If the edge of your knife has become dull and is not the great tool it used to be, it may be time for you to learn the basics of sharpening your own knife. Sure, you could take it to the local shop and have them put the edge back on it for you, but it is a very basic process that everyone who carries a knife should learn. While this is a simple process, it is also very misunderstood.
A sharp knife is a chef’s best friend. It can make your cooking faster, easier, and more enjoyable. But how do you keep your knife sharp and ready for any task? In this article, we will show you how to sharpen your knife using different tools, how to tell if your knife needs sharpening, and how to maintain your knife’s sharpness.
- Why You Need to Sharpen Your Knife Regularly
- How to Tell If Your Knife Needs Sharpening
- How to Choose the Right Sharpening Tool
- How to Sharpen Your Knife with an Electric Sharpener
- How to Maintain Your Knife’s Sharpness
Why You Need to Sharpen Your Knife Regularly
Sharpening your knife is not just a matter of preference. It is a necessity for any serious cook. Here are some of the benefits of having a sharp knife and some of the risks of having a dull one.
Benefits of a sharp knife
- A sharp knife cuts through food more smoothly and cleanly, reducing the amount of pressure and force you need to apply. This makes your cutting more precise and consistent and also prevents bruising or tearing delicate ingredients like herbs, tomatoes, or fish.
- A sharp knife is safer than a dull one. A dull knife can slip or slide off the food, increasing the chance of injuring yourself or damaging your cutting board. A sharp knife, on the other hand, bites into the food with minimal effort, giving you more control and stability.
- A sharp knife enhances the flavor and appearance of your food. A dull knife can crush or mash the cells of your food, releasing unwanted juices and affecting the texture and moisture level. A sharp knife preserves the integrity and freshness of your food, keeping it juicy and flavorful.
Risks of a dull knife
- A dull knife can ruin your cooking experience. It can make your cutting slow, frustrating, and exhausting. It can also affect your mood and confidence in the kitchen, making you less likely to enjoy or experiment with new recipes.
- A dull knife can compromise the quality and safety of your food. It can introduce bacteria or contaminants from previous cuts into your food, especially if you don’t clean your knife properly. It can also cause uneven cooking or browning, affecting the taste and nutrition of your food.
- A dull knife can damage your other tools and equipment. It can wear out or scratch your cutting board, making it harder to clean and sanitize. It can also dull or chip your other knives, especially if you store them together without protection.
How to Tell If Your Knife Needs Sharpening
The frequency of knife sharpening depends on various factors, including usage frequency, food type, material, and care. A general rule is to sharpen every few months or once a year. Simple tests can also be used to check knife sharpness, including three common ones. Regular maintenance is crucial for maintaining the quality and longevity of your knife.
The paper test
A simple and popular method to test a knife’s sharpness is to use a sheet of paper, preferably printer paper or newspaper, and hold it by one corner. Then, try to slice through the paper with the knife, starting from the top edge and moving down. A sharp knife should cut smoothly and effortlessly without tearing or snagging, while a dull knife will either fail to cut or make a rough cut.
The tomato test
This test compares the sharpness of a knife with that of a tomato, a thin, delicate vegetable. The tomato’s delicate skin requires a sharp edge to pierce through. The test involves slicing the tomato with a sharp knife, ensuring it glides easily and produces thin, even slices. A dull knife will either squash or slide off the tomato or create thick, uneven slices.
The fingernail test
This test, though subjective and less reliable, provides a rough estimate of a knife’s sharpness. Hold the knife at a 90-degree angle from your fingernail and gently press the edge against it. A sharp knife should create a small indentation, while a dull knife will slide off your nail without leaving any marks.
How to Choose the Right Sharpening Tool
There are many different tools and methods you can use to sharpen your knife, but they all have their pros and cons. The best tool for you depends on your personal preference, budget, skill level, and type of knife. Here are some of the most common sharpening tools and how they work:
Whetstones are rectangular blocks of abrasive material used to grind and hone the edge of a knife. They come in different grits, ranging from coarse to fine, and can be made of natural or synthetic materials like ceramic, diamond, or aluminum oxide. Whetstones are versatile sharpening tools that can sharpen any knife and provide more control over the angle and pressure applied.
However, they require more skill and practice to maintain a consistent angle and motion. Whetstones are relatively expensive and require periodic flattening or resurfacing to maintain their shape. They can be made of natural or synthetic materials and can be soaked in water or oil before use.
Honing rods are long metal rods used to align and straighten the edge of a knife, also known as sharpening steels or honing steels. They can be smooth or textured and can be made of steel, ceramic, or diamond. Honing rods make it easy to maintain knife sharpness, taking only a few strokes. However, they do not remove metal or create a new edge, making them less effective on knives with harder or thinner blades, such as Japanese knives.
Electric sharpeners are devices powered by electricity that sharpen knives automatically. They have slots with different grits for different stages of sharpening, such as coarse for creating a new edge, fine for polishing and refining, and extra-fine for finishing touches. They can be manual or automatic, with manual ones requiring manual blade pulling.
Electric sharpeners are convenient and foolproof, as they don’t remove metal or create a new edge. However, they can only realign the existing one, making them less effective on knives with harder or thinner blades. To sharpen a knife with a honing rod, follow these steps:
Step 1: Hold the rod at a 20-degree angle from the blade.
