How to Sharpen a Serrated Knife

Jeremy Dodd
February 24, 2021
how to sharpen a serrated knife

I spent the majority of my life assuming that serrated knives never have to be sharpened. These incredible knives are the most fuss-free of the lot, helping you slice slippery tomatoes and the most delicate cake layers. Sometimes, I’d even cheat culinary rules by using my serrated knife for other objects, like onions or skinning wood. (We don’t recommend this, not unless you want to destroy your bread knife!) 

Serrated knives, whether it’s a bread knife or a pocket knife with a handy serrated edge, do need to be sharpened. Yes, it’s much less often than regular knives need to, but the edge of the knife does wear out over time, as it comes in contact with harsher substances. 

If you’re taking care of your serrated knife (not tossing it in a dishwasher and only using it for its intended purposes) it’s possible that you can go a couple of years without ever having to sharpen it. 

However, the time will come (as we assume yours has since you’re reading this article!) when your serrated knife isn’t slicing like it once used to. There are a few things to look out for that signal your serrated knife is losing its sharpness. A bread knife is supposed to cause minimal crumbs when cutting through slices of bread. If you find that you’re not able to slice bread as easily as before, or your tomato knife is slipping on tomato skin, you might want to sharpen your serrated knife. 

There’s no need to search for a new replacement serrated knife! In this article, we’ll detail a few techniques through which you can sharpen your serrated knife. 

What is a Serrated Knife? 

A serrated knife functions very similarly to a saw. It has a saw-like edge, with teeth that snag into a hard and resistant surface and slice through softer interiors with ease. Put simply, a serrated knife is a knife that has a jagged tooth-like edge. 

Bread knives are often used interchangeably to mean serrated knives, but they are not one and the same. While bread knives are indeed serrated knives, not all serrated knives are bread knives. You can also find a partially serrated edge on something like the blade of a pocket knife. Serrated knives aren’t just used for foods like bread and tomatoes, they’re also incredibly useful for puncturing and carving. 

There are a few reasons why serrated knives perform so well in a kitchen. No matter what the steel quality and build, the design of the serrated edge is such that it will help even the thinnest sheets of the blade cut through harder materials. Even when the serrated knife corners have gotten blunt, they will still do the job remarkably better than a regular straight-edge knife that has gotten dull. 

Serrated knives are particularly useful in cutting citrus fruits, since they’re able to pierce through the tough skin and cut the flesh of the fruit without squishing it and wasting all of its juice on your countertop. It also works great for delicate foods, like puff pastry and pies. 

Why Do Serrated Knives Get Dull?

While there’s no doubt about the fact that serrated knives last longer than regular knives, it doesn’t mean that they’re immune to getting dull. Depending on the quality and build of your serrated knife, you can get much more use out of it. 

Your serrated knife gets dull as it comes in contact with other objects. Most of the time, this tend to be the cutting board itself. The cutting board, if made from a very hard wood or substance, can cause the knife to get blunt. Over time, as the knife repeatedly cuts food on the cutting board surface, the edge starts to lose its sharpness. 

Serrated knives also loosen their sharpness by coming in contact with really tough materials. For example, trying to slice off a block of soft wood might actually be successful with a serrated  knife, but it will definitely take a toll on the knife itself. 

However, not all serrated knives are made equally. There are some kinds of serrated knives that stay sharper and also make your life much easier during the sharpening process. Ideally, you want to choose a serrated knife that has fewer serrations (this means each sharp chisel edge is wider apart). A serrated knife with fewer and wider serrations will cut better as more force is exerted down onto the cutting object. 

A serrated knife that has more number of serrations placed close together may not be as powerful a knife. That’s because the teeth will be so sharp and so many that they shred the surface of the object, and don’t maintain its integrity. 

It’s also easier to sharpen a knife with fewer serrations, since there’s more space to really focus on each sharp point. 

