How To Sharpen A Knife
by Kris Whelan
How To Sharpen a Knife
- Place the whetstone on a flat surface and find the optimal angle based on your particular knife style. (Keep the same angle throughout the sharpening process)
- Hold the handle with your preferred hand and use your thumb to apply pressure on the spine of the knife.
- With your other hand use three or four fingers to put pressure on the cutting edge.
- Begin with the heel of the blade and work your way up to the tip.
- Slide the knife blade forward along the whetstone, away from your body. Lift the blade when you reach the edge of the stone and begin again.
Some people choose to go to a professional knife sharpening service, but there are a variety of tools available for you to sharpen your knife at home and each tool has different methods for you to use. This guide will give a detailed description of which sharpening option is best for you.
Everything You Need to Know about Sharpening a Knife at home
- When to sharpen a kitchen knife
- Sharpening a knife with a whetstone
- Sharpening a knife with an electric sharpener
- Sharpening a knife with a honing rod
- The difference between sharpening a knife and honing a knife
1. When To Sharpen a Knife
The fact that you’re reading this article means that you’re asking yourself ‘Do I need to sharpen my knife?’ and thankfully there are two simple tests that can quickly answer that question for you.The Paper Test
Hold a piece of paper (A4 is best) in front of you with your non dominant hand. Choose the knife that needs to be tested and begin to slice down the centre of the page. Be sure to slice away from your body. If the knife fails to cut through the paper and either slides off or ‘breaks’ the page, then you need to sharpen your knife.
The Tomato Test
Any sharp knife will cut through a tomato’s skin in even slices and without turning the tomato into a pile of sloppy mush. If you ‘break’ your tomato instead of slice it, it’s time to sharpen your knife.
You can use these tests as often as you’d like, but you generally only need to sharpen your knife once every two - three months.
Even though there are preventative measures you can take (like storing your darlings in knife blocks), the bottom line is that all kitchen knives need some help getting back to the ‘out of the box’ (sharpened) condition, in which it has a ‘V’ shape.
After extended periods of use (or bouncing around your kitchen drawer), the cutting edge becomes dull and transforms into an almost useless ‘U’ shape.
2. Sharpening a Knife with a Whetstone
What is a Whetstone?
A whetstone (also known as a waterstone or sharpening stone) is a knife sharpener with either a coarse or fine surface. The fine grit allows you to maintain a sharp knife and the coarse grit allows you to re-grind a dull knife. (And who doesn’t want sharpened knives?)
How To Sharpen a Knife with a Whetstone
- Soak the sharpening stone in water for 5 - 10 minutes. (Remove it from the water when air bubbles have stopped appearing)
- Place the stone on a flat surface
- Find the optimal angle on the whetstone for your particular knife. A Japanese knife requires a different angle to a Western knife. (Keep the same angle throughout)
- Hold the handle with one hand and use your thumb to apply pressure on the spine of the knife, at the same time use three or four fingers from your other hand to put pressure on the cutting edge. (Careful with those fingers)
- Slide the blade forward along the whetstone, away from your body. Lift the blade when you reach the edge of the stone and begin again. (Start with the heel of the blade and work your way up to the tip)
- Flip the knife and repeat the process.
- Whetstones can bring even the dullest blades back to life
- Whetstones often prolong a knife’s life more than electric sharpeners
- They are used for both Western and Asian styled knives.
- You can use a whetstone to sharpen a wide variety of knives, including;
- For impatient chefs, this sharpening system can seem longer than other methods
- You need to be precise. How you angle your blade will determine the grind
- Like any skill, it takes time to master
3. Sharpening a Knife with an Electric Knife Sharpener
What is an Electric Knife Sharpener?
An electric knife sharpener is a machine that grinds metal from your knife and takes away most of the effort associated with other knife sharpeners. This tool is the quickest and simplest form of sharpening your knife, but is less reliable than other sharpening methods.
How To Sharpen Knives with an Electric Knife Sharpener
The process can vary by machine, but the below points are good guidelines.
- Check that the machine’s trap for shavings is empty. (If it has a trap)
- Ensure the machine is secure on a flat surface, with no chance of sliding or shifting during the process.
- Before use, ensure that this machine is suitable for your specific knife type. For example, many machine’s can’t sharpen a serrated knife.
