Sharpening your kitchen knives is an essential skill for any home chef. Not only does it help your knives last longer and perform better, but it also makes food prep safer and more enjoyable. But with so many different methods and tools available, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.
In this ultimate guide to knife sharpening, we’ll cover the different techniques and tools available, as well as some tips and tricks for sharpening your knives like a pro.
Understanding knife sharpness
Before diving into the various techniques and tools available for sharpening your knives, it’s important to understand what makes a knife sharp in the first place.
A sharp knife has a fine, smooth edge that can easily cut through a variety of materials without tearing or shredding. This is achieved through the angle of the blade and the finish of the edge.
The angle of the blade refers to the angle at which the blade meets the cutting surface. Western-style knives tend to have a blade angle of around 20-22 degrees, while Japanese knives tend to have a much sharper angle of around 10-15 degrees.
The finish of the edge refers to the smoothness and polish of the edge. A finely polished edge will be smoother and sharper than a rough, unpolished edge.
Choosing the right sharpening tool
There are a variety of sharpening tools available, each with their own pros and cons. The best tool for you will depend on your specific needs and experience level.
Whetstones: Whetstones, also known as waterstones, are flat stones that are used to sharpen and polish the edge of a blade. They come in a range of grit levels, from coarse to fine, and can be used to sharpen a wide range of blade angles. Whetstones require some skill and practice to use effectively, but they offer precise control and can produce excellent results.
Electric sharpeners: Electric sharpeners are a quick and easy way to sharpen your knives. They use a motor to drive a series of rotating sharpening elements, which grind and polish the blade as it’s drawn through the sharpener. Electric sharpeners are convenient and easy to use, but they can be less precise than other methods and may not work as well on very dull or damaged blades.
Honing rods: Honing rods, also known as honing steels or sharpening steels, are long, thin rods made of steel or ceramic. They are used to straighten and align the edge of a blade, but they do not actually remove any metal from the blade. Honing rods are great for maintaining the edge on already sharp knives, but they won’t be able to sharpen a very dull blade.
Manual pull-through sharpeners: Manual pull-through sharpeners are simple, easy-to-use tools that consist of a series of sharpening elements mounted on a frame. To sharpen a knife, you simply draw the blade through the sharpener in a smooth, even motion. These sharpeners are a good option for those who are just starting out, as they are easy to use and relatively inexpensive.
Now that you’ve chosen the right sharpening tool, it’s time to get started. Here are some tips and techniques for sharpening your knives like a pro.
Start with a coarse grit: When sharpening your knife, it’s important to start with a coarse grit in order to remove any nicks or burrs on the blade. Once those have been smoothed out, you can move on to a finer grit to polish the edge and create a finer, sharper edge. If you’re using a whetstone, you’ll need to switch between a coarse and fine grit stone as you sharpen. If you’re using an electric sharpener, it will typically have multiple stages with increasing grit levels.
Follow a consistent pattern: When sharpening your knife, it’s important to follow a consistent pattern in order to get the best results. This means moving the blade across the sharpening tool in a consistent, back-and-forth motion. You’ll want to apply even pressure and make sure you’re covering the entire length of the blade. If you’re using a whetstone, you’ll need to move the blade across the stone in a figure-eight pattern, making sure to cover the entire blade on both sides. If you’re using an electric sharpener, you’ll simply need to draw the blade through the sharpening slots in a smooth, even motion.
Angle the blade correctly: The angle of the blade plays a crucial role in the sharpness and performance of your knife. It’s important to sharpen your knife at the correct angle in order to get the best results. If you’re using a whetstone, you’ll need to carefully angle the blade against the stone. If you’re using an electric sharpener, make sure it’s set to the correct angle for your specific knife.
Know when to stop: It’s easy to get carried away when sharpening your knives, but it’s important to know when to stop. Over-sharpening can actually damage the blade and dull it more quickly over time. You’ll know you’re done sharpening when you can easily slice through a piece of paper or when the blade has a smooth, polished appearance. If you’re using a whetstone, you’ll need to feel for a burr on the back of the blade – this is a small ridge that forms when the blade is sharpened to a very fine edge. Once you feel the burr, you can switch to a finer grit stone to polish the edge.
With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to sharpening your knives like a pro. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques and tools to find what works best for you. With a little practice and patience, you’ll be able to keep your knives sharp and in top condition for years to come.