How to Properly Sharpen Your Kitchen Knives
Any professional chef or home cook knows that you’ve got to have the right tools for the job. More important than the right tools are tools that are in the best condition possible. Your knives need to be sharp and ready for all the slicing, dicing, and mincing you do every day, and learning how to sharpen your kitchen knives can take as much time and practice as learning how to use them.
So if you’re looking for the best way to keep the most important tools in your kitchen sharp and ready to work, then read on for some tips on how to properly sharpen those knives or find a professional to do it for you!
The F.N. Sharp Guide to Sharpening Kitchen Knives
When you’re in the kitchen whipping up delicious meals day after day, you’ll eventually encounter a dull knife. The cutting edge of a knife loses its sharpness with repeated use over time, and can even roll over itself.
Have you ever tried to cut meat with a spoon? Well, that’s basically what it’s like to work with a knife with a rolled edge. This means cooking can easily go from a joy to a chore as you begin applying more force to cut through your ingredients, which also increases the risk of injury. This is why it’s vital to make sure your knives are sharpened regularly,
How to Sharpen a Kitchen Knife at Home
There are many ways to sharpen a kitchen knife at home, however, knife sharpening is an art form that takes time and practice to perfect. Familiarizing yourself with the parts of a knife, what your blade is made from, and how it’s designed can help you determine the best way to keep it in top form.
Geometry also plays an important role in knife sharpening. Most Western knives are sharpened to a 17- to 20-degree angle which is suitable for most types of kitchen cutting. Here at F.N, Sharp, our knives are sharpened to a 26-degree angle (13 degrees on each side) for superior performance in the kitchen.
Regardless of how sharp your kitchen knives are right out of the box, they’ll eventually lose their edge with regular use. How you use them and care for them also play a role in keeping them sharp. For example, the type of cutting board you use can either make or break your knife (not literally, but it can definitely do some damage to that sharp edge), and how you store them can have an impact, too.
To put it more simply: kitchen knives don’t stay sharp forever – and they don’t sharpen themselves – so there will come a time when they stop performing as well as they used to and need a good sharpening to bring back that edge.
Now that you know what to keep in mind when it comes to sharpening your kitchen knives, let’s examine the different methods available – and why letting a professional do the job is not only easier for you, but better for your knives.
Types of Knife Sharpening Tools
There are a few different tools available for sharpening your kitchen knives, from sharpening rods and whetstones to electric sharpeners, but each also has some downsides.
The Honing Steel
Also called a sharpening rod, honing rod, and sharpening steel, a honing steel is the stick-like object that comes with most kitchen knife sets that many people don’t know what to do with – it’s also what you see professional chefs running their blades against in an up-and-down motion before chopping up ingredients.
Despite the name, sharpening rods don’t really “sharpen” a knife but rather “hone” the cutting edge of the blade to restore its straight edge. As knives begin to dull, microscopic burrs can form on the edge of the blade and affect its sharpness, or it can simply roll or fold over itself, so a sharpening rod is used to straighten out that edge. Sharpening a knife, on the other hand, involves removing material from the blade by grinding with a whetstone or other sharpening tool to reveal a new sharp edge.
Aside from mistaking them as actual sharpening tools, sharpening rods aren’t as easy to use as professional chefs make it look. Remember the part about geometry? Knife blades can have different edge types, including serrated and non-serrated, or straight edged, and can be single bevel (sharpened on one side) or double bevel (sharpened on both sides).
Knife edges are also sharpened at very specific angles, which can vary based on different types of kitchen knives and the steels used to create their blades. This means you need to familiarize yourself with the specifications of each knife and make sure you slide the blade against the rod at the exact angle to properly hone the edge. Perfecting this technique takes time and practice, and while it may help even out your blade’s edge, you’ll still need to have it sharpened at some point.
Also called a sharpening stone, a whetstone is a mildly abrasive block that you glide your knife blade across in a back-and-forth motion. This sharpening tool creates a new edge by removing a small amount of metal from the blade. It also comes in a variety of grits, which refers to the size of the abrasive particles on the stone, from low grit whetstones used to repair chips and sharpen dull blades to extremely high grit whetstones used to create the sharpest edge possible with a mirror finish.
While low grit whetstones are great for repairing and sharpening the edges of very dull knives, they can take quite a bit of metal or even damage the blade if too much pressure is applied.
Although whetstones do actually sharpen your knives, it takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it. Maintaining the proper angle can be difficult, and failure to do so can result in a dull or misshapen edge. The stones also need to be soaked in water prior to use and must be kept moist throughout the sharpening process, so you’ll also need to work with at least two at a time to achieve the perfect edge.
The Electric Sharpener
While electric knife sharpeners might sound convenient and easy to use, they are fairly limited in how they sharpen kitchen knives. Since they come with pre-set angle guides, there’s no versatility to sharpening at different angles, so it’s not suitable for all of your knives, just a limited few.
