Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: August 26, 2021

Many Japanese chefs make it their mission to sharpen their precious knives after each and every workday.

Wondering why it’s so important to sharpen your knives?

Whether you’re a professional at work or a professional in your own kitchen, keeping your knife sharp is crucial for the quality of your food. After numerous hours of searching the web, I’ve put together a complete guide to improve your sharpening experience, as well as finding a technique that is best suited for you and your knife.

If you want to learn how to train your knife, keep on reading.

Why You Need A Sharp Japanese Knife?

A collection of Japanese knife

There are a few reasons why a dull knife is a huge no-no in the kitchen:

  • Safety - A sharpened knife will drastically decrease the chance of you slipping on your food and injuring yourself.
  • Yield - A dull knife will minimize your yield and maximize your food waste.
  • Efficient - A sharp knife blade will allow you to cut food much quicker.
  • Aesthetics  - A sharp edge is essential for great food presentation, especially if the food is raw.
  • Food quality - A dull blade actually causes vegetables and herbs to oxidize much more quickly. An unsharpened knife will cause your food to lose moisture.

When You Should Sharpen Your Knife?

It’s recommended to sharpen Japanese knives as soon as you’ve taken them out of the box.

Sharpening will make the edge of the knife as strong as possible, especially for traditional Japanese knives. You should also avoid leaving your knife sharpening until it's too late since it’s much, much harder to sharpen a very dull knife.

To test whether or not your knife needs sharpening, you’ll want to try the paper test. This requires slicing a sheet of standard A4 paper. If your blade is dull, it’ll take effort to slice the paper - or it may not even slice at all, instead of crumbling beneath it.

A sharp knife will cut through the paper cleanly without any effort. If this isn’t the case for you, it’s time to sharpen that knife [1].

3 Sharpening Strategies

Your standard western style knives will feature a double-bevel, whereas Japanese blades will come with a single bevel. Therefore, your sharpening process heavily relies on the style of knife you own.

There are quite a few sharpening methods you can use to sharpen a Japanese knife, however, professional chefs prefer to use a whetstone when they sharpen knives [2].

1. The Whetstone Method

Sharpening a knife using whetstone method

Step 1: Always prepare your whetstone before the sharpening process. Medium or coarse grit whetstone needs to be soaked in water for 15 minutes. If you have a fine grit whetstone, all you need to do is hand washing it with water.

Step 2: With the whetstones coarse side up, place it on a slightly damp tea towel, wet cloth, or rubberized shelf liner to stabilize the whetstone while sharpening. You can purchase yourself a stone base for your sharpening stone as it gives you space for your knuckles to rest.

Step 3: Place your index finger on the spine of the knife, and thumb on the flat of the blade. Your three remaining fingers should grasp the handle. Begin with the knife tip, and use two fingers of your left hand to press the blade's edge against the whetstone.

“Japanese chefs believe our soul goes into our knife once we start using them. You wouldn't put your soul in a dishwasher.”

 

- Masaharu Morimoto, Japanese Chef

Step 4: Position your shoulders square to the whetstones and keep your upper body relaxed. With a firm grip on your knife, start sharpening by pressing the blade's edge against the whetstone and pushing along. Put pressure as you move forward, releasing as you return to the starting point on the whetstone.

Step 5: Repeat this process, keeping the blade close to the edge of the whetstone. Take your time and sharpen your knife until you feel an even burr along the edge of the entire blade. Once you feel this burr, flip your knife over and start the process again on the reverse side.

Step 6: To finish, take the sharpened blade, and hone the blade using sharpening steel or honing steel. Rinse your knife and wipe clean.

For western knives, you should always take into consideration the bevel of your knives before sharpening.

Pros
  • Last for many years.
  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Can be used to sharpen any blade (Japanese Western style knives.)
  • Can be used on many materials: stainless steel knives, carbon steel, etc.
  • Many whetstones feature a fine and coarse side, which helps you determine how many passes you need to sharpen a knife.
  • Quicker than your general sharpening stones.
Cons
  • Takes some time to get it right. It can be difficult to master the sharpening strokes.
  • If your blade is very dull, it can take quite some time to sharpen the entire edge.

2. The Haring Rod Method

A guy sharpening a knife using the honing rod

Using a honing rod may be all you need to get your blade nice and sharp again. Honing with a rod is much faster than sharpening and it will not remove metal from the knife’s blade.

Step 1: Hold the honing rod with your left hand, point the tip down so it’s laying on a dry cutting board. With your free hand, hold your blade against the rod, with the knife's heel pointing against the steel. Keep the whole blade flat and pull the knife backward.

Step 2: The blade should be tilted at a 22½ angle when sharpening. While keeping the same angle, carefully slide the cutting edge towards yourself, skimming it down and along the steel pole while sharpening. Continue doing so until you’ve covered the whole length of the blade.

Step 3: Flip the blade and sharpen the reverse side of the knife, sharpening until you have a shiny edge.

Pros
  • Very common.
  • Easier to master than a whetstone.
  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Quick and fairly easy to use.
  • Can be used for many different knives and materials.
Cons
  • Cons

Can You Use The Haring Rod When Sharpening Japanese Knives?

In Japanese culture, it is ‘forbidden’ to use a honing rod when sharpening a Japanese knife. However, it is rather handy to give your knife a quick sharpen when it's in rough shape.

Many honing rods have a quick abrasive edge, meaning you can quickly sharpen the side of the blade when you don’t have much time.

However, most Japanese knives are made of hard steel, and honing roads are made for knives made from softer steel, such as Western knives. Therefore, it may be a bad idea to use a honing rod when sharpening knives, especially a diamond hone.

3. The Electric Sharpeners Method

A hand sharpening a knife using an electric sharpener

Electric knife sharpeners are the easiest method when it comes to a sharp blade. Before you begin, you should ensure the entire side of the blade fits through the sharpener and has the right angle to activate a better result. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when using an electric or manual sharpener.

Step 1: Turn the sharpener on and securely grip your knife with a light hand. All you have to do is hold the knife with the cutting edge inside. The electric knife sharpener will do all the work, so there’s no need to press hard. Pull the blade’s tip back and forth through the knife sharpener slowly.

Step 2: Sharpening the reverse side of the knife and repeating the process, make sure the other edge is the same sharpness.

Pros
  • Features a spring-loaded guide to restrict the knife’s movement. This makes it easier to get a smooth, sharp edge.
  • Getting your knife in good shape is easier thanks to the multiple grinding slots, where you can control the amount of sharpening.
  • The first slot is aggressive enough the repair intensive damage while sharpening.
Cons
  • Can’t be used for all knives since the sharpening slots are a certain size.
  • Can be quite expensive.

Can You Use An Electric Sharpener On A Japanese Blade?

A Japanese knife on a chopping board

Using an electric sharpener on a Japanese blade certainly does have its positives. An electric sharpener will ensure the blade is always kept at a proper angle and it’s easy to use without much stress.

However, it’s a risk to use it on your precious Japanese blades. One wrong move can remove too much metal on your blade edge.

What's the Best Method for Sharpening Japanese Knives?

A Japanese knife is a sushi chef's best and valued friend. Keeping your blade nice and sharpened will not only drastically improve the food quality, but it’ll also ensure your own safety and preserve the knife’s quality too.

When sharpening a Japanese blade, the whetstone is the best method. However, using the other techniques listed here is possible as long as you exercise caution.

References:

  1. https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/9398-testing-knife-sharpness
  2. https://www.nativeandco.com/journal/daily-care-for-japanese-steel-knives

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