Tools Needed for Sharpening a Serrated Knife

Although there are a couple of ways in which you can sharpen your serrated knife, none of them involve using any sharpening tools that are out of the ordinary. Here are the various tools you might need when you decide to sharpen your serrated knife: 

  • A tapered sharpening rod
  • Sharpening stone
  • Triangle sharpener
  • Electric knife sharpener

We’ll get into how to sharpen your knife using every method in the next section. However, keep in mind that purchasing a tapered sharpening rod tends to be the best option and if you’re short on time, you can focus on quickly sourcing that tool for your serrated knife. If that’s not possible, read on to find out how you can accomplish the same results using the other tools. 

Should You Sharpen Your Serrated Knives?

This is as important a question as to how to sharpen your serrated knives. The reason is that not all serrated knives need to, or even should be sharpened. 

You can sharpen a regular knife with a few angled swipes on a sharpening stone and be done with the entire process. Retrieving a razor-sharp edge for your regular kitchen knife isn’t too difficult, depending on the quality of stainless steel that’s used (a higher-carbon knife is harder and tougher to sharpen). 

However, sharpening a serrated knife requires you to pay attention to sharpening each serration. This means that you will have to give each tooth some quality time and attention in order to get it to the right sharpness. Most serrated knives have anywhere from 15-30 teeth across the blade of the knife, if not more! As you can imagine, this won’t be a two-minute process. 

Considering how much time and effort it takes to sharpen your serrated knife (not to mention sourcing the perfect tapered serrated sharpening rod), not all serrated knives are worthy of such attention! We strongly believe that you should only be sharpening the serrated knives that are high-quality and need care in order to boost their performance. 

If your serrated knife was a budget bread knife and has lasted you a long time, chances are that it might not be worth the effort of sharpening each tooth. Typically, you should be focusing your efforts on sharpening the lifelong serrated knives that are made from sturdy, resilient, and tough stainless steel. 

If your budget bread knife is so flexible that it can almost bend in half, it might also mean that the quality of steel is low, to begin with. With this kind of steel, the hardness is so low that sharpening it isn’t worth the effort. You might be able to go through the entire sharpening process for this budget knife, but it will quickly become blunt again. 

Furthermore, many bread knives and other kinds of serrated knives will claim that they don’t require sharpening at all. This generally indicated one of two things: either they mean that serrated knives don’t need sharpening (which is incorrect) or they mean to say that the knife won’t need sharpening during its lifespan (i.e. you should throw it away once it stops working as well). 

There’s a big case for investing in a high-quality serrated knife: it’s one of the three most important chef’s knives that you should have in your kitchen and can do so much that a regular knife cannot accomplish. If you’re a knife enthusiast like we are, you’ll truly appreciate the invention that the serrated knife is, and invest in a high-quality durable one with fewer serrations that make for easier sharpening. 

If you only have a budget bread knife on hand, consider ditching the sharpening plan and throwing the whole knife away. This might be the perfect time to invest in a better one. 

We also don’t think you should bother too much about sharpening the serrated blade on a Swiss knife or pocket knife (if you have one) since these tend to be too difficult to sharpen anway. They’re also not built to be sharpened and are not meant to hold up for years together. 

How to Sharpen Your Serrated Knife

If you’ve decided that sharpening your serrated knife is the way to go: here are a few methods by which you can do it. We’ve put together the easiest, most effective and even some methods that you can perform at home in a pinch. Of course, we strongly recommend that you procure a tapered sharpening rod for your serrated knife, but that’s not to say that other sharpening tools won’t produce the same effect in the end.

Method 1: Tapered Sharpening Rod

If you own a lot of knives and regularly sharpen them, you’re no stranger to sharpening rods. However, the sharpening rods used for serrated knives are different and specially built for serrated knives. They tend to be much narrower and have a tapered shape in order to accommodate all of the nooks and crannies in a serrated knife. 

You should be able to procure a specialized tapered sharpening rod easily. You want your sharpening rod to be so thin that it can fit into each of your serrated knife’s teeth one at a time. This means that it should fit perfectly into each serrated scallop so that we can sharpen all of them one by one. 

Don’t worry if only the tapered portion of your sharpening rod fits the knife’s serrations, as it’s perfectly alright to do it this way.