The angle guides seem like a good idea in theory, but they blind you from the damage they can do to your blade every time you use it. Not being able to see the edge as you sharpen makes it all too easy to overwork the blade as it slides between the slots, resulting in taking off more metal than needed to restore the sharp edge. In other words, using electric sharpeners at home can run your blades down far too quickly – not to mention the increased potential of chips, cracks and scratches. For this reason, electric knife sharpeners are definitely not recommended for premium cutlery.
How to Sharpen Serrated Knives
Most kitchens have at least one serrated knife, whether it’s a bread knife or a steak knife. Serrated knives feature toothlike scallops along the cutting edge of the blade that can come in different sizes, from wide and shallow to narrow and pointy. For example, the F.N. Sharp Bread Knife (included in our 6-knife set) features wide serrations, which are known for creating fewer crumbs when slicing through crusty loaves of bread and better juice retention when carving meats (like that whole chicken, that holiday ham, that Thanksgiving turkey, or that prime meat (as in prime rib).
Knife Knowledge 101: Top Uses for a Bread Knife
When it comes to serrated blades, you’ll find fewer options in terms of sharpening tools. Each serration must be sharpened separately, and since the blades don’t have equal bevels, it takes a lot more practice to perfect the technique.
A ceramic sharpening rod is the most commonly used tool for maintaining serrated blades, while electric knife sharpeners are definitely a no-go due to their preset angles and even greater potential to destroy the cutting edge.
A whetstone can be used in theory (mainly for the straight edges of the blade, if any), however, it takes even more time and patience for serrated blades. If your serrated knives are of very high quality, your best bet is to take them to a professional who can evenly sharpen the edge without destroying it. We promise, It’ll be worth the expense!
The Great Steak Knife Debate: Serrated vs. Non-Serrated
Types of Knife Sharpening Services
If learning how to sharpen your kitchen knives and finding the time to practice seems like an impossible feat, you can leave it in the hands of a professional knife sharpening service instead. Here are a few options for keeping your kitchen knives sharp without doing the work.
Mobile Knife Sharpening Services
If you’re a professional chef, you’ve probably used a mobile sharpening service once or twice. As the name implies, mobile sharpening services come to you and sharpen while you wait. They also usually offer a variety of sharpening methods and will generally use whichever you prefer. The only con with this option is the majority of mobile knife sharpening services only cater to restaurants and other businesses.
Mail Order Knife Sharpening Services
Mail order knife sharpening is a popular way to have your knives professionally sharpened, although it will leave you empty-handed – much like the knife block pictured above. Speaking of knife blocks, not only do they offer a great storage solution for your knives (much like this beauty from F.N. Sharp) but can also help your knives keep their edge between sharpenings.
With mail order sharpening services, a padded, postage-paid envelope is sent to your home for you to pack and send in your knives. Turn-around times can vary, as well, which means you’ll be without your knives for at least a few weeks, if not longer. This may not be the best option for many professionals and busy home chefs. In addition, it may not be an efficient or affordable option to have back-up knives when your working set is out for sharpening.
Flea Market Knife Sharpeners
In cities with flea markets or farmers markets, there’s almost always someone who offers knife sharpening services. For a few bucks per knife, you can have your blades sharpened while you wait, or drop them off and pick them up later in the day. While this may be better than being without your knives for weeks like the mail order knife sharpening services, it can be rather inconvenient to pack up your knives, drive over to the market, and seek out the knife sharpener – especially for those who’d rather spend their Saturday mornings doing other things (but it’s still may be a better Saturday morning than trying to sharpen them yourself ?).
Why Quality Knives Matter and Where to Find Them
When it comes to keeping your kitchen knives sharp, the best thing you can do is invest in quality. The type of material used to create kitchen knife blades really does make all the difference in their sharpness and edge retention. For example, knife blades can be made from any combination of carbon or stainless steel, stainless powdered steel, and even titanium alloys, obsidian, ceramic or plastic. Stainless steel is the best choice in terms of high quality, long-lasting kitchen knives, and it comes in several different grades, from budget steels to premium steels.
Here at F.N. Sharp, we chose to craft our blades from premium VG10 stainless steel, which is known for its ability to resist rust and corrosion, while also holding an exceptionally sharp, long-lasting edge. This means more time for cooking and less time worrying about maintaining those essential kitchen tools.
So, if you know you’ve got some dull, subpar knives lying around your kitchen, then it just might be time to ditch the junk for the quality (instead of spending any more precious time trying to figure out how to sharpen them yourself).
And if you need more tips on what to look for in a quality knife, then check out our kitchen knife buying guide – or save yourself even more time by heading on over to fnsharp.com. Our super sharp (and seriously sexy) kitchen knives are crafted from the finest materials, from the G10 handle to the Japanese steel blade, and the unique Damascus feather pattern is designed to make you feel like the King or Queen of the Kitchen!