How to sharpen kitchen knives
How do you sharpen a knife?
Any professional chef or seasoned home cook will tell you that a sharp knife is the most important tool in the kitchen. Plus, a dull knife can be dangerous: It can easily slip on the thick skin of some fruits and vegetables and cause you to cut a finger.
To keep your kitchen knives sharp, you’ll need to perform regular maintenance in the form of both sharpening and honing, which work together to rebuild and maintain the edge of the blade.
While the process might feel intimidating at first, the right tools and a little practice make it easier than you might think.
Why do knives get dull?
A knife becomes dull when the tiny “teeth” that form its sharp edge either wear down or become misaligned from frequent use. Cutting on hard surfaces like stone, glass, ceramic and porcelain will dull your knife more quickly than using a soft surface like a wood cutting board.
Sharpening vs. honing
Proper knife maintenance requires both honing and sharpening. Sharpening is the processing of removing material from the blade and restructuring its “teeth,” whereas honing simply realigns existing teeth by polishing the surface of the blade.
Sharpening a knife involves grinding the blade against a hard surface like a sharpening stone or the discs of an electric sharpener, which rebuilds the edge from scratch. Honing is the process of dragging the blade against a honing rod or “sharpening steel” to properly align and maintain that edge. Many knife sets come with a honing rod as part of the set.
Honing should be done frequently and as often as each use for ultimate sharpness. But knives need to be sharpened only once or twice a year.
Using a sharpening stone
A sharpening stone, also called a “whetstone,” is a fine-grained rectangular stone made from various materials. The blade of the knife is gently dragged across the stone in several strokes on each side until it forms a new edge.
This is the most traditional sharpening method and the one preferred by most professionals. But it can take a bit more practice than other methods and requires precision to get right.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to sharpening knives with a sharpening stone. This instructional video will also give you a visual guide.
Choose your stone
Sharpening stones come in different grit sizes, which are used for different purposes. The higher the number, the finer the particles. A finer stone is used to more gently sharpen polish a blade, whereas a rougher stone can be used to resurface a damaged or severely dull knife. Some stones (like this one from Whetstone) come with two sides in different grits.
Lubricate and prepare the stone
A sharpening stone typically needs to be lubricated with either water or oil prior to sharpening. If your stone requires oil, be sure to use an approved sharpening stone mineral oil and avoid using cooking or vegetable oils which can damage the stone. Some stones, such as the Duosharp Plus Bench Stone, don’t require lubrication, so always check the instructions on your specific product before use.
Place the wet stone on a damp cloth on a hard surface to keep it steady. If you’re using a stone with two grit sizes, start with the lower grit.
Set the angle
Most blades should be sharpened at a 20-degree angle. To find the angle, first find a 90-degree angle by setting the knife so the blade is perpendicular to the stone. Then tilt the knife halfway to the right to find a 45-degree angle. Now tilt it halfway to the right once more. This should be about 20 degrees.
Carefully drag the blade against the stone
Holding the knife firmly, gently drag the blade across the stone in one direction. Make sure to drag the entire edge of the blade — from the heel to the tip — to evenly sharpen it. Do this several times on each side until the blade feels sharp. If the stone feels dry at any point throughout the process, add additional water or oil to moisten it.
Repeat the process on the finer grit
Once your knife feels sharp, flip the stone over and repeat the sharpening process on the finer grit, making sure to find the proper angle.
Using an electric knife sharpener
An electric knife sharpener works by grinding the knife blade against rapidly moving plates that are made from abrasive material. To use an electric sharpener, you slowly drag the blade through a series of slots while firmly holding the handle of the knife. These sharpeners are quick, convenient and easy to use — but they tend to be much harsher on the blade and can easily damage the knife if used improperly.
Using a manual knife sharpener
A “pull-through” or manual knife sharpener is a handheld device that works in a similar way to an electric sharpener but is done by hand. The process takes much longer than an electric sharpener but tends to wear the blade down less quickly. This is also one of the most affordable options for sharpening knives at home.
Katy Severson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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