- Insert the heel of the blade and gently pull the knife back towards you. (Don’t put too much force on the blade as you may damage the knife and or machine, and take great care when pulling the knife)
- If the machine has a honing feature, use that after you sharpen the blade, not before.
- The process is extremely quick from start to finish
- Super simple method of sharpening your knife
- There is often a guard or trap for your steel shavings
- Inconsistent products on the market
- Often times more expensive than other sharpening tools
- Some machines scratch the sides of your blades
- They’re not known for their versatility as they come with prefixed angle settings
4. How To Sharpen a Knife with Honing Steel
What is a Honing Steel?
A honing steel is a stick shaped tool that you use to give to shape your knife’s angle. It’s also known as a Sharpening Rod, Sharpening Steel or Honing Rod. It does not in fact sharpen your knife, but compliments whatever sharpening method you use. (Don’t worry, the irony that a tool that is sometimes called a sharpening steel but doesn’t actually sharpen anything isn’t lost on us)
How To Use a Honing Steel
- Hold the handle of your honing steel and rest the tip on a flat surface. (Ensure it will not slide during the process before you add a knife into the mix)
- Use your stronger hand to hold the knife, place the sharp edge of the blade against the honing steel.
- It's best to position the blade at an approximate 20-degree sharpening angle to the steel. (Not the best with geometry? Try starting by holding the knife at a 90-degree angle from the steel, parallel to the surface. Then, rotate the knife so that it halves that imaginary 90-degree angle, then do it again.)
- Start with the heel of the knife, and draw the blade downward along the steel toward the surface, maintaining light pressure. Ensure to pull the handle back toward you, so you make contact with the entire length of the blade's edge.
- Flip the blade, repeat.
Tip: If you’re using a ceramic knife, be sure to use a ceramic honing rod.
- Easier process to learn than other methods
- Adds a unique tool to your collection
- An inexpensive option
- Quick way to compliment the efforts of other sharpening tools
- You look cool doing it
- Will not sharpen dull kitchen knives. (Provides a better shape to an already sharpened blade)
- Doesn’t remove any steel, which is necessary to fix a knife that’s lost its edge
- Different knives have different needs. You need to learn the various angles required to improve your specific blade before you get to work with your honing rod
5. The Differences Between Sharpening a Knife vs Honing a Knife
You should sharpen your knife once every 2 - 3 months, you hone your blade once a week or every time you prepare a meal. Sharpening a knife grinds away steel from the blade’s cutting edge, but honing shapes an already sharp blade. Where sharpening fixes a dull blade, honing can not.
Honing a knife doesn’t actually sharpen a blade’s edge. (No really, it doesn’t)
BUT it does allow for a safer cutting experience by straightening the blade’s cutting edge and providing a smoother slice.
You hone your knife more often than you sharpen your knife
You can use your honing rod as often as every time you cook, but most of us can get away with honing our knives once a week.
Honing compliments your knife sharpening
Sharp knives will have a ‘V’ shape and honing that ‘V’ will help give it a more precise angle. So in addition to regularly honing your cutting edge, it’s definitely worth using the honing steel at the end of your knife sharpening routine too.
Sharpening kitchen knives removes steel from its blade
This isn’t a bad thing, I promise! Sharpening your knife consists of grinding steel away from your blade’s cutting edge, but it actually restores it’s V-Shape. This provides the knife its razor sharp edge.
Honing the days away vs sharpening by season
Unlike honing, sharpening blades doesn’t need to be done on a daily or even weekly basis. You should only need to sharpen your kitchen knife once every few months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will a honing steel sharpen my kitchen knives?
- No, but it will give your knife a better and more precise angle.
- The traditional whetstone is the best sharpening method due to its versatility and reliability.
- You should sharpen your chef’s knife once every 2 - 3 months.
How do you professionally sharpen a knife at home?
- Before using any knife sharpener, do your research! Read up on the various sharpening tools and methods and make the purchase that’s right for you. Whether you go for a whetstone or any other knife sharpening tool, you need to prepare.
Written by Kris Whelan
Kris is a food enthusiast and lover of all things knives. He prides himself on helping home cooks and professional chefs find their inner Gordon Ramsay. His favorite Dalstrong Knife collection is The Crusader Series.