive stone, which removes metal in a less aggressive manner than its electric counterpart. It is the method we recommend for our Knives. Using a whetstone gives you  more control over the process but also requires more practice. “You’re whittling it down,” says Menchaca. “It’s a lighter abrasive and it gives that nice edge.”

The two main varieties of whetstones are water or oil. Water stones are slightly easier to use, as they make less of a mess and you don’t have to worry about the oil going rancid. Just like the belts with the electric sharpener, there are a variety of whetstone grains. Menchaca recommends the dual sided King Whetstone.

When using a water stone, follow these instructions below:

  • First, soak your stone, if it needs to be soaked. This can take anywhere from 10-45 minutes. If the stones are not fully saturated, they will dry out, which may cause your blade to catch on it, leaving knicks or scrapes.
  • Set your stone on either a base, if it came with one, or a kitchen towel to keep it from slipping.
  • Align the heel of your knife with the far edge of the stone and hold it at a 20 degree angle, using both hands.
  • Using light, even pressure, draw the knife down the length of the stone towards you. Each stroke should finish when the tip of the knife touches the bottom of the stone.
  • A thin film of silty looking water should form along the side of the blade. Just like with the electric sharpener, when you feel the burr on the opposite side of the blade, it’s time to switch to sharpening the other side.
  • Repeat the process with the other side. Sharpening with a water stone takes longer, up to 10-20  strokes per side.
  • After you finish sharpening, make sure you dry your knife and allow the stone to dry out as well.

How to Sharpen Knives With a Strop

Menchaca’s preferred way to sharpen his knives is a leather strop. While we don’t recommend doing this at home, it’s pretty cool. “It’s integral for getting that razor edge,” he says. “You really can’t get the edge without it. The bing compound helps get your blade razor sharp. It’s what I use to sharpen my own knives. That and the unfinished ceramic rim of a coffee cup.”

A strop is a material, often a piece of leather, that is treated with abrasive compounds to help get your knife as sharp as possible. The leather is often affixed to a solid, wooden board. Like whetstones, some strops are double sided, with one side having a finer grain than the other. Menchaca likes this dual sided Flex Strop.

To use a strop, follow these instructions:

  • Start by setting your knife at the same angle it was sharpened at—usually 20 degrees.
  • Instead of pushing the knife away, pull inward, the opposite motion of sharpening. If you push forwards, you may cut the strop.
  • Alternate sides until the blade is smooth, almost mirrored and sharp. It should now be able to slice through a sheet of paper by simply pushing down.
  • Stropping can be done after sharpening with an electric sharpener or whetstone to create an even sharper edge.

How to Care for Your Knives

“People use knives improperly, that’s where I see the most damage. I tell people all the time, it’s a knife. It's not a saw, it's not an ax, it’s not a pry bar. It's designed to perform as a knife, not something else,” says Menchaca.

Now that you know how to sharpen them, here are some other things to keep in mind when caring for your knives.

Honing Your Knife

You may think your knife needs to be sharpened but it may just need a good honing. “Honing should be done 3- 4 times a year, think seasonally,” says Menchaca. “Honing just realigns the steel. Remember that when you sharpen, you’re actually removing some of that steel.” To find out more about the difference between honing and sharpening, check out this article.

When honing  your knife, follow these steps:

  • Place a honing steel with the metal braced against a hard surface.
  • Hold your knife handle in your dominant hand and the handle of your steel in the other.
  • Set the heel of the knife against the top of the steel at a 15-20 degree angle and pull down the length of the blade until you reach the tip, maintaining the angle with light pressure.
  • Repeat until both sides of the blade are honed, usually 8-10 strokes per side.

Hand Wash Only

In order to keep your blades in good condition, make sure you’re hand washing them. It is easy for knives to get dented or chipped if they are placed in the dishwasher along with other metal implements. Additionally, detergent is hard on a blade and can cause it to dull over time.

Always use caution when cleaning your knives and do not leave them in the sink. As with most of our Stainless Clad Cookware, wash your knives with a mild cleanser and warm water. Once you have finished carefully cleaning the blade, dry it thoroughly before storage.

Cut Consciously

Menchaca also mentioned that what surface you’re cutting on matters. “Use a good wooden or plastic cutting board for the best results. If you’re using a stone cutting board especially, or a surface that’s really hard, your knife is going to dull a lot quicker,” he says.

Store Correctly

Having a designated place to store your knives is also helpful for maintaining their integrity. Not only is storing knives loose in a drawer dangerous, but it will also dull the blade over time if it’s coming in contact with other metal. Many chefs use a magnetic strip, which is an attractive and accessible way to store knives. Additionally, all of our knives come with a hard plastic sheath, which helps protect the blade if you do choose to store it in a drawer.

Now that you have all the information, your knives should never stay dull for too long. Menchaca’s main advice—you should always hone first. If your blade is feeling a little dull, chances are it just needs to be buffed and reshaped. “Then again, there are some people who sharpen their knives once a week. If that’s your deal, do you, but you are going to be going through a lot more blades that way,” he says.