Learn how to hone and sharpen all of the most widely used knives and blades. Find out what you will need to get that perfect edge yourself without going to an expensive professional.
For something so ubiquitous as the knife, not many people understand the design and engineering behind them. This is largely because, in modern society, we don't really need to think about knives all that much.
We use them constantly, but new materials and production techniques mean we don't have to do much maintenance on them, and we can simply buy a new one when needed.
However, even modern knives aren't indestructible. Everything wears out, even masterwork tools. Regardless of type or construction, knives must regularly be sharpened to maintain their edge and therefore usefulness. In an age of incomprehensible wastefulness, maintaining items instead of simply disposing of them is a skill everyone should know.
Devices have been made to make sharpening knives easier, but there is no "one size fits all." There are dozens if not hundreds of different types of knives that each have unique sharpening requirements. Here are some instructions on how to sharpen knives sorted by type.
Sharpening Kitchen Knives
A sharp kitchen knife is not only more quick and efficient, but it is also much more safe for you and anyone else in the kitchen. Instead of struggling to cut or chop by applying so much pressure that the food suddenly gives way, a sharp kitchen knife ensures quick and controlled motions. There are two ways to sharpen a knife, both of which you can do at home if you wish.
The first way is honing or "steeling," which is the quickest and easiest. Using a honing steel is something that you should do before every meal you use it for. The steel is the long piece of metal with a handle that looks like a small, steel baton. It is used to maintain the edge of all of your kitchen knives and is often included in a set of knives.
To steel a kitchen knife:
- Hold the steel firmly in one hand, making sure none of your hand is above the hilt, touching the metal.
- Touch the bottom of the blade to the bottom of the steel, holding it at a 15-degree angle. This angle is very slight. Imagine you are winding a clock with your wrist and only turn the knife five minutes.
- Briskly move the blade away from you, keeping contact on the steel. As you move, let the steel travel up the blade. By the time you reach the end of the steel, the tip of the blade should be touching the steel.
- Repeat several times, then do the same on the other edge.
- You can secure the tip of the steel on a surface and move the knife in a downward motion, just be sure not to let the knife come in contact with the surface.
Sharpening With A Sharpener
Honing can only take you so far. Eventually, a knife blade will lose its edge and needs to be re-edged. For this task, you can have the knife sent out to a specialist for sharpening or use a whetstone, but these methods are expensive and difficult respectively. The easiest way is to use a home sharpener.
A manual knife sharpener is a simple device with two or more slots that you simply put the knife in, edge down. Then, you pull the knife toward you briskly but evenly without jerking. The abrasive surfaces in the slot will sharpen the blade as it is pulled. About 20 strokes are enough for the average dull blade, but more might be required. A duller knife may require more.
There are also electric knife sharpeners that motorize the abrasive edges and rotate them around the blade as you slowly pull it through. While more expensive and larger, these electric sharpeners can repair damaged blades in a way manual sharpeners cannot. When using any sharpener, refer to the owner’s manuals for both the sharpener and the knife.
To test a kitchen knife’s sharpness, fold a page of newspaper or find a single sheet of printer paper. Hold the paper in front of you and cut it in half starting at the edge of the paper. If the cut is clean, the blade is sharp. If it snags or the cut is jagged, honing or sharpening is needed.
Sharpening Ceramic Knives
Relatively new to the market are ceramic knives. Even if you already know how to sharpen knives made of steel, ceramics are a game changer. These kitchen knives are much harder than steel but are far more brittle. Because of this fact, ceramic knives stay sharper for longer than steel ones but are much more difficult to sharpen.
Do not use a honing steel or steel blade sharpeners to sharpen a ceramic knife. At best it will simply take a long, long time. At worst, the blade may chip. Instead, invest in a sharpener with diamond stones. These sharpeners come in either stone (brick shape) form or manual sharpener form. Some steel blade sharpeners have diamond stone attachments.
Make sure and inspect the blade with a magnifying glass to ensure you are sharpening at the right angle. Expect to make many more passes on the sharpener than you would with steel, even with a diamond stone sharpener.
Sharpening Serrated Knives
You can sharpen a serrated knife with a honing steel, though you might need to purchase a special one specially designed for serrated knives like bread knives. First, find the beveled edge of the serrated knife.
The sides of a serrated knife are not identical to each other like on a straight edge knife. On the beveled edge, the blade will angle down a bit just before the serrated edge. This is the only side that needs to be sharpened.
Put the honing rod between each scallop (also called gullets) and push down or away from yourself briskly. Make sure find the edge to sharpen at. A good way to determine if you are sharpening correctly is the mark the edge with a permanent marker. If, as you sharpen, the marker is removed you are doing it right. Continue for each scallop.
Afterward, run some fine sandpaper lightly along the face of the blade to remove the burrs; the metal shavings you sharpened off of the edges. You don't want these getting into your food.
You can use a manual knife sharpener, but these don't work as well. Also, there are special triangle sharpeners that work well for serrated knives, but they are highly specialized and not really for regular home use. Do not use an electric sharpener for a serrated knife; it won't get into the scallops as deep as a manual one would.
Sharpening Utility Knives
A utility knife or box cutter is a simple tool not really meant to be sharpened. The blades are designed to be replaced, so when the blade inevitably does get dull or damaged the easiest way to sharpen it is not to sharpen it and simply buy a new one for a few cents.
However, it is not impossible to sharpen a utility knife; it's just a bit more difficult. Manual sharpeners will work, but they will not get the blade as sharp as it was. If you use a utility knife a lot at home or work and must sharpen constantly, this is a decent solution as it is quickest.
To be more precise, you can use a whetstone if you know how. If you don’t, an easier and less risky way to sharpen a utility knife is with a strap of leather and jeweler's rouge, also known as jeweler's compound or polishing rouge, which is a light abrasive that comes in a block or bar.
Apply the compound to the leather strap. A single thin layer will do. Then, swipe the blade back and forth along the strap; your motion should resemble spreading butter. Swap sides as you go back and forth.
The blade should always be pointing away from you when it is coming toward your hand, and the blade should be pointing toward you as it moves away. Make sure to examine the edge closely beforehand, so you sharpen it at the right angle.
Sharpening Other Kinds Of Knives
Other kinds of knives sharpen in the same ways that have been mentioned above. Here are some considerations when choosing how to sharpen knives that are not as prevalent.
Pocket Knives: These knives require a sharpening stone and lubricant. Manual sharpeners are not precise or delicate enough.
Straight Razors: Razors also require the delicate touch of a sharpening stone, but they can also be honed with a leather strap like a utility knife. Long purpose-build leather sharpeners are available for purchase, the kind you would see in a barbershop.
Hobby Knives: These blades are very similar to utility knives, but are much more fragile. Use the same techniques you would use for a utility knife, but be more gentle to lower the risk of the blade snapping.