When you grab a knife and start to chop some vegetables, you expect the knife to glide effortlessly through them. However, if it is dull, you smash and tear your food rather than slicing through it. If this is happening in your kitchen, then you better learn how to sharpen a knife. Without sharpening, your knife will continue to smash instead of cut.
Sharpening a knife is a simple process that you can do at home. You do not need expensive equipment to do it either. There are a few different methods you can use to sharpen a knife. You can choose whichever process you like the best to ensure you never end up with a dull knife again.
How Sharpening a Knife Works
Before you embark on the task of learning how to sharpen a knife, it may help to understand how the process works. When a knife dulls, it gets a jagged edge. When it is sharp, the edge is smooth. So, the method of sharpening is actually smoothing out the edge.
Sharpening involves grinding to remove the jagged bits and get back to a smooth surface. Then, it requires honing, which is sanding the surface to a smooth, sharp edge.
Reasons to Keep Your Knives Sharp
The obvious reason for learning how to sharpen a knife is to get a sharp surface again so that you can smoothly cut items. However, there are more reasons than just that for wanting to do it. According to ChefSteps, the main reason you should only use sharp knives is for safety. When a knife is dull, it smashes instead of cuts. This means the knife is merely gliding on the surface of whatever you are cutting instead of digging into it to slice. Because the knife slides, there is an increased possibility of the knife slipping and cutting your hand.
Beyond safety, a sharp knife also requires less work on your part. When it smoothly cuts into something you barely need to use any effort. This also allows for more control, which is especially crucial for knives used in food preparation since you want to get even cuts.
How to Sharpen a Knife Using Different Methods
When learning how to sharpen a knife, you have a few different options. You can use a whetstone, which is a flat grinding stone, or you can use a knife sharpener, which is a device made especially for sharpening knives. There are two types of sharpeners: electric or manual. In addition, you will want to become familiar with using a steel or honing rod.
According to Buck Knives, using a whetstone to sharpen a knife takes some skill, but with practice, it allows you to have the most control. The main thing to keep in mind as you learn how to sharpen a knife with a whetstone is that you want to take the blade of the knife and change the shape from a "u" shape to a "v" shape.
You will need a couple of different stones. The first is for grinding. It has a rougher surface. The second is for honing and has a finer surface.
To use the stone, you hold the knife blade at an angle against it and run the blade over it. You must use even strokes, moving in only one direction. As you restart each pass, it is essential to watch the angle of your blade. It must remain consistent or else you will not get good results. You should pull the knife blade as you make each pass to ensure the whole blade is connecting with the stone's surface.
You can also rub the knife on the stone in a circular pattern. This is an easier method, especially if you are just learning how to sharpen a knife because it allows for more control and you do not have to lift the knife each time. Just make sure to use even pressure as you work the knife over the stone.
Do one side at a time, but do not forget to flip the knife to sharpen the other side. Also, regardless of which method you use, make sure you cut into the stone with the knife. Do not just drag it over the stone. Finish the process by using the same process on the finer honing whetstone.
A manual knife sharpener is much easier to use than a whetstone. Because of this, it is often the first method used when learning how to sharpen a knife. According to Family Handyman, the knife sharpener is in a plastic housing with the grinding and honing stones embedded in it. The stones set at the correct angle, so you do not have to worry about maintaining the angle as you work.
The process is very simple. The housing has notches where you put your knife and pull it through. The only thing you have to worry about is maintaining a consistent pressure. The sharpener will grind both sides of the knife at once. To finish the process, you move to the honing notch and draw the knife through again until it is smooth.
Cooks Illustrated notes an electric knife sharpener is just like a manual sharpener except that it has motorized wheels. This means you do not have to do anything but insert the knife into the correct notch and slowly pull it through. The sharpener handles everything else. Just be sure when using an electric unit that you hold the knife securely, so it does not slip.
Honing rod or steel
A honing rod, usually referred to as a steel, does not sharpen your knife, but it can prolong the time your knife stays sharp. Anyone who uses a knife on a regular basis should know how to use a steel. It helps to smooth out and straighten the blade for optimal cutting every time you use the knife.
A steel is a long rod with a handle at one end. To use it, you want to hold the handle so that the rod is vertical to a solid surface. The tip of the rod should be firmly on the surface. Then, you run the blade along the rod quickly. As you do this, move the blade up or down the rod as you slowly pull the blade towards you. This ensures you get the whole surface ran along the steel.
Try to maintain an angle of about 22 degrees as you work. Make sure to run both sides of the knife along the steel.
How to Sharpen a Knife with a Serrated Blade
A serrated knife poses a different challenge when you learn how to sharpen a knife. This is because this type of knife does not have one smooth, flat surface. It has multiple grooves that are each sharp. To sharpen this kind of knife, you have to sharpen each of the grooves individually.
