When it comes to properly maintaining your kitchen knives and ensuring that they are safe and efficient tools, there is little more important than proper sharpening. There are a number of tried and true methods for sharpening kitchen knives, and the method that suits you will depend on a few different factors.
Before sharpening your knives, you need to consider the type of edge that the blade has, which sharpening tools are most comfortable and convenient to you, and the quality of the blade itself.
A classic sharpening tool that you can find in any professional kitchen is honing steel. Sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “sharpening steel,” this thin metal rod does not actually sharpen your blades at all. What it instead does is help to realign the edge of the blade of your dull knife by simply pushing the metal into the proper place.
By swiping your blade at about a 15-degree angle on each side with repeated and consistent pressure, the honing steel will help to restructure the edge into the same edge it had previously. Unlike other knife sharpening tools, a properly used honing steel should remove little to none of the actual material of the blade. This makes it one of the best options in terms of maintaining the life of your blade.
Probably the easiest method for sharpening knives is using a simple knife sharpener. These tools are often ones that you can set on your kitchen counter and are either weighted or include suction cups to avoid slipping, which could be incredibly dangerous.
Unlike honing steel, they do effectively remove material from your blade’s edge. In this process of shaving the edge, they quickly recreate the same “V” shaped edge that your knife had when it was new. While how you use them is fairly similar, those looking for knife sharpeners have two big options to consider: automatic and manual.
An electric or automatic knife sharpener is easily among the fastest sharpening tools, though it certainly comes at a bigger expense than most of the other manual options. While each electric sharpener comes with its own specific features and proper usage instructions, there are a few things you can expect.
Some automatic sharpeners come with multiple slots for multiple blade edge angles that you can choose from, but at the least, your sharpener should have one slot. If there is only one option on your sharpener, it will likely be for a more standard 15 or 20-degree angle on the blade’s edge.
As you slide the edge of your blade through the slot of an active knife sharpener, abrasive motorized wheels turn on each end of the blade, grinding down the edge as you pull the knife back and forth. This is an extremely fast process, and usually, just a few passes through the sharpener will get your knife to the desired sharpness.
As mentioned previously, electric sharpeners can easily be more expensive than the various manual options for sharpening and honing. It can range up to several hundred dollars for sharpeners with additional grinding slots and coarseness options. It is also important to keep in mind that not all blade edges can be properly corrected by an electric sharpener, so make sure it suits your needs before you splurge.
Similar both in their simplicity and in how you use them, manual knife sharpeners are another easy method for getting your blade’s edge to the desired angle. As with the electric option, these sharpeners can have a range and variety of abrasive slots for you to choose from. Similarly, the more common ones will most likely have a one or two-step system intended to sharpen your blade to the standard 15 degrees.
Manual sharpeners can occasionally also include grinding wheels that are not motorized, similar to the electric options, but more often have abrasive materials placed in the desired V-shape. The user simply has to draw the blade through the sharpener with even pressure until the desired edge is achieved. This can be more time-consuming than automatic sharpeners, but it is still a very simple process.
While both automatic and manual sharpeners are far faster and easier to use than honing steel might be, at least when it comes to forming consistent angles, these tools do in fact shave metal off of your edge. While in moderation, this is not a big issue, keep in mind that overuse can result in a shorter lifespan and effectiveness for your blades.
Another classic sharpening option, and one of the most versatile for various types of blades, is the whetstone. Whetstones are relatively inexpensive abrasive blocks that, with a little patience and mastery, can sharpen any knife.
Whetstones often come at either one level of grit (or abrasiveness) or with two, one on each side of the block. While these can be used immediately out of the packaging, it is often recommended to dampen your whetstone with either water or honing mineral oils. This helps to reduce friction and makes the process smoother overall. Be sure to check the specific recommendations for your whetstone before use.
After setting the whetstone down in a secure place that it will not slip from, the user simply has to hold the blade facing away from them at a consistent angle, usually 15 or 20 degrees. With consistent and relatively light pressure, the blade then needs to be pressed against the stone in a circular motion. The blade then can be flipped to sharpen the other side.
If your whetstone does have two sides, or if you have multiple whetstones with different grits, start with the coarser options and then work your way to the finer grit. This process definitely takes more patience and time than the other sharpening tools mentioned allow, but you can easily take your whetstone anywhere you go, and with some practice, can definitely get as great an edge as you want.
Serrated blades, usually meant for slicing bread and some tougher meats, can be a different animal when it comes to sharpening. Since the edge goes up and down in little waves, as opposed to being straight, you cannot treat them exactly as you would your other kitchen knives.
There are some sharpeners intended specifically for serrated edges, though they may not be necessary. If you are careful and patient, some honing steels and sharpeners can still do the trick. While it would be far more difficult to pull through the device, slowly dragging your serrated blade through a knife sharpener, can still get you to the same angle on the edge in a uniform manner. Just mind the bumps.
As these methods can be far more time-consuming, it might be worth looking into the professional sharpening, but you certainly have options.
Once you think your knife seems about sharp enough to the eye, there are a few easy ways to test it out. One of the most fun methods, and one you have certainly seen on TV, is testing your blade’s edge on paper. Simply hold up a sheet of paper and try to pull your blade through it. A well-sharpened knife will be able to cut through cleanly and smoothly. If there is any snagging or crinkling, you have some more work to do.
Another classic method is the nail test, though you certainly need to be more careful when holding a blade toward yourself. Using extreme care, place the edge of your newly sharpened knife to your thumbnail and very lightly press the blade in a perpendicular angle (be sure not to make a slicing motion). A blade that has been sharpened enough should easily shave a small layer of the nail off.
Again, be sure not to use much pressure at all, you are not at all trying to slice when using this method.
Even the best knives lose their edges in time, and while sharpening is best when following the knife manufacturer’s instructions, it is also crucial to store your blades properly between uses. The best thing you can do for your knives is to not store them in your kitchen drawer. The many pieces of metal bump and scrape into one another, wearing them down much faster than they should.
The most common option is most likely the knife block. These often come with sets of knives specific to them, but can also be sold for universal use. These blocks either have slits for you to store your knives in securely or occasionally can be magnetized to hold any blade shape. Knife blocks are not only very convenient when it comes to grabbing the knife you need quickly, they look great on the counter.
Even if not part of a knife block, magnetic strips can be a great way to keep your knife sharp when you are storing it. These strips can be placed wherever you would prefer your knives to be stored, and all you need to do is stick the blade to the strip when you are finished using it.
One thing to keep in mind is ensuring that your blade is always clean and dry before storing. Trapping moisture between your blade and the magnetic strip or in the slits of your knife block can sometimes build up rust, and can certainly cause major damage to your blade.
The proper method and consistency for sharpening your knife will largely depend on the manufacturer and materials. For example, William Henry kitchen knives are recommended to be sharpened every 18 to 24 months. William Henry will periodically sharpen your knife for just $10 (the cost of shipping it back to you). Just fill out the order form here, ship it to us, and we will get them sharpened for you.