a chef sharpening his knife

How To Sharpen A Kitchen Knife?

In most cases, new knives come sharp right out of the packaging and require hand washing only before use. Sharp knives are easy to use since they require minimal effort and make clean precise cuts on materials. Continued use of the knives in the kitchen when cutting different food items reduces the sharpness of the cutting edge on the knives.

The blunt knives are cumbersome and uncomfortable to use since the cook has to exert more pressure on the knife in order to make precise cuts on food items. Due to the continued forward and backward motion of the knife on the food items, the resulting cuts are not precise. Soft food items might even be crushed in the process. Moreover, blunt knives are potentially hazardous because the need to exert more pressure when cutting items could easily cause accidental slips.

a guy holding a knife and the tool

Having sharp knives in your kitchen saves you time because you can quickly prepare ingredients that you need to cut into convenient shapes and smaller sizes for cooking. When knives become blunt, restoring the sharpness of the knives is often easy and requires inexpensive tools that are readily available for purchase. Continued use of knives also distorts the shape of the blades edge. This means that although the knife has a sharp edge, the cuts that it makes are distorted because its blade is inconsistent. As such, you will need to have its shape restored. The process of restoring the straightness of a knife's edge is known as honing.

The difference between honing and sharpening

Most people use the terms "Honing" and "Sharpening" interchangeably to mean the same thing. This, however, is wrong because the two actions differ slightly.

Honing refers to straightening of the edge on a knife when it has become distorted due to regular use. Cutting through tough materials or banging the knife when cleaning or when the knife is placed in storage can cause the edge to curve or bend. Using the knife to cut hot and cold items also contributes to the curving of the blade due to the contraction and expansion of the metal materials used to make the blade.

Sharpening refers to aggressively rubbing the sharp cutting edge against a course surface or hard material to restore the sharpness of the edge. During the sharpening process, small bits of material are shaved off the surface of the blades.

When should you hone or sharpen knives?

Since sharpening knives shaves material off the blade, you want to keep sharpening the knife to a minimal and only sharpen the knife's blade only when it is absolutely necessary. Sharpening knives should only be done on knives that are blunt. Sharpening tools range from sharpening stones, electric sharpeners, files, and other DIY processes that utilize common ceramic surfaces on common utensils.

Honing, on other hand, can be done regularly since the process does not cause the blade to deteriorate. The honing tool that most cooks use is the steel honing tool that is commonly sold with most knife sets. The honing steel tool can also be purchased individually for use with individual knives. Its price ranges from $10 to $30.

The honing tool has a course edge and scarping the knife's edge across the surface at an optimum angle nudges edges that are out of alignment back in their original place. Proper honing should be done on both sides of the knife's edge to ensure uniformity on the blade.

How to hone your kitchen knife?

Honing a knife involves simple steps that most cooks can do by themselves without much training. You can use the honing steel tool that is usually a straight shaped rod with a thick handle on one end.

  • The first step involves finding a flat surface of convenient height where you can reach across without much strain. A tabletop, kitchen counter, or a wooden cutting board placed on a counter will work just fine.
  • Next, place the honing rod on the flat surface and hold it upright or at a slight angle towards you with one hand firmly holding the handle. Ensure that you press the honing tool against the surface below to reduce chances of the tool slipping when you are in the process of honing.
  • Afterwards, hold the knife you want to hone in your other hand. Ensure that the heel of the knife (the edge of the blade furthest from the tip and next to the handle) is resting on the surface of the honing tool at an angle between 15 and 20 degrees. Additionally, ensure that your fingers are tucked safely behind the handle.

  • The next step involves dragging the knife's blade downward along the surface of the honing tool and pulling the knife backwards towards you simultaneously. Ensure that you apply slight pressure against the honing rod with the edge of the knife's blade. Be sure to maintain the same angle the knife is edged against the steel rod throughout the motion with the knife.
  • Repeat the process about four times and ensure that you cover the entire length of the blade.
  • Next, turn the knife over and repeat the same process for the opposite side of the blade. For first timers, the results might take a little longer as compared to experienced cooks who do regular honing of their knives. With more practice, however, the skills improve within a short time and the process can be done much faster.

How do you sharpen a kitchen knife?

Restoring the sharpness of a kitchen knife's blades requires tougher tools that will be able to remove some material from the surface of the blade. The most commonly used tools are sharpening Whetstones and electric metal sharpeners.

