Home Chef Tips: How to Sharpen Cutlery to Restore and Maintain a Fine Edge

Even the best chef’s knife will eventually lose its edge. It’s like all the elements that exist here on earth are working together constantly to see to that. You might think, “Oh, what if my cutting board is literally made of a cloud that is super-soft, but somehow also hard enough for me to cut on?” Well, even your little dream world will have you consulting our “how to sharpen cutlery” guide because there’s water in clouds, and that’s bad for metal, and you’re still using your knife to cut things, so it will still dull.

Three Knives on a cutting board

That’s right, just doing its job can leave your cutlery unable to do its job. It makes sense – after all, don’t you need to refresh after work each day? Beyond that, grinding against cutting boards, being wet, being used to cut something it’s not intended to, even a trip in the dishwasher can compromise your blade, with some of the chemicals you might use in that process potentially corrosive to steel.

Hone Your Knife Skills: Using a Whetstone to get Your Edge Back

The process required to sharpen cutlery is actually fairly simple and somewhat boring to describe. Therefore, we’ll spice it up by telling it modified old English. That way, you can pretend you’re sharpening your sword before riding into battle. Sharpening with a whetstone should only be done for noticeably dull blades, as it removes some of the metal. For information on keeping knives that don’t need this type of treatment yet sharp, see below.

Whetstone Sharpening

1. Get thyself a whetstone. A good one shall be of broad sides that are twain, one having a coarse grit and the other a fine one.

2. Soak thy whetstone in oil overnight. It shall be mineral oil, light machine oil, or another similar. Vegetable and animal oils doth not be recommended, lest ye end up with a whetstone that harbors bacteria and odors.

3. Store thy whetstone in a sealed container betwixt uses.

4. When thou art ready to use the stone, give the surfaces a rub with a cloth dipped in mineral oil to clean them of impurities and prepare them for sharpening.

5. Thou shalt sharpen cutlery by holding it at the same angle as the cutting bevel or edge of the knife. If you cannot see the bevel, estimate about 20-30 degrees for German knives and 18-22 degrees for Japanese blades. Run the knife along the surface of thy stone at that angle, moving it so as to cover the entire length of the blade as you go. Turn thy knife over and repeat on the other side, continuing these passes until the blade is sharp, with an even number of strokes on each side. Use the coarse side first, then switch to the fine grain to chase away any burrs or flaws in the edge.

6. Clean thy whetstone again with the mineral oil-soaked cloth before storing it safely. Wash the knife thoroughly with soap and warm water to remove residue and oil.

7. Thou art ready to slay the dreaded sirloin steak or stalk of broccoli.

Sharpen Cutlery Every Day: Using a Sharpening Steel and Smart Practices to Keep Your Edge

Steel Knife Sharpening

The best way to keep a good edge on your knife isn’t to subject it to the whetstone on a regular basis. That’s comparable to doing major work on your car. If you keep up with your standard maintenance, that should only be necessary on rare occasions.

In most instances when you notice a knife isn’t cutting as well as it once did, the culprit isn’t actually a dull knife. More typically it’s going to just be imperfections in the blade caused by regular use. That means the fine edge you achieved with your whetstone is literally curling. To fix this, you need a piece that is alternately called a sharpening steel, a honing steel, or just a steel. Whatever you call it, it’s a piece that no home chef should be without. KaTom offers plenty of honing steels, from the standard to the diamond-covered for extra strength. There are some that set the knife at the perfect angle so you don’t have to do that, though you should be aware they may not provide the best angle for your particular knives. Additionally, Shun offers a three-piece sharpening system that includes a steel, a whetstone, and a stand that provides the perfect angle for Japanese knives.

A sharpening steel looks sort of like a round knife or dagger with a rough surface. Hold the steel upright with your non-writing hand and with the point pressed securely into some flat surface. A cutting board works well for this, since it’s sturdy and also provides protection for other surfaces if you draw the knife down too far. Place the end of the blade nearest the handle against the steel at the angle of the bevel and draw it down along the steel, maintaining that angle while drawing the knife to cover the entire blade. As with the whetstone, do this an even number of times for each side.

Some other tips to keep your knives sharp:

• Use a cutting board made of a soft wood like bamboo and don’t drag your knife against it.

• Don’t use your knives for purposes other than cutting food. This may seem obvious, but it can be tempting to try a kitchen blade for things like cutting into stubborn packages.

• Use your knives only for the tasks they are designed to complete. For instance, don’t use your bread knife to cut your steak and don’t try to cut bone with your paring knife.

• Hand washing with mild detergent is best for cutlery. Some of the chemicals used in residential dishwashers can actually promote corrosion in steel that can compromise a blade over time. Also, knives that aren’t properly dried after washing can quickly develop rust issues.

• Don’t soak your knives. Soaking can compromise the blade and cause the handle to crack if it is made of wood. Handleless cutlery is hard to sharpen cutlery. It’s also hard to use.

• Don’t use chlorine or bleach products on your knives as it can cause pitting. If a knife is exposed to any of these products, rinse it off immediately.

Derek Hodges
Derek Hodges

Derek Hodges is a proud North Carolinian who moved to Tennessee in 2006 to preach the gospel of Cheerwine and mix some Tar Heel blue in with all the orange. He has made wonderful friends who tolerate occasional remarks like those above. He and his wife Amanda enjoy spending weekends at Dollywood and trying to convince their dog Shiloh to get over his fear of swimming.

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