When it comes to working in the kitchen, the most important tool that home cooks can have is a knife. While it may be tempting to treat your knives as you would a piece of cutlery, that is just about the worst thing you can do for the condition of your blades. Not to worry though, proper care and maintenance of your knives are straightforward and simple.

If you treat your knives well, they will return the favor, and could easily last you a lifetime. Doing this is far from a huge burden, and there are only a few key things to bear in mind.

Sharpening Vs. Honing

Set of kitchen knives on counter

There are two standard options when it comes to keeping your blades sharp, honing steel (often incorrectly referred to as sharpening steel) and a knife sharpener. The honing steel is a thin metal rod that, when pushed against the dull blade’s edge at the correct angle, smooths out any little dents and bumps by pressing them back into a straight sharp edge. These come standard with many knife sets and are definitely worth having.

Unlike the honing steel, a knife sharpener does actually shave material away from the blade to create a new, sharp edge. These are often faster and easier to use than a honing steel, which may take some practice to master. That said, since sharpeners do shave down the edges of your knives, they will cause your blades to wear down much faster than a honing steel would.

If you prefer, using a sharpening stone, also called a wet stone, with mineral oil can do wonders for your blades. Keep in mind that this will be a more time-consuming process, however, when compared to sharpeners and honing steels. Using some of this oil alone is also incredibly helpful for your knives, both on the blade and handle. These oils help prevent rust, as well as protect against corrosion that occurs from working with acidic fruits and vegetables.

Whatever method of sharpening you opt to use, maintaining your knife’s edge is perhaps the most vital part of maintaining your kitchen knives. If you keep your knives sharp, the blades will more easily glide through whatever you are cutting. In addition to keeping your knives in good shape, proper and regular sharpening will keep you safer in the long run, since dull blades often require more force and cause a greater risk of slipping and cutting yourself.

If you are not comfortable sharpening your own knives, many knife manufacturers will let you send your knives back for professional sharpening. William Henry offers knife sharpening for any William Henry knives, for only the cost of shipping. Fill out this form and you will have your sharpened knives back in 2-3 weeks.

Use Your Knives Properly

Another great way to keep your knives in proper shape is simply to use the right knives for the right tasks. A kitchen knife is, by its nature, a versatile tool, but using them for the particular tasks they were designed for will keep them looking as sharp as they are.

There are many types of knives, ranging from the standard chef’s knife and paring knife to tools as particular in their intended usage as a tomato knife. That said, the most important thing to keep in mind regarding how to properly use a knife is to use it only for food.

Using your kitchen knives on non-food items will drastically reduce their effectiveness. While it may be easy and convenient to grab a knife to open up packages, cut loose threads, and even as a way to pry open stuck containers, it is not worth it. You will wind up with a much more dull blade, potentially bend or chip the knife, or even have it slip out of your grasp and leave you with a nasty gash.

The next thing to keep in mind would be the kind of edge that your blade has. For example, if you are looking to slice bread, you should always opt for a knife with a serrated edge blade. This will allow you to more easily and safely glide back and forth through the bread. Using a bread knife to chop veggies will not be as effective as you would like, and chances are that the extra force you will apply will have you damaging the sharp blade once you get through to the cutting board.

Another thing to keep in mind is working with foods that require breaking down or cutting through bone. Only a deboning knife and cleavers intended to chop through easily should be used. Using a standard chef’s knife or other nonspecific blades can be dangerous, as well as incredibly damaging for the edges of your knife.

If you are new to working in the kitchen, there is no need to splurge and buy every kind of knife under the sun. That said, you will likely want some standard blade types so that you can easily work with the majority of food items.

Always Use a Cutting Board

It may feel obvious, but always use your knife on a flat surface such as a cutting board. Using your knives on a plate could scratch or chip the plate, as well as lead to slipping and disaster. With so many options commercially available for cutting boards, however, it may be tough to know what to go for.

The best options generally are wood boards, plastic boards, and synthetic rubber boards. Wood boards tend to look the nicest, but the harder surface may require more frequent sharpening. Plastic options will usually be the least expensive and are also better for working with meats and poultry as they can be sanitized in the dishwasher. Synthetic chopping boards will be the easiest on the edge of your blade, and can also provide a better grip against whatever surface you are working on.

Whatever material you decide is best for you, something very important to avoid is scraping food off of the board with your knife. While this is often incredibly convenient, it drastically dulls the edge of your blade, and can even cause it to begin rolling up.

Clean Up

Chef cleaning kitchen knife

While not as exciting as the other aspects of working with a knife, proper knife maintenance and storage of your knives are important for your safety and the longevity of your blades. Properly washing and storing your knives will help avoid nicks and scratches on the blades, which can be hard to get out when sharpening at home, as well as lead to snagging during use. 

Generally, the best practice would be to try washing and drying a knife by hand as soon as you are done using them. This ensures that they spend as little time as possible covered in moisture and dirt. Use a less abrasive sponge and your knife blade will thank you.

Avoid tossing your knife into the kitchen sink and leaving them to bump and scrape against your other dishes. This can be detrimental to their edges and leaves you with a chipped knife, which can be incredibly dangerous to use, not to mention inefficient and frustrating. Not only that, but knives with wooden handles will often absorb a lot of the dirt and bacteria that you can find in the sink.

If possible, you should always avoid washing your knives in a dishwasher. The drastic changes in temperature from hot water and steam, and constant moisture will wear down your blades and leave you with water stains and even rust spots. If you do decide to run your knives through the dishwasher for whatever reason, place them inside securely so that they will not shake and bump into other dishes and kitchen utensils, which will scrape and chip your blades.

Secure Storage

Another way to keep your knives in near-new condition is to store them in a block or, alternatively, attach them to a magnetic strip. Storing your knife loosely in a kitchen drawer like the rest of your cutlery will make them shake around and will certainly have you risking more damage than the alternatives.

Knife blocks help you to store full sets securely and safely and frankly look pretty good on a countertop. If you do not have much counter space or do not have enough knives to warrant a full-sized knife block, a magnetic strip is an easy and convenient place to store a knife or two outside of the drawer.

William Henry offers a gorgeous selection of classic knife sets with stunning rare wood and mineral handles, and blades of beautifully crafted Damascus steel. Every set comes with a distinctive and attractive knife block that would look good on any counter, as well as blade covers and a professional leather roll. Take a look today to find the last kitchen knife set you will ever need.