To use a honing rod, you need to hold it at a 20-degree angle from the blade of your knife. This is slightly less than the angle you would use for a whetstone, as you are not trying to remove any metal from the blade but only to straighten it. You can use the same trick as before to find this angle: hold your knife perpendicular to the rod (90 degrees), then halve that angle (45 degrees), then halve it again (22.5 degrees), and then adjust slightly downwards.
Step 2: Swipe the blade along the rod from heel to tip.
Once you have found the correct angle, you can start honing your knife by swiping the blade along the rod from heel to tip, using moderate pressure and speed. You can either do this in a downward or upward motion, depending on what feels more comfortable for you. The key is to keep the same angle and direction throughout the stroke.
Step 3: Repeat on the other side of the blade.
After you have finished one side of the blade, you need to flip it over and repeat the same process on the other side. This will ensure that both sides of the edge are equally aligned and straightened. You can either switch hands or change your position to do this, depending on what feels more natural for you. The number of strokes you need to do on each side depends on how often you use your knife and how well you take care of it, but a good rule of thumb is to do 2-4 strokes per side for regular maintenance.
How to Sharpen Your Knife with an Electric Sharpener
Electric sharpeners are one of the most convenient and foolproof ways to sharpen your knife, as they do not require any skill or effort on your part; they just require you to insert the blade into the slots and follow the instructions. However, electric sharpeners are also more expensive and less versatile than other tools, as they may not be compatible with all kinds of knives or angles. Electric sharpeners can also remove too much metal from the blade or create uneven edges, affecting the durability and performance of your knife. Here are the steps to follow to sharpen your knife with an electric sharpener:
Step 1: Plug in the sharpener and turn it on.
Before you start sharpening your knife, you need to plug in your electric sharpener and turn it on. Make sure that it is placed on a stable and flat surface, away from any water or heat sources. Also, make sure that your knife is clean and dry before inserting it into the sharpener.
Step 2: Insert the blade into the slot with the coarsest grit.
Most electric sharpeners have two or more slots with different grits that correspond to different stages of sharpening: coarse for creating a new edge, fine for polishing and refining the edge, and sometimes extra fine for finishing touches. To start sharpening your knife, you need to insert the blade into the slot with the coarsest grit, usually marked as “1” or “coarse”. Make sure that you insert the blade fully into the slot, with the heel touching the back of the slot and the tip pointing outwards.
Step 3: Pull the blade through the slot slowly and steadily.
Once you have inserted the blade into the slot, you need to pull it through the slot slowly and steadily, using gentle and even pressure. Do not push or force the blade through the slot, as this can damage the blade or the sharpener. Let the sharpener do the work for you, and follow the sound and vibration cues to guide you. You should hear a consistent grinding noise and feel a slight resistance as you pull the blade through the slot.
Step 4: Repeat on the other side of the blade.
After you have pulled the blade through the slot once, you need to flip it over and repeat the same process on the other side. This will ensure that both sides of the edge are equally sharpened and balanced. You can either switch hands or change your position to do this, depending on what feels more natural for you. The number of times you need to pull the blade through the slot depends on how dull your knife is and how coarse your sharpener is, but a good rule of thumb is to do 2-4 passes per side for a coarse slot.
Step 5: Move to the next slot with a finer grit and repeat steps 2-4.
After you have sharpened both sides of the blade with the coarsest slot, you can move to the next slot with a finer grit, usually marked as “2” or “fine”. This will polish and refine the edge, making it smoother and sharper. To do this, simply repeat steps 2-4 with the finer slot, using fewer passes and lighter pressure than before. You can also move to an extra-fine slot if your sharpener has one, for an extra touch of smoothness and shine.
How to Maintain Your Knife’s Sharpness
Sharpening your knife is not enough to keep it in top condition; you also need to maintain its sharpness by taking good care of it. Here are some tips on how to do that:
Honing your knife regularly
Regularly honing your knife with a honing rod is crucial for maintaining its sharpness and longevity. It helps realign and straighten the edge before it becomes dull or bent. It should be honed every time you use the knife, or at least once a week, depending on the frequency and type of food you cut. Honing takes only a few seconds.
Storing your knife properly
Proper knife storage is crucial for maintaining sharpness and protecting it from damage or corrosion. Avoid storing knives in drawers with other utensils, as this can dull or chip the edge. Avoid using sheaths or cases that trap moisture or dirt, as these can cause rust or staining. Instead, store your knife on a block, magnetic strip, or stand that allows air circulation and separates it from other items.
Clean your knife carefully.
Maintaining the sharpness of your knife is crucial, as it prevents food residue and bacteria buildup. Handwashing with warm water and mild soap is recommended, but avoid harsh detergents, abrasives, or steel wool. Avoid using the dishwasher, as it exposes the knife to high temperatures, water pressure, and chemicals that can dull or corrode its edge. After cleaning, dry the knife thoroughly with a towel and store it properly.
A sharp knife is essential for any cook to enjoy their time in the kitchen and create delicious dishes. Sharpening your knife is easy with the right tools, such as a whetstone, honing rod, or electric sharpener. However, maintaining the knife’s sharpness is crucial. Regular honing, proper storage, and careful cleaning can extend its life and performance, making it a valuable tool in the kitchen. Overall, a sharp knife is a must-have for any cook.