Super Sharp Knives
Having super sharp knives makes all the difference when prepping food. Here’s how to safely and effectively get yours razor sharp
Having sharp knives in your kitchen is necessary for both practicality and safety. While sharper blades may seem more dangerous, on the contrary, the exact opposite is true. Dull knives require more force and are more prone to slipping.
The good news is there are several effective ways to sharpen your knives, such as using sharpening steel, a whetstone, an electric sharpener, a manual sharpener, and more. Your sharpening tool often depends on the blade you wish to sharpen and how blunt it is.
How to Tell if Your Knives Need Sharpening
Usually, it’s pretty apparent when your knives’ blades have become dull, as you’ll notice prep work is more strenuous and more pressure is required. You may find that using a dull knife over a prolonged period (primarily if you work in the catering industry) may begin to cause physical discomfort, such as tendonitis.
Other telling signs of a blunt knife include the edge of the blade looking rougher and more ‘chewed’ than a perfectly sharp knife. If you wish to test how dull your blade is and whether it requires sharpening, you can try the age-old paper trick – newspaper makes for the best type. Simply hold up a piece of paper, insert the knife, and draw it lengthways or widthways. If the blade glides smoothly and effortlessly, your blade is fine. If it feels rough and shows resistance, it’s time for sharpening.
How to Identify Which Sharpening Tool to Use
Suppose your knife is mildly blunt and only needs a little attention. In that case, you can use sharpening steel (sometimes known as a metal rod), which is ideal for little sharpening needs or sharpening your knives quickly (which can be a godsend for chefs during a busy service or catering event).
Most professional knife sets come with sharpening steel, but they are easy to get ahold of and are relatively inexpensive.
Electric Knife Sharpener
Noticeably dull knives will probably need a little more ‘oomph’ than sharpening steel can provide because the edges and the tip of the blade will need to be reshaped, which is more effective if done by an electric knife sharpener.
This is also the ideal solution for non-professional knife users, as it is easy to use and difficult to damage the blade, which can be the case when non-professionals use other knife sharpening methods, such as a steel sharpener or a whetstone.
Prices of electric knife sharpeners vary, so choosing the right one for you can depend on your budget and needs.
Much like the sharpening steel, a whetstone (sometimes known as a sharp pebble) is ideal for on-the-go sharpening when your knife has seen some action during a busy spell and is only mildly dull.
It is recommended that whetstones are used by professionals only, as misusing them can damage your knife’s blade. These sharpeners tend to be a little more costly than other tools, so for non-kitchen professionals, it can be wise to spend your money on a different sharpening method.
Manual Knife Sharpener
Manual knife sharpeners are the most inexpensive option here and are simple for non-culinary workers. Because of their layout, it’s challenging to misuse them, meaning there’s little to no risk of causing your blade any permanent damage. This option isn’t ideal for extensive blade damage.
How to Sharpen a Serrated Blade
The great thing about serrated blades is that they rarely need sharpening. However, the not-so-great thing about them is they can be a pain to sharpen when they do.
You can buy serrated knife sharpeners or a manual knife sharpener if you like, which should sharpen the teeth and the hard-to-reach valleys of the knife.
How to Keep Your Knives Sharp
Once you’ve gone to the effort of sharpening your knives, you will want to try and keep them as sharp as possible for as long as possible. There are a few dos and don’ts when preserving their sharpness:
- Hand-wash and hand-dry your knives
- Keep your knives in their plastic sheath or a leather knife sack
- Treat your knife with respect
- Use the correct type of knife for each kind of prep
- Put your knives in the dishwasher
- Put knives in the sink
- Put your knives into contact with other metal objects
- Store your knife loosely in a drawer with other utensils
How to Sharpen Your Knives
- Lay a damp cloth flat on a solid surface and press the steel tip against it, stopping it from slipping.
- Aim to sharpen your knife near the top of the steel and hold your knife at a 15-20 degree angle away from your body.
- Arc your knife blade towards the steel and pull the edge across the metal several times.
- Position the knife on the opposite side and repeat the process to sharpen the other side of the blade.
- Never sharpen your knife toward your body.
- Aim to sharpen each side ten times, always maintaining that 15-20 degree angle.
Electric Knife Sharpener
Electric knife sharpeners are typically straightforward and are ideal for those not confident using other methods. Instructions for electric knife sharpeners depend on the specific type/make of the sharpener, so you should always follow the instructions provided.
How to sharpen your knife depends on the whetstone’s grit. Types of whetstones are known as ‘grits,’ measured between 100 – 8000 grits. Whetstones can also vary; some require lubrication with water or oil. More information on this can be found here.
Manual Knife Sharpeners
- Position your knife in the slot and pull the blade while holding the sharpener with your other hand.
- Make sure every part of the blade – from the tip to the base – meets the sharpener to ensure the whole knife is sharpened.
- Repeat four or five times. Longer if needed.
- Wipe your blade on a damp towel to remove any shards of metal that you don’t want getting into your prep.
How to Sharpen Knives: FAQs
What is knife honing?
Honing is often confused with sharpening; however, the purpose of honing is to realign the sharp edges of your blunt blade. You can do this with a honing rod, and it is often wise to do this before sharpening, particularly if your knife is dull.
Is it better to sharpen your knife wet or dry?
Wet or dry sharpening depends on the type of tool you use. Sharpening fluid is typically an oil-based honing fluid. For example, some whetstones require sharpening fluid to dissipate the heat caused by metal-to-stone friction and keep the pores of the stone clean.
Can I get my knives professionally sharpened?
Yes, some companies (such as local butchers) offer this service for a small fee. Having a professional do the work can be a great way to ensure your knives are well-looked-after when they become dull and need a bit of attention.