How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives? [Comprehensive Guide for Home Cooks]

Jeffrey
June 14, 2022
Learn how to sharpen kitchen knives.

As a home cook, having a set of sharp kitchen knives must be one of the critical items to own. Just think of the absolute joy when you purchase a new knife, and it then slices through things like, well, a hot knife through butter.

But this joy only lasts for a period of time. Eventually, your knives will lose some of their edge. They will get to the point where they no longer feel as sharp or effective as when you first purchased them.

Clearly, that’s a problem that must be addressed. You could throw the knives away and get a new set, but that’s insane. So, the other option is to consider sharpening kitchen knives and get them back to those early days when they made quick work of whatever was placed in front of them.

So, that then opens up a rather important question. How to sharpen kitchen knives? Well, it turns out you have more than one option available, and that’s what we plan on helping you with right now.

The Importance of Having Sharp Knives

But first, a quick summary of why it’s so important to have sharp knives and to know how to sharpen a knife in general.

Clearly, a sharp knife makes a huge difference when cutting through something. Imagine trying to cut meat, for example, with a blunt knife. You end up hacking through it and ripping at it rather than a knife slicing clean through.

The same goes for making more delicate cuts and precision work on vegetables. Gone are the chances of cutting fine slices of carrots when the blade is blunt. The carrot effectively laughs at you thanks to the ineptitude of your utensils.

But it’s not all about cutting. 

A blunt knife is also a hazard. When the knife is no longer as sharp as it used to be, we try to counteract this by applying more force through the blade. We push down on the knife and try to use our own power to get it to go through whatever it is we are cutting.

But that’s not the correct way of doing things. Instead, the sharpness of the knife, coupled with its own weight, should be enough for the knife to go through whatever you need it to go through. If you find you are leaning through the knife to cut a potato, then something is wrong with your knife.

When you use more force, you increase the odds of the knife slipping and causing an injury. It may not be sharp enough to cut through what you need it to cut through, but a blunt knife is still more than capable of causing you a severe injury or cutting your hand.

Finally, knife blades will chip and break. That too will affect the ability of the blade to cut things as precisely as you want. Learning how to sharpen kitchen knives allows you to redefine the blade and remove those imperfections giving you a clean blade that can work just as good as new.

You should know how to sharpen kitchen knives.

The Key Methods for Sharpening Knives

So it’s clear why sharpening your kitchen knives is important. You have several options available to you when it comes to the actual sharpening process. You should be familiar with the parts of knife before starting since you want to sharpen them correctly and later get the best out of them. These methods will help you learn how to sharpen kitchen knives in no time.

Our First Piece of Advice – Check the Manufacturer

If you have purchased a knife or set of knives from a good manufacturer, then our first piece of advice is to go ahead and check what the manufacturer has to say. This could be crucial as some knives should be sent back to the manufacturer for sharpening to ensure things are done correctly.

For us, this has to be the starting point. You don’t want to spend $100+ on a knife only to then destroy it by doing the wrong thing when it comes to sharpening. 

Method 1: Using Sharpening Steel

If you think of someone sharpening a knife at home, there’s a chance you envision a long piece of steel and the individual running the blade up and down the steel. While this may be familiar, it’s often not the best approach. 

Honestly, a sharpening rod doesn’t exactly sharpen. Well, at least not to the same extent as the options we will discuss later. Instead, its intention is to hone a blunt blade and help it regain some of its edge, allowing it to work better.

But this will only happen when you use it correctly to sharpen your knives

The key to using this method is the angle of the knife. It must be around 15 degrees to then allow the rod to hone that blade and rediscover the sharp edge. 

The Best Way to Use Sharpening Steel

To correctly use a sharpening steel rod, you must hold the rod vertically. Take your knife, and place the heel against the rod’s tip. Make sure your knife is pointing upwards at a slight angle, and keep that 15-degree angle in mind for the blade part against the rod.

Then, apply only light to mild pressure on the knife by pressing it against the rod. Slide the blade down the rod at that same angle, and do so in more of a sweeping move. You are aiming to pull the knife down the rod, and by the time you get to the bottom, the point of the knife is the only part making contact with the rod.

Finally, repeat this particular motion four or five times, but ensure you do this on both sides of the blade.

The most important question in the kitchen is how to sharpen kitchen knives.

Method 2: A Knife Sharpener

The next method is the knife sharpener, and several options exist. Your first choice needs to be between a manual and an electric sharpener. Both can produce quite decent end results, but more about that shortly.

But first, a knife sharpener will always produce a more effective end result than a sharpening rod. If a knife needs to be sharpened and not merely honed slightly, you need to use a knife sharpener.

