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The Proper Way to Sharpen Your Knives
There are few moments in a chef’s life quite as special as unboxing a new set of kitchen knives. That’s because it is at that moment when the blade has an edge that could splice a hair in half. Unfortunately, it’s largely downhill from there. Beginning with it’s first use, the edge begins the natural process of wearing down. The more use it gets, the duller the blade becomes.
A dull blade makes the knife more burdensome to use, requiring additional force to slice and dice where in the past it would have glided through food items with ease. A dull edge is also more dangerous, less precise, and incapable of the precision required by some dishes.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that proper sharpening, storage, and some basic routine maintenance can keep your blade’s edge as razor-sharp as the first day you put it to good use.
How to Keep Your Kitchen Knives Razor Sharp
Don’t Worry, Sharpening Your Knives is Easier than you Think!
Despite what you may or may not have heard, maintaining your blade’s edge isn’t as difficult as you might have thought. In fact, there are several ‘at home’ sharpening tools that can be easily employed to make sure your blade is razor-sharp with every use.
But before we take a look at what those are and how to use them, let’s tackle one common question we often get from those looking for proper ways to sharpen their knives..
What is the Difference Between Sharpening and Honing?
What is honing, and is it the same thing as sharpening? Perhaps you’ve seen someone use a honing rod on their knife. But what does this rod actually do?
A steel honing rod, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t actually aid in improving the blade’s sharpness. A honing rod instead aids in straightening out the blade, ensuring it is smooth and uniform, improving the cuts and increasing safety when in use.
To summarize, although a necessary and useful tool, a honing rod will not sharpen your knives. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to sharpen your knife every few months (or as necessary based on use), and hone your knife weekly or bi-weekly.
And now, on to the tools you can use to sharpen your knife and how to properly use them…
Tried, true and trusty, the whetstone has been an appreciated companion of cooks and outdoorsmen for centuries. Some even find the practice of using a traditional whetstone to sharpen blades cathartic, relaxing and meditative.
Best of all, a standard whetstone will only run you around $10-$15 on the low end. If you want to get fancy, glass and ceramic whetstones are also available for a bit higher of a premium.
Sizes and Grits
Whetstones are available in varying sizes and level of coarseness (grit). Some manufacturers indicate the level of grit by color coding them. Other stones come duel-sided, with one coarse side that is ideal for removing damage and dents to the blade edge as well as sharpening tough dull blades. The finer side is more refined, and best suited for refining the sharpness of ana already moderately sharp blade.
How does a Whetstone Work?
A whetstone is a wonderful tool that can be used to properly sharpen your knives, enabling you to get an edge that is both capable and reliable.
Often rectangular in shape, these blocks work in a similar fashion as does sandpaper on wood. The course natural stone slowly and gently grinds down the blade as its passed across it. This motion can straighten the blade, remove small imperfections, and hone the edge to a razor-sharp result.
Soaking your Whetstone
Whetstones are to be used when ‘wet’. Usually, this involves soaking the whetstone for a pre-determined amount of time prior to use. Non-traditional whetstones made from glass or ceramic may not require soaking at all.
If in doubt, always check the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to carry out this step. Otherwise, submerge your stone in tap or spring water for between 5-10 minutes, or until no more bubbles come out of it. At this point, it should be ‘saturated’ and ready to be put to the test.
FUN FACT: Whetstones are not actually named because they are used ‘wet’. Interestingly, the word ‘whet’ is just an old English word for ‘sharpen’.
When using your whetstone, we suggest holding the knife at a 20-degree angle (give or take) against the surface of the whetstone.
Next, carefully drag one side of the blade gently over the surface of the whetstone. Repeat this for the alternate side of the blade, ensuring an equal number of strokes on each side of the blade to ensure an even angled edge.
As mentioned, if your blade is especially dull or hasn’t been sharpened in a long time, you may need to start with the coarse side of your stone before switching to the smoother side for fine-tuning.