  1. Find the bevelled side of the knife. Most of the time, the bevelled side will be facing you when you hold the knife in such a way that the sharp edge is looking right. However, this may not be the case with all serrated knives. The bevelled side of the knife slopes downwards, just before the teeth begin. You will only be sharpening the scallops of the serrated knife from the bevelled side. 
  2. Once you’ve located the bevelled side, start from the base of the knife. Fit the tapered sharpening rod into the first serrated tooth at a narrow-angle. While most regular knives are sharpened between 17-22 degrees, you would need to sharpen your serrated knife at a narrower angle, ideally 13degrees. Find what’s comfortable for you and what seems to be working for your knife. Make sure that the diameter of your sharpening rod is not larger than the width of the serrated scallop you’re working on. If it is, you could end up enlargening the tooth, which can ruin the entire design of the knife. 
  3. Sharpen the tooth by moving the rod in a gentle back and forth motion. You can also incorporate some rotational movement as you carry this out. Ensure that you’re at the right angle of the bevel and are not directly touching the sharp edge of the scallop. Keep in mind that you may not have to sharpen so narrow if the bevel has been ground deeper.
  4. Search for burrs to ensure that you’ve been able to sufficiently sharpen your knife. You would need to work on filing away these shavings as well. You can do this easily with some sandpaper or by carefully wiping the rod on this portion as well. 
  5. Repeat the process for each scallop of the serrated knife. You might have to use different widths of the rod if each scallop/groove is of a different size. 

Method 2: Sharpening Stone

If you’re a knife enthusiast or just a home chef that takes their cooking seriously, you likely own a sharpening stone already. We can understand why you’re reluctant to get another sharpening rod — the sharpening stone wasn’t cheap, can’t you just sharpen your serrated knives on it as well? 

Well, you can, but it’s not going to be as easy and straightforward as it was with the sharpening rod. You will have to do quite a bit of work to make sure that you’re getting the right angle with the sharpening stone. 

  1. Using the corner of your stone, level the first groove of your serrated knife. Make sure that the stone is at the right angle, and that you’re sharpening the bevel side. Under no circumstances you should ever be sharpening the opposite side of the bevel.
  2. With a narrow angle, sharpen the groove until it gets sharpened and you can feel the burrs on the spine of the knife. 
  3. Instead of moving the rod, you will have to move the knife on the stone. Use quick and short strokes in one direction instead of trying to go back and forth or rotating the knife. The stone will likely sharpen the groove much faster than the rod but has the danger of changing the entire shape of the groove itself. To avoid this, intermittently check the sharpness of your groove when you’re working with the stone. 
  4. Repeat for the rest of the grooves as well. 

In some cases, the grooves of the serrated knife are too small to accomplish this process. If your serrated knife has very tiny serrations and little to no gap between them, you might want to try a completely different method. 

Carefully slide the edge of the serrated knife by the sharpening stone. You will not be able to sharpen each groove perfectly, but the pointed points of each groove will mostly get sharpened than it was before. 

Keep in mind that you also risk destroying the shape of these serrations by sharpening it in this way. That’s why we recommend that you use it as a last resort. If you’re looking to buy a serrated knife in the near future, keep away from those that have many tiny serrations.

Method 3: Triangle Sharpener

The triangle sharpener is very similar to the process you would follow for the tapered sharpening rod. If you can’t find the tapered sharpening rod, using a triangle sharpener is your next best bet. That’s because triangle sharpeners are also specifically designed for sharpening serrated knives. However, not all serrated knives will work best on triangle sharpeners. You will tend to get the best results from serrated knives that have V-shaped grooves (gullets). 

  1. Line the groove of the serrated knife onto the triangle sharpener rod. Ensure that the angle is narrow and parallel to the angle of the bevel. 
  2. Carefully sharpen it with back and forth motions of the knife. Do not attempt to use any rotational movements in this method as it could ruin the shape of the gullets in the knives, or enlarge them. 
  3. Buff away any burrs that collect with some sandpaper. 
  4. Repeat for the rest of the grooves as well.

Method 4: Electric Knife Sharpener

We don’t entirely recommend that you use an electric knife sharpener since it isn’t the most effective tool when it comes to sharpening serrated knives. You can often achieve much better results by simply using the tapered sharpening rod specially designed for serrated knife sharpening, and also by virtue of the fact that this method involves targeting each groove manually. You cannot achieve this kind of precision through an electric knife sharpener. 

