How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives

  • Bradford Malt
  • Oct 15, 2020
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Whether you've attended culinary school or simply want to take your dinner prep game up a notch, having the right knives is immensely important. Once you invest in these all-important tools of the trade, such as a chef's knife, santoku knife, paring knife, or utility knife, you want to ensure your investment is well taken care of, remains in good condition, and works as it is designed.

As any skilled chef will attest, keeping your knives sharpened is not only vital to getting uniform, thin slices, but it’s also crucial to protecting yourself from accidental cuts and promoting the longevity of the product. In terms of a knife, this means keeping that blade razor sharp and straight. After all, not only is using a dull blade frustratingly ineffective, but it’s also dangerous. You are much more likely to cut yourself when using improperly sharpened or dull knives than when using sharp kitchen knives. Therefore, it’s up to you--- chef extraordinaire--- to learn how to take care of your most precious tools in the kitchen. Read on to learn more about how to do just that:

First, Know Honing is Different Than Sharpening

Perhaps, you have heard the term honing before and consider it synonymous with sharpening. Nope! In actuality, honing means using a steel rod to straighten a blade’s cutting edge, giving it a safer smoother cutting surface. Sharpening, by contrast, actually sharpens the knife blade itself. You should sharpen your knife using one of the following methods every few months or at least once every year. You can hone your knife any time, but at least weekly if you use your knives regularly.

How to Sharpen Your Knives

Sharpening With a Whetstone

One of the best ways, and one we regularly recommend, is using a whetstone to sharpen your kitchen knives. This is a rectangular block sharpening stone that works by refining and straightening the cutting edge of your blade as you slide your knife across the block.

To use a whetstone, follow manufacturer’s instructions in terms of soaking with water and maintaining moisture throughout use. Then, hold your knife at a 20-degree angle along the whetstone and drag it gently down each side of the knife a few times. If your knife is especially dull, use the coarse-grade side of the whetstone first. If it’s just a bit dull, you could start with the fine-grade side. Either way, finish the sharpening process with the fine side.

Sharpening With a Knife Sharpener

This is a quick fix tool to get your dull knife sharp again. Use this by pressing the knife’s blade to the coarse side first then finish with the fine side. Although this is a fast solution, it isn’t ideal for repetitive use. Sharpening tools such as these are not considered great for knives. Therefore, if you own less pricey knives, a knife sharpener might be fine, but opt for a whetstone when using knives like a chef knife in which you have invested heavily.

Maintaining Your Knife’s Edge With Honing

After you have sharpened your knives, it’s time to employ the use of honing. Do this weekly to keep the edges of your knives straight. Don’t worry about damaging your blade by honing on a weekly basis. Honing, unlike sharpening, does not wear down blades.

To hone your knife, hold the sharpening steel rod vertically. Rest of the tip of the device against a work surface and grip the handle firmly. Press the thickest part of your knife, the bottom of the blade, against the steel at a 15 to 20-degree angle. Then, pull the knife towards you in a downward motion. Go all the way through the tip of the knife’s blade.

Keep the knife in the same hand but repeat the motion on the opposite side of the steel, which reverses the angle of the blade as it relates to the honing steel. Alternating sides, aim for about eight strokes per side. Don’t worry, with practice, the motion will become more natural.

Why You Need to Hone as Well as Sharpen

Although you can’t see it with your naked eye, every time you use your knife when cutting, slicing, or chopping the edge gets bent just a bit. Honing forces your knife’s edge back where it belongs, giving you the best and most precise cutting edge. Although you can get a bit lax with the sharpening process, it’s a good idea to make a habit of honing. Anytime you are preparing a big meal, make honing your cutting tools one of the regular things you do before you begin meal preparations.

What’s Next?

While sharpening at least yearly, if not every few months, and weekly honing is important to maintain the integrity and the effectiveness of kitchen knives, so is proper storage. That’s right, you need to be mindful of how you store your knives to prevent them from being harmed. We recommend wall strips, drawer docks, or knife blocks. Use these to ensure your hard work of honing and sharpening isn’t wasted. Don’t just throw your knives into a random drawer with other stuff that can bend the blades.

Never underestimate the importance of honing and sharpening your most important cooking tools. Consider the act of sharpening and honing like keeping the oil checked and changed on your vehicle. It has to be done to maintain the integrity and functionality of your knives just as oil changes are necessary to keep your vehicle in good working order. Follow the tips listed above to ensure your knives are honed and sharpened regularly.

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