Tips on Using a Whetstone To Properly Sharpen your Knife:
- Countertops can be a slippery mess, increasing the risk of injuries. If this sounds familiar, simply place a dry towel under the whetstone before use. This will provide just enough grip without getting in the way.
- Remember, your stone may need to be oiled or soaked before use. Always check the manufacturer’s guide on how to do this for your make/model.
- Hold the knife at a 15-20 degree angle with one hand and blade facing towards your person, while resting your other hand’s fingers on the flat side of the blade, providing enough force to gently push it away from you.
- An Electric Sharpener
Although many professional chefs and knife aficionados prefer the precision of fine-tuning that a whetstone offers, others prefer convenience and speed.
An electric knife sharpener, as the name suggests, is powered by electricity. If you happen to be in a rush, have a lot of knives to sharpen, or simply enjoy a bit of added efficiency in your life, an electric knife sharpener likely fits the bill.
However, all of that convenience comes with a major downside: these sharpeners are ROUGH on your blades.
The edge of your knife is engineered to precision, carefully tapered to form a perfect meeting of angles. This is done with the compression of layered steel. Over time this edge can become dull and even damaged from every-day use.
While a whetstone gives the chef precise control over reshaping the edge to perfection, an electric sharpener ‘throws the baby out with the bathwater’ (so to speak), annihilating the blade’s old dull edge, grinding down layers of steel to create a new edge.
Although effective, this can wear down the blade over time. This might be ideal for your average machine stamped knife set from the ‘big box stores’, but less so for your delicate blades and upscale chef knives.
To use an electric knife sharpener, turn the device on (unless it is activated by pressure). Start by inserting the heel of your knife’s blade into the designated slot. Gently pull the knife back towards you, following through this motion all the way to the tip. Repeat this a few times and test to see if the blade is appropriately sharp. Repeat as necessary.
- A Professional Knife Sharpener
Arguably the ‘best professional knife sharpener on the market’, Vertoku’s knife sharpener is meant to provide the precision and reliability of a whetstone with the efficiency of an electric knife sharpener (all without damaging your blades).
With just a few ‘runs’ of the blade through the slots, pulling the blade towards you from hilt to tip, you can transform virtually any dull blade into a razor-sharp performer.
Utilizing a proprietary 3-stage sharpening method, this sharpener outperforms virtually anything else on the market.
Step 1: Preparing the edge with a ceramic knife slit designed to straighten out any imperfections the blade
Step 2: Coarse stage, restoring the cutting edge to a properly tapered “V” shape
Step 3: Fine stage, tuning and polishing the blade’s edge, equalizing the surface and producing a capable and impressively sharp edge that will glide through anything you throw at it.
How to Maintain a Knife Edge with Honing
Your knives are sharp and ready to tackle anything you throw at them. But how do you keep them that way in-between uses?
Honing steel is used to keep a knife’s edge in perfect form without wearing down the blade. This enables you to maintain the edge longer without the need for as many harsh, abrasive sharpening sessions.
Honing steel usually looks like a cylindrical piece of steel. It microscopically aligns the ions of the steel in the knife’s edge with only a few minutes of use.
First, take the knife in your dominant hand. Lay the blade almost flat against the steel of the honing tool. Around a 20-degree angle works best. Similar to the whetting stone, you’ll draw the blade across it around 10-15 times on each side.
TIP: Remember, this won’t restore a dull edge to a sharp one, but it will help you maintain the edge longer, and require less sharpening sessions, thus increasing the lifespan of your blade.
Closing Thoughts on Properly Sharpening your Knives
A sharp blade is a safe blade, and one that will slice and dice with incredible precision and reliability. Elevate your cooking skills and reduce hand fatigue by using a blade that is as razor-sharp as the day you got it.
Turns out, its not even that difficult. With the right tools, you can keep your blade in perfect condition from first use until its last.