Most electric knife sharpeners (particularly the low-end or affordable ones) do not have a slot for serrated knife sharpening. Of course, you cannot use the regular slot of knife sharpening for a serrated knife as it will sharpen the entire portion of the blade, not just the grooves. 

Even if your electric knife sharpener does have a slot for serrated knives, there are a few processes and checks that you must follow before you jump the gun. Ensure that the internal grinding disks of the sharpener target only one side (i.e. the bevelled side) of the knife. If they sharpen both sides of the knife, your serrated knife will not work like before, and its intrinsic blade geometry will be ruined. Serrated knives are not supposed to have double edges and are meant to have a bevelled side. This is especially true because they tend to have concave shaped gullets, instead of just sharp teeth. A double-side electric sharpener would eliminate the concave shape of the gullets. 

Another thing to look out for is if the electric knife sharpener slot is able to reach the entire surface of the gullet or only the pointed edges. Just the pointed edges getting sharpened would be quite useless, and you would be left with a poky knife instead of a serrated knife with sharpened gullets. 

If your electric knife sharpens on one bevelled side and reaches the entire edge of the gullet, then you can proceed with the sharpening process, otherwise we strongly dissuade you from carrying out the process!

Frequently Asked Questions about Sharpening Serrated Knives

Here are the most commonly asked questions by people looking to sharpen their serrated knives.

Can I use a whetstone to sharpen my serrated knife? 

A whetstone or a sharpening stone can indeed be used when sharpening a serrated knife, but you would have to be careful not to damage the shape of the gullets. Use only the corner of the whetstone and do not use its edge. Target each gullet one by one and sharpen on the side of the bevel, at a parallel angle to the bevel. 

If you own a good serrated knife that you want to keep in good shape, we recommend that you invest in a tapered sharpening rod that’s intended for individually sharpening each concave gullet of a serrated knife. 

Can you make a cheap serrated knife sharp? 

Yes, you can make a cheap serrated knife sharp. In fact, it might be slightly easier to sharpen a cheap serrated knife since it likely uses lower-quality steel that’s not very hard. Lower hardness in steel means that it’s very easy to quickly sharpen. The caveat is that it may not remain sharp, and your cheap serrated knife might quickly return to its dull state after coming in contact with tough objects or your cutting board. 

That’s why we recommend that you avoid sharpening cheap serrated knives, and spend your time (and money!) on sharpening higher quality serrated knives that are worth the effort.

What is a serrated knife good for? 

Serrated knives are great for cutting through anything that has a tough exterior and a soft interior. That includes but is not limited to bread, tomatoes, citrus fruits, meat and other objects. A steak knife is also a serrated knife, since it can easily cut through the long vertical meat fibers of the steak. Even the sharpest knife can struggle to hook on to the object and is at risk of slipping. 

It’s not just kitchen requirements that encompass the use of serrated knives. You’ll also find serrated knives in a Swiss pocket knife since it tends to be a very useful tool to have in the wild on your outdoor adventures. 

Is a Serrated knife better for self-defense?

The jury is still out on this question. In some sense, the teeth of a serrated knife latch on to the attacker’s skin and can potentially cause greater injury than a regular knife. A dull regular knife can’t inflict as much damage as a dull serrated knife, due to the knives’ design.
However, a serrated knife is notorious for getting stuck on unintended things. A serrated knife is also at risk of getting stuck on clothes, which can leave you without a weapon.

Conclusion

A serrated knife is an invaluable addition to any Chef’s knife collection, and also finds a way to be useful in outdoor survival settings. It only makes sense that you would take the effort to ensure your serrated knife stays in good shape. While it’s clear that a tapered sharpening rod is best for taking care of your serrated knife, you can also get away with using a few other tools. Let us know which method you tried out and how it worked for you. Good luck!

About The Author
Jeremy Dodd is a columnist for KnifeUp Magazine covering outdoor, tactical, hunting, and fishing topics. He served eight years in the United States Navy and attended Vincennes University for Conservation Law Enforcement. Jeremy lives in Washington, Indiana.

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