Obviously, you cannot use a whetstone or a knife sharpener to do this job. The tool used to sharpen a serrated knife is either a tapered or cylindrical rod. You will run each serration of the knife over the rod. The process is much like using a honing rod except these rods have a rougher grit for grinding. You will also need to finish with a finer rod to hone.
The plus side is that a serrated knife only requires sharpening on one side. Make sure to note which side of the serrations is sharp before you begin.
Tips for How to Sharpen a Knife
There is a learning curve when it comes to figuring out how to sharpen a knife. Regardless of which method you use, there are tips that can make the process easier.
Black marker trick
A whetstone can take quite a while to master. When you first embark on learning how to sharpen a knife with a whetstone, here is a tip to use to help ensure you hold the knife at the right angle. Using a black marker, color the edge of the blade. Run the knife over the stone and check your marking. If you did it correctly, you will not see the black anymore.
However, seeing black remaining on the bottom means you need to adjust your angle because it was too flat. Black left on the top indicates you held the knife too far away from the stone. Keep reapplying the marker to ensure you maintain your angle.
With any method you use as you learn how to sharpen a knife, it is sometimes difficult to know when you have the knife sharp enough. There are a couple of common tests you can use to test your knife's sharpness.
The first is the paper test. Hold a piece of paper vertically and swipe the knife through it from the top down. If you sharpened your knife properly, it will cut through the paper smoothly and easily. Another option is the tomato test. If your knife is sharp enough, it will easily cut through the skin of a tomato without smashing it.
Sharpening in a pinch
Sometimes you may run into a situation where you don't have a sharpening tool available, or you don't feel like dragging it out to sharpen just one knife. In this case, if you need to sharpen a small blade, such as a paring knife, just grab a ceramic mug from the cabinet. Turn the mug over and run the knife along the bottom rim just as you would with a whetstone
Keeping knives sharp
Once you take the time to learn how to sharpen a knife and put all the effort into making your knives sharp, you don't want to let your knives get dulled too quickly. This requires proper storage. Always keep knives in a knife block, hanging on a magnetic strip or otherwise separate from other utensils. If you must put them in a drawer, always use a blade protector. Your knives will stay sharper for longer, and you will prevent any accidents from grabbing a blade when reaching into a drawer to get a knife.
Kitchen Knives vs. Daily Carry Knives
Knives generally fall into two categories. They are either a kitchen knife or a daily carry knife. Knowing the differences between them is essential as you learn how to sharpen a knife.
You need to keep in mind how you use a knife as you learn how to sharpen a knife. According to Knife Planet, with a kitchen knife, your main goal is a very sharp edge. With a daily carry knife, the main goal is more about edge retention. While you do want it sharp, since you use it to cut so many different things, the strength of the edge and the durability of it becomes more important than how sharp it is. Because the goals are not the same, the materials used to make each type of knife are different. This affects how often they need sharpening and how much work it takes to get a sharp edge.
You use a kitchen knife for only food preparation, but you can use a daily carry knife to cut almost anything. The way you use the knife affects the wear on the blade. A daily carry knife will see more wear and therefore require longer to get it sharp.
How Often to Sharpen
Once you learn how to sharpen a knife, your next question will be how often you have to do it. There is no universal answer to how often to sharpen a knife. This is because there is a range of factors that go into determining how quickly a knife goes dull. For most knives, you can consider four main factors.
TOG explains that how frequently you use a knife is the top factor in how often it needs sharpening. If you use a knife every day, it will need sharpening more often. For example, a kitchen knife used daily may need sharpening every four to six weeks whereas a knife you use less often may be fine with sharpening once a year.
The quality of the blade is another factor to keep in mind. High-quality materials allow the knife to keep an edge longer. Low-quality blades dull much faster. If you want the longest lasting blade that requires infrequent sharpening, then you want to buy a hard, high-grade steel blade.
Another factor that impacts how often you must sharpen your knife is how you use it. What you cut can dull a knife very quickly if it is hard or rough. Avoid cutting bone or using the knife on a hard surface to prolong the blade sharpness.
Finally, the way you care for your knife has an impact. You should always store your knife carefully. Also, hand washing knives is a must because the dishwasher will dull a blade fast.
Learning How to Sharpen a Knife Is an Art
You have many options when learning how to sharpen a knife. Whether you want to master the whetstone or prefer the simpler option of a knife sharpener, keeping your knives properly sharpened allows you to work more safely and get better results when using them. You will soon learn that sharpening a knife is kind of an art because you have to master the process of sharpening a knife and then learn how to keep it that way. Now that you know the basics of how to sharpen a knife, you should be able to get a good handle on ensuring you never have to deal with a dull knife again.