Making the Cut (Knife Sharpening 101)

Making the Cut (Knife Sharpening 101)

Let’s talk knife sharpening. Keeping your knife sharp is a quintessential skill for any home cook. First thing to know; dull blades are dangerous ones! It’s far to easy to let our blades dull and allow the process of kitchen prep to become all the more tedious. Well fear no more! After this guide you’ll have all the required know-how to start honing your skills (and your knives!). If you want a run down of a knives anatomy or how to handle a knife before you dive into sharpening click those links! Aside from that, let’s just dive into it!

The Sharp Knife Goal

Alright, going into knife sharpening there is a few goals. First and foremost, we want it to be sharp (which of course we knew that). Then secondly, we want the blade to stay sharp. Thirdly, we want it to get sharp again, easily.

So, how do we achieve this trifecta of knife sharpness? Well to start, getting a knife sharp is pretty easy. Any type of edge will do, and really any steel is going to get sharp eventually. That said, getting it to stay sharp and then being easy to sharpen again are two different stories.

Getting a knife to stay sharp has to do with the quality of the knife. Good types of steel such as AUS-8a (that’s a type of heat-treated steel that makes good knives) are better at holding edges. The steel is a huge part of what makes a good quality knife so good. There are different kinds of edges and some hold up better than others. However they usually require fancy sharpeners and take awhile therefore they  are no longer satisfying our third criteria: being easy to sharpen.

The type of edge you pick can mean the difference from having to buy a fancy electric sharpener or a humble tri-stone sharpener. I prefer a simple V-edge. It’s exactly what you think it is, both sides of the edge come together evenly to a sharp point like a V. It’s generally what knives come out of the box with. Also, just about any tri-hone or whet stone will get you a good edge relatively quickly.

So to summarize, we can get anything sharp, but to stay sharp we need some decent steel and the v-edge gives us the quickest path to a good edge.

Sharpening

Alright, now that we have an idea of what we want to accomplish let’s get out to accomplishing it! I believe to have the most control you will want a tri-hone knife sharpener. It consists of three flat sides one coarse, one medium and one fine. They range from pretty cheap ($20-$25) to $200 or more. I’m perfectly happy with my $25 sharpener but if you want something fancy go for it, just make sure it’s not a rip-off!

These types of sharpeners also require some liquid to assist with sharpening. You can buy sharpening fluid or just use mineral oil, both work well but mineral oil is probably cheapest.

So, to start off, grab all the knives that need sharpening and make sure they are nice and clean. Lay your sharpener out and decide which side you will use. Unless the edge needs completely redone and is chipped and ruined, don’t use coarse. Use medium if it’s in bad shape and fine in order to cure most your average levels of dullness.

Put on enough of the sharpening fluid to give a thin layer on the entire side. Position your blade at around 20 degree angle with blade resting at the back of the stone. To get 20 degrees you should stack 2 quarters and rest the back of the blade against the quarters.

Knife Placement

Next, slide the knife like you are slicing off a piece of the stone, maintaining the angle ensuring every inch of the blade slides along the stone. Like this:

Knife Sharpening

Do this about 3 times then repeat for the other side. You will have to pull the knife towards you for this and it can be a bit more awkward for whatever side is your non-dominant hand but you’ll get the hang of it! If you are on the coarse or medium side, repeat the 3 swipes each side one more time and move down to the next level. If you are on fine, repeat until you are satisfied with the sharpness. That’s pretty much the gist of it. Just make sure to clean and wipe off the blades so you don’t get bits of steel in your next meal 🙂

Maintenance and Honing

Keeping your knife sharp as long as possible does require some know how. As a rule of thumb, if you aren’t cutting with the edge, you shouldn’t be using it. Scraping food up, stirring or anything not cutting will dull your edge faster than necessary.

You’re cutting board can also ruin edges quickly too. Glass and granite are terrible and should be decoration only, they are awful cutting surfaces. Wood or bamboo is by far the best and plastic comes in a close second. I try to keep wood for veggies and plastic for raw meat. Plastic is easier to sanitize and keep clean. That said, replace your plastic cutting board once it gets all scratched up as bacteria enjoy all those tiny little crevices!

Another extremely important maintenance practice with your knives is to regularly hone them. Honing is the practice of straightening out your edge. Over time your blade will begin to curl over itself. Honing straightens out the edge to prevent premature dulling. In reality you should probably be doing this about every 2 or 3 times you use your knife.

You probably have seen chefs on TV doing all sorts of fancy honing tricks but they are usually all flash and no substance. Mainly because it’s really really hard to keep a consistent angle if both your knife and honing rod are flying all. What you want to do is rest your honing rod on a solid surface and hold your knife against it at that 20 degree angle (you will have a hard time using quarters for this so make sure you have a feel for what that angle is). Then use the same motion as sharpening to ‘slice off’ a piece of the honing knife. Repeat about 3-5 times for each side of the edge. Marvel at your freshly honed knife! 🙂

Knife Honing Tutorial

Lastly, let’s talk cleaning. It’s pretty straight forward, just make sure to wash the towards the edge to prevent hurting yourself. If you want to shine the blade up, remove water or rust stains than I advise a good scrubbing with an S.O.S pad. Just go in a circular motion with the pad along the entire length of the blade.

Hopefully this run down on knife sharpening and maintenance gives you a good bit of knowledge that sharpened up your mind and knife skills! If you thought this guide was useful like, share subscribe and any and all other social media goodness you can throw my way!

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