This is because sharpening a knife in an effective manner involves removing quite a substantial amount of metal from the blade. This allows you to reshape the edge and turn a dull knife into one capable of delivering the type of end results you are looking for.

The Electric Knife Sharpener

Using an electric knife sharpener is easy to do. It operates by a series of abrasive surfaces placed on motorized wheels. When the blade is placed inside the sharpener, those wheels rotate, running the surfaces against the blade to sharpen it.

How to Use an Electric Knife Sharpener

First, you want to turn on the electric knife sharpener. Hold the knife in your dominant hand, but there’s no need to grasp it too tightly.

The aim here is to pull the knife blade through the sharpener slowly. We do mean slowly though. This allows those abrasive surfaces to work on the blade, refining it. 

But remember, you have two sides to the blade. That means you need to alternate sides to ensure both sides of the blade have been sharpened.

However, you also need to ensure your electric sharpener comes with a spring-loaded guide. This guide is intended to allow the blade to run along the surfaces without too much adverse movement. It ultimately results in a smoother result that is equal along the length of the blade.

Method 3: A Manual Knife Sharpener

A manual knife sharpener comes with one key difference compared to the electric knife sharpener, and it’s all to do with the abrasive surfaces. Those surfaces are not placed on motorized wheels on this model, so you need to do most of the action yourself.

Instead, the abrasive surface sits on both sides of a v-shaped slot. You place the knife in this slot and then pull it through. Nice and simple, yet highly effective.

How to Use a Manual Knife Sharpener

A manual knife sharpener makes life as easy as possible for sharpening your knife. The v-shaped slot comes with high walls, and it’s those walls that hold the blade in place while you pull it through the sharpener.

You need to place the blade in the slot, pull the knife through slowly, and use even pressure. Repeat this process several times to achieve the sharp result you are looking for.

Method 4: A Whetstone

If using a knife sharpener like those discussed above is not appealing, how about a more traditional method using a whetstone? Using a whetstone to sharpen a blade is something that has been around for over 2000 years, so it must be good when it comes to achieving results.

One of the fantastic things about a whetstone is how it can sharpen any knife. Often, knife sharpeners are restricted to certain blades at particular angles. There are no such concerns with a whetstone.

How to Use a Whetstone

First, notice how a whetstone comes with two different types of grit with one on either side. One grit is coarse, while the other is finer. 

Wet the stone. Depending on the version you own, it may require some oil to be drizzled and wiped over the whetstone. We really do stress the need to read the instructions from the manufacturer of your stone. It will tell you exactly how to use your particular stone to get the desired result.

In general, most knives need to be sharpened at around a 20-degree angle. This is often the most challenging part of using a whetstone in that you need to figure out the angle on your own. 

However, we have a simple tip that will undoubtedly get your knife close enough to that all-important angle.

Begin by holding your knife at a 90-degree angle to the table. That means your knife is directly up and down over the whetstone. Tilt the knife, so it is halfway between being upright and lying flat on the table. This produces an angle close enough to 45 degrees.

Once you have done that, you need to tilt the knife again, covering half of the distance between how the blade is now situated and the table. Do this correctly, and you are close enough to it being a 20-degree angle.

Place the stone on a damp cloth and place the whetstone on top. Place the knife’s blade on the whetstone with it facing away from you. Start at the blade’s heel, and place your fingertips on the back of the blade. Your other hand will be sitting on the spine near the point as this is how you control the movement.

When ready, pull the knife back across the whetstone. Repeat the process on the other side of the blade to ensure both sides are being sharpened. Once you have finished with the coarse side, switch over to the finer side of the whetstone.

The Most Effective Method?

The four methods listed above are all effective but in differing amounts. If we were to grade them, then the sharpening rod would come bottom of our list.

The sharpening rod looks good, but it just doesn’t do much. It will slightly polish up a blade that has only lost a small percentage of its sharpness, but that’s about it.

Also, while a whetstone is effective, it does require a lot of preparation, patience, and a willingness to put in the effort. It does deliver excellent results, but it will take some time to get used to the method.

So we feel that either a manual or electric knife sharpener is the best tool to use to bring a blunt knife back to life. Both have their pros and cons, but ultimately it’s all about sharpening a knife correctly, especially if you own a Serbian chef knife and want to cut through anything effortlessly.

Sharpening knives is part of their maintenance, and any home cook who loves their kitchen should know how to sharpen kitchen knives whenever required. Honestly, some people have more than one option available to them. There is something amazing about using a traditional method such as a whetstone. Still, there’s also something wonderful about the speed and precision of an electric knife sharpener.

At the end of the day, use the method that appeals to you the most. However, we should remind you of the need to double-check with the manufacturer about any specific sharpening methods to be aware of. After all, we want you to be able to sharpen your knives and not destroy them in the process.

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