Sharpening a knife using whetstone

Whetstones are the materials used by most cooks to restore the sharpness of knives with flat edged cutting surface. The whetstones are available for purchase and come in different grit levels that have varying smoothness or coarseness of the surface used to sharpen the knife. Whetstones with lower grit numbers have a rough edge when compared to whetstones that have higher grit numbers.

According to a professional knife sharpener from New York City "Whetstones that are of grit levels lower that 1000 should be reserved for repairs and sharpening very blunt objects." Knives require sharpening with whetstones that have grit levels of above 1000. There exist even smoother whetstones that have grit levels upwards of 4000 and up to levels of 8000 grit. These whetstones work well when fine-tuning the knives after they have been sharpened using the 1000 grit whetstones. Some whetstones have a smooth high grit level surface on one side and a rougher lower grit level surface on the opposite side.

a guy holding the whetstone to sharpen kitchen knife
  • The first step in sharpening a knife using a whetstone is finding a surface that you can fix the whetstone on that restricts it from moving. A damp towel placed under the stone works great for most cooks when sharpening their knives. Doing the sharpening close to a vertical wall also ensures that there is an obstacle to break the sliding motion and prevent accidental slipping.
  • The next step is wetting the surface of the whetstone to prevent friction and further damage to the edge of the knife's blade. Some people only wet the surface that they are going to use when sharpening while others prefer soaking the whole stone in water for a few minutes. Both methods work for sharpening kitchen knives. You should ensure that the surface remains wet by repeating the wetting process, especially if you take a long time to sharpen your knives or when sharpening in hot weather.
  • When the stone is wet, place it on the non-slip surface in a flat position with the surface that you will use to sharpen facing up.

  • Next, hold the knife with the handle firmly gripped in one hand and with the other hand placed on the knife's blade. The fingers on the hand holding the blade should be spread out along the entire edge of the blade to enable them press down on the blade against the surface of the whetstone.
  • Now, adjust the placement of the knife at an angle between 15 and 20 degrees against the flat surface of the whetstone with the tip of the knife facing away from you.
  • With the knife properly placed on the whetstone, move the knife slowly across the surface of the whetstone in circular motion with the fingers on the blade slightly applying pressure on the blade. Ensure that you maintain the same angle the knife has against the flat surface of the whetstone.
  • Repeat this process several times and keep turning the knife to cover both sides of the blade. Depending on how blunt or sharp the blade of the knife was before you began sharpening, the process could take you just a few minutes to about 15 minutes to restore the sharpness of the blade.

Once you are done, repeat the process with a smoother whetstone to finesse the edge sharpness. If your stone has a smother surface on the opposite side that you used to sharpen, simply flip it over, wet the surface and repeat the process.

Once done with these steps, the knife should now have a sharp edge.

Sharpening a knife using an electric sharpener

Electric knife sharpeners have the advantage of speed when you are sharpening a knife. They also require minimal effort from the person who is sharpening the knife. Even of more benefit is the availability of different ports for sharpening and honing knives on some electric sharpeners. This means that the cook can achieve both knife maintenance procedures with a single tool.

Electric sharpeners have spinning wheels inside the slots that rotate when the sharpener is powered on. The wheels are operated by springs that allow them be calibrated to an angle that is optimal for sharpening and polishing the edge on the knife.

The sharpening process only requires the user to power on the sharpener and place the knife in the correct port. Once the wheels are spinning, the knife should be pulled across the sharpening slot beginning with the edge closest to the handle and ending with the tip of the knife.

Take care when sharpening your knives using the electric sharpeners since incorrect use of the device could damage the blade.

a chef using the electric sharpener for his knife

For instance, be sure not to twist or turn the knife after placing it inside the sharpening slot. Another common mistake is pausing when pulling the knife through the sharpening slot. This will result in the sharpener's wheels eating away too much material from the blade and result in an uneven edge on the knife.

Safety measures to observe when sharpening knives

When sharpening knives at home, ensure that you observe these safety measures to prevent accidents:

  • First ensure that you have a firm grip on the knife and that your hands are not slippery
  • Ensure that children don't have access to the knives or sharpening tools and attempt to sharpen the knives in your absence.

  • Always ensure that you make slow motions when sharpening the knives to prevent accidental slips. This could happen when you are moving the knife too fast across the sharpening surface.
  • When you are done sharpening, DO NOT test the sharp edge by running your finger across the edge. A good way to test if a knife is sharp enough is trying to cut a paper with the newly sharpened edge. If successful, the knife should be considered sharp enough. If not, then you have a little fine tuning to do
Terry Reece
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