The best way to sharpen your knives

Even the sharpest knife dulls over time – the more you cook, the duller your most important tool becomes. It is only through regular maintenance that chefs and home cooks keep their blades sharp.

So how often should you sharpen your knives? Well, the short answer is whenever they start to feel dull – which can vary depending on the quality of your knives and how often you use them. For most home cooks, this will probably be two to three times a year. Can your knife cut a tomato cleanly? If not, it’s time to sharpen it. You can also use the paper test: hold a sheet of printer paper in one hand and try to slice it vertically. If you have trouble cutting paper, your knife might be sharper.

To sharpen your knives at home, you can use an electric sharpener or a whetstone (also called whetstone). Electric sharpeners require little effort on your part, but stones are generally the preferred choice because they are gentler on the blades, relatively inexpensive, and easy to use. Stuck between the two? Here’s how to sharpen your knives with an electric sharpener and whetstone.

How to sharpen a knife with a whetstone

If you have a really nice knife, sharpen it with a sharpening stone like this one. It’s relatively inexpensive for a kitchen tool and you’ll get years of use out of it too.

Whetstones come in different sizes and grits (the level of coarseness of the stone), which are often indicated by color. Some stones have two sides: a coarser side for removing dents and sharpening very dull blades, and a finer side for polishing and sharpening edges. The rule of thumb is to always start sharpening your knife on the coarse side, then move to the fine side to finish.

  • If your counter is slippery, place a rubber mat or towel under the stone before you do anything – you really don’t want to hurt yourself here!
  • Some stones need to be oiled or soaked in water first, so check the manual that came with yours to be sure.
  • Once you are ready to begin sharpening, return to the coarser side of the stone.
  • Hold your knife with the edge of the blade facing your body at a 15-20 degree angle to the surface – this can vary slightly from knife to knife, so again check the information provided with yours.
  • Rest the fingers of the other hand on the flat side of the knife and pull it away from you all at once, repeat about 10 times. Flip the knife over and make 10 strokes on the other side.
  • Test with a tomato or paper and if it’s still not sharp enough, repeat until your knife returns to its former glory. That’s it!

How to sharpen a knife with an electric sharpener

An electric knife sharpener is similar to a pencil sharpener – it simply erases the old edge and creates a new one. It’s the fastest way to restore your blade to “health”, but it’s also the most brutal. A knife’s edge is a carefully tapered compression of metal layers, so the punch sends the atomically aligned edge into disarray, or worse – it can chip away tiny divots in the metal.

For the average knife, there is worse fate. But, if you own a cold-forged Japanese sabatier, it’s going to be a sad (and expensive) day.

When to use a lapping gun

Once your knife is sharp, you’ll want to keep it that way for as long as possible. Try to get into the habit of using a sharpening steel every time you take out your knife. It looks a bit like a metal lightsaber and basically feels like a short cardio workout for your blade, aligning all the metal ions in the knife edge so you can cut with ease and precision.

Hold the sharpening steel vertically against your kitchen counter and with your non-dominant hand. Then hold the knife almost flat against the steel at about 22 degrees (think of it as half of 45 degrees) and then pull it through the steel 10 times on each side. Steel will not restore the edge to a dull knife, but it will help keep a sharp edge longer on a well-maintained knife.

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